Wednesday, 29 June 2022

Crime Indexes and Phil Stephensen-Payne

When I'm writing short pieces about crime fiction, especially when racing against deadlines, my natural instinct is to concentrate on matters of substance rather than getting too distracted with endless back-up references. But there are some people who are keen on having those references available to them. After my first few anthologies appeared in the British Library Crime Classics series, several readers asked me to include more details about when the individual stories were first published. Finding this information is easier said than done, but one invaluable resource has been The Crime, Mystery and Gangster Fiction Index edited by Phil Stephensen-Payne while another has been the late Bill Contento's hardback index to short mystery stories. I was delighted recently when Phil got in touch about something and this prompted me to ask him about the background to the index. He describes himself as an 'inveterate list maker' and here is an edited version of his interesting reply:

'In 1970, browsing SF bookshop in London I stumbled across a fanzine which contained a bibliography of John Wyndham by one Mike Ashley which revealed the existence of a couple of Wyndham stories I had never heard of before. As a result, I started tracking down and buying as many "author bibliographies" I could find which led me in the early 1980s to Gordon Benson's "Galactic Central" series ( Having bought everything that Gordon had published, it seemed only natural that I should start contributing to the series myself (starting, of course, with John Wyndham). I gradually computerised the whole setup (I was a computer programmer in "real life") and, as Gordon's health began to deterioriate, gradually took on responsibility for the whole enterprise.

At the same time (mid-1980s to mid-1990s) I had started doing a column listing new books published in the UK for the American news magazine Locus, and this brought me into direct contact with Bill Contento. As part of writing the bibliographies, I had also been collecting every magazine or anthology/collection index I could find and was amazed one day, when browsing a charity bookshop, to find a copy of a magazine called Argosy (the UK one) that contained a John Wyndham story I'd never heard of. This led me to realise that, while I had indexes to hundreds of magazines, there were many more out there that might contain undiscovered treasures by my favourite authors.

By now (2000), the Internet was beginning to be a "thing" so I decided to create a small (!) website that focussed on author bibliographies ( and also had a simple list of which magazines had been indexed (and where).

By coincidence ("steam engine time") Doug Ellis and John Locke had just produced their first checklist of pulps and Dave Pringle and Mike Ashley had produced a checklist of significant "fiction magazines". With permission from all parties I merged these two lists and added all the SF magazines indexed in the various SF magazine indexes and produced the first pass of the magazine list part of the website ( Having expected to list a few hundred magazines at most, this had already grown to 4000 magazines (and has since grown to just under 11,000).

Riffing on Mike Cook's idea for a series of themed indexes, I persuaded George that, rather than just reprint the existing index (which was somewhat out of date and full of gaps) it would make more sense to tighten the focus to Crime, Mystery and Gangster Fiction, bring it up to date, and follow it with other volumes on Adventure Fiction, Western Fiction and so on - the structure that still exists today as the Fictionmags Index Family (

Bill had also launched a separate initiative. In the early years of the Fictionmags discussion group, a lot of the members (not least me) had taken the opportunity to discuss "fiction magazines" they had come across, illustrating the discussion by indexing some of the issues of said magazine. Rather than see such useful information "lost", Bill decided to collect it all into an online index which he called the Fictionmags index. In the first decade this had snowballed into several thousand magazines issues (including some complete runs such as the UK Argosy) but was still rather "ad hoc".

While all this had been going on, Mike Ashley had been negotiating with the British Library to produce a series of indexes to the "British Popular Fiction Magazines" ( A number of these magazines had already been indexed in the other indexes, or as separate exercises (such as the UK Argosy) but there were several significant magazines (such as The Strand Magazine) that I was dying to see indexed. Ultimately Mike agreed to publish via the Fictionmags Index. This also allowed people other than Mike to work on the project and there is a group of five of us actively filling in the gaps. Following Bill’s  death last year I have written a new suite of programs to generate the indexes (as it proved impossible to run Bill's programs outside of his computer). While still incomplete, this has allowed me to extend the programs to handle books as well as magazines and I am slowly extending the indexes to include some of the key indexes to anthologies and collections (most notably produced by Bill).'

My thanks go to Phil and also to his colleagues on these projects. Their tireless work is of real assistance to me, and I'm sure of great value to many other crime fans.


David Blyth said...

Martin I fully concur with your view on the fictionmags index. It’s an invaluable resource. When reading anthologies and collections I find myself dipping into the index to see if this is further information on the source and reprintings of the story.
I’m also an avid science fiction reader and an invaluable resource here is the internet science fiction database (ISFDB)


Arthur Robinson said...

I’ve found Fictionmags a terrific resource for magazine stories, and am glad to hear books too will be covered.

This won’t help with first publications of stories, since it doesn’t cover magazines (just books), but for anyone who wants to identify anthologies in which a story has appeared, the best current source is WorldCat. Go to, select “Books,” and do a search for the author’s name and the story title. For example, a search for

christianna brand hornet’s nest

will retrieve five books (three collections of Brand’s stories and two anthologies) that have this story, including Martin’s 2021 Guilty Creatures: A Menagerie of Mysteries.

This isn’t guaranteed complete—there may be old anthologies or collections whose WorldCat records don’t include “Contents notes” (though not many, I suspect; WorldCat has been adding Contents notes to books from the 1930s and earlier)—but it’s more complete than the print indexes we (I’m a retired librarian) used to use. WorldCat is a terrific resource for book lovers (I know people say “just Google,” but even when that works, you often have to wade through many irrelevant results).

Arthur Robinson

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, David

Martin Edwards said...

Arthur, that's very helpful. Thank you.

Art Scott said...

I've been using the Fictionmags Index for years. It and its relations in the philsp/homeville stable are invaluable resources for researchers. I knew Bill Contento (we live in the same town) and even, years ago, did some date entry for him - mystery digest magazines, I think. His role in porting resources like Hubin from paper reference to searchable data was a huge contribution. And thank you Phil for all you've done. Pleased to see you bring these resources to the attention of the mystery community, Martin.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Art. I didn't know of your connection with Bill Contento - very interested to learn it.