Edward D. Hoch, the Accidental Poet (by Andrew McAleer)

Andrew McAleer is the author of 101 Habits of Highly Successful Novelists and a co-editor of the anthology Edgar & Shamus Go Golden. In that volume, as he notes in the following post, he included a story by his father, John McAleer, that was discovered long after its author’s death and more than eighty years after it was written. John McAleer was known in our field not only for his mystery short stories but for his Edgar Award-winning biography of Rex Stout. Andrew McAleer, who is also a published mystery short story writer, tells us he recently completed a volume of short mystery stories featuring his father’s Golden Age detective, Henry von Stray. In this post Andrew turns his attention to another of our genre’s revered writers of the recent past: Edward D. Hoch—a subject dear to our hearts at EQMM.   —Janet Hutchings

Devotees of crime literature (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine readers especially) will always remember Edward D. Hoch as a true master of the genre. A master of puzzles, deduction, humor, and the impossible crime. Additionally, as Francis M. Nevins, Jr. correctly observed in Twentieth Century Crime and Mystery Writers, Mr. Hoch was, “[T]he sole surviving professional writer of short mysteries.”

Ahh . . . but Mr. Hoch was more . . . much more—he was also a poet!

Mr. Hoch denied being a poet even though proof to the contrary exists. Twenty years ago I held in my hands an original poem written by Mr. Hoch on his official letterhead. How did I track down this poetic evidence? On February 24, 2003, I sent him a letter asking him to write me one. He did.

When I mailed the request I figured it was a long shot at best he’d reply. After all, Mr. Hoch was, among many other things, an MWA Grand Master, Edgar winner, and, by 2003, a monthly contributor to EQMM for three decades. No question about it, he would, quite understandably, be too busy to respond—let alone find time to author an original Nick Velvet poem for my fledgling magazine Crimestalker Casebook. I was wrong.

A mere seven days after posting my letter (Boston to New York), I sat at my desk reading an original Edward D. Hoch poem, “Nick Looks Out For Gloria.” The humorous verse consists of six lines with a delightful and clever rhyming scheme structured around Mr. Hoch’s iconic Nick Velvet caper-story series. As a great admirer of the Clerihew verse created by E. C. Bentley (Trent’s Last Case), I thought—and still do—that Mr. Hoch’s poem was as good as anything Bentley wrote in this tradition.

A signed cover letter dated March 3, 2003, accompanied the poem. Mr. Hoch humbly wrote: “I’m certainly no poet . . . feel free to reject it.” The poem did not receive a rejection and appeared in the Fall 2003, Volume 5, No.2 issue of Crimestalker Casebook. Other than finding a home in Edgar and Shamus Go Golden, for my father, Edgar winner John McAleer’s Henry von Stray mystery story (discovered eighty years after first penned in 1937), publishing an original work by Edward D. Hoch ranks as my highest literary honor. Fortunately for me, and all of Mr. Hoch’s fans, fate played a helpful role in making it all happen.

Here’s why:

I founded Crimestalker in 1997 at a time when authors seeking outlets for short crime fiction had few options. The pulps were long dead. Online magazines were virtually nonexistent. As a result, the short supply of hard-copy crime fiction magazines couldn’t meet demand. The few respectable mystery magazines that come to mind from that period are Ellery Queen, Alfred Hitchcock, Murderous Intent, and Mystery Time. In response, I founded Crimestalker Casebook, a publication dedicated to new mystery authors of merit. Ideally, each issue would include a veteran crime fiction author. This way, new authors would appear alongside industry veterans and could start building a publishing platform. Some of the veterans who generously contributed to Crimestalker include: William Link, Robert B. Parker, June Thompson, Gregory Mcdonald, Peter Lovesey, William G. Tapply, Katherine Hall Page, and Tom Sawyer. All literary giants; however, when it came to the mystery short story, Crimestalker authors couldn’t have hit a bigger jackpot than to appear beside Edward D. Hoch. Such praise still holds true today, as no author accomplished—or ever will—what Mr. Hoch did in his chosen literary field.  

In Encyclopedia Mysteriosa, William L. DeAndrea echoes Nevins’s observation that with the death of the pulp magazines, Mr. Hoch was the only one of his colleagues to make a living as a freelance, full-time writer of mystery short stories. EQMM Editor Janet Hutchings (Mr. Hoch’s editor for many years) confirmed in a recent correspondence that Mr. Hoch had a story appear in every issue of EQMM from May 1973 until December 2008. (See also, the Oxford Companion to Crime & Mystery Writing, Rosemary Herbert.) As an aside, the November 2008 EQMM had a story by Mr. Hoch finished by Jon. L. Breen. Mr. Hoch had been working on the story at the time of his death on January 17, 2008. An unprecedented thirty-five year plus run!  

More documentary evidence refutes Mr. Hoch’s “no-poet” claim.

“Nick Looks Out For Gloria” was not Mr. Hoch’s first published poem. He later wrote me that he’d had another published: “Who Killed Lenore?” This poem appeared in the briefly revived Saint Magazine (August 1984). Ironically, if more mystery short-story publishing outlets had existed in 1997,  “Who Killed Lenore” might be a stand alone.

Looking back I may have been a bit naïve asking Mr. Hoch to write a poem for my magazine consisting of about six subscribers, but I’m thankful I did because it provides us with the only other known example of this major American writer’s poetry. Perhaps more importantly, it provides us with one of the many examples of his kindness toward a new generation of mystery writers.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Andrew McAleer forwarded a copy of “Nick Looks Out for Gloria” to EQMM, and we thought readers should have a chance to see it. Here it is!

by Edward D. Hoch

Do you need an orange rind or a swizzle stick,

A burnt candle or a weathered brick?

Do you have the cash, the fifty grand for his fee?

If you use Nick Velvet it won’t be for free.

He’ll get what you want, bring it right to the house,

Then buy a gift for his high-maintenance spouse.


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