Saturday, December 8, 2018

Best Vintage Mystery Reprint of 2018, part one

Here’s a list for you. Tell me if you know what they all have in common.
  • Heart to Heart by Boileau-Narcejac
  • Withered Murder by Anthony & Peter Shaffer
  • The Midnight Mystery by Bertram Atkey
  • Three Dead Men by Paul McGuire
  • Thirteen Stannergate by G. M. Wilson
  • Murder on the Day of Judgment by Virginia Rath
  • Stranger on the Highway by H. R. Hays
Pretty easy, I’d say. All of them are fantastic crime novels that still have not been reprinted and the original editions are difficult to  impossible to find now. Plus, all of them are books I’ve written about on this blog praising them and often dropping hints in the final paragraph to publishers that here is a title they ought to reissue. In some cases like G.M. Wilson and Boileau-Narcejac every single book ought to be reprinted. These are the books, I believe, readers would like to see back in print. The gems that have been languishing in Out-of-Printdom (some for over eighty years) and copies of the original editions are disappearing from the face of the planet. Literally! It’s very frustrating to me to see books that readers have been longing for, books that seriously cannot be found anywhere, being passed over for others that are getting their second, third and fourth lives.

Why all this talk about reprints yet again?  Because as we approach the end of 2018 Kate Jackson has rounded up a coterie of in-the-know vintage crime book bloggers who will offer up their opinions on the "Best Vintage Crime Reprint of the Year." It's an unofficial ceremony with no real trophy, only a virtual reward and a round of applause from all the readers of vintage detective and crime fiction. The best part? You get to choose the winner!

Kate will gather all the links to the various blogs at her home Cross Examining Crime.  For the next two Saturdays bloggers will write about two of their favorite books that were lucky enough to be reprinted this year. Then you help decide the winner by voting for your favorite among the 20 books that will be discussed.

I know that I have a completely different idea of what books deserve to be reprinted as opposed to publishers who want to reprint books that will sell. Also, I'm sure I have a radically different idea of what makes an award-worthy reprint from the rest of my book bloggers in this community of  Mystery Fiction worship.  So when I turned to the very long list of reprinted titles throughout this year I was looking for two things
  1. A truly forgotten author, long out of print
  2. Writing and plotting that contributes substantially to the genre
I’m not one who wants to reward a book for finally being reprinted when thousands of copies have been available for decades and people were unwilling to actually buy an old edition. And so I’m not going to be screaming for joy that Patrick Quentin, Christopher Bush or others like them have been reprinted. It’s wonderful to see new editions of these books, but with the exception of a handful of Bush’s mysteries none of them have been truly difficult to find if you wanted to read their books. I’m more interested in discoveries and clever writers who went of print very fast, who were overshadowed by their contemporaries, who never really had a long life in print, never got paperback editions in their lifetime but should have. In short, I'm the champion of the underdogs and the dismissed.

I was excited to see Vernon Loder’s books come back into print. I smiled when The Shop Window Murders caused a minor sensation in the vintage crime blogging community. When I wrote about the book on my blog in 2013 it was one of the most commented on posts of that year. That’s the kind of writer who deserves a revival. That's the kind of book I'm always looking for -- an unusual and imaginative detective novel, filled with humor, oddball characters, bizarre situations. That’s what the genre was all about. That's a book that deserves and award. But someone beat me to that title and picked it first.

And so I move on to my first choice for Best Reprint of 2018:

The Threefold Cord by Francis Vivian
(Actually I wanted to list all of the Inspector Knollis books, but I have to pick one title to signify the best of the lot)

  • I’ve never heard of Vivian before it was announced that his books were being reprinted by Dean Street Press.
  • His books are very difficult to find in original editions. Some cannot be found at all!
  • He is an imaginative writer, inventive with his plots, and engaging in his storytelling.
  • The Threefold Cord has not one, but several, damn good mysteries.
I'm not going to discuss the book. I've already done that here.

That’s the kind of book I want to see more of in this exciting age of renewed interest in detective and crime fiction of the past. Give us writers we’d never find on our own, books that are truly impossible to get hold of. And find books that celebrate the imagination – the one gift that should be the hallmark of a novelist in any genre. Believe me, these are the ingredients of books that will sell. And they make readers happy and eager to read more.

Tune in again next Saturday for my second nomination for Best Reprint of 2018. Oh, and you can wish me a happy birthday then if you'd like.

For the full details on "The Best Reprint of 2018" see this post at Kate's blog.


  1. Great post and I like your emphasis on finding a book/author, which has been impossible to find. I did get slightly excited when I read your first list as I thought it might have been the books you were making your choices from. I was wow I never knew the Shaffer book had been reprinted this year. So I was a little sad when it turned out it was a list of books which are hard/impossible to find. Hopefully someone will take your hint and reprint them.

    1. I may have a heart attack if any of those books gets reprinted, Kate! Why Pushkin has not bothered to reprint all of the previously published English translation of Boileau-Narcejac mystifies me. There is an audience waiting for those books to be made available. It may not be a huge audience of thousands, but if the books were out there they would definitely be purchased in large numbers. I just don't get it. The Prisoner is their best work. It's much better than either of the ones Pushkin choose to reprint. The only reason those two titles were chosen is because they were turned into movies that have achieved a cult status. And of all the Boileau-Narcejac books I've read by far their most innovative novel is Heart tot Heart. Such a brilliant book about the powerful hold that music has over us, how it can not only revive memory but has the capacity to haunt and destroy us. It's a gripping and fascinating read. I despair for the publishers and editors who just can't see these books for what they are. Instead we get piles of mediocre formulaic country house mysteries, mysteries set at Christmas time and books that are very easy to find in used book shops for a pittance. I know that digital books make them much more accessible to the hoards who refuse to go out an buy *anything* in real stores now, but that's not a real reason to reprint a book. I long to see more risky and smarter choices in what's being reprinted.

    2. Oh dear we best not get them reprinted then or least not tell you about them. Be an unusual cause of death though...
      I probably stand in the middle on the current state of reprinting. The umpteenth Marsh print seems somewhat pointless and of course such reprints can have a reductive effect on how vintage fiction is perceived, but on the other hand I imagine I probably enjoyed some of those formulaic country house mysteries. Nevertheless there is still room for some braver reprinting, especially of titles from the 40s and 50s.

  2. I like your approach. Malice Aforethought was just reprinted, so I will bet it’s the best book reprinted, but that makes for a dull award since every mystery fan of the kind who reads mystery blogs already knows of it. I also appreciate you picked one cheap in Kindle!

    1. The Iles book has been reprinted this year? By who? I don't see a new 2018 reprint anywhere for sale. Not something I'd ever consider as best reprint. It's had a long life over the years and there are hundreds of copies out there.

    2. Dover.
      Yeah, what I mean is, it is probably the best book reprinted, but that is not what this award is for. It has never been obscure, or very hard to get, and is reprinted regularly. I just picked one up yesterday in fact.
      But Dover, US, September.

    3. I have looked for the Schaffer book for a long while. And I agree the two B-N reprinted are the ones I am least interested in!
      He would need to sell thousands though to justify translating, and there might be issues with extant translations.

    4. Both The Prisoner and Heart to Heart already exist in English translation. In fact the two Pushkin editions of the B-N novels are reprints of the original English translations done in the 1950s, both by Geoffrey Sainsbury. There's no real added expense, except perhaps royalties to the translator or his estate.

  3. Ken, thanks for telling me about Dover. I went to their website to see what else they might have reprinted this year and was delighted to discover several titles. Dover has reprinted four of R. T. Campbell's impossible to find murder mysteries featuring botanist sleuth Prof. Stubbs! Well, actually two of them are new editions of their previous 1980 reprints of Bodies in the Bookshop and Unholy Dying which have been unavailable for over 20 years except as used books. Now I have to read the new reprints (Swing Low, Swing Death and Death for Madame) for this Best Reprint competition. I just ordered them from Amazon and will receive them by Monday. I just hope I can whip through them in a couple of days to make a decision by Saturday when the next post is due. One or both may usurp my current second nomination.

    1. In the past I have found Dover takes suggestion seriously. I recommended they reprint 3 old math books, and later two appeared! They didn’t notify me but it was their first appearance in Dover, so I think they looked into my suggestions. And yo7 have a wish list ...

    2. Ruthven, as in his real name Ruthven Campbell Todd, is pronounced Riven btw.

    3. Yes, I knew that about his odd name. He wrote some children's books under his real name about Space Cat that are better known than his detective novels. Also I just discovered that all four Space Cat books are now Dover reprints. All published this year!

  4. Great post, John. I like your take on how to decide your picks. Since I'm limited in what new reprints I can afford to get for myself (having already spent my book budget on used books throughout the year), I had to go with books that had been reprinted that I either already owned OR could get from the library. The Stagge book is in the first category and my selection for next week is from the second.

    I am very pleased to see the exchange with Ken on the Campbell reprints. I have both of the earlier Dover issues of Bookshop and Unholy Dying. I must fit the other two into next year's book budget. I've loved the Campbell books I've read so far.

    1. I was excited to read about the Quentin/Stagge reprints, but sadly some of the really good ones were overlooked for whatever reason. DEATH, MY DARLING DAUGHTERS was reprinted, one of my faves in the Dr. Westlake series. That turned out to be one of my runner-ups for the two I was allowed to nominate and write about.

      I can't believe all the books I've just found out *today* that were reprinted this year. I have no idea what I'm going to choose for my second one now. But I do know that in next week's post I'll also include another list of books reprinted this year that were my honorable mentions. And it is fast approaching an even dozen!

    2. Two words. Kindle, patience. Over the past few weeks I have picked up 10 PQ books, including 3 Stagges, for $2 each. Other things too. The prices change for a day or so, then pop back up.

  5. I read Vivian's The Death of Mr. Lomas last week, and will review it for next Friday. I believe it was the first in the Knollis, and I must agree with the one negative Amazon "review" I saw that it had too many characters. There was a blizzard of character, but I like his writing so much I waded thru them and ended up enjoying the story. Thanks for introducing me to this author!

  6. Well, John, I did my bit to help you get the third place for the above book !