Cover image for The Oxford companion to crime and mystery writing
The Oxford companion to crime and mystery writing
Herbert, Rosemary.
Publication Information:
New York : Oxford University Press, 1999.
Physical Description:
xxiii, 535 pages ; 25 cm
Format :


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Material Type
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PN3448.D4 O94 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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From the penny dreadful, which challenges seekers of sensation to discover the truth in a pattern of gory details; to the twentieth-century detective novel, which offers an intricate puzzle solved through the application of the intellect; to the crime novel, which probes the psyches of thecharacters, the crime and mystery genre offers readers an intellectual excitement unsurpassed by other forms of fiction. Now The Oxford Companion to Crime and Mystery Writing provides scholars and fans of this genre with an authoritative yet playful compendium of knowledge about a literature knownfor its highly entertaining treatment of deadly serious puzzles. Editor Rosemary Herbert has brought together 666 articles--written by such authorities as Edward D. Hoch, Sara Paretsky, and the late Julian Symons--that will accompany readers in their armchair investigations. Here can be found informative biographies of great mystery writers from Edgar AllanPoe to Rex Stout to Ruth Rendell. Here, too, favorite sleuths--including Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Sam Spade, Nero Wolfe, Adam Dalgliesh, and Kinsey Milhone--keep company with master criminals such as Professor Moriarty and Fu Manchu. Character types--from the country constable to theomniscient sleuth to the femme fatale--sleuth, think, or slink within these pages. In the great tradition of Oxford Companions, this volume features extended essays on the development of this literature, its subgenres and schools of writing. It also serves as a catalogue of the components of mystery writing, such as famous clues, authorial ingenuity, and even an entry on "TheButler Did It." A strength of the volume is found in linked articles which can guide readers from, for instance, a careful definition of Murder to a delightfully quirky compendium of fictional victims in an article on The Corpse.

Author Notes

Rosemary Herbert is the mystery book review columnist for The Boston Herald. Her articles and reviews have appeared in The New York Times Book Review, Paris Review, Publishers Weekly, and other publications. She created a course on detective fiction at Tufts University and hosts a cabletelevision program in Cape Cod. She lives in Newtonville, Massachusetts.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

It's hard to think of anything that would validate a literary genre more than having its own Oxford Companion. Somewhat more academic in tone and presentation than The Encyclopedia of Murder and Mystery, this companion is described in the introduction as "a volume to turn to as a compendium of information regarding the literary history and craft of crime and mystery writing, an authoritative source on iconic authors and characters, an omnium-gatherum of curiosities, a single source to consult for points of information, and, especially, as pages to peruse at leisure in the interest of expanding and enriching one's knowledge and appreciation of the genre." Among the many contributors are Richard Bleiler, author of Reference Guide to Mystery and Detective Fiction [RBB D 15 99]; Susan Oleksiw, author of A Reader's Guide to the Classic British Mystery (G. K. Hall, 1988); and several mystery authors, including H. R. F. Keating, Marcia Muller, and Sara Paretsky. The 666 entries cover 149 authors and 85 characters, including Adam Dalgliesh, Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple, and V. I. Warshawski. There are also entries for character types, settings, themes, and subgenres, as well as for terms related to "the real world of homicide," such as CIA, Forensic pathologist, and Organized crime. What most distinguish this volume from The Encyclopedia of Murder and Mystery, however, are the survey articles that provide a more in-depth look at certain aspects of the genre, ranging from Japan, crime and mystery writing in to Golden Age forms, Pulp magazines, and Theory. One entry, History of crime and mystery writing, is more than 10 pages long and divided into chronological periods. Another substantial entry, Television, discusses crime and mystery programming on both American and British TV. Theatrical milieu separately discusses theater, the film industry, and radio and television as mystery settings. Bibliographic references accompany some entries. The volume concludes with a glossary and an index. Although there is some overlap between this book and The Encyclopedia of Murder and Mystery, each takes a different approach to its topic. The encyclopedia is a good place to turn for information on more specific topics, while the companion generally takes a broader view. Both are recommended for public libraries, with the Oxford Companion perhaps being the more useful volume in a research setting. (Reviewed May 1, 2000)

Library Journal Review

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 (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

The growing interest in mystery and detective fiction over the last five years is marked by a rise in the number of good reference sources printed and online. Herbert (mystery reviewer for the Boston Herald, former reference librarian at Harvard, occasional writer for New York Times Book Review and Publisher's Weekly) packs this unusual source with biographical information about authors and their protagonists but more importantly with concepts prevalent in mystery and detective fiction. From larger topics ("History of Crime and Mystery Writing") to narrower ("The Butler Did It"), the substantial discussion of topics makes this book memorable and important and sets it apart from other reference works on the genre. Unlike St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers, ed. by Jay P. Pederson (4th ed., 1996), or Mystery and Suspense Writers, ed. by Robin Winks (2v., CH, Jul'99), which are solely about writers, Herbert's work provides a greater understanding of the whole crime and mystery genre. Its outstanding features include thorough cross-references and a distinguished array of contributors (e.g., the late Julian Symons, H.R.F. Keating, B.J. Rahn, Winks). Nonexistent or skimpy bibliographies detract somewhat from the overall excellence of the work, but it is highly recommended for all reference collections. R. L. Abbott; University of Evansville