Friday, September 9, 2011

Friday's Forgotten Books: DETECTIONARY (1971) edited by Otto Penzler, Chris Steinbrunner and Marvin Lachman.

Friday's Forgotten Books is the weekly meme hosted by Patti Abbott at her blog PATTINASE.  Don't forget to check in to see what other forgotten books other bloggers are talking about today.

DETECTIONARY: a biographical dictionary of leading characters in detective and mystery fiction, including famous and little-known sleuths, their helpers, rogues both heroic and sinister, and some of their memorable adventures, as recounted in novels, short stories, and films.

What I like best about this book is the wealth of vintage information. The info is listed in short, concise paragraphs which make the book fun to dip into whenever the mood strikes.

Some of the books (and characters) listed that have always intrigued me, though I haven't yet had a chance to read them:

WARRANT FOR X (1938) by Philip MacDonald

American playwright Sheldon Garrett, wandering through the damp fog of a typical London day, stops at a a small tea shop for a warm drink. He overhears two whisperers plotting a crime. He knows neither the plotters nor their victim, only that a horrible crime will take place unless he can prevent it. He goes to Scotland Yard, but the police do not take him seriously. Fortunately, Colonel Anthony Gethryn hears his story and believes him. The monumental problem is finding the potential murderers. English title: The Nursemaid Who Disappeared.

MacDonald is also the author of THE LIST OF ADRIAN MESSENGER, made into a film which we talked about the other day here on the blog.

HEADS YOU LOSE (1941) by Christianna Brand

The aristocratic Miss Morland said, "Do you call that a hat? I don't call that a hat at all. Good heavens, I wouldn't be seen dead in a ditch in a thing like that." The next morning, Miss Morland was found lying by a ditch, the absurd hat perched grotesquely on her severed head. Detective: Inspector Cockrill.

DEATH OF A BUSYBODY (1943) by George Bellairs

Genial Inspector Littlejohn of Scotland Yard goes to the village of Hilary Magna to discover how the local voyeur drowned in the vicar's cesspool. A vivid picture of an English country hamlet in wartime enhances the proceedings.

Just a few of the titles listed in DETECTIONARY that I mean to read at some point. If I live long enough. Ha!

Okay, all together now: So many books, so little time!


  1. Interesting post and book. It goes on my Friday's Unheard-of Books list that's getting longer every day.

  2. Prashant: If you can find this little gem, it will be a nice addition to your library.

  3. Actualy, this book was a sort of first draft for The Encyclopedia Of Mystery And Detection,which Penzler and Steinbrunner published several years later.
    In more recent times, Penzler wrote that Detectionary came into being at the behest of the paper manufacturer (represented by Mr. Roseman), which wanted to show off their new reference-book stock to the publishing trade. Consequently, a small print run was ordered, which is why the book is so scarce today.
    Penzler and Steinbrunner felt that they had been given short shrift by Roseman and the paper company, and resolved to bring a bigger and better version of the work to as large an audience as they could. Hence, their Encyclopedia, which is larger, has more entries, and is profusely illustrated.
    In other words, if you liked Detectionary, you'll really love the Encyclopedia - even if it is more than 30 years old. That's how long I've had mine, and I still find it as useful as ever.

  4. Wow, Mike, thanks for the info. Who knew? I sure didn't. I've had my copy of DETECTIONARY for over thirty years myself - the original white cover is yellowing as are the pages. But it's still fun to look through.

    I will look for the ENCYCLOPEDIA when I have a chance. Good to know it exists.

  5. I'm interested in the Brand book. I'm not sure I told you but I simply could not read Green for Danger, but I adored the movie. So unusual.

  6. I haven't read the book, Nan. But like you, I loved the movie.

    But that little synopsis featured in DETECTIONARY sure is intriguing. :)

  7. "Death of a Busybody" sounds like a book for me! And I absolutely LOVE the name "Detectionary"! Wonderful!

  8. Becky: Don't these books sound wonderful? Yeah, the name is cool. I so wish I had a used bookstore nearby.

  9. I have this book! Another really good reference--especially if you're looking for new reads--is The Mystery Lover's Companion by Art Bourgeau. I can't tell you how many authors/books I've discovered because of that book.

  10. Sounds good, Bev. Thanks for the tip!

  11. Ooooh--no wonder you're intrigued! I want to read all three, as well.

    By the way, Murder at Shots Hall arrived on interlibrary loan Tuesday. I'm about halfway through and enjoying it!

  12. Yvette -

    I have multiple copies of this book AND The Encyclopedia Of Mystery And Detection. The Encyclopedia is a hugely helpful reference book. I'd be lsot without it. Detectionary is kind of an oddity, but it does have those descriptions of unusual detective characters and the book synopses that the Encyclopedia does not have.

    P.S. I'm not a fan of George Bellairs' books. The plot summary sounds enticing but I know better having read several of his novels. Most of his books just drag on and on with incident overload at the expense of the main story.

  13. Great post! Detectionary seems like a lovely book. Just the thing for a mystery buff like me.

    Love the plot of Heads You Lose! Now I want to read it too.

  14. Lauren: So glad you're enjoying MURDER AT SHOTS HALL! I'm amazed you were able to get it from the library - even inter-library. I'm currenly reading the second book Sarsfield wrote, MURDER AT BEECHLANDS.

    Too bad there won't be anymore.

    But there's still plenty left to read as evidenced by DETECTIONARY. :)

  15. John: I've never read any George Bellairs. I'll try to keep an open mind if I ever run across any of his books. :)

    That Encyclopedia is sounding more and more attractive. Maybe at some point in the future I'll have to plunk down some cash and buy it. How much are you selling a copy for?

  16. wutheringwillow: It's definitely a fun addition to any mystery lover's bookshelf. :)

  17. Yvette: Amazon has used copies of the Encyclopedia of Mystery and Detection hardcover and paperback. It looks like the charges are just for shipping.

    Abe Books also has used copies for a few dollars.

    On to more sleuthing!

    I like that description of Heads You Lose. No one had dare criticize any hats or else.

  18. Kathy: Thanks for the info.

    These three plot descriptions just grabbed my imagination. :)

    There are many more...!

  19. Oh, I'd LOVE a copy of this! Will be checking around. Or The Encyclopedia of Mystery and Detection!

  20. Special: Used copies of Detectionary at Amazon in hardcover and paperback for low prices plus shipping; total under $10.

  21. jenclair: See Kathy's comment below. She's already done the checking. :)


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