A group of related bloggers who work in the general area of Golden Age Mysteries has decided to collaborate and publish a blog post every Tuesday as the Tuesday Night Bloggers. We began in the spirit of celebrating Agatha Christie’s 125th birthday anniversary. We’ve now going to continue with a different Golden Age mystery writer every month; Tuesdays in December will be devoted to Ngaio Marsh, and in January to Rex Stout.
Book scouting Ngaio Marsh (Part 3 of 3)
I was going to do a post about my favourite paperback editions of Ngaio Marsh, until I started pulling together cover photos and found I actually had quite a few more than would easily fit into a single post. So I’ve divided them in three, simply for your convenience.
Book scouting is the process of finding books that a bookseller wants and selling them to her so that she can supply her customers. My experience is that all booksellers will have a “want list” generated when customers say, “Hey, if you ever get in a copy of THAT, give me a call.” Some people want reading copies, but collectors frequently want a specific edition of a specific book. You won’t have a very enjoyable hobby if you try to scout first editions with jackets — you might find one book in five years that you can afford to buy at a price that a bookseller can afford to buy and then resell. But you can have a lot of fun trying to find specific paperback editions to suit particular collectors.
I’ve always been a fan of this cover art idea, to the great dismay of some of my blogging friends with better taste. 😉 The concept has been executed a number of times in the history of detective fiction paperbacks; essentially, the publisher creates a posed photograph with a model and a set, carefully constructed to show the prospective reader the corpse around whom the action revolves. I call them “corpsebacks” but I admit nobody else will be familiar with this terminology unless they’ve been listening to me extolling their virtues over the years! I’ll hasten to add that there’s nothing extremely gory about this set — nobody’s missing half their skull or anything vulgar like that. This is, relatively speaking, tasteful … okay, not tasteful. But decorous. It’s Ngaio Marsh, not Mickey Spillane. (I understand, on no authority that I can confirm, that a question was asked about these books in the British House of Commons, along the same lines as investigations into horror comics not long before. The government apparently did nothing about them.)
The apprentice book scout should also note that this edition offers one of the most fertile fields for book scouting; the variorum edition. Whenever you have a situation in which more than one version of the same book was done, the true collector’s ears prick up and both versions must, of course, be obtained. Here, many of the books were published as wrap-around photographs, and a few were cropped for a different edition into the same front cover but a type-only back cover. Death at the Bar — I’ll show you the particular volumes first to give you the idea — is different in the front-only shot and the wraparound shot, as is Died in the Wool.
The impetus for the series deteriorated as time went by, the wraparound covers disappeared, and Fontana signalled its intention to move forward with the first paperback edition of Last Ditch, which featured the murder weapon surrounded with lots of blood, but no corpse. Below, I’ll show you the front covers followed by the wraparounds. Personally I think the wraparounds are more collectible, but collectors should want both styles, as I’ve said. I have nothing to back it up except memory, but I’ve seen a lot of these books go through my hands and the rarest one seems to me to be Singing in the Shrouds.