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Detective, Mystery, and Suspense Fiction
The detective story originated in the mid-nineteenth century. Although its basic form has remained intact, the genre has branched into numerous subgenres: espionage, gothic, psychological suspense, police procedural, courtroom, whodunit, the conspicuously British drawing room mystery, and even to a certain degree the horror story. Each form has its practitioners, each its fans. Sometimes elements of these various genres are combined, themes are often intermingled, and mystery aficionados--who usually tend to stick to what they like--can experience difficulty in locating stories or novels in a particular favorite genre. Similarly, mystery fans tend to gravitate towards work which emphasizes a certain subject or milieu. Keeping track of authors can present another difficulty. While some authors have risen to prominence and written books of enduring value, others have enjoyed a small period of success and faded into obscurity, while others remain unknown outside their small circle of devoted admirers. Many stories of mystery and detection, having served their ephemeral purposes, quickly fade from memory. A smaller quantity so accurately capture the prevailing social and moral climate and explore so precisely the dark mysteries of the human heart that they become permanently absorbed into our consciousness.
Sorting through this tremendous body of material can be both the pleasure and the pain of the mystery reader. Instinct can only take us so far. For example, enjoying one novel by a favorite author will obviously lead to another by the same author, but how can that other work be tracked down; which anthologies contain particular short stories, and where can the uncollected work be found; and, once this author's fictional output has been exhausted, where can another author be found who employs a similar theme or approach? This is where we can profitably turn to the following resources for help.
The mystery or detective novel is well represented in the fiction collections of the Research Libraries. The General Research Division administers the stack collections which encompass the nineteenth-century stories of Edgar Allan Poe and Wilkie Collins to the twentieth-century works of Dashiell Hammett, Agatha Christie and P. D. James. The collections are particularly strong on novels with a New York City setting.
This guide will not attempt to cover the many sub-genres such as Sherlockiana, or the foreign-language contributions to the genre. It will provide general reference sources containing much detailed information on these topics.
For those interested in researching the origins and history of the modern detective story, the Library's Special Collections house many rare items. The Arents Collection collects "shilling shockers" and "penny dreadfuls." The Berg Collection contains manuscripts of notable authors such as Edgar Allan Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle, and the Rare Book Room holds an extensive Dime Novel collection. A checklist of this collection is available in The Bulletin of the New York Public Library, vol. 26, pp. 555-628. Qualified researchers may gain access to all these collections through the Office of Special Collections, Room 316.
If you need further assistance, visit our reference desk, or e-mail us at email@example.com
Using the Catalogs
General instructions for locating materials are given in the Research Guide, How Do I Find a Book?. The following information is specific to the topic at hand.
The Dictionary Catalog uses the following subject headings:
- Detective stories
- Criminals in literature
- Murder in literature
The headings are subdivided into further categories such as bibliographies, indexes, history and criticism, etc. You can also search under an author's name; these entries will begin with works by the author, followed by books about the author and his/her works. In addition, there are title entries for all fiction and cross references from pseudonyms.
In CATNYP, the online catalog, you can search by author, title, subject, or words in the title. The primary subject heading is Detective and mystery stories which will contain many subheadings. To obtain reference titles, a specific search such as: Detective and mystery stories - - History and criticism must be used. Also use the subject search for entries about an author and his/her works.
General Works and Encyclopedias
Barzun, Jacques. A catalogue of crime: being a reader's guide to the literature of mystery, detection and related genres, 3 rd ed. (New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1989) *RS-NAL 91-7442 A completely revised and enlarged edition of this classic reference work. Contains brief description and critical commentary for over 5000 titles. Earlier editions, which contain different information due to revisions, can by found by consulting the Online Catalog.
DeAndrea, William. Encyclopedia mysteriosa (New York, NY: Prentice Hall, 1994) *R-NAL 94-12345 Includes writers, actors, fictional characters, novels, films, television, cartoon and comics characters, radio shows and more. There are eleven major essays on significant aspects of the genre and several useful appendices. A truly comprehensive work.
Detectionary: a biographical dictionary of leading characters in detective and mystery fiction, including famous and little known sleuths, their helpers, rogues, both heroic and sinister, and some of their most memorable adventures as recounted in novels, short stories, and films, compiled by Otto Penzler (Woodstock, NY: Overlook Press, 1977) JFE 78-2827 The title says it all. This classic work is still valuable for researching obscure references.
Encyclopedia of mystery and detection, Chris Steinbunner and Otto Penzler, editors-in chief (New York: McGraw Hill, 1976) JFE 97-4158 Over 600 articles on authors, characters and various categories within the genre. Most articles contain bibliographies and checklists which include first printings and theater, television and motion picture versions. Illustrated.
Fine art of murder: the mystery reader's indispensable companion, edited by Ed Gorman. . .[et al] (New York, NY: Carroll & Graf, 1993) JFF 94-4188 A current, comprehensive overview of the field consisting of over 125 essays, bibliographies and author interviews. Coverage extends to comic books, television, bookstores, fandom. Index. Illustrated.
Haycraft, Howard. Murder for pleasure; the life and times of the detective story (New York, NY: Biblio and Tannen, 1968) Covers 1841-1968, with an emphasis on history and evolution of detective fiction. Includes assorted bibliographies such as the Cornerstone Collection 1748-1948. A classic renowned for the accuracy of its information.
Handbooks (Subject search: Detective and mystery stories--Handbooks)
Burack, A. S., ed. Writing suspense and mystery fiction (Boston, MA: The Writer, 1977) JFD 77-11697 A collection of essays on the techniques of writing mystery stories. Includes such authors as Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy Sayers and Bill Pronzini.
Herman, Linda. Corpus delecti of mystery fiction: a guide to the body of the case (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1974) JFD 93-10434 Includes a chapter on definitions and terms for bibliomysteries, police procedurals and other sub-genres of mystery fiction.
Roth, Martin. Writer's complete crime reference book (Cincinnati, OH: Writer's Digest Books, 1990) JFE 90-4878 Useful facts for the student of crime fiction. How accurate is your chosen author? Chapters on police crime lab procedures, arson investigation, weaponry, underworld slang and more.
Bibliographies (Subject search: Detective and mystery stories--Bibliography)
Albert, Walter. Detective and mystery fiction: an international bibliography of secondary sources (Madison, IN: Brownstone Books, 1985) *RS-NAL 89-2939 Includes crime, detective, mystery, suspense, espionage, dime novels, pulps and crossovers in SF and westerns. Recommended for its foreign language coverage.
Crown crime compendium: the top 100 mystery novels of all time (New York, NY: Garland Pub., 1994) JFD 95-16621 Selected by members of the Mystery Writers of America.
Hubin, Allen J. Crime fiction II: a comprehensive bibliography, 1749-1990 2 vols. (New York, NY: Garland Pub., 1994) *RS-NAL 96-10551 The most comprehensive and authoritative primary bibliography in the field. This edition lists over 80,000 titles. Title index, settings index and much more.
Johnson, Timothy. Crime fiction criticism: an annotated bibliography (New York, NY: Garland Pub., 1981) *RS-NAL 86-861 A comprehensive secondary bibliography with over 2000 entries covering 1800 individual titles. Includes monographs, periodical and newspaper articles, and dissertations. Also includes foreign language material. Index of critics.
Lachman, Martin. A reader's guide to the American novel of detection (New York, NY: G. K. Hall, 1993) JFE 93-6005 First of a series of monographs which will focus on several aspects of the mystery genre, e.g., police procedurals, women detectives, etc. Future titles may be found in CATNYP by searching the series' title: Reader's guides to mystery novels.
Loder, John. Australian crime fiction: a bibliography 1857-1993. (Port Melbourne, Victoria, Australia: D. W. Thorpe, 1994) JFE 96-531 Covers over 2600 novels by 500 authors. Includes: title index, jacket artists, designers and photographers index, investigators and criminals index. Entries include brief biography, bibliography and some plot description.
Oleksiw, Susan. A reader's guide to the classic British mystery (Boston, MA: G. K. Hall, 1988) *R-*GBO 88-5899 Reviews 121 authors. Includes chapters and lists on characters and creators, creators and characters, period, location and setting indexes. All strictly British, of course.
Queen, Ellery. Queen's quorum: a history of the detective-crime short story as revealed in the 106 most important books published in the field since 1845 (New York, NY: Biblio and Tannen, 1969) JFE 85-1595 A reprint of the 1951 edition with supplements through 1967. One of the classic bibliographies in the field.
Skene, Melvin. Crime, detective, espionage, and thriller fiction and film: a comprehensive bibliography of critical writing through 1979 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1980) JFE 97-4159 An international and interdisciplinary source of works on the history and development of the genre. Over 1600 entries from 25 countries in 18 languages.
Smith, Myron J. Cloak and dagger fiction: an annotated guide to spy thrillers, 3rd ed. (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995) *RS-NAL 95-6072 An excellent bibliography of one of the most popular subgenres. The 5800+ entries include paperback titles which were not included in earlier editions. Appendices include pseudonyms, characters in series, and a guide to intelligence/terrorist organizations.
History and Criticism
The following is a select list of specialized sources. For additional titles search CATNYP under the subject Detective and mystery stories--History and criticism.
Barnes, Melvyn P. Murder in print: a guide to two centuries of crime fiction (London: Barn Owl Books, 1986) JFE 94-6988 A standard reference covering 260 authors. Includes brief criticism of over 500 titles.
Barzun, Jacques. A Catalogue of crime, rev. and enl. ed. (New York, NY: Harper and Row, 1989) *RS-NAL 91-7442 A critical survey of 7500 titles in five parts. Each entry includes a plot summary and critical commentary. The author's column in the periodical The Armchair Detective provides a continuing update of the information in this volume.
Goulart, Ron. Cheap thrills: an informal history of the pulp magazines (New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House, 1972) JFE 73-2317 A classic history covering a unique form of popular literature which includes adventure, mystery and detective stories.
Haycraft, Howard. The art of the mystery story: a collection of critical essays (New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1946) An excellent early collection which includes essays by Erle Stanley Gardner, Dorothy Sayers, Ellery Queen, et. al. Covers Poe to 1946. A standard reference.
Hoppenstand, Gary, ed. The Dime novel detective (Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1982) JFF 83-602 Offers a representative selection of dime novel detective stories accompanied by bibliographic material to assist scholars.
Keating, H. R. F. Crime and mystery: the 100 best books (London: Xanadu, 1987) *R-*GBO 88-3148 Keating is a novelist and also critic for the London Times. He offers his critique and commentary of crime writers from 1845-1986. One of the most respected names in the field.
Keating, H. R. F., ed. Whodunit?: a guide to crime, suspense and spy fiction (New York, NY: Van Nostrand Reinhold Co., 1982) JFE 83-1903 A comprehensive history and analysis of the genre and its various subgenres. Covers short stories, suspense novels, thrillers, gothics and espionage stories.
Klein, Kathleen. The Woman detective: gender and genre, 2 nd ed. (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1995) JFE 95-9045 Traces the development of the "female paid, professional private investigators" in British, Canadian and American novels from 1864-1994. Bibliography. Index of women detectives, general index.
Panek, LeRoy. An introduction to the detective story (Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1987) JFE 87-5047 Discusses the literary and cultural forces that have influenced the detective story from ancient to modern times. A serious scholarly work.
Pronzini, Bill. 1001 midnights: the aficionado's guide to mystery and detective fiction (New York, NY: Arbor House, 1986) JFE 97-4413 A collection of in-depth reviews of over 1000 titles. Reviews are signed. Selected works are singled out as Cornerstone or Notable titles.
Symons, Julian. Bloody murder: from the detective to the crime novel: a history, 4 th ed. (London: Pan Books, 1994) JFC 96-1638 "The best crime stories are not simply entertainments but also literature." This classic study of crime fiction by one of the most respected crime writers has been fully revised and brought up to date. This "final edition" includes "A Postscript for the Nineties." Index.
Winks, Robin. Detective fiction: a collection of critical essays, 3 rd ed. (Woodstock, VT: Countryman Press, 1988) JFD 88-12731 Very good essays by top critics in the field, including such notables as W. H. Auden, Dorothy Sayers, Jacques Barzun. The first edition, containing different material, is in JFD 81-6237.
Current Criticism and Book Reviews
Reviews may also be found in standard sources such as Library Journal and The New York Times. See Research Guide: Book Reviews.
The Armchair detective (White Bear, MN: Allen J. Hubin, 1980- ) JFM 77-256 Current issues available in Room 108. Contains articles and reviews.
Cassidy, Bruce, ed. Modern mystery, fantasy and science fiction writers (New York, NY: Continuum, 1993) *R-NAL 93-11045 A compilation of critiques and reviews from mainstream and scholarly sources. Mystery writers include Eric Ambler, Dick Francis, Sara Paretsky and others. Bibliography. Index to critics.
Clues: a journal of detection (Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1980- ) JFK 85-285 Current issues available in Room 108. Scholarly articles and bibliographies.
Critical survey of mystery and detective fiction: Authors, 4 vols., edited by Frank Magill (Pasadena, CA: Salem Press, 1988) *R-NAL 92-4023 A collection of critical essays on over 270 authors. Most essays are 2500+ words and provide brief bio-bibliographies of the authors which discuss major works and contributions to the genre. For the beginning researcher.
Drood review of mystery (Boston, MA: The Drood Review, June 1986- ) JFM 93-172 Current issues available in Room 108.
New black mask (San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1985- ) JFK 87-139 Current issues available in Room 108.
Contento, William. Index to crime and mystery anthologies (Boston, MA: G. K. Hall, 1990) *RS-NAL 91-4119 Scope 1875-1990. Indexes 12,500+ stories by 3600 authors in over 1000 anthologies. A most valuable reference source, particularly for finding reprints of short stories.
Cook, Michael. Monthly murders: a checklist and chronological listing of fiction in the digest-sized mystery magazines in the United States and England. (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1982) *R-*D 82-1780 Covers 1941-1980. Entries include title, description, history, chronological listing of issue with contents. Unfortunately NYPL does not own many of these titles. Patrons seeking unavailable titles should consult the Information Desk, Room 315, for information on interlibrary loans.
Cook, Michael. Mystery, detective and espionage magazines (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1983) *R-*D 84-332 A comprehensive work covering mystery, detective, espionage, true detective, fantasy, horror and supernatural fiction magazines. Includes foreign publications.
Mackler, Tasha. Murder by category: a subject guide to mystery fiction (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1991) *RS-NAL 92-6331 Covers over 500 twentieth-century authors. Arrangement is alphabetical by 90 categories.
Menendez, Albert J. The subject is murder: a selective subject guide to mystery fiction, vols. 1-2 (New York, NY: Garland Pub., 1986-1990) *RS-NAL 86-3950 For serious collectors, booksellers, librarians and fans. Volume 1 covers 1930-1985. Volume 2 expands the scope to 1990. Both volumes now arrange 5900+ titles in 34 categories. Author and title indexes.
Mundell, E. H. The detective short story: a bibliography and index (Manhattan, KS: Kansas State University, 1974) JFF 94-1547 A valuable tool for locating short stories in collections, "a bibliography of detective short stories with first appearances of each story in book form."
Olderr, Steven. Mystery index: subjects, settings and sleuths of 10,000 titles (Chicago, IL: American Library Association, 1987) *RS-NAL 90-6 A very useful source for twentieth-century hardcover titles. Consists of main entry section, title index, subject and setting index, and character index.
British mystery writers, 1860-1919, edited by Bernard Benstock and Thomas F. Staley (Detroit, MI: Gale Research Co., 1988) *R-AB 79-1061 (Dictionary of Literary Biography v. 70) and British mystery writers, 1920-1939, edited by Bernard Bernstock and Thomas F. Staley (Detroit, MI: Gale Research Co., 1989) *R-AB 79-1061 (Dictionary of Literary Biography v.77) Both volumes provide bio-bibliographical information on most popular British authors of the genre. Illustrations, portraits, bibliographies, manuscript sources. Not good for lesser known authors.
Gribbin, Leonore S. Who's whodunit (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1969) JFD 94-3095 Intended as a name authority list for librarians. Includes American and British book authors 1845-1961. Approximately 5000 entries.
Twentieth-century crime and mystery writers, 3 rd ed., edited by John M. Reilly (London: Macmillan, 1991) JFF 97-867 Covers over 700 English-language authors. Each entry includes a biography, bibliography and signed critical entry. Most useful information given is sources of uncollected short stories, plays and verse, and locations of manuscript collections.
A Sampling of Theme Bibliographies
Breen, Jon. Novel verdicts: a guide to courtroom fiction (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1984) *RS-NAL 84-3754
Craig, Patricia. The lady investigates: women detectives and spies in fiction (London: V. Gollancz, 1981) JFD 81-5144
Dark sins, dark dreams: crime in science fiction (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1978) JFD 84-5906
De Waal, Ronald Burt. The world bibliography of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson (Boston, MA: New York Graphic Society, 1974) *RS-NCC (Conan Doyle) 76-6511
Dove, George. The police procedural (Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1982) JFE 82-1259
East, Andy. The Cold War file (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1983) JFD 83-7269
Geherin, David. Sons of Sam Spade: the private-eye novel in the 70s (New York, NY: Ungar, 1980) JFD 80-7911
Ousby, Ian. Bloodhounds of heaven: the detective in English fiction from Godwin to Doyle (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1976) JFE 76-3653
Pierce, Hazel. A literary symbiosis: science fiction, fantasy, mystery (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1983) JFD 84-2102
The Microform Division houses two collections of dime novels: Dime novels: escape fiction of the nineteenth century (Ann Arbor, MI: University Microforms International, 1980) *Z-3413 and *Z-3413+ (printed guide) and Dime novels collection of the U. S Library of Congress (Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 197- ) *ZAN-5163 through *ZAN-5191, a collection of 29 series, such as "Beadle's half dime library."
Selected Internet Sites
- (Doyle, Arthur Conan) The Chronicles of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Although a portion of the site is devoted to Doyle's other works, the focus of most of the material in on the adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.
- Clueless.com and the Mysterious Home Page
Guide to mysteries and crime fiction on the Internet. The links are divided into numerous, easy to navigate categories such as Authors, Characters, Themes, Reviews, Awards, and many others.
"An archive of crime and mystery fiction reviewed by Marilyn Stasio since January 1997, arranged by author." From the New York Times. Registration required.
An academic site designed to "explore different critical approaches to the study of crime literature/film."
- Golden Gate Mysteries
"This bibliography contains over 900 titles of mystery, detective, and crime fiction with the action, or significant parts of the action, set in San Francisco and the Bay Area."
- Guide to Classic Mystery and Detection
A well-done home page containing reading lists and essays on great mysteries, mainly of the pre 1960 era.
- Mystery Ink
Called the "booklover's guide to mysteries and thriller," this site offers features in the following categories: Mystery Authors & Books, Suspense & Thrillers, Crime & Noir, Book Reviews, Author Interviews, Reference & Recommendations, Awards & Top 10 Lists, Books Into Movies, Links.
- Mystery One Bookstore
Site of an Milwaukee bookstore which features numerous informal interviews with contemporary mystery and suspense authors.
- Mystery Readers International (MRI)
This organization, "the largest mystery fan/reader organization in the world, is open to all readers, fans, critics, editors, publishers, and writers."
- Sisters in Crime
"Sisters in Crime is an international organization of writers, readers, booksellers, librarians, agents, editors, reviewers and teachers interested in promoting the work of women mystery writers."
- Tangled Web UK
Site dedicated to crime, mystery, and fantastic fiction. Features bibliographies, reviews, author profiles, in addition to News, Views, Events, Interviews, Awards.
- Women Mystery and Detective Fiction Writers and the Rise of Feminism
Companion to a course at the University of Evansville features links to interviews and other information concerning a dozen women authors in the field.
Picture of the Day
Spirit Creek, near Augusta, Georgia. NYPL Print Collection.
One of 700,000 pictures in the NYPL Digital Gallery