The internet’s great and everything, but it does have downsides. One of them, for me, is the loss of serendipity. Before Amazon, Abebooks and Green Metropolis, I could hear about a book but not actually get hold of it for years. Finding something I really wanted to read gave me a real thrill. Now, it’s just a matter of waiting for Mrs Offences to finish on Mumsnet and hand over the laptop, and I can get hold of whatever I want in seconds. Zero thrill. It must be even worse with Kindles – at least I still get the excitement of something arriving in the post.
Anyway, another sad loss is the reference book. If you can find something out in seconds, why do you need a book? As a result, reference books are dying out. And if even Britannica has moved online, who is going to publish hard-copy crime-fiction reference books? Probably nobody, sadly. I have a few really nice reference works about crime fiction, and I’m going to share them in this occasional series – Just the Facts.
Number one is this lovely:
Murder in Print: A Guide to Two Centuries of Crime Fiction
This edition 1986, Barn Owl Books
According to its jacket, Murder in Print outlines 500 titles by 260 writers from 8 countries. Melvyn Barnes was a public librarian for many years and contributed to many works on crime fiction, and this is an authoritative guide which begins in 1794 with Caleb Williams and ends with a selection of works from the early 1980s.
I compared two of Barnes’ necessarily succinct write-ups with my recent reviews to see if I agreed with his verdicts.
‘The investigations of Lord Peter Wimsey, however, are the basis of Dorothy L. Sayers’ reputation. Of these, special mention must be made of
Sayers, Dorothy L.
Murder must advertise
Gollancz, 1933; New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1933
for its perfect blend of murder mystery, cocaine-trafficking among bored young people, and the affectations of the advertising world. At Pym’s Publicity, a man is killed in a headlong fall down a flight of stairs. Bredon, alias Lord Peter Wimsey, is brought in to replace him, and conducts his investigation against a background made authentic by the author’s own working experience in advertising.’
I can’t argue with the verdict, but I do think this manages to cram in two spoilers, albeit of things which are revealed fairly early in the narrative. My review is here.
‘Another of the new crop of crime writers, John Gaunt (b. 1933), has under the pseudonym ‘Jonathan Gash’ given us the lively Lovejoy, an antique dealer who frequently findsw himself on the receiving end of all kinds of villainy. With equal fervour he pursues his twin passions, beautiful objects and willing women, and his wit and wisdom on both subjects is an educational experience for the reader. His adventures are romps, but intelligent romps for all that.’
In my review of The Judas Pair I pretty much agree with 50% of this (the antiques rather than the women), but I thought it too dark to deserve the label ‘romp’.
So why do I love this book? It’s been the basis for much of my reading ever since I bought it – going back to my opening paragraph, Murder in Print is how I knew what to keep an eye open for.
As an example, I am still looking for a copy of Skin Deep….
Hodder & Stoughton, 1968
was published in New York as The glass-sided ants’ nest (Harper, Row, 1968). It tells the story of a New Guinea tribe, all named Ku, living in a house in London. Superintendent Pibble investigates when one is murdered with the heavy wooden figure of an owl…’
Past Offences by Rich Westwood is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Rich – Thanks for this. It really does look like something I ought to have on my shelf. I agree with you too about the change in the way we look things up. Certain kinds of reference things are useful and it is sad to contemplate the fact that not a lot of them are going to be published.
Used copies are very cheap–ignore the collectibles. And I get stuff from Amazon UK all the time, so it’s no big deal to go the other way.
That’s quite a cover! Thanks for the link Judy.
I used to have books that I was looking for for years. I agree that the internet has killed this but at the same time it is wonderful to find books that I lent to someone and never saw again. I’ve managed to replace a few books in my collection this way. And I still love going to bookshops.
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