Tales of the Black Widowers - By Isaac Asimov

To Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine

to David Ford

and to the Trap-Door Spiders for reasons detailed in the introduction

Special Note

The erudite copy reader points out that since the stories that follow were written for separate publication in a magazine originally, I identify the continuing characters each time, and do it repetitious-ly. He pointed out several of the more nauseating examples of this and, with reverence for his exalted position, I corrected the matter in accordance with his suggestions. There undoubtedly remain some dozens of repetitions that could bear revision, but I hate to introduce too many changes from the pristine originals. Would you forgive me, then, for permitting them to stay?


Because I have a friendly and personal writing style, readers have a tendency to write to me in a friendly and personal way, asking all kinds of friendly and personal questions. And because I really am what my writing style, such as it is, portrays me to be, I answer those letters. And since I don't have a secretary or any form of assistant whatever, it takes a lot of the time I should be devoting to writing.

It is only natural, then, that I have taken to writing introductions to my books in an attempt to answer some of the anticipated questions in advance, thus forestalling some of the letters.

For instance, because I write in many fields, I frequently get questions such as these:

"Why do you, a lowly science fiction writer, think you can write a two-volume work on Shakespeare?"

"Why do you, a Shakespearean scholar, choose to write science fiction thrillers?"

"What gives you, a biochemist, the nerve to write books on history?"

"What makes you, a mere historian, think you know anything about science?"

And so on, and so on.

It seems certain, then, that I will be asked, either with amusement or with exasperation, why I am writing mystery stories.

Here goes, then.

I started my writing career in science fiction, and I still write science fiction when I can, for it remains my first and chief literary love. However, I am interested in many things and among them has been the mystery. I have been reading mysteries almost as long as I have been reading science fiction. I remember risking my life when, as a ten-year-old, I pilfered forbidden copies of The Shadow from under my father's pillow when he was taking his afternoon nap. (I asked him why he read it if I was forbidden, and he said he needed it in order to learn English, whereas I had the advantage of school. What a rotten reason I thought that was.)

In writing science fiction, then, I frequently introduced the mystery motif. Two of my novels, The Caves of Steel (Doubleday, 1953) and The Naked Sun (Doubleday, 1957), are full-fledged murder mysteries for all that they are science fiction as well. I have written enough shorter science fiction mysteries of one sort or another to make it possible to publish a collection of them as Asimov's Mysteries (Doubleday, 1968).

I also wrote a "straight" mystery novel, The Death Dealers (Avon, 1958), [Well, it was rejected by Doubleday, if you must know] which was eventually reissued in 1968 by Walker amp; Company under my own title of A Whiff of Death. This, however, dealt entirely with science and scientists and its atmosphere was still that of the science fiction novel, as was true of two mystery short stories I sold to mystery magazines.

Increasingly, I felt the itch to write mysteries that had nothing to do with science. One thing that held me back, though, was the fact that the mystery had evolved in the last quarter-century and my tastes had not. Mysteries these days are heavily drenched in liquor, injected with drugs, marinated in sex, and roasted in sadism, whereas my detective ideal is Hercule Poirot and his little gray cells.

But then, back in 1971, I received a letter from that gorgeous blond young lady, Eleanor Sullivan, who is managing editor of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine (or EQMM for short), asking if I would consider writing a short story for the magazine. Of course, I jubilantly agreed, because I thought that if they asked for one, they couldn't possibly have the cruelty to reject it once written, and that meant I could safely write my own kind of story -very cerebral.

I began revolving plot possibilities in my head rather anxiously, for I wanted something with a reasonable twist to it and Agatha Christie, all by herself, had already used virtually all possible twists.