Sunday 28 February 2010


The detective is a wonderful fictional character, yet surprisingly few books (well, I’m surprised by it, anyway) have been devoted to listing and describing the leading detectives of fiction. Russell James did an excellent job, though, with Great British Fictional Detectives, and a much earlier book, little known today, also deserves mention.

This is Detectionary, edited by Otto Penzler, Chris Steinbrunner and Marvin Lachman (a formidably well-informed trio), having been ‘conceived and produced’ by Mill Roseman. It is, quite simply, ‘a biographical dictionary of leading characters in mystery fiction’.

The text is split into four sections: detectives, criminals, celebrated cases and mystery movies. Inevitably, with a book of this kind, the entries are short and highly selective. But there is a great deal of fascinating information here.

I must also admit that there are numerous detectives – mostly Americans - mentioned of whom I hadn’t heard before I read Detectionary. These include (examples taken at random): Dr Mary Finney (creator: Matthew Head), Cliff Chandler (Baynard Kendrick), Inspector Christopher McKee (Helen Reilly) and Dr Colin Starr (Rufus King). All in all, this is a great book to dip into. Each time I do, I learn something fresh. And I do love the title.


Nik Morton said...

While not specifically about detectives, Mike Ashley's Mammoth Encyclopedia of Modern Crime Fictioin seems to include most if not all the detectives I've heard (and not heard!) about. Recommended.

Ann Elle Altman said...

That sounds like an amazing book. I'm going to see if I can obtain it.


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Wow...sounds fantastic. Thanks for the heads-up, Martin.

Mystery Writing is Murder

Elizabeth Foxwell said...

There is also the indispensable _Silk Stalkings_ by Victoria Nichols and Susan Thompson that lists fictional female detectives by year of first appearance:

Martin Edwards said...

Nik, thanks for your recommendation of Mike's book - I'm a big fan of it.
Beth, yes, I like Silk Stalkings too.

Janet O'Kane said...

Interestingly, there's a copy of 'Detectionary' on eBay at the moment, for just over a fiver. I'm tempted, from your description, to snap it up.
Mike Ashley's book is excellent, but a lot has happened since it was published (2002) so it could do with updating.

pattinase (abbott) said...

The name Helen Reilly rings a bell.

Juxtabook said...

I love it if you'd do a bibliograph of your crime lit crit reads as your recommendations are always so good!

Dean James said...

Helen Reilly was the mother of two mystery writers, Ursula Curtiss and Mary McMullen. I'm a fan of Reilly's work, and I think I have all of her Inspector McKee novels. Mary McMullen is very good, too; I believe she might have won an Edgar, but I could be mistaken. I haven't read Curtiss, however.