Read an Excerpt
The Essential Mystery ListsFor Readers, Collectors, and Librarians
Poisoned Pen PressCopyright © 2007 Roger M. Sobin
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSection I: Introduction
Part 1: A Place to Begin
A couple of months ago, I was in a used bookstore wandering around in the mystery section. A woman was in the same section, and she seemed to be looking at everything without selecting anything. After a brief conversation, she noted that she liked reading mysteries and had found several authors she liked, but was looking for some new authors to read. She noticed that I had a list of books and asked what was on my list. I told her that I was in the same position some years ago. I then started looking for books that had been nominated for or won some of the mystery awards or were on the classic or best lists. I had already selected eight or nine titles on my list. I wrote down some computer web sites for her to look at, offered some ideas on collecting, and even selected several books that she took with her.
* * *
My wife and I left Chicago and the 2005 Bouchercon gathering of 1,600 or so mystery writers and fans. We pulled into St. Louis early on Monday morning and stopped for gas. As I went in to pay for the gas and get a cup of coffee, the clerk behind the counter noticed my (new) Bouchercon t-shirt and said, "I always wanted to attend that convention." I was surprised that she knew what Bouchercon was, but then again there are fans everywhere.
This resource book is dedicated to these individuals and others who love to read in the mystery field.
This resource can be used in various ways:
1. By new readers who want to explore the mystery field.
2. By book collectors to help them better understand what they have and arrange their books in some kind of order.
3. By librarians who want to increase selections in the mystery field, make specific lists for library patrons, and create special displays or opportunities (mystery month, youth mystery month, historic mysteries, hardboiled, cozies, thrillers, etc.).
4. By people who use the library system to read specific works and want suggestions.
5. By people who want to have at their fingertips specific lists of award winners and nominees, and classic or "best" lists.
Part 2: The Reader's Collection: New and Used Mystery Books
Reading in the mystery field is very enjoyable, and for many of us leads to an addiction. Several years ago I wondered, should I purchase the new mysteries—those on the bestseller list—some of the classic mysteries, or a combination? Where should I start?
Some readers go to the local library and check out books. They read several books a week, return those, and take home some more. Others purchase books and keep them or pass them along to friends.
Some readers purchase first editions and have them signed by the authors. There are two choices for signing: 1) personal "To xxxxx, hope you enjoy this story, xxxxx xxxxx," or 2) author's signature only (this appears to be more valuable at resale, if you ever need to part with the book).
What I want to share is my system for collecting a reading library of nominated, award winning, and classic or "best" mystery books. Both new and used books are a fine way to accomplish this.
Database of books. After looking at the many mystery awards and mystery lists I located using various sources including web sites, I entered the data to my computer. Then I made columns of: a) year published, b) award or best list, c) book title, and d) author. I decided to collect both the winners and the nominees of the novel category as well as various classic or best lists. Later I added true crime, nonfiction, critical, short story, juvenile and youth or young adult, and other categories.
The fun of finding books. After making my list, I discovered the great joy of searching for and finding the books. I began by looking at the books in my own library and placing those I already owned in a separate place. I looked in the local phone book for used bookstores and discount or closeout bookstores and visited them when I could. Even though some of the titles on my list are out of print—they are out there. I learned to ask personnel at the stores when a sale would be held. Most used bookstores charge one-half of the original list price and offer additional savings from time to time. The local library also has great book sales. In San Antonio, the downtown main public library sells hardbacks at $1.00. Many of the books come with plastic covers, and most of them are in good to excellent condition.
The real adventure. At Bouchercon 2003 in Las Vegas, the "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang" panel was comprised of Dana Stabenow, Laurie King, Val McDermid, and Stephen Booth. Each panelist read four or five preselected first lines from other authors and noted how they suck the reader into the world of the novel. It was a stimulating session. I wrote down the titles, and when I arrived home, I checked my list. I had almost all of the books discussed and jumped right into reading many of them. If I did not have this collection underway and wanted to pursue some of these authors' suggestions, I would have either had to order them from a bookseller (which can get expensive) or visit the local library (which takes time). Many of the books could be out of print and ordered online.
Before leaving to take a vacation or business trip, I check the online yellow pages for mystery and/or used bookstores in the cities I will visit. Sometimes I call in advance to inquire if a store has a mystery section. I also ask if there are other bookstores nearby. Visiting a store usually takes one to two hours, sometimes longer. For example, at one store the manager pointed me toward the mystery section. After carefully going through the mystery section, I found that the next aisle held suspense books. Then, there was a thriller section. Then after covering those from A to Z, I found a newer books section that had mystery, suspense, and thrillers together. I was in that used bookstore for four hours, but came out with numerous books on my list. Some stores also have a classic or oldies-but-goodies section.
Most used bookstores file their books in alphabetical order by author. However, I have come across a few stores that do not.
I see my collection as a reader's collection. I found that when I started this collection I already had a number of books on my list. You probably do as well.
Classic or best list mystery books. There are numerous lists of classic or best list mystery books including Haycraft-Queen Cornerstones, Sandoe's Honor Roll of Crime Fiction, Barzun and Taylor's A Catalogue of Crime, and Keating's Crime and Mystery: The 100 Best Books to name a few. These are wonderful lists. Many of the books are out of print; some are in newer editions. However, you can find most of them in used bookstores.
Reading the classics today. At a Bouchercon session entitled: "Double Down: Hammett & Chandler: Who is Greater?" (panelists: Joe Gores, Stephen Mertz, and William Nolan) a panelist commented that Michael Connelly read many of the mystery classics before he started writing and that discipline made him a better author. Another person said that if some of the younger writers today would read the classics they would write better books.
Other books. Some collectors purchase anything written by a favorite author whether the book is on one of the above-mentioned lists or if the reviews are positive. That is another way of collecting. While reading some of the books on the lists that follow, I found authors that I had not read (or even heard of) and then purchased other books by them.
Storage. This can be a problem. I shelve my books this way: the first section is for the Top 100 Mystery Novels of All Time as selected by the Mystery Writers of America in 1995 (see, The Crown Crime Companion: The Top 100 Mystery Novels of All Time: Selected by the Mystery Writers of America, annotated by Otto Penzler, compiled by Mickey Friedman) by order number, 1 through 100. Next, I place all of the Edgar® winners (best novel, best first novel, best paperback). Following those, all other award winners (Agatha, Barry, Shamus, etc.). These are followed by all of the books nominated for awards. I have another place for the classic or best lists (like Haycraft-Queen Cornerstones, Keating, Lachman, etc.). Each section is in alphabetical order by author except the first section that I keep in their top 100 listing. To keep them straight, I place small colored dots I purchase from an office supply store on the lower right back corner (green for winners and wrote which award, orange for nominees, and red for the classic or best lists) to easily return them to the correct area.
Personality types. This reader's collection is not for everyone. One must enjoy looking and searching for books, building a database or using this resource volume, updating the list, placing the books in order, etc. Some might call us active compulsive types. Others might not want to try this approach, but I love it. I meet new acquaintances in big and small towns at bookstores that I have never previously visited. Checking and double-checking my list, is all part of the hobby. While on vacation in Omaha, Nebraska, I visited the Antiquarian Bookstore. All paperbacks were $1.50, and the owner has a very funny story about Mary Higgins Clark and Carol Higgins Clark. Stop by and visit him or call him on the phone for the story.
Updating the listings. Each year, nominees are announced. I build another database for that year, and I add them to the total listings at the end of the year. The search is on. I purchase some books when they are new, but titles end up in the used bookstores quickly. In addition, some book titles are on more than one mystery list. Some win in one or two categories, and others are just on the nominated lists. I have this list with me at all times. You never know when you will see a garage sale, a used bookstore, a library sale, or stop in a bookseller and see titles on discount table.
Part 3: Researching the Awards and Best Lists
The beginnings. This resource project/book started out as a hobby to collect books for myself. In the early 1980s, I purchased a copy of The Edgar Winners, 33rd Annual Anthology of the Mystery Writers of America: Twenty-Four Stories Selected from the Winners of the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Excellence, edited by Bill Pronzini. In the back section of the book was a list of the Edgar® winners. I copied the list of novels and started looking for some of the titles. That was before home computers, so I used a typewriter and worked on the lists the old-fashioned way. Most of the other awards did not even exist then. The Shamus Awards began in 1982, Arthur Ellis Awards in 1984, Anthony Awards in 1986, Macavity Awards in 1987, Agatha Awards in 1989, Hammett Awards in 1992, and Barry Awards in 1997. In those days I subscribed to The Armchair Detective (TAD), The Mystery FANcier, Spiderweb, Mystery Magazine, The Saint Magazine, Michael Shayne Mystery Magazine, and of course Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. I read them then and have kept them over the years. Those issues of TAD (I have all of the issues from 1976 to 1997) are a staple for any collector or library.
In 2002, my wife and I attended our first Bouchercon conference in Austin, Texas. It was at that conference that I decided to renew my commitment to collecting mystery related books. With the insight of the many awards and classic or best lists, I created a database on the computer as the basis for my renewed hobby.
First, I set my goals: award winners and nominees. Sitting at the banquet awards dinner at the 2002 Bouchercon, I heard several people comment that many of the books that do not win each year in the various categories were just as good and sometimes better than the books that do win. Books are personal. Not everyone likes every book or author (award winning or not). Therefore, I set my parameters high and wide. Second, I like the classic or older mysteries as well. I knew from the start that I must include those titles.
Face it—some very important authors are not on any of these lists. Maybe you will consider adding a new best list (for yourself or share with us) of important authors or titles.
At that point, I expanded my circle to all of the awards and classic or best lists I could locate. I was mainly concerned with the novels and made separate computer files for each of the lists and then a central database for all of the novels as described in Part 2.
At various points, I had to purchase more bookshelves and redirect some from other locations around the house. Today, when I want to find a certain title or place a book back, I can look on the list, check the colored dot on the lower back right side, and go directly to the location.
Several people suggested that I share my collecting methods and research because other people might like to collect books and/or make better sense of the books they already had.
I expanded my list to include other lists that I came across. Each year I still needed to add the newly nominated books to the list from all of the award groups. Most of the fan magazines listed the different awards for the year as well as organizational web sites. Also, using the web I searched for mystery awards and started locating titles of past years.
Then I decided to print out the list and see if someone was interested in publishing a resource book for others. I showed the project to Marvin Lachman and Francis M. Nevins at the 2005 Boucheron, and they both said that this project needed to be published. No one had taken this direction in the past, and it would be wonderful to have all of the suggested lists in one place.
Why these books in the project? When considering the award or nominated titles, we of course limit ourselves to just those titles. Let us say that an awards group (Mystery Writers of America, Malice Domestic, Hammett, etc.) present a list of five or six nominees each year in various categories (best novel, best first novel, best paperback, etc.). In 2006, there were about 290 titles in the novel category, nominated for the various awards. Were those the best novels of the year? Not necessarily. Nevertheless, they were the ones nominated by each group, and they have guidelines for selection. For instance, Agatha nominated titles are usually not the same type of titles nominated by The Private Eye Writers of America, for the Shamus Awards, or for the Edgar® Awards. There is a place for the hardboiled detective novels as well as the thriller, suspense, and cozy novel.
Yes, there are many great books not on the list. In some ways, these selections are like the motion picture industry awards. The Golden Globes or the Academy Awards select several film titles as finalists or nominees for their awards. Then, at a special ceremony, the winners are announced. Maybe your favorite did not win. Maybe your favorite is not even on the list of nominees to be considered. That's OK, because you will see the movie anyway, watch it on TV, and even purchase the video or DVD of the film. The same is true with the mystery awards. Out of the thousands of book titles up for consideration, only a small number of these are in the final selection or cut.
On the other hand, just as there are overlooked movies in the motion picture arena, there are overlooked books and authors in the mystery field. Jim Huang in his book, They Died in Vain: Overlooked, Underappreciated and Forgotten Mystery Novels brings this point home.
As the years move on, the good titles will find a way of being reprinted and available. What is confusing is what the publishers and new booksellers do to initiate book sales. High-tech marketing is in full gear. They have their leading authors and inundate us with promotions for the book, be it outstanding, great, good, or even a weak offering. They have author's contracts, printing costs, publicity, promotion, etc., and they want sales. Walk in to a Barnes and Noble, Borders, or other chain bookstores and the special displays are right there for us—we cannot miss the promotion.
Excerpted from The Essential Mystery Lists Copyright © 2007 by Roger M. Sobin. Excerpted by permission of Poisoned Pen Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.