Edward D. Hoch, 77, a master of puzzle mystery, prolific writer

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Los Angeles Times / February 12, 2008

LOS ANGELES - Edward D. Hoch, a prolific short story writer who was known as a master of the puzzle mystery and for more than three decades was a monthly fixture in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, has died. He was 77.

Mr. Hoch, a past president of the Mystery Writers of America, died of a heart attack Jan. 17, at his home in Rochester, N.Y., said his wife, Patricia, his only immediate survivor.

After his first story appeared in 1955, in Famous Detective Stories, Mr. Hoch went on to write more than 940 published short stories.

He wrote so many that former Mystery Writers of America executive vice president Bill Chambers said several years ago that before he met Mr. Hoch he used to think "he was a corporation, a whole bunch of writers working under one name."

"There were some really prolific short-story mystery writers in the '30s, but I think Ed beat them all," said Doug Greene, a mystery scholar and owner of Crippen & Landru Publishers, which has published six of Mr. Hoch's short-story collections.

There was no mystery as to how Mr. Hoch (rhymes with Coke) wrote so much.

"I never have writer's block," he told the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle in 2001, the year the Mystery Writers of America named him a Grand Master for his lifetime achievement.

Mr. Hoch began publishing his short stories near the end of the pulp magazine era, and his work appeared in dozens of them, as well as in the digest-sized monthlies such as The Saint Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.

Mr. Hoch first wrote for Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine in 1962, and since 1973 he had one of his stories published in every monthly issue.

"In his early writing, he did a bit of science fiction, but mysteries were his thing, really," said Patricia Hoch. He wrote every day, she said, turning out 18 to 20 mystery short stories a year.

"He was working on a story for Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine the night before he died," she said.

The magazine, which has four stories of Mr. Hoch that have yet to be published, will include a tribute to its longtime contributor in the June issue.

"As a writer, I think his inventiveness is the most notable quality of his work," said editor Janet Hutchings. "He created some memorable characters, and fans of his write to us all the time."

Mr. Hoch created more than two dozen series characters.

One of his most popular was Nick Velvet, a crime-solving thief who would be hired to steal objects of seemingly little value, from a used tea bag to a ball of twine to a dead houseplant. The character wound up on French television in the 1970s, said Hutchings.

Greene said Mr. Hoch "continued the tradition of Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, and John Dickson Carr of challenging the reader to guess who the culprit would turn out to be. "He emphasized puzzle, but within that he also emphasized atmosphere. He loved setting his stories in exotic places. And he loved introducing esoteric lore into his stories."

Mr. Hoch wrote eight novels, including three science-fiction books. He also ghost-wrote a 1972 Ellery Queen mystery, "The Blue Movie Murders."

But Mr. Hoch, who won a 1968 Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for his short story "The Oblong Room," considered short stories to be the most satisfying form of writing.

"Writing a novel has always been, for me, a task to be finished as quickly as possible," he once said. "Writing a short story is a pleasure one can linger over, with delight in the concept and surprise at the finished product."

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