Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Estate Sale Bonanza - July 2, 2011

Just for a lark Joe and I went on an estate sale road trip and hit about nine sales in one afternoon.  Most of them were a complete bust as far as books were concerned.  If I was interested in old bedroom furniture, though, it would've been a big success.  Every house I went into had a striking fourposter bed, or a quaint vanity and mirror table, or an impressive armoir.  It wasn't until I went into the last two houses that I found the kind of thing I'm always in search of.

The first house had a nice library of old mystery novels including:

Red Wind by Raymond Chandler - the 1st hardcover printing from Tower Books.  Most people don't realize that this is also considered a first edition and NOT a reprint even though Tower Books is primarily known as a reprint house. 
The High Window by Chandler (Tower books reprint)
The Adventures of Sam Spade by Dashiell Hammett - 1st hardcover from Tower books (but a 2nd printing) Later in the car I discovered this was only a reading copy due damage to the boards and some scribbles on the endpapers.

But for 50 cents a book who really cares. None of them had dust jackets unfortunately

Other mystery books I picked up at that sale were Dead Skip by Joe Gores and Cop Killer (1st US edition with DJ in excellent condition) by Maj Sjowall & Per Wahloo.  This is a Martin Beck book that I had yet to find in a a decent US edition. Now I can get rid of the placeholder book club edition I have.

Also in this house I found several books by Antoine de Saint-Exupery but only took Flight to Arras -- a first edition, the one in the best condition, and one that I don't have a copy of nor have I read.  Wind, Sand, and Stars is one of my favorite books of all time.  It's a memoir, but it reads like a novel. His books about being a pilot during wartime are some of the best aviation memoirs.

It was the very last house located in Zion all the way up by the Wisconsin border that we found our genuine treasures. Zion was founded by an eccentric Scottish evangelist, John Alexander Dowie, who named most of the streets after towns, prophets, and other personages found in the Old Testament. On our way to the estate sale house located on Enoch Street we passed streets named Gideon, Galilee, Ezra, Ezekiel, Bethesda, Jericho, and most of them were in alphabetical order. I was very intrigued by that. When we got to the house I found that the "old books," as described in the ad, turned out to be exclusively religious textbooks, hymnals and other related books.  I was disappointed but had I known more about Zion I would have been prepared for something like that.

It seemed that we made a very long drive for absolutely nothing.  Just before we decided to leave the house, however,  I saw on the floor in a corner of the den a pile of The American Magazine.  I noticed on the cover of one issue the name Kelley Roos, an American husband and wife mystery writing team. Suddenly, I remembered that many of Rex Stout's novels and novellas appeared in The American Magazine before being published as books by Farrar & Rinehart and later Viking Press.  I immediately enlisted the help of Joe and we started flipping through the Table of Contents of all of the magazines.

At first I only looked at the magazines from the 1930s hoping I would find an installment from The Rubber Band or Too Many Cooks or any of the early Nero Wolfe novels.  But then we decided to look in the 1950s copies as well since they were in much better condition. Bingo! On the cover of one from 1955 was the brightly lettered ad proclaiming:  A complete NERO WOLFE mystery novel. It turned out to be "The Last Witness" - really a novella not a novel - later published as "The Next Witness" in the book Three Witnesses. We also found an issue with the final installment of The Red Box (illustration from that is pictured at the left).  And there were more surprises in store as we made our way through the entire stack.

After much flipping of pages and dirtying all of our fingers with the dust and grime of a house occupied by four successive generations of one family we found quite a nice pile of forgotten gems of mystery fiction.  Here is the list with a surprising variety of writers and styles.

Octavus Roy Cohen - "The Frame-Up" story featuring detective Jim Hanvey (June 1928)

P. G. Wodehouse - "The Missing Mystery" story (December 1931)
Max Brand - "Masquerade" a mystery novella not a western (June 1936)
Leslie Charteris - "The Saint and the Siren" story (same issue as the Brand novella0
Q. Patrick - "The Jack of Diamonds" novella (November 1936)

Alexandra Brown - "Curtain for an Actress" novella (April 1937)
Rex Stout - last installment of The Red Box (same issue as the Brown novella)

Q. Patrick - "Exit Before Midnight" novella (October 1937)
Kelley Roos - "Deadly Detour" novella (August 1952)
Kelley Roos - "The Case of the Hanging Gardens" novella (July 1954)
Rex Stout -  "The Last Witness" novella (May 1955)

Not a bad haul. The big bonus was that everything in the house was at half price since it was the final day of the sale. We ended up paying $20.50 for the stack of nine magazines. Lots of reading and reviewing to come - especially the Kelley Roos and Q. Patrick stories which I don't think have been published anywhere in book format.


  1. Jackpot! I'll be looking forward to the reviews, but the illustrations will hold me for a while. They are fantastic.

  2. How exciting! Love all the illustrations that you posted.

  3. Oh, wow, novella's by Kelley Roos and Q. Patrick! You've no idea how envious I am at the moment. The former is almost on equal footing with me as John Dickson Carr (Praise His Name!) and the latter is rapidly ascending in the ranks of my list of favorites... Can I burgle your home? :(

  4. Well, we certainly agree about Antoine de Saint-Exupery! Wind, Sand, and Stars is also one of MY favorite books of all time, I can't count the number of times I've read it. I've also read Flight to Arras, but it's been some time now since I did. Wonderful, wonderful author and books, and his biography is well worth reading as well.

    That's quite a nice find, the Wolfe stories, especially for the illustrations. Good score there.

  5. Oh wow, John. The illustrations are wonderful. I've never seen any of these before. I've just recently learned about American Magazine and Rex Stout's connection. Coincidence.

    And a Saint story too. I'm not familiar with the other writers mentioned, but judging by the enthusiasm, they must be pretty damn good.

    What a haul! I am SO jealous. :)
    But in a good way.

  6. I have a mid-50s copy of The American Magazine with a Nero Wolfe novella in it. The illo of Archie Goodwin (looking perhaps a bit too much like the Archie of comic-book fame) is worth the price of admission, all on its own. As TomCat notes, Roos and Patrick are grade-A mystery writers, and since I'm partial to the novella form, I'd love see some publisher (e.g., Crippen & Landru?) rescue these buried gems and put them in print.

  7. Did anyone notice that the book on the floor in the illo of the dead switchboard operator is a Nero Wolfe novel? Look carefully and you'll see "by Rex Stout" on the bottom edge of the book. You may have to click on the image and enlarge it. Plus that distinctive profile can only be Wolfe's.