Most mysteries still feature private eyes and cops, but people from all sorts of professions are getting into the sleuthing act: priests, hockey players, hair stylists—and quite a few from the world of books. Writers, of course, are readers, and they love hanging out in bookstores and libraries and thinking, “What a wonderful setting for an unsolvable murder!”
Below I have gathered a few mystery books I’ve enjoyed that are also book mysteries. Check them out and let us know of any of your favorite book-mystery mystery books we didn’t include.
Booked to Die
John Dunning, 1992
Booked to Die was the first of five books in Dunning’s series featuring detective Cliff Janeway, who also just happens to be a book collector and bookstore owner. The series is set in Dunning’s hometown of Denver, where he has worked as a newspaper reporter and owned the Old Algonquin Bookstore, which specialized in second-hand and rare books. There’s a lot of collectible-book knowledge and lore in this series—enough that we have often recommended Booked to Die to HPB’s pricers.
Joan Hess, 1986
This entry in the series featuring Claire Malloy, owner of The Book Depot, involves the murder of a writer of trashy romance novels. Lots of suspects, as you can imagine! Hess wrote nineteen more in the series before her death last November.
Murder by the Book
Rex Stout, 1951
I’ve read most of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe mysteries, and this is one of my favorites—and not just because its plot involves a book manuscript. I always enjoy the repartee of Archie and the great Nero Wolfe, who was a near-unstoppable font of the wisdom gleaned from the books in his library. And here’s a personal book mystery: Why is it that I only fully savor Nero Wolfe novels when I’m reading old pocket-paperback editions?
Walter Mosley, 2001
I had been a longtime fan of Mosley’s Easy Rawlins series before I heard about this series featuring Paris Minton, owner of a small used bookstore. Like the Easy books, it’s set in a long-ago Los Angeles and is filled with period local color. Minton enlists his friend Fearless Jones to help him out of some unexplained trouble, and a wild ride ensues.
The Burglar Who Liked to Quote Kipling
Lawrence Block, 1979
Block’s Burglar series features Bernie Rhodenbarr. Yes, he’s a thief, but in this, the third entry in the series, he also becomes the owner of a used bookstore in Greenwich Village. In fact, Bernie continues to burgle because his bookstore doesn’t take in enough money. (Most booksellers whose sales decline resort to the less drastic practice of adding bobble-heads and craft beers to their merchandise mix.) I was drawn to this comic mystery series by the title of its first volume: Burglars Can’t Be Choosers.
Death on Demand
Carolyn G. Hart, 1987
Death on Demand is not only the title of this mystery and the series it introduces, but also the name of protagonist Annie Laurance’s mystery bookstore. The series is at twenty-six volumes and counting.
The Big Sleep
Raymond Chandler, 1939
We have to include a mystery that transcends the genre enough to make Time’s 100 Best Novels list (and to have its first filmed version become a Bogart-Bacall classic), even if its bookseller character, Arthur Geiger, is one of the villains. The complicated plot involves a bookstore as a front for a blackmail operation, where compromising nude photos lead to murders, including Geiger’s. Private Eye Philip Marlowe solves the case and rids the world of another evil book dealer.
The Godwulf Manuscript
Robert B. Parker, 1973
The first book in Parker’s popular series featuring Spenser (modeled on Chandler’s Marlowe, and I’m thinking both characters’ names surely must refer to the English writers) involves a rare 14th-century illuminated manuscript that is stolen. Spenser’s job is to recover it.
Any book mysteries you’d like to recommend?