Monday, February 19, 2007

Dell Mapbacks

Between 1942 and 1962 (according to William H. Lyles, Putting Dell on the Map) Dell Publishing Company put out 2,168 paperbacks. Their first (Dell #1) was Philip Ketchum's Death in the Library The back cover sported an eye peeking through a keyhole, and the blurb:

This is a DELL BOOK
presenting a new exciting Mystery Series selected by the
Editors of America's Foremost Detective Magazines.

The second, third, and fourth books are pictured above, and bore the same back cover content. With Dell #5, Four Frightened Women by George Harmon Coxe, Dell decided to do something new. They included a "Scene of the Murder in 'Four Frightened Women'" on the back cover. It was a hit, and the tradition continued with a total of 577 maps, diagrams, or blueprints adorning their back covers.

(When Ellery Queen's The American Gun Mystery (Dell #4) was reprinted, a map was added to the back cover, replacing the original content).

Dell Mapbacks have fun cover art: sometimes gaudy, sometimes sexy, at times stunningly brilliant. The map on the back covers rarely adds anything but charm. (Notable exceptions are some of the more clever puzzle-mysteries such as Hake Talbot's Rim of the Pit and the mysteries of John Dickson Carr (AKA Carter Dickson). The map from Rim of the Pit pictured here was taken from sketch by the author).

Often the editors abridged the novels that they reprinted. According to Lyles, this abridgement was often pretty merciless.

On the positive side, Dell generally chose top quality mysteries to publish, with authors that included Margaret Millar, Dorothy B. Hughes, Agatha Christie, Brett Halliday, Rex Stout, as well as the aforementioned Queen, Carr, and Coxe. Dell also made it a tradition to include a list of dramatis personae, "The Persons This Mystery is About," before the title page.

The Mapbacks weren't all mysteries. There were some romance novels, adventures, science fiction novels, and some books that, if you judge by the cover, were only meant to titillate. I can't speak for the content of these books, but the covers are pretty fetching.

Below are a few interesting covers - some of them favorites of mine, others just curiosities. Note that the A.A. Fair (Erle Stanley Gardner) novel pictured below, Fools Die on Friday, was later reprinted (as Dell #1542) the woman pictured was showing considerably less skin.

Below are a bunch of the back cover maps. Feel free to click on them for a closer look.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Recent Acquisitions.

I love my books. Although my collecting tastes are eclectic, the following volumes - all recently acquired - show that there are patterns in my habit.

What do I like to collect?

Lawrence Block (about 140 volumes)
Fredric Brown
R. Austin Freemam
H.C. Bailey
Ellery Queen
Jacques Futrelle

Dwight V. Babcock
Doubleday Crime Club
Dell Mapbacks
Any mystery/crime novel with a Lewis Carroll allusion in the title (this started after I read Fredric Brown's Night of the Jabberwock).

I also have quite a few volumes of Rex Stout, John Dickson Carr, Erle Stanley Gardner, and Ed McBain, but so many of these are paperback reprints, so I'm not sure they're in the same ballpark. I have a lot of books by the three MacDonalds (Philip MacDonald, John D. MacDonald, and Ross Macdonald).

I came across this paperback of George Bagby's Mysteriouser and Mysteriouser, in which the Alice and Wonderland statue in Central Park plays prominently. Bagby is a pseudonym of Aaron Marc Stein's. I also have the hardcover first of this, which incidentally is a Doubleday Crime Club volume.

I met and had dinner with Bill DeAndrea at the Seattle Bouchercon in 1994. We corresponded briefly until his death a few years later. I liked him and his books, of which I own most titles. He wrote two books under the name Philip Degrave, Unholy Moses and Keep the Faith, Baby. I recently replaced my paperback (Paperjacks ©) copy with this Doubleday Crime Club first.

Larry Block has written under many pseudonyms, some that I'm sure he's rather forget about. While at Left Coast, I picked up two paperback firsts written under the name Paul Kavanaugh

Here are a few recently found Crime Clubs. Doubleday began publishing books with the Crime Club symbol (a composite of a guy with a gun, a guy falling, and the letters C-R-I-M-E) in 1928, and continued into the 1990s. Ellen Nehr was the authority on these for many years. After her death, Bill Deeck took up the mantle. I'm not sure if anyone is keeping up with the scholarship these days.

Anthony Berkeley's Silk Stocking Murder was published during the Crime Club's first year.

The Crime Conductor by Philip MacDonald, was published in 1931. Philip was the only one of the MacDonalds to be British (although he moved to California in the 1930s. He is probably best known for The List of Adrian Messenger and The Warrent for X.

H.C. Bailey wrote volumes of short stories featuring the cherubic physician Reggie Fortune. He also wrote numerous novels featuring a sly lawyer named Joshua Clunk. Bailey may be difficult reading for modern tastes, but a brilliant writer. Shadow on the Wall was the first novel-length "Reggie Fortune" story to be published.

Future blog postings will focus on Futrelle, Babcock, and whatever else strikes my fancy.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Reading in the Rain
Left Coast Crime Convention
February 1-4, Seattle, WA

I'm taking a little break in my intense "catching up" after a wonderful trip to Seattle. Left Coast is a nice convention. Not on the same scale as Bouchercon, but big enough for a lot of fun, and for me to drop more than a few quarters on books. Ahem.

Here is a group of DAPA-EM members (past and present) with whom I had dinner on night #1. Left to right we've got Thom Walls, Ted Fitzgerald, Bryan Barrett, and Cap'n Bob Napier. As I looked around the table, I noted that all five of us had beards. After taking our drink orders, our waiter asked if we were, by any chance, here for the mystery convention. We were surprised. The restaurant was way downtown from the convention hotel. Were we that transparent? It turned out that the waiter, Bruce Fergusson, was himself a novelist. (And we thought they were all struggling actors). Back in 1999 he had written The Piper's Sons to positive reviews.

Cap'n Bob did a short presentation about the Plot Genii, a book and spinner device used to concoct mystery plotlines. The usefullness of the device is dubious, but the presentation was entertaining. Afterwards several DAPA-EM members (and Chris Aldrich) posed with Bob. Pictured are Roger Sobin, Cap'n Bob (kneeling), Kate Derie, Ted Fitzgerald, Chris Aldrich, and myself. Maggie Mason escaped before the picture was taken. [NOTE: it was pointed out to me that I look especially fat in this picture. I could stand to loose a few pounds, but this is honestly bad posture and/or bad lighting.]
Here, a very busy DAPA-mEMber, Janet Rudolph, shares her infectious smile with authors Steve Brewer and Colin Campbell.

Friday evening the NW chapter of Mystery Writers of America co-hosted a reception at Doc Maynard's, a gold-rush era saloon in Pioneer Square. The reception included a tour of Underground Seattle with a particularly adult bent. We learned quite a bit about prostitution in the late 19th century. Pictured here are Meg Chittenden and Con Lehane, enjoying drinks at the Doc Maynard bar. (Con, being the author of a series featuring bartender-sleuth Brian McNulty, knows his way around a bar).
At the "Lefty" banquet, I enjoyed dinner with fellow DAPA-mEMbers Ted Fitzgerald and Roger Sobin, along with Roger's wife Genie. Also at our table were Rick Blechta, Diana Chambers, and Charles Benoit (pictured left to right in photo below), all who participated in brilliant panel on mysteries in remote locales. Charles regaled us with amusing stories of his days in the Army as part of the Presidential Guard. (Charles' website is a stitch - give it a visit).

Genie and Roger Sobin and me. Roger was having bizarre luck at the dinner. One waiter clocked him right on the bridge of his nose with a salad plate. Then an hour later a different waiter poured coffee down his back. He didn't do anything to deserve it! Just wrong place, wrong time.

Finally, here are a few of us enjoying cocktails at the bar. That's Ted again on the left, a woman whose name I think is Betsy, [CORRECTION: Her name is Emily. Thanks Ted and Maggie] then Meg Chittenden, and myself.