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The Oxford Companion to Crime and Mystery Writing Hardcover – December 16, 1999

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Editorial Reviews Review

Penzler Pick, April 2000: Over the years, there have been quite a few reference books in the mystery genre arranged as dictionaries, encyclopedias, companions, and so on. (I coauthored two of them, so I know what goes into their production.) Rosemary Herbert's Companion differs from many others in at least two ways: first, she did not write it but rather edited the work of numerous well-known mystery scholars and academics, each of whom presumably has some expertise in the subjects they wrote about; and second, there are as many articles devoted to umbrella subjects (eccentrics, elderly sleuths, English village milieu, and escapism, to open the book at random) as to authors and characters. It is an interesting way to arrange a reference book and more fun to read than the potted author biographies in similar works, but it seems to be less useful as a reference tool than those works.

Inevitably, the first criticism leveled at such a work is the question of why certain authors or characters were included and others omitted. At random, I note entries for Inspector Hanaud, Joseph Hansen, and Cyril Hare, but none for James Crumley or Minette Walters. Perhaps this boils down to the subjective notion that it's more important to have entries for both A.E.W. Mason and his series character, Hanaud--seldom read nowadays--than for one of the half-dozen best hard-boiled writers alive and for the heir apparent to the thrones of Ruth Rendell and P.D. James. The problem is somewhat exacerbated by the subject articles, where one can look in vain under "stalking" for a mention of Mary Higgins Clark but instead find Evelyn E. Smith. The "missing persons" entry makes no mention of Hillary Waugh's superb Last Seen Wearing but does reference an obscure Mary Roberts Rinehart short story.

As I reread this page, it seems as if I don't like the book, which is certainly not true. This type of book begs for nitpicking, and that's what I've been doing. It is wonderfully written, on balance, and the overview articles are informative and a joy to read, often providing historical perspective that serves as an excellent guide for readers who want to embark on a journey through, say, the world of legal fiction or forensic pathology. The Oxford Companion shouldn't be your only reference book, but it should find a spot on every devotee's shelf. --Otto Penzler

From Library Journal

Though many biographical/critical compilations exist on crime writing (e.g., Scribner's Mystery & Suspense Writers), this book breaks new ground. In addition to the usual biographical/critical sketches of major writers, it includes many entries on forms ("Ghost Story"), techniques ("Narrative Point of View"), crime magazines (Black Mask), characters (Mike Hammer), crime writing in regions such as Australia, and histories of various sorts. There is a glossary and a detailed index, and the signed entries generally include bibliographies. Herbert, formerly a librarian and now the mystery book review columnist for the Boston Herald, headed a team of 230 expert contributors, among them professors, writers, and librarians. She focuses on English-language writers but also includes such major non-English "mystery writers" as Georges Simenon and Fyodor Dostoyevsky. You don't have to be a fan of crime/mystery writing to find this a very entertaining and well-written compilation: Christmas crime, ethnic sleuths, the slicks, and many other articles are fun to read. One only wishes that the editor had used something other than asterisks as a cross-referencing system, since they just seem to clutter up the pages of what is otherwise an excellent compilation. Recommended for public and academic libraries.
-Peter Dollard, Alma Coll. Lib., MI
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; First Edition edition (December 16, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195072391
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195072396
  • Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,229,176 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I'm excited to have two new books published in 2010: A New Omnibus of Crime, which I co-edited with the late Tony Hillerman, and my first mystery novel, Front Page Teaser, which follows the adventures of gutsy Boston tabloid reporter Liz Higgins. While A New Omnibus of Crime is an anthology that celebrates the best of the last 75 years in mystery writing, Front Page Teaser is a love song to the news-reporting life, a tribute to librarians, and a celebration of Boston's lively Irish pub/Celtic music scene. It also takes a look at how the way we write and headline the news colors the public's understanding of it. In our edgy contemporary world, it is also shows how people who pre-judge one another often get into deep trouble. May I add, that there is plenty of humor in Front Page Teaser, along with these more thought-provoking themes. Much action is set in scenes that will be familiar to Bostonians and residents of some other Massachusetts cities and towns -- and some action is set during Christmastime.

As the Edgar Award-nominated editor in chief of The Oxford Companion to Crime & Mystery Writing, as a book reviewer, and as the editor of a number of mystery anthologies, it is quite a thrill, with Front Page Teaser, to add "mystery writer" to my credentials as "mystery editor," "mystery scholar," and "mystery critic."

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

33 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Sheila L. Beaumont VINE VOICE on January 20, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Informative, fascinating, great fun. This book includes an enormous variety of topics, expected and not, such as occult mysteries, feminism, religion, politics, conservative and radical world-views, gays and lesbians, country house mysteries, fairy tales. It is more comprehensive, and has a more objective tone, than Bruce Murphy's "Encyclopedia of Murder and Mystery." There are extensive cross-references. Too bad the editors didn't hire some proofreaders and fact checkers. The book is riddled with typographical errors, misspellings and factual mistakes. Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone is consistently misspelled "Milhone." In one instance, Margery Allingham's "The Crime at Black Dudley" is attributed to Ngaio Marsh. In another, Dorothy Gilman's 1975 book "A Nun in the Closet" is credited to Sister Carol Anne O'Marie. I hope these errors will be corrected in a later edition.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 1, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This book has been helpful in learning about crime and mystery fiction. It is great for current terms, history, and even authors. Everyone from novices to experts who love or are just learning to love the genre could use this book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By MW on May 28, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is full of everything related to mystery novels. I love it. I recommend it highly to anyone who reads or writes mysteries.
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8 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Carl Brookins on January 31, 2001
Format: Hardcover
As is true of any encyclopedic work, there will be quarrels with what is included and what is not. Nevertheless, this is a highly readable, well organized book. It is accessible to scholars and more casual fans as well. Every college library should have this book. Stylistically and typographically it could be improved, but that would have sent costs even higher. The essays are well-done and the authors of the essays are respected, knowledgeable people. This is just a fine piece of work.
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