Patrick Quentin, Q. Patrick and Jonathan Stagge were pen names under which Hugh Callingham Wheeler (19 March 1912 – 26 July 1987), Richard Wilson Webb (August 1901 – December 1966), Martha Mott Kelley (30 April 1906 – 2005) and Mary Louise White Aswell (3 June 1902 – 24 December 1984) wrote detective fiction. In some foreign countries their books have been published under the variant Quentin Patrick. Most of the stories were written by Webb and Wheeler in collaboration, or by Wheeler alone. Their most famous creation is the amateur sleuth Peter Duluth. In 1963, the story collection The Ordeal of Mrs. Snow was given a Special Edgar Award by the Mystery Writers of America.
In 1931 Richard Wilson Webb (born in 1901 in Burnham-on-Sea, Somerset, an Englishman working for a pharmaceutical company in Philadelphia) and Martha Mott Kelley collaborated on the detective novel Cottage Sinister. Kelley was known as Patsy (Patsy Kelly was a well-known character actress of that era) and Webb as Rick, so they created the pseudonym Q. Patrick by combining their nicknames—adding the Q “because it was unusual”.
Webb’s and Kelley’s literary partnership ended with Kelley’s marriage to Stephen Wilson. Webb continued to write under the Q. Patrick name, while looking for a new writing partner. Although he wrote two novels with the journalist and Harper’s Bazaar editor Mary Louise Aswell, he would find his permanent collaborator in Hugh Wheeler, a Londoner who had moved to the US in 1934.
Wheeler’s and Webb’s first collaboration was published in 1936. That same year, they introduced two new pseudonyms: Murder Gone to Earth, the first novel featuring Dr. Westlake, was credited to Jonathan Stagge, a name they would continue to use for the rest of the Westlake series. A Puzzle for Fools introduced Peter Duluth and was signed Patrick Quentin. This would become their primary and most famous pen name, even though they also continued to use Q. Patrick until the end of their collaboration (particularly for Inspector Trant stories).
In the late 1940s, Webb’s contributions gradually decreased due to health problems. From the 1950s and on, Wheeler continued writing as Patrick Quentin on his own, and also had one book published under his own name. In the 1960s and ’70s, Wheeler achieved success as a playwright and librettist, and his output as Quentin Patrick slowed and then ceased altogether after 1965. However, Wheeler did write the book for the 1979 musical Sweeney Todd about a fictional London mass murderer, showing he had not altogether abandoned the genre.
The early Q. Patrick detective stories generally follow the Golden Age “whodunit” conventions, with elaborate puzzle mysteries reminiscent of Agatha Christie or John Dickson Carr. From the time when Wheeler joined the writing, the stories become more psychologically acute, with increasingly realistic, fleshed-out characters. In the 1940s, the stories start to move away from the traditional detective pattern: Puzzle for Fiends is a Hitchcockian thriller, Puzzle for Pilgrims a film noir in written form, and Run to Death a pulpy spy novel.
The majority of the Webb-Wheeler collaborations feature one of their recurring characters: Peter Duluth, a Broadway director, WWII veteran and recovering alcoholic who, with his wife Iris, always seems to stumble across murders; Inspector Timothy Trant of the New York Police, a Princeton-educated dandy whose remorseless investigations often seem to be aimed at some innocent person before he reveals his real target; and the country doctor, Dr. Hugh Cavendish Westlake with his daughter Dawn. When Webb bowed out on the writing, these characters disappeared or receded into the background.
The late Patrick Quentin novels are increasingly dark and brooding. Deceit and betrayal, particularly adultery, already a frequent theme, becomes even more central. Although at the end of the story the murder is solved, the impact of the crime, and the corruption uncovered in the investigation, remain.
A study of all the Q.Patrick/Patrick Quentin/Jonathan Stagge novels has appeared in French, Patrick Quentin: Du roman-probleme au Thriller Psychologique by Roland Lacourbe, Vincent Bourgeois, Phillippe Fooz and Michel Soupart (France: Semper Aenigma, 2016).
At one time a relatively popular mystery writer (Francis Iles called Quentin “number one among American crime writers”), Quentin has largely fallen into obscurity in the US, his works out of print. He probably is better known in Scandinavia, where he used to be among the most famous detective writers, although his reputation is also fading there. (Source: Wikipedia)
In the attached picture the public face of Q. Patrick, 1931-35 Richard “Rickie” Webb.
Q. Patrick (12 novels): Cottage Sinister (1931) (Richard Wilson Webb and Martha Mott Kelley); Murder at the Women’s City Club (1932) (Webb and Kelley); Murder at Cambridge (1933) (Webb); S. S. Murder (1933) (Webb and Mary Louise White, aka Mary Louise Aswell); The Grindle Nightmare (1935) (Webb); Death Goes to School (1936) (Webb); Death for Dear Clara (1937) (Webb and Hugh Callingham Wheeler); The File on Fenton and Farr (1937) (Crimefile) (Webb and Wheeler); The File on Claudia Cragge (1938) (Crimefile) (Webb and Wheeler); Death and the Maiden (1939) (Webb and Wheeler); Return to the Scene (1941) (Webb and Wheeler); and Danger Next Door (1951) (Webb).
Jonathan Stagge (9 novels): The Dogs Do Bark (1936) (Webb and Wheeler); Murder or Mercy? (1937) (Webb and Wheeler); The Stars Spell Death (1939) (Webb and Wheeler); Turn of the Table (1940) (Webb and Wheeler); The Yellow Taxi (1942) (Webb and Wheeler); The Scarlet Circle (1943) (Webb and Wheeler); Death and the Dear Girls (1945) (Webb and Wheeler); Death’s Old Sweet Song (1946) (Webb and Wheeler); and The Three Fears (1949) (Wheeler).
Patrick Quentin (16 novels): A Puzzle for Fools (1936) (Webb and Wheeler); Puzzle for Players (1938) (Webb and Wheeler); Puzzle for Puppets (1944) (Webb and Wheeler); Puzzle for Wantons (1945) (Webb and Wheeler); Puzzle for Fiends (1946) (Webb and Wheeler); Puzzle for Pilgrims (1947) (Webb and Wheeler); Run to Death (1948) (Webb and Wheeler); The Follower (1950) (Wheeler alone?); Black Widow (1952) (Wheeler); My Son, the Murderer (1954) (Wheeler); The Man with Two Wives (1955) (Wheeler); The Man in the Net (1956) (Wheeler); Suspicious Circumstances (1957) (Wheeler); Shadow of Guilt (1959) (Wheeler); The Green-Eyed Monster (1960) (Wheeler); and Family Skeletons (1965) (Wheeler). (In bold the novels I have in my pile of books to be read).
Basically, these books fall into three periods, in terms of authorship. There is, first, 1931-1935, when “Q. Patrick” published five mysteries, all written by Richard “Rickie” Webb, either collaboratively or solo. The second period, 1936-1948, we see Hugh [Wheeler] become the dominant writing partner, particularly by the late 1930s and early 1940s. Over 1948-52 Hugh himself entirely wrote the last Jonathan Stagge, The Three Fears, as well as the Patrick Quentin novel Black Widow, a novel with criminous elements under his own name, The Crippled Muse, and possibly the Patrick Quentin novel The Follower. (Source: The Passing Tramp)
There is extensive coverage of the authors at Mystery*File.
(Facsimile Dust Jacket, Simon and Schuster Inner Sanctum Mystery (USA), 1936)
With the publication of A Puzzle for Fools in 1936 under the new pseudonym of Patrick Quentin, Webb and Wheeler began their most important and popular series of detective novels. Eventually, the series protagonist, theatrical producer Peter Duluth, would be featured in nine novels and one short story, and two of the novels would be adapted as feature-length films. The first Duluth book is notable for its imaginative setting, an asylum for wealthy patients suffering from relatively minor mental disorders. When murder occurs, however, it seems obvious that one of the patients has a problem that is not so minor. Peter Duluth, who has lost his wife in a fire, is in the sanatorium recovering from alcoholism. Questions of what is real and what is imagined, of who is sane and who is mad, make this novel a memorable opening for the Duluth series. (Source: “Patrick Quentin – Analysis” Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition Ed. Carl Rollyson. eNotes.com, Inc. 2008 eNotes.com 2 Apr, 2020 http://www.enotes.com/topics/patrick-quentin#critical-essays-analysis)
A wave of murders rocks a sanitarium—and it’s up to the patients to stop them
Broadway producer Peter Duluth sought solace in a bottle after his wife’s death; now, two years later and desperate to dry out, he enters a sanitarium, hoping to break his dependence on drink—but the institution doesn’t quite offer the rest and relaxation he expected. Strange, malevolent occurrences plague the hospital; and among other inexplicable events, Peter hears his own voice with an ominous warning: “There will be murder.”
It soon becomes clear that a homicidal maniac is on the loose, and, with a staff every bit as erratic as its idiosyncratic patients, it seems everyone is a suspect—even Duluth’s new romantic interest, Iris Pattison. Charged by the baffled head of the ward with solving the crimes, it’s up to Peter to clear her name before the killer strikes again.
Reprinted for the first time in over thirty years, A Puzzle for Fools is the atmospheric and complex mystery that first introduced Peter Duluth; the character and his love interest Iris went on to star in eight more novels, two of which were adapted for film. (Source: Penzler Publishers)
Read an excerpt here.