The Plumley Inheritance is incredibly scarce. The author, Christopher Bush is not a favorite of mine–not at all. The one title of his I tried to muddle through was dry, uninteresting and in the end, bored me to sleep.
But this book has my last name in the title. Spelled the way we spell it. And that’s all the reason I needed to want a copy. Of course, when I first saw the title, I didn’t know a thing about it, only that several people had it on their search cards at the mystery bookstore I was managing. The independent bookshop sold many out of print and rare first editions of crime fiction, and had a service of searching for customers needs and wants. This was back in the cave age, when things like this were written on index cards with the name of the person interested, and a list of titles and authors they wanted. The cards were stored in an index file one had to ruffle through to find anything. No disk or DVD or CD full of info, no hard drive or flash drive. Only fat fingers and a pencil.
Thus began my quest. One that I’d no idea was going to be frustrating and fruitless for so long. I had looked up the title in both of my editions of The Hubin. The Hubin is what my boss and others called a huge heavy two volume set of every mystery title written in the universe up until the mid 1990s.One volume was listed by author, the other by title. Hubin is the last name of the herculean individual who spent countless hours, months, years compiling the tomes. He has recently expanded the info to include everything realeased since his 90s publication. The date of publication was 1928. Publishers: Jarrolds.
The spelling in the Hubin Author volume had it PlumlEy, which is my spelling, but the Title volume spelled it Plumly–no E. Confused, I called Mr. Hubin and asked which was correct, if it was without the e, like the writer of later Oz books spelled it, Ruth Plumly Thompson, I’d no use for it. He had no idea the Title volume had it spelled without an E, an obvious typo, and confirmed the correct title had one. I was E for excited at that point. But then the bad news came. Mr. Hubin had recently sold his huge collection of crime fiction, and he informed me that The Plumley Inheritance was one of the pieces. He had not seen a copy of it before or since he came across it in one of those serendipity moments in England. No dust jacket, but a copy. I asked, of course, who had bought his copy, and he confirmed what I feared, my boss did.
That meant no chance ever of acquiring that copy. My boss collected crime fiction the way some people collect sea shells, he’s always searching, finding, and buying those titles not crossed off in pencil, in his Hubin. His collection was huge, and cherished, as one would expect.
Now, I may have asked to at least see it, or perhaps been bolder and asked to borrow during lunch hours and read it. All reasonable ideas which never occurred to me. I never TOUCHED a single book in his collection, I was afraid of breathing on them. The books in his office/library were sacred. I understood why and completely respected this, as he demanded people do. Of course with good cause. Handling of such volumes increases the risk of damage and wear, and some of his pieces were worth thousands and thousands of dollars. Not only didn’t I want to be responsible for any damage, but I wouldn’t handle any out of respect. He taught me everything I ever learned about old crime fiction, collecting, handling, selling, shelving, pricing, etc.
So, I put an index card with my name and The Plumley Inheritance on it, and wished in vain like the other collectors whose cards had a film of dust. While waiting for the impossible, my research on the book from volumes on collecting informed me there was no US edition, which explained why none were found here, and since it was his first book, not as many copies would have been printed. And, it is just possible that copies of this book among many were recycled during WWII, when paper was scarce and older books were used to create new pages. Whatever reason, this book was beyond scarce, it was practically invisible.
After I’d left that job, and began at another bookshop, I continued to hunt for the book, periodically typing in the title on bookfinder, which serves so many dealers, and invariably it came back ‘Sorry, we found no matching results at this time.’ Years and years of the same result. One coy customer and self anointed ‘book dealer” kept referring to ‘someone I know has a copy.’ How that was supposed to help me, I’d no clue. She vaguely indicated she was trying to pry it away from the owner for me, but I didn’t hold my breath.
By the time I’d begun working on my own, writing a mystery newsletter, my hopes petered out. Then, a miracle–an e-mail online book catalog at my inbox, and amongst the titles available–Yep, The Plumley Inheritance. One teensy problem–it was 4 or 5 thousand buck-er-roonies. EEK! My hopes were deflated, in my mind, forever, because if that was the going price for a copy of the book, forgetaboutit! Closer inspection revealed the reason why–it was in dust jacket, inscribed by the author, AND the author’s own copy! Still, I called up, only to be informed it had already sold. I explained my sorrow to the dealer, and he responded with shocking news– he had a xerox of the dust jacket! Scanned from a different copy years ago! And he had read the book! Eureka! By this point I didn’t care if the story was printed on a napkin, read aloud to me in sing-song, or someone gave me a summery in sign language, I just wanted to know SOMETHING about the content. I awaited breathlessly for him to continue. He did, saying, he didn’t remember a thing about it, ugh!!
Sensing my heartache, he generously sent me a printout of his copy of the dust jacket art, all the way from the UK, without expecting reimbursement. The artwork didn’t disappoint–super Deco lines and my name boldly at the top was thrilling to see. He was a class act. About a year later, a fellow who created dust jacket facsimiles sent me a copy of his restored jacket of The Plumley Inheritance. He categorically refused to divulge whose collection the book he scanned to create the dust jacket came from. Exasperating, but understandable. He’d scanned tons of our books, and we’d not be pleased if people started hounding us for some book they found was in our collection from his spilling book beans. I put the fake jacket on some book I had hanging around, and pretended it was real.
Time drifted by. Occasionally, bookfinder would be tapped, but I left the search fall into the background of my thoughts.
Once in a blue moon, a new idea about how to procure a copy leaped from the dark corners and marched forward. One such marcher searched the internet for libraries that may have a copy of the book. A hit! The Bodleian in Oxford, for crying out loud! I’d been to that exact spot a couple of years before Plumley and Inheritance were an obsession. So what good did it do me to have been there– like I would have been able to check it out, carry back to the states?? Duh, hardly. Sit in the library and read for hours? Maybe. But unlikely. My heart pitter pattered when I filled out a form to receive a printout of the book’s content. I was ecstatic. At last, at last! The lead had come from a Golden Age of Mysteries group, so I figured it must pan out-people in the group found books this way all the time.
I paid, and waited. A couple of weeks later, a letter arrived with a refund and explanation, the book was too delicate and old to be scanned. The end.
That was it. That’s when I decided I needed to stop wanting this book. After all, what did I want it for, other than my name? Nothing. I gave up.
A few weeks ago, a very close bookseller friend of mine called me up, and asked if I was sitting down. I was worried because he’d heath problems lately. I sat, he spoke. “you’ll never know what book I found”. I gasped, really, I did, I gasped just like they describe in old mysteries. Dare I say it, dare I speak the title? What if I’m way off, what if it’s not it? I said the title anyway. Yes, that’s the book he found. Speechless, not usual for me, he continued. He had, unknown to me, put in a search with ABE years ago for The Plumley Inheritance. For me. And then forgot about it. When an e-mail arrived telling him a book he’d been searching for was found and did he want it, he was puzzled, he’d not put in a request lately.
He checked what book they were e-mailing about, and The Plumley Inheritance jumped out–he jumped up–called me–I fell out of my chair–yelled –buy it–buy it–I’ll send a check–I’ll paypal– just buy it! And he did. I typed the title in on bookfinder, and it came up! For that one time frame of a few hours before they could remove the listing, the title was there. A satisfying feeling.
Coming from the UK takes time, and I waited, and waited, thinking he’d sent it to my address. He called –‘guess what I have in my hands?’ Oh no, he’d had it sent to himself! He continued, ‘I’m going to read it first, then when you and your husband are up my way, you can pick it up.’
Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaat? I kept cool, and within a couple of seconds he burst out laughing, knowing he’d pulled one over on me. He would put it in the mail within the next couple of days.
This morning I tore open a box carefully packaged and removed my prize. Not exactly perfect-it is a library edition. The boards look odd, and the size is very small. Naturally, no dust jacket or the cost wouldn’t have been in my ball park. More telling, the facsimile dust jacket doesn’t fit! it’s too large. Now we’re flummoxed. To our knowledge, it didn’t go into multiple printings, and if it had, why would the book shrink? Ok, maybe they printed a different size for libraries only? Because it’s clearly an ex-library, Lambeth Library is stamped within several times, which naturally makes it less valuable, some would think it has no value at all, but its scarcity still commanded 80 hard earned dollars. It does not have a date on the copyright page, but then I don’t know how Jarrolds dealt with copyrights at that point in time. Could the restorer have made a mistake and created a too large jacket? I doubt that anyone else has a copy that needed a jacket so we could compare.
A mystery of a mystery, but I care little. All that is required is the book have all its pages, and I’m able to read the print. Yep, A-OK.
I skimmed some pages with my mother looking over my shoulder–now I was afraid that no Plumley would be mentioned in the book–that only the title had anything to do with the darn Plumleys! Relief! Several Plumleys are traipsing throughout the plot, one named George, a late relative’s name.
My plans to read this book demand quiet, a cool beverage, soft chair and great waves of gratitude to a super friend and to the book Gods who had mercy and found my Plumley Inheritance. I’ll let you know whodunit.