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
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|
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|
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 Clara, The File on Claudia Cragge
On Jonathan Stagge: The Scarlet Circle
On Patrick Quentin: Black Widow, My Son, the Murderer