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The Oxford Companion to Crime and Mystery Writing

Herbert, Rosemary

11 ratings by Goodreads
ISBN 10: 0195072391 / ISBN 13: 9780195072396
Published by Oxford Univ Pr, Cary, North Carolina, U.S.A., 1999
New Condition: New Hardcover
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This is a new hardcover first edition, first printing copy in a new mylar protected DJ, black spine. Review slip laid in. Bookseller Inventory # 062700

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Bibliographic Details

Title: The Oxford Companion to Crime and Mystery ...

Publisher: Oxford Univ Pr, Cary, North Carolina, U.S.A.

Publication Date: 1999

Binding: Hard Cover

Book Condition:New

Dust Jacket Condition: New

Edition: First Edition, First Printing

About this title

Synopsis:

From the penny dreadful, which challenges seekers of sensation to discover the truth in a pattern of gory details; to the twentieth-century detective novel, which offers an intricate puzzle solved through the application of the intellect; to the crime novel, which probes the psyches of the characters, the crime and mystery genre offers readers an intellectual excitement unsurpassed by other forms of fiction. Now The Oxford Companion to Crime and Mystery Writing provides scholars and fans of this genre with an authoritative yet playful compendium of knowledge about a literature known for its highly entertaining treatment of deadly serious puzzles.
Editor Rosemary Herbert has brought together 666 articles--written by such authorities as Edward D. Hoch, Sara Paretsky, and the late Julian Symons--that will accompany readers in their armchair investigations. Here can be found informative biographies of great mystery writers from Edgar Allan Poe to Rex Stout to Ruth Rendell. Here, too, favorite sleuths--including Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Sam Spade, Nero Wolfe, Adam Dalgliesh, and Kinsey Milhone--keep company with master criminals such as Professor Moriarty and Fu Manchu. Character types--from the country constable to the omniscient sleuth to the femme fatale--sleuth, think, or slink within these pages.
In the great tradition of Oxford Companions, this volume features extended essays on the development of this literature, its subgenres and schools of writing. It also serves as a catalogue of the components of mystery writing, such as famous clues, authorial ingenuity, and even an entry on "The Butler Did It." A strength of the volume is found in linked articles which can guide readers from, for instance, a careful definition of Murder to a delightfully quirky compendium of fictional victims in an article on The Corpse.

Review:

Penzler Pick, April 2000: Over the years, there have been quite a few reference books in the mystery genre arranged as dictionaries, encyclopedias, companions, and so on. (I coauthored two of them, so I know what goes into their production.) Rosemary Herbert's Companion differs from many others in at least two ways: first, she did not write it but rather edited the work of numerous well-known mystery scholars and academics, each of whom presumably has some expertise in the subjects they wrote about; and second, there are as many articles devoted to umbrella subjects (eccentrics, elderly sleuths, English village milieu, and escapism, to open the book at random) as to authors and characters. It is an interesting way to arrange a reference book and more fun to read than the potted author biographies in similar works, but it seems to be less useful as a reference tool than those works.

Inevitably, the first criticism leveled at such a work is the question of why certain authors or characters were included and others omitted. At random, I note entries for Inspector Hanaud, Joseph Hansen, and Cyril Hare, but none for James Crumley or Minette Walters. Perhaps this boils down to the subjective notion that it's more important to have entries for both A.E.W. Mason and his series character, Hanaud--seldom read nowadays--than for one of the half-dozen best hard-boiled writers alive and for the heir apparent to the thrones of Ruth Rendell and P.D. James. The problem is somewhat exacerbated by the subject articles, where one can look in vain under "stalking" for a mention of Mary Higgins Clark but instead find Evelyn E. Smith. The "missing persons" entry makes no mention of Hillary Waugh's superb Last Seen Wearing but does reference an obscure Mary Roberts Rinehart short story.

As I reread this page, it seems as if I don't like the book, which is certainly not true. This type of book begs for nitpicking, and that's what I've been doing. It is wonderfully written, on balance, and the overview articles are informative and a joy to read, often providing historical perspective that serves as an excellent guide for readers who want to embark on a journey through, say, the world of legal fiction or forensic pathology. The Oxford Companion shouldn't be your only reference book, but it should find a spot on every devotee's shelf. --Otto Penzler

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