Thursday, January 17, 2008

Edward D. Hoch

If you pick up the latest issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, you will find a short story by Edward D. Hoch.

Actually, if you pick up any issue of EQMM from the last 35 years or so, you will probably find a short story by him.

Mr. Hoch died Thursday.

As I suspect you have deduced, he was one prolific guy. His byline appeared on more than 900 published stories. Some stories were standalones, but I think he was more famous for his series characters including Nick Velvet, Dr. Sam Hawthorne and, most recently, Stanton and Ives.

He never lost the ability to fool the reader, and he devised so many ingenious locked-room mysteries that I'd almost have hesitated to be in the same room with him unless I had a key to it.

But Mr. Hoch was not an inhuman plotting machine; within the limits of the traditional mystery story, he knew how to create characters that weren't stick figures. And he wasn't stuck in the past; the Stanton and Ives series, featuring two young amateur sleuths, were distinctly modern and fresh.

I wish I could say I'd known him, especially considering that he lived in a city that's less than two hours away from my city.

But I met him only once -- in Toronto, oddly enough, at a conference for mystery writers and their fans.

He had just given a presentation along with several other writers and was sitting at a table signing copies of EQMM. I approached him and told him how much I admired his work and how I studied each story as it came out, wondering how he'd fool me THIS time.

He was impeccably polite, but it was clear he did not want to talk long. I suspected he had had a long day and was tired, so I politely withdrew and he closed his eyes, probably for a catnap. (After 900 stories, who could blame him?)

Or maybe, behind those closed eyes, he was plotting yet another locked-room murder....

If you search the Web over the next few days, you'll probably find many tributes to Mr. Hoch by people who had the great fortune to know him far better than I did.

I hope you will look up these tributes -- and his stories.

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