Friday, November 20, 2015

The Q. Patrick/Patrick Quentin/Jonathan Stagge Consortium and The Puzzles of Peter Duluth

One of the most important American crime writers, oddly out of print today in the primarily English-speaking world (though this will change when Crippen & Landru's collection of short crime fiction, The Puzzles of Peter Duluth, is published), is Patrick Quentin, who also wrote as Q. Patrick and Jonathan Stagge.  I've reviewed several works by this consortium, if you will, and they generally are extremely good, in my opinion, but the the authorship question has remained somewhat murky over the years, so let me try to elucidate a bit.

It all started in 1931, when the native English Philadelphia pharmaceutical executive Richard Wilson Webb (1901-1966), published a mystery novel, Cottage Sinister, in collaboration with Martha Mott Kelley (1906-1998), a recent Radcliffe graduate descended from the the Quaker abolitionist and feminist Lucretia Mott and niece of the progressive social reformer Florence Kelley, under the name "Q. Patrick" (the last name derived from "Pat" for Martha Kelley's nickname Patsy and "Rick" for Richard Webb's nickname Rickie and the "Q" in honor of what they pair considered the most "intriguing" letter in the alphabet).

The public face of Q. Patrick, 1931-35
Richard "Rickie" Webb
The next year the Rickie and Patsy also published Murder at the Women's City Club, but Kelley then left the Q. Patrick team.  Retaining the Q. Patrick name, Rickie Webb in 1933 published Murder at Cambridge, which he wrote solo, and S. S. Murder, on which he collaborated with Mary Louise White (1902-1984), a graduate of Bryn Mawr.  Webb would also work with White on The Grindle Nightmare, which was published in 1935.

At that point Mary Louise White left the team, marrying Edward C. Aswell, an assistant editor with Harper and Brothers (husband and wife alike would become prominent twentieth-century American editors).  So once again, Webb, who was more of a plot man, like Frederic Dannay of Ellery Queen, was left in need of a collaborator.

Happily Webb found one in a young Englishman named Hugh Callingham Wheeler (1912-1987), who had come over to the US from England with Webb in 1933, settling with him in Philadelphia. (I'm not certain whether the two lived together in these years, but, if not, they certainly were near neighbors, residing in the Locust Street-Spruce Street area.)

Hugh Wheeler, c. 1940
Wheeler had taken a BA degree with honors in English at the University of London in 1932 and was anxious to embark on a literary career.  Although he and Webb had started out writing a "pretentious novel," as Wheeler put it, nothing seems to have come of this, and the pair by 1936 had settled into a lucrative commercial partnership in crime fiction collaboration.

Webb and Wheeler intermittently continued the Q. Patrick series, but they also created two new mystery writing pseudonyms: Jonathan Stagge, under which they produced the Dr. Hugh Westlake detective novels, and the pen name for which they became most famous, Patrick Quentin.

All told, during the period of their collaboration, 1936-1952, Webb and Wheeler published six Q. Patrick novels (Death Goes to School, 1936, usually attributed to Webb and Wheeler, probably was written by Webb alone), including two Crimefiles books; nine Jonathan Stagge novels and nine Patrick Quentin novels, for a grand total of 24 novels over sixteen years.  During most of this time, 1939-1952, the pair lived together in the Berskhsires in rural western Massachusetts, except for a period during the second World War when Hugh Wheeler served in U. S. Army Medical Corps.

Hugh Wheeler in his post-Webb
collaboration days
Webb's health declined toward the end of the collaboration and in 1952, he retired from the consortium he had created, moving to France and leaving the Patrick Quentin name to Wheeler, who would write seven more Patrick Quentin novels between 1954 and 1965 before turning his professional attention exclusively toward writing for the films and the stage, an endeavor in which he enjoyed distinguished success. Wheeler would go on to win three Tony awards for his books for A Little Night Music, Candide and Sweeney Todd.

So that, relatively briefly, is the somewhat complicated story of Q. Patrick/Patrick Quentin/Jonathan Stagge, which is primarily, though not entirely, the story of Rickie Webb and Hugh Wheeler.  There is more about the two men in The Puzzles of Peter Duluth, Crippen & Landru's forthcoming collection of the Patrick Quentin short fiction concerning the adventures of Patrick Quentin's lead series character, Peter Duluth, a theatrical producer and, of necessity, an occasional amateur sleuth (often in company with his actress wife, Iris) who appeared in nine novels between 1936 and 1954, eight written by Webb-Wheeler and one written by Wheeler.

I wrote the introduction to Puzzles and there is as well, I'm very pleased to add, a fascinating afterword by Hugh Wheeler's great-niece and "Puzzle for Proustians," an amusing postscript about Rickie Webb by Mauro Boncompagni.  There are some new photos of Webb and Wheeler included as well, including one of the pair together on vacation in Italy in the 1940s.  I think Doug Greene has done a great job putting this one together!  I hope this book will give mystery fans a taste of the deadly delights of Patrick Quentin's crime fiction and that its appearance may encourage the complete reissuing of the consortium's distinguished body of genre work.

Previous pieces on "the consortium":

On Q. Patrick: Death for Dear ClaraThe File on Claudia Cragge
On Jonathan Stagge: The Scarlet Circle
On Patrick Quentin: Black WidowMy Son, the Murderer


  1. I just received a big chunk of research from BU about Wheeler. I haven't had a chance to read through it all yet, but you know I will.

  2. Hi Curtis. Fascinating stuff. I have been collecting and reading detective fiction for many years but through sites such as yours I am learning all the time. I recently read and really enjoyed Puzzle for Fools. This new collection looks excellent. I also recently read your CADS supplement 'Was Corinne's murder clued' which I thoroughly enjoyed and have Masters of the Humdrum awaiting me for Christmas!
    You are doing a great job here discovering and introducing many authors who are undeservedly forgotten. Keep up the great work!

    1. Thanks so much, CS, those sorts of words are always music to my ears, because I want the books I write to reach people. "Corinne" I'm looking to reprint in an essays collection, because I don't feel it's very accessible to people in the US.

      I'm always happy to help publishers who are interested in working with me on the reprints matter, because there are so many interesting vintage mysteries out there for fans to enjoy. I've been doing a lot with Dean Street Press and it was really nice to get to do something with Crippen & Landru, because I've been a reader of their book for two decades now. Also, with so many writers coming back into print, it really is past due for Patrick Quentin, etc. to get "his" turn.

  3. Can't wait chum - so when is the book out then?

    1. Should be very soon, will try to get the exact date for you.

  4. A very nice and informative summation of the W&W partnership. One thing that tends to surprise me that almost never Wheeler's solo novel under his own name is referenced when talking about the Quentin/Patrick/Stagge consortium. For me, "The Crippled Muse" fits in very well with all the other novels - quality-wise and plot-wise. It may have a different setting (on Italian island Capri instead of the American northeast), but most of the character types are very similar.

    I'd recommend anyone who likes the other novels to pick up "The Crippled Muse".

    1. I agree about Muse, another one that should be reprinted. Mary Lou White Aswell published a fifties thriller solo, but I understand it's not supposed to be anything exceptional.