Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Mom Knows Best - James Yaffe

Theme: Crippen & Landru Series
Story: Mom Knows Best
Author: James Yaffe
Source: My Mother, The Detective
Story Number: 112
The first story to feature Mom debuted in the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine in the year 1952. James Yaffe wrote 7 more Mom stories spanning across 16 years and all these stories have now been collected for the first time in this wonderful collection, a collection which according to Ellery Queen, features some of the finest armchair detective stories ever written.
It’s become a custom for Homicide Detective Dave and his wife Shirley to have dinner with Mom every Friday. During the course of the meal, Dave ends up talking about a case that he has been working on and Mom with her shrewd and intellectual mind, poses 3 or 4 questions and solves the case for her son! The first case to be brought to Mom’s notice happens to be a neat little impossible crime.
Vilma Degrasse has been found dead in her hotel room – the elevator girl Sadie and the clerk both see the girl being escorted by a middle aged banker to her room on the 5th floor. The handyman is the second visitor but he claims that the door was locked, he could hear the TV in the room but nobody answered the door. An hour later, the third visitor finds the girl dead when he walks into the open room. The elevator girl and the clerk were together and noticed no one going in or out. But the police are not able to pin the murder on any of the three visitors.
Mom poses her four “most important questions” and the answers provided by Dave suits her theory very well and she is able to give them an alternate solution which the police had never thought of and yet the clues were there right in front of them (and the reader) all the time. A phenomenal debut for Mom!


  1. The only Yaffe stories I've read are the ones he wrote when he was a teenager. I have several of the 1940s issues of EQMM in which they originally appeared. They reminded me of the juvenile Encyclopedia Brown mysteries I read when I was in grade school. In those editor's notes that appear before stories in EQMM Dannay admitted that he gave suggestions to Yaffe to improve his story prior to publication. He was very lucky to be noticed and I think being a teen was on his side. I doubt anyone at EQMM would take the time to give advice these days to novice writers no matter what their age.

    I'm guessing as Yaffe reached his twenties in the 1950s he became more polished. The Mom stories are the only ones people talk about anymore. You ought to compare them to his first stories. Big difference.

    1. Interesting that you pointed it out because a paragraph in the introduction to this collection really had me intrigued. Here are those points:
      1. He had his first series character Paul Dawn as the head of 'the department of impossible crimes'.
      2. Yaffe admits he was pretty sloppy in some of his earlier attempts to such an extent that Fred Dannay appended an editor's note (for two stories) inviting the reader to figure out the big logical flaw in the solution.
      3. Yaffe also claims that the last two stories featuring Dawn were his best. Quote "I was also from time to time fiendishly ingenious. Sometimes I think I reached my peak of sheer cleverness at the age of 17 in the last couple of Paul Dawn stories; it's been downhill ever since." Do you think you have read these two that he is referring to? It’d be very interesting to read them after reading the Mom stories!Wonder if any one of them was anthologized.