Thursday, August 02, 2018

Putting Murder on the Map

This morning has brought the posting of my fourth CrimeReads submission, an enthusiastic look back at Dell Books’ distinctive early 20th-century line of paperbacks. As I explain in the piece,
Ever since the 1930s and the advent of the “paperback revolution” in English-language books, publishers have sought to make their creations not merely inexpensive, but distinctive. One of the notable successes in that regard was also one of the earliest. For about a decade, beginning in 1943, American publishing house Dell—which had started out in 1921 producing pulp fiction magazines, and in 1942 followed rival Pocket Books into the mass-marketing of compact, cut-rate, and sporadically abridged softcover reprints—launched a numbered line of works branded with stylistically recognizable cover paintings and backed by detailed diagrams of where events in each story took place. Those “mapback” editions were popular at the time, and over the decades have become collectible. …

Mapbacks were published across a gamut of genres (each identified by a variant of the company’s keyhole colophon). At least half of them, though, were mystery, detective, or suspense novels, both of the traditional sort (by Agatha Christie, Mignon G. Eberhart, John Dickson Carr, and others) and those concocted by harder-edged scribblers (Dashiell Hammett, Erle Stanley Gardner, Margaret Millar, Brett Halliday, etc.). The focus of those books’ back-cover diagrams varied widely, but they can roughly be broken down according to three progressively widening perspectives.
Over the last decade or so, I have collected a number of these mapback editions—in various conditions of use—and was pleased to break them all out again for close appraisal while working on that CrimeReads story. The bad news was, I had room enough in my feature to include only 13 such paperback fronts. That’s 13 out of some 600 mapbacks Dell produced! Cutting down my selections was no easy enterprise, as you can imagine, since I had so many excellent specimens from which to choose. In the end, I winnowed my choices down to 28 covers I thought best represented Dell’s line, but then I had to trim away 15 of those to reach the magic baker’s dozen. Not being one to waste valuable research, and confident that Rap Sheet readers would enjoy seeing more mapbacks, I’ve installed those excess 15 images in my Killer Covers blog. Enjoy!

1 comment:

TracyK said...

I saw that article on the Dell mapbacks today and I loved it. I haven't read all the text yet but I will. And almost every one that you picked was new to me, so that was a bonus too. Thank you so much for that article.