Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Ending the Great Book Hunt

For those of you who have been keeping track of progress toward cleaning out my late in-laws’ residence (see previous posts here and here), I thought I’d better offer a final accounting. After a year’s consistent—and frequently frustrating—labors, and way too much dust ingested along the way by everyone participating in this endeavor, the job has finally been completed. And the house has been put on the market. It’s a small but fairly cute suburban abode, really, though the buyer will likely have to spend a good chunk of change replacing the antiquated wiring, fixing up spots where water leaks occurred over the years, and tearing out all of the damp and worn carpeting. (My in-laws apparently thought that ignoring the problems with their living conditions for a few decades would magically make them go away.)

(Right) Crime and mystery fiction scholar Howard Haycraft

In addition to just lifting and hauling overfilled boxes, many of them stuffed to the brim with garage-sale items that had been once acquired and then never used, my job throughout this project was to gather together the thousands of books we found inside the house and garage (mostly boxed and packed away, rather than on display), and divide those I thought might be worth selling from those that were best given away or—in the case of moldy works—thrown out with regret.

Because my wife’s birth father was a big reader of crime and mystery fiction, I was rewarded during this “excavation” with occasional discoveries of long-buried, primarily paperback copies of yarns by big-name writers such as Erle Stanley Gardner, John D. MacDonald, M.E.Chaber, and Ian Fleming. However, since my last post on this subject, I also managed to find among the clutter a two-volume, hardcover set called A Treasury of Great Mysteries, edited by Howard Haycraft and John Beecroft, and published in 1957 by Simon & Schuster. In addition to full novels by the likes of Agatha Christie (Murder on the Orient Express), Raymond Chandler (The Big Sleep), and Daphne du Maurier (Rebecca), it contains novellas by Ellery Queen and Rex Stout, and short stories penned by Georges Simenon, Patrick Quentin, Ngaio Marsh, and others. I already own many of these yarns in different editions; and the condition of the two volumes isn’t perfect (the covers will require plastic jackets in order to extend their life, and the pages smell a bit musty). However, A Treasury of Great Mysteries seems to be regarded as something of a landmark publication, and Haycraft (1905-1991) is celebrated as an early authority on this genre, his 1941 anthology, Murder for Pleasure, being much-prized. So I’ll add this pair of volumes to my personal library and, when I get a chance, read the stories in them that I have not already enjoyed. (You can see the full jackets here.)

Worth saving too, I think, are what appear to be a first-edition hardcover copy of Queen’s Cat of Many Tails (Little, Brown, 1949), though it’s missing its original jacket; a 1942 Sun Dial Press reprint of Charteris’ The Saint vs. Scotland Yard; a 1969 Bantam Books release of the James Bond novel Colonel Sun, by “Robert Markham” (aka Kingsley Amis), with cover art by Frank McCarthy; and Fannin, a retitled 1958 Unibook edition of David Markson’s Epitaph for a Tramp, with cover art attributed to Ron Lesser. (When contacted about this illustration, Lesser responded: “It looks like mine from that period; however the poses [and model] photography do not look familiar. I am not sure either way. Your guess is as good as mine.”)

Of course, not all of the books salvaged from my in-laws’ house fall into the categories of crime, mystery, or thriller. Rescued, too, was a 1973 Beagle romance paperback titled Pool of Dreams, by “Lucy Walker” (aka Dorothy Lucy Sanders), with a cover painting signed “W. Popp” (which I presume to mean Walter Popp); a 1967 Dell edition of Madeleine L'Engle’s adult standalone novel, The Love Letters (its illustration credited only to “Thomas”); 1973’s Making U-Hoo (Dell), a soft-core porn novel by Irving A. Greenfield; and a 1974 Fawcett Crest reprint of The Devil on Lammas Night, by British author Susan Howatch (with art by the great Harry Bennett).

Sadly, my wife’s mother and stepfather, along with her birth father, have now all passed away, so I can’t learn who purchased and read these various works. While I understand that her mother was a prodigious consumer of romances, and her father laid claim to most of the crime and westerns/historicals (we found lots of Louis L’Amour novels stored away and a full but rather mildewed set of Dana Fuller Ross’ Wagons West series), I remain curious as to who left behind the bawdier stories that kept turning up. In all likelihood, nobody who lived in that house would ever admit to having such tastes.


Rick Robinson said...

Is there any way to cure those mildewed books? I don't have any myself, I'm just curious.

J. Kingston Pierce said...

My book-loving niece suggested I package each odoriferous volume in a separate and closed paper sack, with an open box of baking soda inside, and leave then alone for a couple of weeks. I tried that technique, and a bit of the stink did go away, but not all of it.


Raymond said...

Dear Sir, i really enjoy your blog and admire all the immense effort,
you put into it.
And to get presented with a new entry always lights up my day.
Apart from the wonderful covers, the stories are always an interesting read. So, thank you very much, all the best for you and your family,
and have a nice wintertime / Marc/Munich