"Their Last Bow"

This is my fifth and final Puzzle Club pastiche. When I first pitched the idea of a new Puzzle Club story to EQMM editor Janet Hutchings, she said she'd be happy to see one, but only one. I hadn't even considered doing more than one of them, but the moment Janet told me I couldn't, I immediately began to think about doing a series of five, to match the five original PC stories that Fred Dannay and Manny Lee wrote during the 1960s and early '70s. I said that to Janet, and she agreed that a series of five to bookend the original five did sound like a good idea ... as long as I promised not to write more than five of them.

I wouldn't have wanted to do more Puzzle Club stories than Fred and Manny wrote, anyway, so Janet and I were on the same page about a limited series of Puzzle Club pastiches. The first one ("A Study in Scarlett!") appeared in the May/June 2019 issue of EQMM, the second ("The Adventure of the Red Circles") in January/February 2020, the third ("The Adventure of the Black-and-Blue Carbuncle") in November/December 2020, and the fourth ("The Five Orange Pipes") in January/February 2021.

It seemed clear to me that my final pastiche had to bring the series to a definitive end, and equally clear that the way to make that happen would be to kill one of the six members of the club. There's no way I would have knocked Ellery Queen himself off -- and I'm 100% positive that the Dannay and Lee heirs wouldn't have allowed me to do so, even if I had wanted to. No, the logical victim, I decided, would have to be Cyrus Syres, the founder of the group and host of all of its meetings. With Syres dead, there was no way the Puzzle Club could continue. (And, since we find out at the very beginning of the story that Syres has died, my saying so here isn't really a spoiler.)

The first four stories in the series all have titles that pun on the titles of Sherlock Holmes stories -- and of Sherlock Holmes stories whose original titles included a color (scarlet, red, blue, and orange). For this final story, I decided to stick with a Sherlockian pun, but it seemed natural to call it either "Their Final Problem" (after "The Final Problem") or "Their Last Bow" (after "His Last Bow"). Since Holmes' death at the end of "The Final Problem" turns out to be an illusion, not a reality, I decided to go with "Their Last Bow," in order to avoid hinting at the possibility of the Puzzle Club, like Holmes himself, being resurrected. I did, however, slip a "final problem" reference into the story -- and devotees of the Holmesian Canon will note that the final paragraphs of my pastiche are a close paraphrase of the ending of Conan Doyle's "His Last Bow." (When I shared "Their Last Bow" with my friend and sometime collaborator Dale Andrews, he assumed that the stuff at the end about an "east wind coming" was a not-so-oblique reference to COVID-19, but in fact I wrote the story well before the pandemic reared its ugly head, so the COVID connection is purely coincidental.)

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