Martin








Collecting Crime

This section of the website is devoted to the fascination of collecting crime fiction, and materials associated with it.

Read more about collecting crime fiction

For fans of Golden Age mysteries, I can thoroughly recommend two books by John Cooper and B.A. Pike: Detective Fiction: the Collector’s Guide and the wonderfully illustrated Artists in Crime. But crime fiction collectibles are not confined to first editions of classic mysteries – and, given the price of some of them, that’s just as well...

Here’s a selection of highlights I’ve come across over the years. More photographs can be viewed here.

The Map for What Beckoning Ghost?
Maps add interest and information to many detective novels, and this is an example of a book with a map decorating its endpapers – a feature of murder mysteries that was more common during the Golden Age than it is today. This book, What Beckoning Ghost?, was the personal copy of the author, Douglas G. Browne, as can be seen from the signature and address.
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Glyn Daniel – Welcome Death: the dedication copy
Glyn Daniel was a Welsh scientist and archaeologist who taught for many years at Cambridge University. His first detective novel, The Cambridge Murders, was published in 1945 under the pseudonym Dilwyn Rees, and enjoyed considerable success. Welcome Death, which appeared nine years later under his own name, was his only other venture into the genre. The book was dedicated to his friend, Villiers David, a poet, painter and novelist.
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Nancy Spain – and Norman
Nancy Spain (1917-1964) was a celebrity broadcaster and journalist who was killed, along with magazine editor Joan Werner Laurie in a plane crash when on her way to commentate on the Grand National race at Aintree, Liverpool. Her varied CV included authorship of ten light-hearted crime novels.
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What’s in a name?
Puzzle for Wantons, first published in 1945, is a book that also appeared under an alternative title – the rather more lurid Slay the Loose Ladies. The book was written by Patrick Quentin, and featured Quentin’s regular series character, Peter Duluth. The Quentin name, however, concealed the existence of a one of the most intriguing writing partnerships in the history of crime fiction.
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Rediscovering Crime Classics
Readers who enjoy fiction from “the Golden Age of Murder” between the world wars used to be thought of as an endangered species. Other than Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, and a few others, authors of traditional whodunits had largely faded from view, their books out of print and often almost impossible to find. Digital publishing has helped to change things, by making many old titles available gain, while the extraordinary success of the British Library’s Crime Classics has shown that there is a much larger readership for Golden Age fiction than many had realised.
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“Based on actual experience”
Francis Beeding was, like Patrick Quentin, a pen-name used by a crime writing partnership. John Palmer (1885-1944) and Hilary St George Saunders (1898-1951) were both students at Balliol College, Oxford, but not at the same time, because of the age gap between them. Later, they worked for the League of Nations in Geneva, and began to write together. They specialised in novels of espionage, but their few whodunits are of high quality.
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O England!
Under his own name, Anthony Berkeley Cox published O England! in 1934. This was a polemical non-fiction book in which Cox, with characteristic self-confidence, put forward his manifesto for the transformation of English society. Some of his proposals were outlandish to the point of absurdity, but others seem, with hindsight, to have been far-sighted.
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The Roy Vickers Collection
Roy Vickers was the main pseudonym used by William Edward Vickers (1889-1965). A prolific author of novels and short stories, he also wrote as David Durham, Sefton Kyle and John Spencer. He is best remembered for his short stories about Scotland Yard’s Department of Dead Ends, which were much acclaimed by Ellery Queen, Julian Symons and other critics. Some of his work has recently appeared in ebook form, but many of his novels remain elusive, which made it all the more intriguing when a collection of his books was made available recently by one of his descendants.
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Crime writers as correspondents
In the age of email and social media, the art of letter writing is fast disappearing. This is a pity for several reasons, not least because there is a real fascination in reading (some) old letters, and there are certainly a number of crime writers of the past who were fascinating correspondents. Dorothy L. Sayers was a prime example, and a selection of her letters has been gathered together in a series of five chunky volumes. Raymond Chandler’s letters also provide many intriguing insights into his craft, and his opinions on countless subjects; again, a selection has been published. The correspondence of most writers of the past is, however, difficult to track down, which means I am all the more grateful for the kindness of Howard Lakin of Lakin and Marley Rare Books (www.lakinandmarley.com) for providing me with this scan of a letter sent by Ngaio Marsh to James Keddie.
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Margery Allingham the letter writer
One of the most engaging letter writers among distinguished post-war British crime novelists was, in my opinion, Christianna Brand, whose gossipy and mischievous style is a source of great entertainment. But Margery Allingham ran her quite close, squeezing a touch of her natural exuberance into a good many of her letters as well as into her books. Thanks to the kindness of Howard Lakin, of Lakin and Marley Rare Books, I am able to reproduce this example of Allingham’s correspondence, which also has a bearing on the history of the Detection Club.
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The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club
“Association copies” which connect a book to the author or another person of note are often collectible, and just occasionally much sought after and very expensive when found. This first edition of Dorothy L.Sayers’ Wimsey novel The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club is a case in point. It was the copy that Sayers gave and inscribed to her mother – who died not long afterwards – and therefore has a particular resonance for Sayers devotees.
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The Tongue-Tied Canary
Nicolas Bentley was best known as an illustrator, a humorous artist whose work on Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats remains celebrated, but he also wrote a handful of books falling within the crime genre. He was the son of E.C.Bentley, author of the classic Trent’s Last Case, and both men worked sporadically in the genre for a good many years. The Tongue-Tied Canary was described by the publishers as Bentley’s first entry in the genre, although this is to pass over an earlier, light-hearted thriller called Gammon and Espionage.
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Death of Jezebel
Christianna Brand (1907-1988) was not only a notable writer of detective fiction in the classic vein but also an exuberant personality. She certainly liked signing copies of her books – there are plenty of examples around, often with long, chatty inscriptions. This copy of Death of Jezebel is unusual even by her standards, though – because she signed it twice, for two different recipients, one of whom was the legendary crime fiction bibliographer Allen Hubin.
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The Affair at Little Wokeham
Crime writers are often indebted to a range of people who provide them with help in producing a readable novel. Time and again, over the years, professional police officers generously help us to avoid at least some mistakes in our account of the way their fictional counterparts operate. Freeman Wills Crofts was a railway engineer by profession, but he managed to convey an impression of authenticity in his long-running series of novels featuring Inspector Joseph French. The inscription of this first edition, to Superintendent Roberts, with “thanks for kind help”, identifies one of those experts who helped Crofts with his research.
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The Rasp
This was the book that introduced Philip Macdonald’s regular detective, Anthony Gethryn, and served to establish his reputation as a writer of ingenious mysteries. Macdonald was born in 1900, and yet this book, published in 1924, when he was only 23, was not his first – he had previously co-authored two novels with his father, Ronald Macdonald. This particular edition was inscribed by Macdonald on 23 October in the year of publication – the dust jacket, alas, is a facsimile.
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Double Blackmail
The blurb of the American edition of the Golden Age mystery Double Blackmail, by G.D.H. and Margaret Cole, is rather enticing: ‘”Double Blackmail” only in part describes the double-ness of this detective mystery. There are, of course, two cases of blackmail. But there are likewise two murders; two bigamies; two detectives; the two Coles for authors; and twins...’
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The Floating Admiral
I was prompted by my election to the Detection Club to seek out their publications – details of which I am compiling for the Detection Club page on this site. The Floating Admiral is a famous ‘round-robin’ novel by various hands, and because of its scarcity, a first edition in wrapper would normally be out of reach for me. But not long after I learned of my election, I won the Crime Writers’ Association Short Story Dagger for ‘The Bookbinder’s Apprentice’ and by a happy chance, the prize money was equal to the cost of this copy of the book.
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Many A Slip
Detective fiction writers like to play games with their readers, and authors of all kinds are apt to fret, once their books have been published, that they have not done enough work on their stories, and that a little more revision would have worked wonders. This first edition of Many a Slip by Freeman Wills Crofts is a rather pleasing example of both.
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Hannibal Rising
Do book-signings and launch parties really help to raise an author’s public profile? Opinions vary. Many publishers, for instance, are sceptical as to the value of signing sessions. Often they work best if set up in a manner distinctive enough to capture the imagination of potential readers – and, ideally, the media. One of the most striking examples in the crime fiction field over the past few years was the bizarre celebration of the UK publication of Thomas Harris’s Hannibal Rising on 5 December 2006. Harris is almost as famous for being shy of personal publicity as he is for creating legendary serial killer Hannibal Lecter. But when Heinemann launched the book at Waterstone’s in Oxford Street, London, they made the most of the occasion. In fact, they made a meal of it….
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The Mousetrap
Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap was first presented, by Peter Saunders, at the Ambassadors Theatre in London on 25 November 1952, with a cast which included the young Richard Attenborough. Today, it is a legendary tourist attraction, the longest continuously running play in theatrical history, the world over.
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The Man in the Brown Suit
The Man in the Brown Suit was Agatha Christie’s fourth published novel, a light thriller first appearing in 1924. As a crime writer, she was at that time still finding her feet, but the book nevertheless remains an enjoyable read to this day. It is also interesting to note that the key twist in the book anticipates the much more famous trick solution to The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, published in 1926.
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The Chill and the Kill
How many people today remember Joan Fleming (1908-1980) or her work? Not many; she didn’t even rate a single mention in the massive and eclectic Oxford Companion to Crime and Mystery Writing. This neglect is sobering, for she won not one but two CWA Gold Daggers, for the very enjoyable When I Grow Rich in 1962, and for Young Man, I Think You’re Dying, in 1970; the latter beat the much more critically acclaimed Anthony Price into second place.
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The Sad Variety
Nicholas Blake was the name under which the poet (and eventual Poet Laureate) Cecil Day Lewis (1904-1972) wrote detective novels. He enjoyed much success in his day, creating a notable amateur sleuth in Nigel Strangeways, who was in part based on W.H. Auden and who appears in perhaps the best Blake book, The Beast Must Die, which was filmed by Chabrol. Blake’s debut, A Question of Proof, appeared in 1935 and made an immediate impact.
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The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes edited by Ellery Queen For every Sherlock Holmes story written by Arthur Conan Doyle, there have been innumerable pastiches of his (or Doctor Watson’s?) style. I confess to having been responsible for several myself. As a Holmes fan since my schooldays, I have always admired the great consulting detective, as well as Conan Doyle’s sharp, atmospheric writing.
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Agatha Christie: Mistress of Mystery – long galley proofs corrected by Christie and her agent
Gordon Ramsey, an American academic, was assisted by his friendship with Phelps Pratt, president of Agatha Christie’s American publishers, Dodd, Mead, in persuading the notoriously reclusive author to co-operate with this, the first full-length evaluation of her work, published in the US in 1967. Janet Morgan’s 1984 life of Christie records that Ramsey had to agree to various constraints on his work: the book contained little biographical material and respected her wish that he should not mention the then unpublished final novels featuring Poirot and Miss Marple, although they had been written many years earlier.
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The Black Echo by Michael Connelly
Some crime novelists whose early work is not accompanied by a great fanfare nevertheless seem destined for success, so conspicuous are their story-telling skills. Of course, sometimes, for whatever reason, fame and fortune eludes them forever. In other cases – Ian Rankin, Peter Robinson, Andrew Taylor and Ann Cleeves spring to mind – they write for many years, well and truly paying their dues, before they hit the jackpot. With Michael Connelly, it seemed almost certain to me from the outset that he would make it big – and he certainly has. Yet this, his first Harry Bosch novel, attracted little attention when Headline first published it in 1992, and the print run was tiny.
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Black and Blue by Ian Rankin – first edition
I first met Ian Rankin in 1995, at the Nottingham Bouchercon, but by that time I had read and enjoyed several of his novels. In those days, he was living in France and his work was relatively little known. I remember picking up a first edition of his debut short story collection, A Good Hanging, in a gathering of remaindered hardbacks. A couple of quid then, perhaps one hundred now – if you can lay your hands on a copy. When I was asked to take over the editorship of the Crime Writers Association’s annual anthology, Ian was one of the first potential contributors I approached. He promptly obliged with the excellent ‘Herbert in Motion’ – written in a single day and I still recall with appreciation the enthusiastic encouragement he gave me after reading my fourth Harry Devlin novel, Yesterday’s Papers.
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Trent’s Own Case by E.C. Bentley and H. Warner Allen
Trent’s Last Case, by E.C. Bentley, has long been recognised as a landmark in the genre. Although Bentley, a successful journalist, intended his story as a light-hearted debunking of detective fiction, the cleverly plotted book enjoyed startling success on its first appearance before the First World War began, and has stood the test of time. Previously, the best work in the genre had been in the short story, with Sherlock Holmes to the fore. Once the war was over, the scene was set for the emergence of Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers and the other novelists of ‘the Golden Age’.
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Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine – the first issue
From the start of my crime writing career, I have been lucky enough to be associated with Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, the longest running specialist crime fiction magazine of all time. The very first crime story that I had accepted for publication was a short story called ‘Are You Sitting Comfortably?’ It won first prize in a competition judged by the senior fiction editor of Bella Magazine, who agreed to publish it. By a lucky chance, the crime writer Robert Barnard was present at the award ceremony and he recommended the story to Eleanor Sullivan, the then editor of EQMM. So the story appeared on both sides of the Atlantic a few months before publication of my debut novel, ‘All the Lonely People’. After Eleanor’s death, her successor Janet Hutchings, who has always been a huge supporter of British crime fiction, offered me much encouragement. On my first visit to the US, one of the highlights was a visit to Janet at EQMM’s offices in New York and over the years, many of my short stories have first seen the light in the pages of the magazine.
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Harry Stephen Keeler – signed letter card
If there were an award for Most Eccentric Crime Writer, Chicago’s Harry Stephen Keeler would be the man to beat. When he was a child, it seems, Keeler was committed to a lunatic asylum by his mother, and this does not surprise those who have pored over his weird and wandering tales. My late father was, in his youth, a Keeler fan and urged me to read the great man’s work, but when, as a schoolboy in the 1960s, I tried to track down Keeler novels, they proved elusive. Keeler (1890-1967) faded from the scene long before his death, dropped by his publishers on both sides of the Atlantic yet continuing to write endless stories that have never seen the light of day.
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