"Invitation to a Murder"

"We published Josh Pachter's first story, 'E.Q. Griffen Earns His Name,' in the December 1968 issue of EQMM — when the author was 16 years old. We published his second story, another 'adventure of Ellery in Queenland,' in the May 1970 issue — when the author was 17 years old. His third story, about Nero Wolfe Griffen, appeared in our August 1971 issue —when the author was 18 years old. And now we give you Josh Pachter's fourth story — written when he was 19 years old, just before his 20th birthday.

"In 'Invitation to a Murder' Josh Pachter has deserted (temporarily?) the Griffen family and is now wholly on his own. You'll find the story off the beaten track, unusually imaginative, even in its melodrama, for so young a writer. Once again we ask, what will he write when he is older, much older? Young Pachter belongs to the mainstream of the mystery genre — he has a prodigious 'tec potential..."

This is the most successful story I ever wrote — and the only one I ever dreamed. I woke up one night with the entire plotline crystal clear in my mind, grabbed pen and paper and scrawled it all down ... then spent eight months writing and revising and rerevising before I finally gave up and sent it to Fred Dannay at EQMM, figuring he'd tell me what was wrong and how to make it work. To my surprise, he bought it pretty much as it was.

Pretty much? Well, my original ending was even more nebulous than it is in the published version. Fred wanted it to be at least a little clearer what Brangan's up to in the final paragraph, though, so I dished up a molecule of clarification, and that satisfied him. Still, the story drew more letters to the editor than anything EQMM had ever published before, and most of them boiled down to "I like it, but what the heck happens at the end?"

In addition to the murderer and her victim, the story contains an informal "jury" of 12 noted crime fighters, most of whom are named after people I knew at the time: Ryan is a nod to Mary Ryan (my 9th-grade English teacher, who gave me my first issue of EQMM and got me interested in writing fiction), Braun is for Sally Braun (my buddy Mark Wachter's then-fiancee; they recently celebrated their 30th anniversary, bless them, and I still see them several times a year), Fox is my cousin Jack Fox, and most of the others are the names of 3rd-grade kids I student taught when I was a senior in high school.

The story — which you can read here — has been reprinted in a dozen languages, it was dramatized for radio (in Belgium, of all places), and once upon a time I turned down an offer for film rights, since the money was insulting and the would-be producer was someone I'd never heard of. (Probably one of today's superstars — if I'd said yes, I'd be a zillionaire today. Damn.) The illustration at the left was drawn by Jean Cameron for the story's appearance in the November 13, 1981, issue of Libelle, a Dutch women's magazine. The woman is protagonist/antagonist Eleanor Madeline Abbott, who really ought to look younger than she seems here.

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