A 1001 MIDNIGHTS PI Review
by Robert E. Briney


STANLEY ELLIN – The Specialty of the House and Other Stories: The Complete Mystery Tales, 1948-1978. Mysterious Press, hardcover, 1979.

   Stanley Ellin made his first impact on the mystery field as a writer of short stories; and in spite of more than a dozen highly praised novels, it is still as a short-story writer that many readers think of him. This hefty collection contains, in chronological order, all thirty-live of the stories written during the first thirty years of his writing career. All but one of them originally appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, where the author’s “annual story” is still an eagerly awaited event. The first seven stories in the collection, starting with the title story (surely one of the most impressive debuts in the field), were prizewinners in the annual Ellery Queen contests.

   Here we have “The Betrayers,” in which a young man constructs an air-tight solution to the wrong crime; the Edgar-winning fantasy “The House Party”; a second Edgar winner, “The Blessington Method,” with its unique approach to gerontology; “You Can’t Be a Little Girl All Your Life,” the story of a rape and its aftermath; “The Crime of Ezechicle Coen,” with its roots going back to the German occupation of Rome in World War II; “The Twelfth Statue,” a novelette of murder in a Rome film studio; “The Corruption of Officer Avakadian,” concerning doctors who ref use to make house calls; and “The Question,” in which the whole point of the story is compressed into a single devastating three-letter word in the final sentence. The stories vary widely in theme and setting. but exhibit the same polished craftsmanship.

   In his introduction to the volume, speaking of another master of the short story, Guy de Maupassant, Ellin wrote: “Here was a writer who reduced stories to their absolute essence. And the ending of each story, however unpredictable, was, when I thought of it, as inevitable as doom.”

   These words might have been written about Ellin’s own work. When Ellin’s first ten stories were issued in book form under the title Mystery Stories in 1956, the book was praised by Julian Symons as “the finest collection of stories in the crime form published in the past half-century.” With the addition of twenty-five stories and twenty years, the judgment still stands.

Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007. Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.