Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Bibliomystery

There are many different genres (or sub-genres if you prefer) within the mystery novel category, and although many people read all types of mysteries, most will naturally gravitate toward one of these genres. They range from the hard-boiled detectives of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler to the more comedic heroines of Janet Evanovich and Cleo Coyle. One genre that deserves attention (and is a natural favorite of book lovers) is the bibliomystery.

A bibliomystery is one in which a book or manuscript is central to the plot of the novel. The definition can be expanded to include mystery novels in which libraries, librarians, bookstores, booksellers, publishers and/or authors play a key role in the story. Sadly, readers who love bibliomysteries must engage in a more arduous search for quality novels than those who read classic detective tales or legal thrillers.

There are several examples of good bibliomysteries from the early 20th century, among them "The Colfax Book-Plate," written by Agnes Miller in 1926, "Murder in the Bookshop," written by Carolyn Wells a decade later, and "Fast Company" by Marco Page (1937). These books deal with, respectively, murders surrounding a newly-discovered bookplate, the disappearance of a book valued at $100,000 (in 1936), and the theft of several valuable first editions. It's not necessary to go back 77 years, however; some of the best bibliomysteries were written in the past decade or so.

One of the very best bibliomysteries is "Booked to Die" by John Dunning (1992). "Booked to Die" is Dunning's first novel in his "Bookman" series, and it's a minor classic, especially if you're a fan of the bibliomystery genre or a book collector. It's the story of a Denver cop-turned-rare book dealer Cliff Janeway, and it will teach you a lot about the book trade while taking you on a mystery thrill-ride at the same time. Dunning is himself a rare book dealer, which makes the story even more authentic.

The list of bibliomysteries is not confined to detective novels, however. Some of the best feature protagonists who are ordinary people thrown into extraordinary circumstances, all with a book or manuscript at the heart of the story. They include "The Book of Air and Shadows" by Michael Gruber, "Interred with Their Bones" by Jennifer Lee Carrell, "Ex-Libris" by Ross King, "The Club Dumas" by Arturo Perez-Reverte, Alice Kimberly's Haunted Bookshop series, and Carlos Ruiz Zafon's classic "The Shadow of the Wind," one of the best novels ever written in any genre.

So if you love books and mysteries centered around books, be sure to pick up one of the titles listed above. Every one is well worth your time.

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