Murder By The Book – Mysteries for Bibliophiles Edited by Martin Edwards – A wonderful collection of stories from the British Library Crime Classics series
Murder by the Book – Mysteries for Bibliophiles Edited by Martin Edwards
This book beautifully reprinted by the wonderful British Library Crime Classics series deserved a swifter review from me – particularly as it fits in with my current obsession with books about books. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this collection. As the title and subtitle suggest, it features sixteen short stories (they vary in length!) where a crime, usually a murder, relates to books, publishing, authors or writing in general. After all, when writing a detective story an author is often encouraged to write about what they know – and they know about the process of writing, getting published better than most. Add in the fact that most writers read a lot and have access to books as objects and the perfect set up may well involve a clue in a book, even if it is a bit obscure!
This particular book is edited by Martin Edwards who provides an Introduction which explains the genre of “bibliomysteries”, a popular tradition within mystery writing since the late 1800s. While the term is subjective, it suggests that if the setting is a “bookshop or library, it is a bibliomystery, just as it is if a major character is a bookseller or a librarian”. The involvement of collectors of rare books, publishers, and authors, if their calling is relevant to the story can also bring the novel or as in this case, story, into the definition. Martin lists and highlights novels which through the decades of the twentieth century have featured one or more of the necessary elements to qualify as a bibliomystery.
As with the other collections of stories in this popular series, Edwards has discovered a range of stories from various authors which reflect the styles and achievements of various authors from the earlier half of the twentieth century onwards. For those who enjoy “Golden Age” mysteries and similar there is so much to enjoy and authors to recognise. They range from the well known A.A. Milne whose fame is based on the Pooh stories but who was a founder member of the Detection Club, to Gladys Mitchell and Ngaio Marsh, some of the leading lights of the Golden Age Detection group. Edmund Crispen is also represented in a typically quirky tale of a frustrated author in “We Know You’re Busy Writing”. There are less well known writers included, but those who enjoy the British Library series will recognise such names as E.C. Bentley and a particularly chilling tale from Christianna Brand. Julian Symons’ “The Clue In The Book” is a short story which is difficult to review without spoilers, as it is so short and includes a classic set up and crime. It is a valuable story in the context of this collection as there are at least two reasons why it should be considered as a bibliomystery.
Those who enjoy mystery and crime fiction will definitely find much to enjoy in this collection of stories, benefitting as it does from the theme of books, writing and general reading. It features names that many will be familiar with in perhaps different guises as well as those whose first calling was short stories to entertain through confusion. I recommend this volume as an enjoyable read, but also one that introduces writers to new potential fans.