Sunday, March 23, 2014

Whodunit? A Guide to Crime, Suspense, & Spy Fiction

Goodreads tells me that I have been reading Whodunit? for nine months. And now I have finally finished it. That makes it sound like it was a chore, but I enjoyed reading it every time I picked it up. It was one of several books I keep around the house and pick up and read when time permits and the mood hits me.

This is a mystery reference book edited by H.R.F. Keating, published in 1982. Most mystery reference books I would not try to read in their entirety, either due to spoilers or because there is too much to read. But this one is perfect for reading, very entertaining, and I am sure I will be sampling from it often. H.R.F. Keating supplies the introduction. There are lovely black and white photos and illustrations throughout.


Keeping in mind that the book was published in 1982, it obviously doesn't include current authors. But for readers who like mysteries from the Golden Age to the present, it is a fount of information for the older, obscure authors. And a view of the early career of authors who are still writing. Although I am always on the lookout for mystery reference books, new or old, it was Sarah at Crimepieces, in this post on two vintage mysteries by Frances Crane, who introduced me to this book.

This book has several sections:
  • Crime Fiction and Its Categories
  • How I Write My Books (pieces by Stanley Ellin, P. D. James, Desmond Bagley, Dorothy Eden, Patricia Highsmith, Gregory Mcdonald, Lionel Davidson, Len Deighton, Eric Ambler, and H.R.F. Keating)
  • Writers and Their Books: A Consumer's Guide
  • The People of Crime Fiction
In August, 2013, I had read the first two sections, and I discussed them in this post. In the first section, I especially enjoyed Hillary Waugh's discussion of the American police procedural, Michael Gilbert's take on the British police procedural, and John Gardner's overview of the espionage novel.

The section about Writers and Their Books was authored by: Dorothy B. Hughes, Reginald Hill, Melvyn Barnes and H.R.F. Keating. For each author listed, one to three books are suggested as a good introduction to the author. Some excerpts from that section:

Ferrars, Elizabeth:
British detective novelist, published in the U.S. as E.X. Ferrars. With 50 books behind her, starting in 1940, she is one of the stalwarts of the traditional British-style crime novel.... Her books always give the reader something to think about, as well as a good puzzle to unravel. Her people are notably real. They eat; they choose clothes.
Lathen, Emma:
Pseudonym of mystery-writing team Mary Latsis and Martha Henissart. ... Lathen is inimitable, witty, intelligent, honest, and just an all-round terrific writer. The key man and crime solver of the Lathen books is John Putnam Thatcher, New York banker. He and his story reflect the modes and manners of today's Manhattan and the surrounding suburbs.
Garfield, Brian:
American mystery writer. A prolific writer of Westerns under his own name and under many pseudonyms, Brian Garfield moved into the mystery field to an immediate and equal success. He writes the hard-boiled novel and many of his stories have been filmed. In 1975, Garfield received the Edgar for Best Novel with Hopscotch.
The People of Crime Fiction section covers 90 popular characters and was written by H.R.F. Keating. The illustrations come from a variety of sources: film and televisions stills when the characters have been portrayed in adaptations; illustrations from books and magazines; and some were specially commissioned for the book. That section is very entertaining and contains many interesting facts about the characters and the authors that I had not known.

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Publisher: Van Nostrand Reinhold [1982]
Length: 314 pages
Format: Hardback


18 comments:

  1. I bought this last year after you mentioned it in a previous post. I like books about books! Don't know when I will be reading it though.

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    1. Col, I am glad you bought it and I am sure you will enjoy it. It doesn't have to be read cover to cover. It can be read just as a reference book, although the index is tiny print and not that easy to use.

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  2. Tracy - Such a good resource! I'm glad you reminded me of it. So much to learn from in there.

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    1. It is a great book, Margot. Out of date but that is one thing I like about it.

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  3. If you like reference books that are meant to be read I think you'd enjoyTHE FINE ART OF MURDER (edited by Ed Gorman, Martin Greenberg, Jon L. Breen & Larry Segriff, 1994) -- it covers a wide variety of crime writers and subgenres, many of the type you enjoy. 128 articles all written by mystery writers – about their own work or the work of a writer they admire or an overview of a subgenre. If you can find a used copy (it's long out of print) it's definitely worth owning.

    Does this book also include Keating's list of his personal "best of" the genre? I've seen that list on the internet and I love looking over those types of lists for new writers to try out and to see how many books I've already read.

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    1. John, I do have a copy of The Fine Art of Murder and, with you recommendation, I will start reading it. It has been languishing on the mystery reference shelf for a while. Maybe the size intimidated me before.

      I don't think this book has a list of favorites by Keating. I do have a book that he wrote that lists his 100 Crime and Mystery books, with about two pages per book. And I have seen lists of that on the web. It is a very interesting book, but I have only been able to skim most of it (several times), because I haven't read a lot of the books and he does tell more than I want to know about the book. Not spoilers, just details I want to discover on my own.

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  4. Okay, I ordered this book right away: I need something to get me to be serious about reading older books. Thanks for the inspiration, Tracy.

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    1. Rebecca, I am glad you ordered it and I think it will be perfect for that purpose.

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  5. TracyK: I have not seen this book as I poke around bookstores. I did read and enjoy Talking About Detective Fiction by P.D. James. She provided me some real insights into crime fiction.

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    1. Bill, thanks for reminding me of that book by P.D. James. I have been wanting to read it.

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  6. I used to have a copy of this, I'm sure, but just can't find it at the moment - but Harry Keating really new his stuf and I remember it with great pleasure - thanks TracyK.

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    1. I agree, Sergio. This book is filled with wonderful information.

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  7. I love this book - I bought it when it first came out and have used it frequently ever since. I like the recommendations. And when you find a detective story writer of the era who isn't included, you know you've found someone pretty obscure....

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    1. Moira, I want to go back through it looking for authors I haven't tried, or for reminders to read authors I have in my TBR piles. I like the way it is organized.

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  8. Tracy, HRF Keating never disappoints but this one is absolutely new to me and I'll be looking out for it. Thanks for writing about this fascinating guide to fiction most of us love reading.

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    1. Prashant, I love to read books about books (and for that matter, books about movies). I was surprised to learn of this book about a year or so ago. And pleased to get a copy.

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  9. This seems a fascinating book Tracy. I'll surely look for it. Like many others who have commented above, I too love books about books, books with lists, books with recommendations. I might not always agree but it is great fun going through them.

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    1. Neer, this is a good one for those purposes.

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