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7 Great Mysteries About Rare Books and Bibliophiles

17 August 2019

From Crime Reads:

There’s something about a rare or beautiful book that can ignite the darker human passions. Bibliophilia—a love for books as physical objects—might seem a gentle and even noble affliction, but history abounds with tales of obsessive bibliophilic greed, betrayal, theft, blackmail, fraud, assault, and murder. Can mystery fiction be far behind? (Lured by the puns, if nothing else? A Cracking of Spines? Dewey Decimated? The surface has barely been scratched.)

This sampling of well- and lesser-known mysteries about bibliophiles only begins to suggest the range of biblio-crime and biblio-cunning that awaits their readers.

. . . .

John Dunning, Booked to Die (Scribner, 1992)

Denver cop Cliff Janeway moonlights as a savvy collector who knows his way around old bookstores. When a hapless book scout is murdered, Janeway’s rough handling of the suspect earns him a brutality charge, and he quits the force rather than face suspension. Opening his own small shop, he continues to search for the scout’s killer, following a path that leads to more deaths and the mysterious surfacing of rare books the victims once owned. Dunning followed Booked to Die with five more Janeway novels spanning 14 years, making the series a standout for combining high-octane plots and—thanks to Dunning’s own experiences in the trade—a virtual primer in the headaches and pleasures of the rare book business.

. . . .

Joanne Dobson, The Maltese Manuscript (Poisoned Pen, 2003)

With their mix of bookish egos and academic infighting, college English departments are fertile territory for bibliomysteries. In this fifth entry in Dobson’s smart and provocative series, English professor Karen Pelletier is preparing for her college’s conference on “the murder mystery from a feminist perspective.” A leading mystery novelist arrives on campus just as several of the college library’s rare book treasures go missing, including its prize manuscript of Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon, and a suspect is found dead in the library stacks. Far more knowledgeable in such matters than the police, Karen and the visiting writer investigate on their own. The Maltese Manuscript deftly explores the biblio-minutiae that fascinate and vex collectors, in this case pertaining to elusive editions of mystery and detective fiction.

. . . .

Charlie Lovett, The Bookman’s Tale (Viking, 2013)

Peter Byerly is a recently widowed young antiquarian book dealer slowly regaining his pleasure in the hunt for important rare volumes. When he seeks to authenticate what appears to be his “holy grail” find—an Elizabethan volume whose marginalia proves Shakespeare wrote the plays credited to him—he steps straight into danger. Interwoven with Peter’s discoveries are chapters narrating the book’s provenance, tracing its precarious passage through the hands of various owners over the centuries, from its rakish author to avaricious collectors and murderous forgers.

Link to the rest at Crime Reads

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3 Comments to “7 Great Mysteries About Rare Books and Bibliophiles”

  1. This was just on my local PBS station the other day.

    Secrets of the Dead: Galileo’s Moon
    https://www.pbs.org/wnet/secrets/galileos-moon-7vidcl/4438/

    Harvest the transcript for more information.

    – The main thing to pay attention too, is the forger did the forgery as a game. Yes, there was money involved, but you don’t do something that extensive unless there is passion involved.

    The same thing happened with art forgery. This is a classic from 60 Minutes:

    From the archives: “The gentle art of forgery”
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e1nOweWPjFU

    Enter this search string in YouTube and you will find many fun videos about forgery.

    “60 minutes” art forgery

  2. I’m one that immediately gravitates toward the rare books section. My collection is not much because I don’t have the funds for it, but a couple in my collection are an 1875 history of the Catholic Church and a first printing of In Cold Blood. I love history and theology and imagine the first readers that bought them and used them.

  3. And let us not forget the tangental gentleman burglar, Bernie Rhodenbarr, who owns an antiquarian-of-sorts bookshop in NY. Lawrence Block is the esteemed author.

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