Crime Fiction Alphabet: B is for Bibliophiles

People who love books – whether it be reading. collecting. selling, loaning or repairing them – appear very frequently in crime fiction. I guess this is not terribly surprising given that a lot of crime fiction readers and writers are book lovers too. Many of the crime fiction novels featuring bibliophiles of one sort or another also pay homage to the early pioneers of the genre which is a bonus for new readers (it’s a great way to learn about the classics) as well as being fun for more knowledgeable fans who like to spot all the ‘inside baseball’ references.

English antiquarian bookseller Roy H Lewis is also an author with a book-selling hero, Matthew Coll. In the last of five novels in which he features, Death in Verona (1989), Coll travels to Italy to research earlier versions of the story of Lady Capulet which is incorporated into Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. When the local expert he has been working with is battered to death Coll becomes a suspect and when trying to clear himself encounters all manner of thugs and n’er do wells along with an Italian countess with whom romance blossoms.

Among his works the prolific Lawrence Block has a caper series set in New York featuring Bernie Rhodenbarr who has the dual occupations of bookseller and burglar. Block parodies Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None and other vintage crime tales in 1997′s The Burglar in the Library where Bernie is aiming to steal a Raymond Chandler first edition from a New England guest house but has to become an investigator of crimes rather than a perpetrator of them when guests start dropping like flies. Fans of classic crime will enjoy this one.

Helma Zukas is the librarian heroine of Jo Dereske’s series set in Washington (the state not the city). To offset the somewhat stereotypical characteristics of her profession Miss Zukas is often joined in sleuthing by her friend Ruth who is an avant-garde artist. In 2001′s Miss Zukas Shelves the Evidence the Chief of Police is nearly killed when investigating a murder and a library book is found near him. Police demand the borrower’s name but in an event that would these days be likely to see her end up in Guantanamo Bay Miss Zukas deletes the patron’s name from the library’s records rather than invade her client’s privacy.

Lorna Barrett’s series featuring Tricia Miles, who runs a New Hampshire bookstore called Haven’t Got A Clue with the assistance of her cat Miss Marple, started with 2008′s Murder is Binding. Tricia’s bookstore is on a whole street of bookstores selling different kinds of books and she comes under suspicion when the owner of the cookbook store is found stabbed to death and a rare book stolen. I love the notion of a whole street of bookstores, the only place I have ever seen such a phenomenon is Hay-On-Wye in Wales which I was lucky enough to visit once. Sigh.

Kate Carlisle has a relatively new cosy series featuring a rare book repairer, Brooklyn Wainright, in San Francisco. The author makes good use of the setting by giving Brooklyn parents who are members of a local commune and there are other quirky touches in this fun series. In the first book, Homicide in Hardcover (2009), Brooklyn is reunited with the man who first introduced her to book restoration but he is murdered later that evening, while clutching a rare copy of Goethe’s Faust which he was in the middle of restoring.

There are two comic crime fiction series set in Ireland which feature book lovers. Ian Sansom’s protagonist is Israel Armstrong whose job as a mobile librarian for Tumdrum and District Public Library while living in a reclaimed chicken coop doesn’t make for the glamorous life he imagined.  In the first book in the series, The Case of the Missing Books, Israel first has to recover the 15,000 books that have been…err…borrowed….by locals before he can start his new job properly. The series is very light and from the books I’ve read (Mr Dixon Disappears is the only one I’ve reviewed here) don’t even involve death. (Colin) Bateman’s series about the owner of crime fiction bookshop No Alibi starts with Mystery Man and is more of a satire of the genre. Although there are many other reasons to like the book I am particularly taken with the bookshop’s policy of operating a “James Patterson-free zone“.

Perhaps one of the best known, and certainly one of the longest running, series about a book lover is Carolyn Hart’s series featuring Annie Laurence, owner of the Death on Demand bookstore on a South Carolina island. In the first of 21 books in the series, 1987′s Death on Demand, Annie is hosting a regular gathering of famous mystery writers when one of them dies and she becomes a suspect in the murder. There are odes to crime fiction scattered throughout these books including Annie’s cat’s names (Agatha is one and I think  Dorothy another) and the monthly quiz run at the store which requires people to name mystery novels depicted in paintings displayed. I have reviewed Death of the Party, Dead Days of Summer and Dead Man’s Island.

Do you like reading crime fiction about books and book lovers? Can you recommend any others that I haven’t talked about here?

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Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise is hosting the crime fiction alphabet meme which requires the posting of an article relating to the letter of the week (a book title, an author name, a subject…) Do join in the fun by reading the posts and/or contributing one of your own. You don’t have to write every week.

This is the second round of the meme which was first run from late 2009 to early 2010. My contributions that time were discussions of books with one word titles.

20 thoughts on “Crime Fiction Alphabet: B is for Bibliophiles

  1. Bernadette – Oh, this is a wonderful idea for the letter “B.” Your post made me think of Terrie Curran’s All Booked Up, a standalone in which a couple of rare-book devotees who haunt New England’s Smedley Memorial Library. Then a rare book disappears and another is put in its place. Then the same thing happens again. And then there’s a death. For a bibliophile, it’s great fun.

    Oh, and Tuppence Beresford shows what a bibliophile she is in Agatha Christie’s Postern of Fate, when she comes across a clue to a long-ago death in a copy of a book left in the house she and her husband have just taken.

    Oh, and Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey is a serious bibliophile who collects old rare books.

    There are others, but I’ll stop. I’ve gone on long enough.

  2. Margot I’m beginning to think I have taken the wrong approach to the crime fiction alphabet – getting all these suggestions is not helping me in my goal of reducing my TBR ;)

  3. I love this post Bernadette. You seem to have come up with a new (and unique) strategy for the Crime Fiction Alphabet – archaeologists, bibliophiles, c….

  4. Oh, Bernadette, you missed the Cliff Janeway series by John Dunning, an antiquarian book dealer in Denver, Colorado. Janeway is a cop turned bookstore owner and collector…first in series is about modern first editions…great read… BOOKED TO DIE.

    And Steve Berry, who lives up the road from me in southern Georgia (USA), has written a series featuring Cotton Malone, a former US Justice Department agent, who collects Old World antiquarian books in Copenhagen. I prefer Berry’s sorta alternative history/What If? titles that are nonseries…THE ROMANOV PROPHECY and THE AMBER ROOM.

    And a bit off topic, you peaked my interest in Martin Edwards’ mysteries. He’s a modern first edition collector…and has great books jackets on his websites from his collection.

    Fun blog…what’s next?

    Jane, senior citizen from Jacksonville, Florida, booklover…

  5. Brilliant topic for a post, Bernadette! I love reading about bibliophiles, so thanks to you and your commenters for the suggestions.

    I can only think of one from a book I’ve read, which is The Serpent’s Pool by Martin Edwards……not primarily about a bibliophile but featuring one. This series, of course, features an antiquarian bookseller as a not very pleasant recurring (but not main) character, who is very keen on books.

    There’s also another book (series?) that I haven’t read but I think you have – Bateman’s Dr Yes (or maybe another title) – I recall from reading reviews that the main character is a bookseller who becomes a PI because people come into his shop when the detective agency next door closes. Whether he’s a bibliophile as well as a bookseller I don’t know as I haven’t read it….

  6. What a wonderful selection of books. I read a few of Carolyn Hart’s books when I worked just around the corner from the Murder One bookshp in central London and I had access to a much wider range of authors than I do now in rural England. Roy H Lewis, Helma Zukas, Lorna Barrett and Kate Carlisle are now on my wishlist. Thank you for that!

  7. Of course I love reading about bibliophiles. So far, most of my own protagonists have also been booklovers – teachers, librarians, writers. Apart from all the examples above, Andrew Taylor wrote “Caroline Minuscule” in 1982; quite an interesting story in an academic setting, not about a woman as I first thought, but about a medieval script which is stolen.

  8. I love reading mysteries about bibliophiles and, of course, books about books which usually fall into the non-fiction side of things.

    I’d add a few to your very comprehensive list. (I love the Miss Zukas books too!!!)
    The Cliff Janeway books, of course, beginning with BOOKED TO DIE. (Thanks Jane for the reminder.)
    The Fearless Jones books by Walter Mosley features a little guy names Paris who owns a used book store. The books are peripheral since they are mainly about Fearless Jones’s exploits, but they remain one of my favorite series.

    THE BOOK OF AIR AND SHADOW by Michael Gruber. One of my favorites also. This concerns the search for a long lost Shakespearean manuscript.

    EX LIBRIS, an enjoyable historical mystery by Ross King featuring an antiquarian book dealer.

    The Matthew Shardlake historical mysteries by C.J. Sansom. Now these I haven’t read, but I’ve heard very good things about them and they are on my TBR list.

  9. Wanted to let you know to check in at Crime Scraps and offer Norm and his family condolences for a terrible loss they’ve had very recently.

  10. As an aside, am watching Oprah’s trip to Australia. What an incredibly beautiful country, the beaches, the sea, the sunsets. Am just amazed.

  11. Thanks all for your suggestions of more books for me to read about book lovers – I have loads more books on my wishlist (have been strong and not actually ordered any yet)

    @kathy yes Australia is gorgeous (though I might be biased)…I have seen a lot of beaches and think we have the best in the world – plus we have Tasmania which is my favourite spot on the planet (and not where I live – yet – one day perhaps). We’re pretty nice to visitors too though perhaps not everyone gets quite the same level of treatment as Oprah got (we don’t stop traffic for everyone :)

  12. Just to keep up the conversation about the beauty of Australia, I saw people scuba diving in beautiful, turquoise water, and they could see everything; it was crystal-clear. Then in another harbor, the water was navy blue. There were aerial shots of the Great Barrier Reef. They did visit with Indigenous people, which was quite moving.
    I met a woman in my city last year who lives in Ireland, whose grandmother was Tasmanian.

  13. It certainly seems like Oprah is showcasing a lot of different parts of the country – the Barrier Reef is amazing – and Sydney Harbour is one of the most spectacular in the world – I lived in Sydney for a few years and for a while I caught the ferry across the harbour to work every day – it’s the perfect start to a day when the sun is shining – nice to know anyway that Oprah is doing a good job of ‘selling’ the country given that Australian taxpayers incurred some of the expense of her trip (not a lot but there was some funding provided by tourism Australia which is a government body) – hopefully some of the people who see the show buy a ticket and come themselves for a visit – we do love showing off for visitors.

  14. Yes! Oh, no about some of the funding for the Oprah show’s trip, but I think it will bring people to Australia. The visuals are very enticing.
    Some day I’ll read a mystery set in Tasmania, and I’ll learn more; otherwise, it’s up to Google.

  15. Pingback: It turns out I don’t know my ABC after all | Reactions to Reading

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