Book: The History of Mystery

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Book:

The History of Mystery

Author: Max Allan Collins
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Publisher: Collectors Press

Footprints, a smoking revolver, broken glass . . . Whodunit? Get to the bottom of things with Max Allan Collins, who puts the enigmatic, endlessly fascinating world of the mystery genre under the magnifying glass in The History of Mystery. Starting with Edgar Allan Poe’s fictional detective Dupin, Collins tracks the modern detective story from its birth in Allan Pinkerton’s Memoirs to its fullest flowering in the fiction of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Ross MacDonald. Collins widens his scope to explore the rich narrative and visual history of detective comics and the legacy of mystery in radio, television, and film noir. This stunning volume presents a magical selection of pulp and dime-novel covers of the thirties and forties, gats-and-gals paperback covers of the fifties and sixties, the Sunday strips’ yellow-trenchcoat-clad Dick Tracy, and portraits of the terribly proper and totally astute television dynamos Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, and Jessica Fletcher. En route, Collins reveals true tidbits about some of mystery’s leading lights, like the little known fact that Dashiell Hammett was persecuted during the McCarthy era and opted for jail over betraying a friend, and that Nancy Drew posed for Playboy magazine. Arguably the most comprehensive survey ever published, The History of Mystery is sure to please the most discriminating sleuth.

Reviews

Amazon.com

Penzler Pick, December 2001: It may start to look as if I have stock in Collectors Press because I’ve praised one of its books for three months in a row (The Great American Paperback in October and Pulp Culture in November). Well, I wish I did, because this group of books includes some of the most beautiful and exciting mystery reference books ever produced.

The History Of Mystery’s text, by the fine mystery writer Max Allan Collins, is a joy to read. It’s not hard to tell when a writer, rather than a scholar, is doing the writing. Inevitably, because of the enormous range covered between these covers, it mostly skims the surface of the entire genre, but it’s all nicely presented.

Collins begins with the famous 18th-century French detective Vidocq, founder of the Sûreté and author of memoirs that are more fiction than fact, and moves quickly to the true inventor of the detective story, Edgar Allan Poe. He then goes on to Allan Pinkerton, who had the best adventures of his famous detective agency ghostwritten (again with less devotion to reportage than one might have wished). There’s a good deal about the early dime-novel heroes, such as Old Sleuth and Nick Carter, whose adventures were sold for a nickel and a dime and were the predecessors of the pulp magazines.

Everyone you’d expect to find is mentioned, as are some authors and books you might not expect in such a huge overview. Collins brings history up to today’s bestseller lists with entries on Robert Crais, Harlan Coben, and Thomas Perry. Granted, they get less than a paragraph each, but what can you expect in a book of fewer than 200 pages (albeit giant ones) that covers absolutely everyone of significance, and some not so significant.

But, as with the other books from Collectors Press, the magnificent illustrative material is the most compelling. Page after page of splendid full-color illustrations of dust jackets, paperback covers, movie posters, and other breathtaking artwork are an endless joy.

And like their other books, the price is a bargain, thanks to the creative production that was done in Hong Kong. I realize I’m gushing, but you’ve got to see this handsome tome to fully appreciate what I’m getting at. If you have a mystery buff as a friend, relative, or loved one (or a boss who you’d really like to suck up to), get this book as a gift. But get two. Because once you see it, you won’t want to part with it. —Otto Penzler

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