Sunday, November 13, 2005

Crime Club

I'm glad Ellen Nehr lived long enough to see her enormous volume about the Doubleday Crime Club appear. It detailed the contents of every single Club volume ever published.

I doubt that people under the age of 35 have ever seen a Crime Club book. In the beginning, back in the late Twenties and well into the Thirties, the line was known known for its covers as well as the fiction inside. Over the years they published writers as diverse as Dorothy B. Hughes, Sax Rohmer, Stuart Palmer, Leslie Charteris, Wm. DeAndrea and Charlotte McLeod along with innumerable one-shot writers and writers whose books have vanished utterly. They published hundreds of good, readable mysteries by pulp pros who wanted the pleasure of seeing their material between boards. Fredrick C. Davis comes to mind. He had his flaws but of the forty or so of his books I've read over my lifetime, I can't recall a dull one. And several of his novels were exceptional in every respect. Certainly I'd say the same about Dolores Hitchens, an even better writer who could turn cozies pretty damned dark. She had the ability to swing from her atmospheric cozies to outright brutal privte eyes stories. She even wrote a first-rate western.

It was essentially a library line and that's what made me think of it. The the other day I looked through boxes that were the remnants of a recent library book sale and found several Club titles to take home. Of all the hardcover mystery lines of the past, the Club is the one I get most nostalgic about. By the end of its run, its packaging was a disappointment to anybody who remembered its glory days--cheap paper, abysmal binding, horrible covers. One thing never changed and that was the wonderful inky smell of the books that seemed to last for months after you'd first read them. For book junkies, that is the smell of heaven.

Having lived in various small towns after the big war, I got used to book mobiles serving places that didn't have libraries close by. And in those days book mobiles were packed with Doubleday westerns, science fiction and Club titles. Libraries subscribed to list and received the books once a month, like magazines.

I suppose Five Star is not unlike a version of the old Club, a library line that fulfills the needs of virtually every kind of mystery reader. I hopw we're fulfilling the needs of mystery reders as well as the Club once did.

There is more than a little remorse in this particular post. Two years before she died, Ellen and I got into an argument over something she was alleged to have said. Only a year later did I learn that Ellen was telling the truth and that this other person, a prominent editor, was lying because that was her wont--not just about Ellen but about everybody who crossed her threshold. She loves mischief.

I apologized then and I apologize now. I sure miss you, Ellen.


Blogger Lee Goldberg said...

I just looked that book up...yikes, is it expensive. The cheapest copy on Amazon is $65 used. I've got a few Crime Club titles on my shelf,too. If memory serves, Bart Spicer wrote quite a few of them.


10:35 PM  
Blogger Bill said...

Man, I miss Ellen, too. She was one of a kind.

11:24 AM  
Blogger Dan Bodenheimer said...

I corresponded with Ellen for a few years before she passed away, and I'm proud of her fine work on the Crime Club. I remember her remarking about the expense of getting the reprint rights to the clever Crime Club Man logo with the letters C, R, I, M, and E in it -- Doubleday wanted a fortune for a single image and they eventually worked out a deal. Her expensive volume is huge and worth it, as it includes a great many color images and tons of great information!

3:39 PM  

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