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Biblios = Books about Books

  • Part 1: Books about Books–Better Known as Biblios
  • Part 2  Bibilos Focusing on Booksellers/Collectors
  • Part 3  Bibilos Focusing on Writers
  • Part 4  Bibilos Focusing on Writers
  • Part 5  Bibilos Focusing on Publishers

Biblio–def.: ‘the Greek root for a variety of words referring to the book, such as bibliography, bibliomania, etc.’ I’ve often wondered how many books written throughout the centuries have books themselves as subjects. Bookstores, writers, publishers, editors, libraries, are all considered part of the biblio world. As my focus, as usual, is on crime fiction, I thought I’d wander through some titles I know that feature the written word.

The first and one of the best that comes to mind is Booked to Die by John Dunning, and the subsequent books in the Cliff Janeway detective series. Booked to Die opened up a new world for some readers and collectors–exposing the inner workings of collecting modern titles–first editions of Hemmingway or Steinbeck, as opposed to the very old texts usually associated with rare book collectors. Dunning’s insider knowledge comes from his own collecting and ownership of a bookstore of modern classics. His research into the subject is extensive. One title explores a specific historical event, almost obscuring the very crime that was committed that sent former cop and now rare bookshop owner, Janeway, on his quest to begin with. Collecting books can become an obsession, and with that obsession may come envy, jealousy, and violence to obtain a rare volume.

Quite a few mystery writers decided to give their protagonists the setting of a bookstore, and the career of bookseller. One of my personal favorites is Joan Hess’ series with Claire Malloy and her typical teenage daughter, Inez. Although most of the time the bookstore is only a backdrop to murder elsewhere, Hess is able to show the reader how tough it is to make a living having one’s own shop. They are witty, fun and fascinating reads. One of the most well known authors of bookstore mysteries was Carolyn G. Hart.  The windows in the Death on Demand bookstore owned by Annie Darling  were tableaus that gave clues to a certain past mystery title. A character within the novel  who came up with the correct title won a prize, and naturally the reader was intrigued enough to guess or wait until the end for the answer.   In Mint Julep Murder,  Annie attends a book festival and finds a publisher murdered by poison.  Hart’s series lasted  many years. If cozy mysteries are your bread and butter, you have a wonderful journey of books awaiting you if you’ve not yet read Hart.

A small sensation was created by the offbeat book Like A Hole in the Head by Jen Banbury about a bookseller who obtains a rare Jack London first edition, and immediately sells it. Unfortunately, the original owner wants the book back, and will do whatever it takes to get it–and we know what that means. At the time, late 1990s,  the book had been already optioned for the movies, causing the  buzz. but as happens with so many other books that become optioned, nothing played out. Les Standiford wrote a favorite book of mine–Deal on Ice. An independent bookseller friend of Florida detective John Deal is murdered.  Deal investigates and finds connections to the CEO of a huge bookstore chain. Of course! We indies always knew the bookstore chains were killing us off! A couple of titles from the 60s involve a young rare book-dealer, Bob Edison. Edison goes to England on a book buying trip and falls, into murder.

There are many more titles with bookshops as the setting but time and space and my wrist cannot accommodate them all–so, on to library biblios. Jeff Abbot writes a successful series starring librarian Texan Jordan Poteet–and the very first book in the series is about Poteet clashing with those who want to censor books! Librarian Miss Zukas has been featured in 11 mysteries, and is bowing out of the limelight with the 12th-Farewell Miss Zukas. Author Jo Dereske is moving on. Charlaine Harris, famous for her vampire Sookie, had already penned a series starring Aurora Teagarden, a former librarian. There are more librarians who find bodies in the stacks than I ever dreamed. I found several lists online, featuring many many books with current librarians, former librarians, some librarian spouses or other halves of the protagonist, some cat librarians–they paws over clues, etc etc etc. Three people are needed to write the Cat in the Stacks mysteries, and they aren’t the only ones who center on the feline. Oh, and so dog fans aren’t left out–there are a couple of books about a ‘scrappy’  librarian whose companion is a mongrel collie.

If pets aren’t your thing, how about witches? A library in Iowa has a resident witch, in the Shirley Damsgaard series. Amanda Flower pens a college librarian as amateur detective, Ian Samson has the novel idea of a mobile library–that way bodies can fall in various locations. At least Lucy Trimble has a legitimate excuse to sleuth, she inherited a detective agency, yikes! Wow, I always had a vision of the librarian as a quiet unassuming body who spends time hushing people and tipping back  spectacles from her nose, ha ha.

Murders in Volume 2 by Elizabeth Daly feature the rare book expert and detective, Henry Gamage. One hundred years earlier, a woman guest and a rare book of Byron disappear  and now both reappear–the woman as young as she was back then. Agatha Christie’s The Body in The Library–pretty clear title here–find the maid discovering a gaudily dressed stranger in Col. Bantry’s library. Miss Marple takes charge. Dapper New Yorker Philo Vance solves The Bishop Murder case –all the victims were killed using nursery rhymes–my perfect book! A film was also made of this title–a creaky very early 1930s movie. Vance was played by Sherlock himself, Basil Rathbone. A small aside–within the film there is a scene with a mother in the park reading Mother Goose to her child–and the edition used is my favorite illustrated children’s book, Old Mother Goose by Anne Anderson!

Then there are the collectors, the writers, the publishers, the editors, the reviewers, the book thieves historicals etc. In fact, so many other genres within the biblio theme, there’s enough for a subsequent article, and perhaps a third–why are we fascinated with books about books? I will continue the articles anon.  In the mean time–check out some of the titles and authors–many are considered cosy, but others are more hard-boiled, such as the John Dunning series. It’s a good bet that if a cat is involved, hard case crime is not within the pages!

 

Diane Plumley

Diane Plumley

Diane Plumley

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6 Comments

  1. Thanks for the column — I’ve written a few posts on this subject, noting that it’s ironic that so few books are written about BOOKS. Libraries have few; new book stores almost none and maybe a shelf of titles in a used-book store. Half-Price Books used to have two shelves worth, but now they’re down to one.

    And in most stores, the first person I ask doesn’t have a clue where they’re located. In fact, I usually get a very puzzled look and then they say, “Books about books?” as if the concept is completely foreign or ridiculous.

    I collect books about books (or try to, anyway! Though I lean toward non-fiction, I do have a few fiction titles in my collection and will look for the ones you mentioned here.

    • Jules,
      You would love Larry McMurtry’s bookstore, Booked Up, in Archer City, TX. It has shelf after shelf after shelf of books about books, most of which are non-fiction.

  2. Thanks Jules! I remember when there was a section devoted to biblios in most stores. Yes, those kids today, lol, haven’t a clue–about most things, lol. I’m sure everyone said that about me at one time. I never understood the adage, ‘youth is wasted on the young’ until now!

    I have many more mysteries that contain literary aspects–I hope to get that article up ASAP.

  3. Looking forward to that next article! I don’t know if you’ve coe across “Dewey Decimated” (can’t remember the author) but I read that not long ago, picxked up at a library sale. It hadn’t been checked out since 1987 {gasp!}

    I tweeted and liked and shared your column with my book/author marketing group and the Love is Murder Mystery Conference facebookers.

    Yeah, kids…. I’m happy to say my youngest (11) is a reader, except that it makes it harder to punish him because I just CANNOT in good conscious take reading away like I can video games or TV!

    I don’t know how I got hooked on books; that is, collecting them. Besides my 100+ of biblios, I have another 4,000 in various places throughout the house. Too many booksales, not enough time….

  4. photoshop updates says:

    You would love Larry McMurtry’s bookstore, Booked Up, in Archer City, TX. It has shelf after shelf after shelf of books about books 
    I have many more mysteries that contain literary aspects–I hope to get that article up ASAP.  photoshop updates

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