Friday, January 11, 2019

Puzzling Out Mysteries

Back in early December of last year, I submitted to CrimeReads an assigned piece about Dell Books’ Murder Ink/Scene of the Crime series from the 1980s. Thanks to the subsequent holiday hoopla, however, it’s only today that the piece has finally been posted.

What, you don’t remember Dell’s series? It consisted of mystery-fiction paperback reprints, and was launched in the fall of 1980. As I explain in my piece, the project was steered by a pair of then-well-known bookstore proprietors: “Carol Brener, who owned the landmark Murder Ink bookshop, established in 1972 on New York City’s Upper West Side, and Ruth Windfeldt, the proprietor of Scene of the Crime, another popular haunt for mystery-fiction enthusiasts, opened in 1975 in the Sherman Oaks neighborhood of Los Angeles. Each of those women was asked to pick half a dozen titles every year—all of which had previously appeared in hardcover—that they believed deserved reprinting.”

Although the line lasted only a few years, it drew considerable attention with the quality of its cozy-ish selections, which included Sheila Radley’s Death in the Morning, A.A. Milne’s The Red House Mystery, Mignon Warner’s The Tarot Murders, and Robert Barnard’s Death on the High C’s. But the books were also recognized for their distinctive, uniform design. “[T]he fronts of these works were principally white,” I write, “with single jigsaw puzzle pieces positioned below the author’s byline and the book’s title. The gimmick was that those oddly configured fragments fit into fuller illustrations on the backsides of the books (though they were usually enlarged for easier readability). So you had to flip each volume over not only to read the plot précis, but to appreciate the complete artwork.”

My shelves still contain a few dozen of the Murder Ink/Scene of the Crime titles, and while researching this piece, I managed to speak with several people who were involved on the editorial and art side of the project. Again, you’ll find my full CrimeReads piece here.


TracyK said...

That is a wonderful article, and it motivates me to look for more of these editions. I have A.A. Milne’s The Red House Mystery, and Spence at the Blue Bazaar, the Colin Watson, a George Gently book by Alan Hunter. All Lovely covers.

Patrick Murtha said...

I did some searches at Bookfinder. A Pinch of Snuff appears to be #72, not #76. There is a Murder Ink #73, Simon Brett’s Murder in the Title. There is no sign of a #74, #75, or #76 under either the Scene of the Crime or Murder Ink imprints. So it tentatively looks like Murder in the Title is actually the last in the overall series.

J. Kingston Pierce said...

Hey, "Patrick":

I'll check with my source about that information, and make any changes that seem necessary in the CrimeReads piece.