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 January will be devoted to Rex Stout.
Book scouting Rex Stout
Rex Stout is one of my favourite all-time mystery writers … I discovered him in my teens and quickly read pretty much everything he ever wrote (it took me a few years to track down the more esoteric items). He published books from 1913 until just before his death in 1975; you can imagine that his books were designed with almost every imaginable cover style over the years. He was published by a number of different publishers before he settled down to his long association with Viking Press in hardcover and Bantam in paperback.Over the coming weeks I hope to bring you some blog pieces on some of his lesser-known work, specifically things that are not part of the Nero Wolfe canon (or, as it’s known punningly to Wolfe fans, the corpus, since Nero Wolfe has a large body and Rex Stout has a large body of work). There’s been an awful lot written over the years about Nero Wolfe, including a couple of full-length studies, and somewhat less attention has been paid to his non-mystery work and his other detectives. I hope to do a little bit to rectify that.
But first, since I’ve been told you all like my display of lovely paperback covers, I thought I’d give you an idea of some of the things that an experienced book scout would be looking to find. Of course, the really valuable editions are hardcover first editions, especially the earliest titles with gorgeous illustrations of orchids on the cover. But over the years Stout was published in a number of unusual paperback editions for which you could be keeping your eyes open as you rummage through old bookstores.
Of particular note here: I’ve added a couple of quite rare items that you may never find, including the scarce-as-hen’s-teeth limited edition of Corsage and the Dell Ten Cent edition of Door to Death (a standalone publication of one of the three stories in Three Doors to Death). I thought you also might like to see a few examples of a magazine-sized format that was published under the Rex Stout name; he had little to do with it, but you can make a nice chunk of change if you find a copy.
There are Dell mapbacks, early Pocket editions, plenty of early Avon (including one of the “picture frame” series), a Lion Library, a Mercury Mystery, and quite a few Bantams. And I’ve included one “ringer” to amuse you; it’s a British hardcover edition with a new title. See if you can spot it and full marks if you know the American title to which it refers. Hint: It refers to the same game in both places, just with a different name and different rules.
Notice how fashions in illustration change? Back in the 40s and 50s, it was apparently necessary to show an illustration of Wolfe himself on the cover … when Bantam took over, they reduced him to a silhouette, a disembodied head, and then finally banished him entirely. And although the jackets of the early first editions relied heavily on illustrations involving orchids, you will hardly see them at all on the paperbacks — even the one that mentions orchids in the title.