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Murder by the Book

If much of the action is set in a bookshop or a library, it is a bibliomystery, just as it is if a major character is a bookseller or a librarian. A collector of rare books…may be included. Publishers? Yes, if their jobs are integral to the plot. Authors? Tricky… If the nature of their work brings them into a mystery, or their books are a vital clue in the solution, they probably make the cut.

- Otto Penzler

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As Martin Edwards says in the introduction to Murder by the Book: Mysteries for Bibliophiles, “What could be more appropriate than a British Library Crime Classics anthology of short stories concerned with the world of books?” He is absolutely correct, and this collection is full of stories that range from murderous authors to books as clues.

The authors collected here are some of the Golden Age standards, including E.C. Bentley, Julian Symons, Gladys Mitchell, Christianna Brand, and Ngaio Marsh. There were a couple of new authors I hadn’t read yet, including A.A. Milne and I was very excited to finally read one of his stories (that doesn’t involve toys).

“Malice Domestic” by Philip MacDonald is an excellent story. Everything is right there, all the clues, all the info, everything you need to figure this one out. The twist is great and comes right at the end. MacDonald’s writing is quite colorful and descriptive, and I enjoyed his characters. It also has a distinct California feel to it which I usually come across in noirs more than anything else. There’s just something about that state and mysteries that pair together well.

I believe “Dear Mr. Editor” is my first introduction to Christianna Brand and it was a doozy. Her writing is full of conflict and tension and paints a very vivid picture. The story begins with a letter to her editor and the ensuing drama is a page-turning triumph.

The final story, “We Know You’re Busy Writing…” by Edmund Crispin is pure genius. As a writer myself, I completely understand the difficulty of interruptions at just the wrong moment and the chores that can’t be ignored. Crispin’s fanciful writing is fun to read. His author main character keeps interjecting lines of his writing, words and phrases he’s trying to hold onto, while he’s tending to people who keep interrupting him. In a couple instances, it makes for some humorous juxtapositions.

I’ve enjoyed all of the British Library Crime Classic short story collections that I’ve read so far. This one may be my most favorite. Martin Edwards concludes his introduction by saying, “Anyone who enjoys books in general and crime fiction in particular will find rich variety and entertainment in this sub-branch of the genre.” I couldn’t put these stories down and my only wish is that Murder by the Book had been twice as long.

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