What About Murder? (1981-1991): A Guide to Books about Mystery and Detective Fiction, by Jon L. Breen

Title: What About Murder? (1981-1991): A Guide to Books about Mystery and Detective Fiction

Author: Jon L. Breen

Publication Data:  Originally published in 1981 covering 239 entries for material up to 1981.  This edition, 1993, covers material from the next decade in 565 entries. Scarecrow Press, ISBN 0810826097.

About this book:

As the subtitle says, this is a guide to books about mystery and detective fiction.  Ellery Queen called the base volume “a landmark … brilliant, necessary, long-overdue .. written with charm and authority.”  I agree.  Breen has the knack of describing the contents of books in a way that makes you want to read them.

This book contains material about histories, reference books, “special subjects” (books about particular aspects of the genre), collected essays and reviews, technical manuals (material for the instruction of prospective mystery writers), works on individual authors, anthologies which have some reference value because of the editorial material, new editions and supplementary volumes to books covered in the original volume (this volume would qualify), and finally an addendum about books that came to Breen’s attention too late to add into the correct section.

Although I certainly haven’t read most of the volumes listed here, the ones with which I am familiar are covered with intelligence and contain a critical assessment with which I by and large agree.  Breen has a way of extracting the salient details and making it clear what the book says, and the point of view from which it is presented, so that you can understand whether the book is something that would be useful to you or not.

If you have an academic interest in detective fiction or pursue its study at an advanced level, this book is an absolute cornerstone for your library.

Notes For the Collector:

Frankly, I’m reviewing this book because I had the very pleasant experience over the weekend of finding a copy for $2 at a charity sale; an ex-library copy, to be sure, but one that apparently no one ever checked out; it’s essentially remained unopened since purchase.  I believe I paid $30 some time in the 1980s for my first edition covering material up to 1981, a rather well-used copy, so imagine my delight at paying $2 for this one.  Amazon cites it at $49.34 new and $5.99 used, with wildly varying shipping prices as usual.  Abebooks.com, a more reliable source, cites a number of copies of both the first edition and this supplement at around $10 and a couple of copies at around the $100 mark for no apparent reason (two signed copies of the first edition are $15 and $25, respectively, and Mr. Breen is still around to sign yours if you should be lucky enough to meet this erudite gentleman).

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