Just like a well designed plate of food enhances the taste of a meal, so too a well designed book cover enhances the reading experience. In the 1700 and 1800s and even into the early 1900s book covers were considered decorations to be viewed. The Golden Age of book covers lasted from the late 1800s into the early 1900s, ending with the advent of book jackets and paperbacks. However, from a mystery book standpoint, the pulp mysteries published in the 1930s to 1950s have some of the best artwork imaginable, in my mind anyway. It may be considered ‘campy’ now, but it added a flavor to the book that would be missing otherwise.
The History of Mystery by Max Allan Collins, a mystery writer in his own right, combines the history of the ‘non-policeman’ detective with plentiful photos of book covers, movie tie-ins, TV show ads, etc. Divided into 10 sections, Collins covers the people who made mystery what it is: A. Conan Doyle, Edgar Allan Poe, Raymond Chandler, Agatha Christie, Dashiell Hammett. He covers female detectives (Kinsey Millhone, VI Warshawski) and TV detectives, reminding me of some of my favorite shows such as Mannix, Spenser for Hire, Honey West, the Rockford Files.
There’s a lot of interesting trivia (I never new there was an Ed McBain detective magazine) and a lot name dropping of many people who might be unfamiliar to mystery readers but were influential in the field, such as Roy Huggins who created a number of wonderful TV shows including 77 Sunset Strip.
Collins must think like me–that the presentation is an important part of the package. The glossy pages, some with a colored background, the full color photos of book covers, the portraits of mystery greats all add up to a great reading experience. The History of Mystery is an easy to read, eye-catching history of one of the great genres.
As I said in the beginning, this book doesn’t cover policemen so don’t expect to see Harry Bosch or the 87th Precinct mentioned here. Maybe that’ll be Collins’ next book…hint, hint.