Friday, April 1, 2011

FFB: Crime Club Compendium - Ellen Nehr

I may be cheating a bit here, but this is my kind of coffee table book.  I'm tempted to do this write up as a riff on the old Saturday Night Live spoof commercial for Shimmer ("It's a floor wax. No, it's a dessert topping.")  And so here goes:

It's a history book!  It's a bibliography!  It's a picture book!
Whoa, whoa, gang.  The Doubleday Crime Club Compendium is a history book and a bibliography and a picture book all in one!

(Wow!  Tastes great. And just look at that shine!)

Detailing the publishing history of the Crime Club series of detective novels from the very first book in April 1, 1928 (Happy would-be 83rd Birthday Crime Club) to its final days in 1991 this book is a love letter to both the publishing industry and the mystery novel.  Ellen Nehr, well known to many of the regular contributors to Friday's Forgotten Books, did a remarkable job culling tidbits of info about the authors and books published over the eight decades the Crime Club lasted.

The 1st "Crime Club" book published April 1, 1928
I still peruse this book's pages regularly and find all sorts of nifty nuggets of crime fiction trivia and discover more forgotten authors I'd like to read one day.  The oversized book has 700+ pages that include a plot summary for every single book published from 1928 to 1991; a gossipy nine page introduction about Isabelle Taylor, the woman who started it all at Doubleday; a chronological listing of the books and a separate listing by author; and 24 pages of full color plates with over ninety photos of the extraordinary art work featured on the dust jackets.

It's a dangerous book to have for a biblioholic like myself.  Just looking at the photos all over again makes me want to go off searching the internet for several of the books and spend hundreds of dollars so I can add them to my own collection. And I have a closetful of Crime Club books already. I know, I know -- everything in moderation.  Believe me, I'm learning.

You'll find more gorgeous photos and artwork in a variety of coffee table books from the usual suspects in the list of Friday's Forgotten Books posted here.


  1. Oooooh! Another book to lust after. I want one! (And now I want to go looking for an edition of The Poisoned Chocolates Case with a dust cover like the one above....). You're a dangerous internet friend to have, John.

  2. I'm happy to say I helped Ellen a little with this book. I supplied her with old Crime Club books for years.

  3. George -

    I was pretty sure you were the same George Kelley mentioned in Ellen's extensive list of thank yous. I also saw that Steve Lewis got a special nod on her dedication page for encouraging her to tackle the project. What a feat! Almost as daunting as the original version of Allen Hubin's crime fiction bibliography.

  4. I LOVE THIS BOOK!! I am dizzy with desire for this old cover art. Wow! I'm going to see if my library has a copy. Thanks for posting this John. I too wish I had the moolah to buy some of these wonderful old books.

  5. What, John, no dust jacket on this one?

    I would really, really like to have a copy of this one. I joined DAPA-Em too late to be there during Ellen's time, but did enjoy her letters and so forth in other venues. I'll have to seek this out, if there are any left.

  6. But then, in looking I don't find ANY copies with a DJ, so perhaps it didn't have one. Would have kept costs down in this small private printing. So I bought it from ABE. (sigh). You've done it again, John.

  7. Richard -

    "Issued with no dust jacket" as the pros say in the trade.

    Tomorrow I'm posting more pages from the book showing more DJs.

    Sorry for putting a dent in your pocket yet again. But, believe me, you'll really enjoy having this book in your library.

  8. The best kind of coffee-table book, John...the kind you also want to read.

  9. These books always have such lovely dustjackets... But personally, I've avoided spending nassive fortunes hunting down Carr by buying paperbacks... Dell Mapbacks and Pocket books had lovely covers as well!

  10. My goal at the time Ellen decided to write this book was to collect all of the Crime Club books. I believe I had about 80% of them when I lost interest in accumulating a lot of books I knew I'd never read. I helped her quite a bit with getting the information she needed, notes on authors, supplying cover blurbs and even the covers themselves, eventually.

    Looking back now, I wish I'd collected more toward quality rather than quantity, though. A hefty percentage of what I had were ex-library, for example, and I always meant to upgrade all of the ones I had to copies with jackets, which now for the older ones are often worth more than the books.

    She and I had a great time hunting down the last few books, though -- isn't that always the way? We even persuaded Otto Penzler to open up his own collection to us, in the back room behind his store. Or rather, Ellen did. She had a way of persuading anybody to do almost anything, when she was determined to do so.

  11. [Andy]

    ARRRGGGHHH!!! John, you made me go out and buy this book!!!! You are evil : )

    I especially liked the idea that there is a plot synopsis for title!!!

  12. Steve -

    I was hoping you would stumble across this post and give a few words about your involvement. Thanks! I hadn't looked at the book as a whole in a long time. When I looked at the book for this post I went through each page. On the acknowledgment page I recognized names from many of the people I have encountered since I began blogging (and a few I already knew from bookselling). Some of course, like Ellen are no longer with us, but it was still rather astonishing. William Deeck, George Kelley, Walter Albert, Bill Crider, Art Scott, Charles Shibuk, Bill Pronzini, Francis M. Nevins, Steve Stilwell, etc. etc. She certainly needed a lot of help and she got it from some of the best people.

    Hope you're feeling better.

  13. Just bought it for $50 on ABE. Expect it to reside amicably next to my giant Hubin.