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The IOBA Standard is the journal of the Independent Online Booksellers Association and covers the book world, with a special focus on the online used, out-of-print, and collectible bookselling markets.


Mystery Reference Shelf or Two

Mystery and detective fiction is probably more popular today than at any time in its history, including the so-called Golden Age in the 1920s and 30s. I’ve tried to aim this list at generalist dealers who might want more information about mystery fiction, but do not need the reference works of a specialist in the field.

Because, as Christopher Morley said of Sherlockian writings, “Never has so much been written by so many for so few,” I have separated Holmes-related items from other mystery reference and included it in its own section at the end.

The items marked with an asterisk are the most highly recommended and useful of the reference materials for a generalist dealer. Through them, one can locate most of the others. The rest of the works listed are some of my favorites, and other mystery dealers probably have their own preferences. Chacun a son gout.



*Hubin, Allen J. Crime Fiction III. A Comprehensive Bibliography: 1749 -1995. Though not a descriptive bibliography, Hubin is the major bibliographical checklist for detective fiction and an indispensable work for anyone collecting or dealing in the genre. In addition to the major author and title index for books, it includes short stories indexed by title and author, movies listed by title and book author, a series index, and a settings index. However, users should be aware that there is no critical commentary about the works listed: the worst writers are treated as equally as the best.

The first four editions of Hubin are available in book format, but this most recent update is available only on CD-ROM from Locus Press at The CD-ROM edition includes all entries from Hubin’s four previous editions: The Bibliography of Crime Fiction: 1749 – 1975, Crime Fiction: 1749-1980, Supplement to Crime Fiction: 1981-1985, and Crime Fiction II: 1749-1990.

*Albert, Walter. Detective and Mystery Fiction: An International Bibliography of Secondary Sources. Second edition, revised and expanded. 2000. As Hubin is the major checklist for mystery and detective fiction, Albert is the major checklist for mystery reference materials, excluding Sherlockiana. Its sections include: Bibliographies, Dictionaries, Encyclopedias, and Checklists; General Reference Works: Historical & Critical: Books and Articles; Dime Novels, Juvenile Series, and Pulps; and Authors. The section on authors is particularly useful since it lists bibliographies as well as books and articles about all major and most minor mystery writers.

Although the first edition was published in book format, the second revised edition is available only on CD-ROM from Locus Press at

The above two works are both indispensable and so are listed first. The books that follow are a sampling of some of the most useful checklists to supplement the above, and are listed in alphabetical order by author.

Adey, Robert. Locked Room Murders and Other Impossible Crimes: A Comprehensive Bibliography. Minneapolis: Crossover Press, 1991. Revised and expanded edition. An indispensable work, very well done, for a popular, though limited, category of mystery fiction.

Barzun, Jacques and Wendell Hertig Taylor. A Catalogue of Crime. NY: Harper & Row, [1971]. The most extensive annotated general survey of crime fiction, with 3,476 entries arranged by author. It includes plot summaries and critical comments and is not complete in any sense of the word, but is almost always entertaining since the authors “call ’em as they see ’em” with no reluctance whatsoever in expressing their often controversial opinions. A revised and enlarged edition was published in 1989.

I don’t feel this title is really necessary for a generalist, but I include it because it is one of those often seen on the reference shelves of dealers, most of whom, I suspect, have probably seldom used it.

Breen, Jon L. What About Murder? A Guide to Books about Mystery and Detective Fiction (Metuchen: The Scarecrow Press, 1981) and its very extensive update, What About Murder? 1981- 1991. (Metuchen: The Scarecrow Press, 1993). Breen does not attempt to cover the number of items in Albert, but his annotations show a lot of insight into the field, and make this work very useful. Both volumes are necessary since (as the title of the second volume makes clear) the items in the 1981 publication are not included in the 1993 update.

Contento, William G. And Martin H. Greenberg. Index to Crime and Mystery Anthologies. Boston: G. K. Hall, [1991]. This work includes the appearances of all short stories in hardbound mystery anthologies from 1875 to about 1990. More than 1,000 anthologies are indexed by editor and title with the contents listed. Stories are also indexed by author and title. It’s useful for helping customers find out if and where a short story was previously published.

This has since been issued on a CD-ROM as Mystery Short Fiction Miscellany: An Index by William G. Contento. It combines Index to Crime and Mystery Anthologies with Index to Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, and Mystery Short Fiction: 1990-2000. I have not seen this CD, but according to Locus Press, it indexes 1,500 books and 1,100 magazine issues, for a total of 23,000 stories by 7,800 authors. It is available at:

Cook, Michael L. And Stephen T. Miller. Mystery, Detective, and Espionage Fiction: A Checklist of Fiction in U.S. Pulp Magazines, 1915-1974. NY: Garland, 1988. Two volumes. A thorough and extraordinarily useful work (as most of Michael Cook’s reference works are), these two volumes list all fiction published in mystery pulp magazines, issue by issue. Volume one lists these works by magazine title in nearly 700 pages set in double-columns. Volume two provides the same material indexed by author.

Cook, Michael L. Monthly Murders: A Checklist and Chronological Listing of Fiction in the Digest-Size Mystery Magazines in the United States and England. Westport: Greenwood Press, [1982]. By digest-size, Cook means the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine format, and Cook lists the title and author of every story in each issue of 110 of these magazines and also provides an index by author.

*Cooper, John and B. A. Pike. Detective Fiction: The Collector’s Guide. Aldershot: Scolar Press, 1994. Second edition. Although this work focuses on British detective fiction (including British editions of American writers), it is invaluable for its commentary on bindings and dust jackets. The endpapers, featuring the signatures of around 100 mystery writers from Agatha Christie and Margery Allingham to Ellis Peters and P. D. James, and the beautiful color photographs are the icing on the cake of a very useful book.

Menendez, Albert J. The Subject Is Murder: A Selective Subject Guide to Mystery Fiction (NY: Garland, 1986) and its companion volume The Subject is Murder Volume Two (NY: Garland, 1990). Most useful to dealers who have customers asking such questions as “Do you have any more mysteries dealing with advertising, art, architecture, gardening, schools and universities, religion, sports, television, Christmas, bookstores, writers, trains, medicine, law….” Well, you get the idea.

*Pederson, Jay P. St. James Guide to Crime & Mystery Writers. Detroit: St. James Press, 1996. Fourth edition. While nowhere near as complete as Hubin, many generalist dealers might find it more useful for the writers covered because it includes a capsule biography of each writer covered along with a short critical essay on the writer and, if the author was alive at the time of publication, a few comments by the author on his or her own work. Many of the critical essays are written by well-known critics and by other mystery writers.

Because each edition dropped some writers and added others, the three previous editions are also useful. However, the three previous editions had a different name which St. James, for some reason changed with the fourth edition. The three earlier works were all known as Twentieth Century Crime and Mystery Writers. The first two editions (St. Martin’s Press, 1980 and 1985) were edited by John Reilly and the third edition (Gale Publishing, 1991) was edited by Lesley Henderson.


Any good mystery reference shelf must include histories and critical works on the genre and Albert, cited above, is the best source for finding them.

The historical and critical books listed below are a few of my personal favorites. I have listed them alphabetically by author. I prefer older mystery writers to newer ones, and this is reflected in my selections.

Haycraft, Howard. Murder for Pleasure. NY: D. Appleton-Century Company, 1941. [reprinted, without revision, by Biblo and Tannen in 1974]. The first formal history of the genre, and still one of the best. It is obviously limited in that it stops in 1940.

Popular Press is not a book, but a publisher well known for its output in the area of mystery reference and criticism, and many of its older works are still in print. For critical books dealing with sub-genres of mystery fiction (women writers, espionage, golden age fiction, private eyes, police procedurals, etc.), Popular Press is an excellent place to start. Formerly at Bowling Green State University, Popular Press was acquired by the University of Wisconsin in July 2002. Because, at this writing, things are still in transition, their offerings can be checked out either at, or at .

Quayle, Eric. The Collector’s Book of Detective Fiction. [London]: Studio Vista, [1972]. Great illustrations, but most useful for pre-WWII authors.

Queen, Ellery. The Detective Short Story: A Bibliography. Boston: Little, Brown, 1942. Also reprinted by Biblo and Tannen. Though a bibliography, the Queens’ critical comments probably merit its being placed in the critical category.

Queen, Ellery. Queen’s Quorum: A History of the Detective-Crime Short Story as Revealed in the 106 Most Important Books Published in this Field since 1845. Boston: Little, Brown, 1951. This was reprinted in 1969 with supplements bringing it up to 1967.

*Steinbrunner, Chris and Otto Penzler with Marvin Lachtman and Charles Shibuk. Encyclopedia of Mystery and Detection. NY: McGraw-Hill, [1976]. A very useful general reference, with a particular emphasis on films related to the authors and works discussed.

Symons, Julian. Bloody Murder. From the Detective Story to the Crime Novel: A History. London: Faber and Faber, [1972].


Author bibliographies are the most important part of a dealer’s reference shelf. In the field of mystery and detective fiction, a number of fine ones have already been published, but many more still need to be done. Albert, cited above, can provide information about not only about bibliographies already published in book form, but about preliminary bibliographies, checklists, and critical articles for many authors which may appear within various fanzines and magazines.

The descriptive bibliographies listed below (by subject, then author) are a few of the ones I feel are most useful and most well done:

Raymond Chandler: A Descriptive Bibliography. University of Pittsburgh Press, 1979.

Dashiell Hammett: A Descriptive Bibliography. Richard Layman. University of Pittsburgh Press, 1979.

Tony Hillerman: From “The Blessing Way” to Talking God.” A Bibliography. Louis A. Hieb. Tucson: Press of the Gigantic Hound, 1990.

A Macdonald Potpourri–being a miscellany of post-perusal pleasures of the John D. MacDonald books for bibliophiles, bibliographers, and bibliomaniacs. Walter and Jean Shine. Gainesville: University of Florida Libraries, 1988. Though not strictly a descriptive bibliography and though a little difficult “to get the hang of”at first, this is an invaluable reference for sorting out the first edition paperback originals of JDM. It can be used in conjunction with, but contains much more information in terms of paperbacks than, the Shines’ earlier A Bibliography of the Published Works of John D. MacDonald (Gainesville: University of Florida, 1980).

Ross Macdonald/Kenneth Millar: A Descriptive Bibliography. Matthew J. Bruccoli. University of Pittsburgh Press, 1983.

Royal Bloodline: Ellery Queen, Author and Detective. Francis M. Nevins, Jr. Bowling Green: Popular Press, 1974. Not a descriptive bibliography, but the best reference source currently available for the two men who did so much to popularize detective fiction through their novels and critical and writings.

A Bibliography of the Works of Dorothy L. Sayers. Colleen B. Gilbert. Hamden: Archon Books, 1978.

Rex Stout: An Annotated Primary and Secondary Bibliography. Guy M. Townsend, editor. NY: Garland Publishing, 1980. This is not a descriptive bibliography and is not useful for determining first edition points, but it does attempt to list every item written by or about Stout up to its date of publication. It also includes media treatments of Stout’s works on radio, in the movies, and on television.

Julian Symons: A Bibliography. With commentaries and a personal memoir by Julian Symons and a preface by H. R. F. Keating. John J. Walsdorf. New Castle: Oak Knoll Press, 1996.

The pages of back issues of the journal The Armchair Detective are very useful for specific author bibliographies. Otto Penzler, the dean of detective fiction, wrote a column called “Collecting Detective Fiction” from around 1982 through 1995. His checklists include publication information and points for first editions for many of the most prominent mystery writers. Fortunately, many of these have been recently updated and published in pamphlet form and are available from The Mysterious Bookshop which can be emailed at: .

Firsts Magazine has a mystery issue once or twice a year and publishes mystery writer checklists. The November 2002 John D. MacDonald issue is particularly outstanding–see

Allen and Patricia Ahearn have included many mystery writers in their Author Price Guides Series. See


Although the Internet diminished the value of dealer and auction catalogues as price guides, they can still be very helpful in providing a lot of bibliographical information, and many are illustrated. The value of a catalogue, obviously, depends in great measure on how much additional information is provided–but even cloth colors, when listed, and numbers of pages can be helpful when researching a book.


Don’t neglect fellow dealers as a resource. Most are always willing to help. I strongly recommend the following:

The Deadly Directory: 2002. Kate Derie, editor. Lists booksellers, organizations, events, periodicals, publishers, and information resources in the field of mystery and detective fiction. You can get more information at:


Unfortunately, the most useful site on the internet for mystery and detective fiction, The Mysterious Homepage, has mysteriously disappeared. It contained a wealth of links to other internet sources.

However Google or another search engine can be a valuable resource in locating sites related to mystery fiction in terms of specific authors, characters, sub-genres (bibliomysteries, historical mysteries, dime novels), publishers, and awards (both the Mystery Writers of America and the English Crime Writers Association have web sites).

Most published writers today either have their own web sites or have unofficial web sites run by fans.

Two internet sites are particularly good for examples of authors’ signatures and include many mystery writers in their lists:, and



*De Waal, Ronald B. The Universal Sherlock Holmes. 1993. As Hubin is the essential reference work for detective fiction and as Irene Adler is the Woman, Ronald Burt De Waal has provided the most comprehensive bibliography of all things Sherlockian. The first edition of his work was The World Bibliography of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson (Boston: New York Graphics Society, 1974), which contained over 6,200 entries. The International Sherlock Holmes (Hamden: Archon Books, 1980) followed with more than 6,000 additional entries. The Universal Sherlock Holmes includes all entries from the first two volumes plus 12,000 new entries, for a total of 24,703 items.

Hubin lists not only all printings of the canon, individual stories and novels along with collections, but also pastiches, parodies, and writings about the writings. He includes newspaper articles, dramatic presentations, and all kinds of Sherlockian ephemera. It is a unique work–one of a kind.

The Universal Sherlock Holmes is available from George Vanderburgh of The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box at as a book in five volumes (four volumes and an index) bound either in paper with a plastic comb binding or in hardback. It is also available on CD-ROM.

*Green, Richard Lancelyn and John Michael Gibson. A Bibliography of A. Conan Doyle. Oxford: The Clarenden Press, 1983. A complete descriptive bibliography, this is the standard reference work on Doyle. It was reprinted in 1984 with corrections, and that corrected edition was reprinted in 2000 by Hudson House and is widely available. It is now also available in a Windows program on CD-ROM from George Vanderburgh of The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box at

Whitt, J. F. The Strand Magazine: 1891-1950. A Selective Checklist. London: Whitt, 1979. Although there is no definitive index of The Strand, this short paperbound work lists all material related to Arthur Conan Doyle, as well as all stories by P. G. Wodehouse, and a selection of other contributions, mainly by writers of detective, mystery, or fantasy fiction. It is quite scarce but worth buying when it turns up.

*Shaw, John Bennett. The Basic 100: The 100 Most Important Critical Studies and Association Items to the Sherlock Holmes Canon. Various places and dates. John Bennett Shaw, who owned the largest Sherlockian collection in private hands before it was donated to the University of Minnesota’s Special Collections, first developed this list in 1977 based on an exhibit of items from his collection 11 years earlier. He revised it a number of times before his death in 1994, and others have continued tinkering with it since then. A 1998 list done with the approval of Shaw’s widow and annotated by Carl Thiel is readily available as a paperback from George Vanderburgh of The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box at Shaw’s own 1988 version, without commentary, is available on the web at For generalist dealers, the Shaw reference can answer a number of customer questions about which books they might recommend about Sherlock Holmes.


Redmond, Christopher. A Sherlock Holmes Handbook. Toronto: Simon & Pierre, [1993]. For a one-book introduction to Sherlock Holmes, Redmond’s book is my favorite. It contains the most basic information that a beginner would want. The introduction includes short summaries of the entire canon, 56 stories and 4 novels, and the following chapters provide specific information about Holmes and Watson, Doyle, and their world in very readable form. The very detailed index makes the book exceptionally useful and reader-friendly.

Tracy, Jack. The Encyclopaedia Sherlockiana. Garden City: Doubleday, 1977. Alphabetically arranged, this is a fine reference for locating names, places, and general subjects in the canon quickly and easily.

Herbert, Paul D. The Sincerest Form of Flattery: An Historical Survey of Parodies, Pastiches and Other Imitative Writings of Sherlock Holmes 1891-1980. Bloomington: Gaslight, 1983. Long before Doyle’s death in 1930, other writers began to appropriate the character of Sherlock Holmes. In the beginning, they used parodies to make fun of Holmes who had, in a very short time, become one of the best-known fictional characters in England and the United States. After Doyle’s death made it clear there would be no more Holmes stories, others tried their hands at writing serious pastiches which they hoped might fill the void. Pastiche and parody have coexisted for a little more than a century now, and one Sherlockian recently wrote that he had identified more than 4,000 such items.

Herbert does not attempt to list all the parodies and pastiches he knows, but instead he divides his book into subject-oriented chapters, organizing parodies and pastiches around historical figures, historical events, fictional characters, science fiction, trades and special interests, cases mentioned as being in Watson’s tin dispatch box, Christmas, Holmes’ relatives, and many more. His book also includes a bibliography of parodies and pastiches. For a generalist dealer, the Herbert book can help to guide customers looking for “more Sherlock Holmes.”

There are, as one can see from the entry on De Waal, literally thousands of Sherlockian books and pamphlets, not to mention hundreds of journals and newsletters devoted to Holmes, but the ones above are probably all a generalist dealer would need. The rest of the writings should probably be left to Morley’s “so few,” mentioned at the opening of this essay, the readers, the collectors, and the enthusiasts who still believe, with Vincent Starrett, that “it is always 1895.”

By: Michael S. Greenbaum




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