History, Literary Criticism, Theory & Other Agendas

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Sorted, by author...
  • Adey, Robert,
    Locked Room Murders and Other Impossible Crimes...Buy this book
    Ferret Fantasy, 1979.

A classic reference work, featuring info on almost 1,300 "locked-room" and other "impossible" mysteries, from short stories to novels, and where to find them. Even better, though, is that each puzzle is presented -- but not the solution. Because that would be telling. A monumental bit of work, although by now a bit dated (and also rather pricey). Fortunately, Mystery Scene's "locked room guy," Brian Skupin, is working with Adey on a new, revised edition.

  • Betz, Phyllis M.,
    Lesbian Detective Fiction: Woman as Author, Subject and Reader...Buy this book
    McFarland & Co., 2006.

  • Boucher, Anthony,
    The Anthony Boucher Chronicles: Reviews and Commentary 1942-47...Buy this book
    Ramble House, 2009.

Mystery geeks rejoice! This tasty volume, edited by Francis M. Nevins, rounds up all of the monthly and weekly reviews and commentary that the Grand Dean of Crime Fiction Criticism wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle from 1942 to 1947. There's gold (and plenty of dirt) in them thar hills!

  • Breen, Jon, and Martin Harry Greenberg, editors,
    Murder Off the Rack: Critical Studies of Ten Paperback Masters...Buy this book
    Scarecrow Press, 1989.

Essays on paperback writers Ed Lacy, Vin Packer, Jim Thompson, Harry Whittington, Marvin H. Albert, Charles Williams, Donald Hamilton, Peter Rabe, The Executioner series and Warren Murphy by people like Ed Gorman, Dick Lochte, Bill Crider, Marvin Lachman, Max Allan Collins, George Kelley, Loren D. Estleman and Donald E. Westlake. At just 188 pages, it's a pretty short book, appropriately enough about the length of a Gold Medal original. So, if you're looking for lots of pages for your dough, this ain't the book to buy, but rest assured you'll get plenty of bang for your buck.

  • Browne, Ray B.,
    Heroes and Humanities: Detective Fiction and Culture...Buy this book
    Popular Press, 1986.

A series of intriguing essays from a man who knows his stuff, focusing on American, Australian, and Canadian detective fiction, with a special emphasis on how the heroes of these books revea their concern with and attitudes toward society. Includes chapters on P.I. writers Thomas B. Dewey, Ed Lacy, Michael Z. Lewin, Jonathan Valin, George C. Chesbro, Peter Coriss and Ted Wood, as well as non-P.I. writers Arthurt Upfield, Ralph McInerny, Martha Webb and Martha Grimes, among others.

  • Cole, Catherine,
    Private Dicks and Feisty Chicks: An Interrogation of Crime Fiction...Buy this book
    Fremantle Arts Centre Press/Curtin University of Technology, 2004.

This academic monograph examines the continuing popularity of crime fiction and investigates its on-going relevance, ranging from socio-economic, feminist, moral and political concerns, but also gets down and dirty (and a lot more fun) when it looks into why some books work and some don't and the origin of the term "red herring." What might have been a dry, crusty read is enlivened by a breezy style, shaped no doubt by the author's own enthusiasm for the subject. Dr. Cole, a writer and lecturer in the Writing and Cultural Studies Area at the University of Technology (Sydney) is not just an addict but a dealer as well -- she's the author of the Nicola Sharpe P.I. series.

  • Connolly, John, and Declan Burke, editors,
    Books to Die For...Buy this book
    New York: Atria/Emily Bestler Books, 2012

A treasure trove of goodies for crime fiction lovers, as over a hundred of the world's greatest mystery writers look at their favourite mystery novels and tell us why they matter.

  • Crider, Allen Billy, ed.
    Mass Market Publishing in America.
    Boston: G.K. Hall, 1982.

  • Davis, Kenneth C.,
    Two-Bit Culture: The Paperbacking of America...Buy this book
    Houghton Mifflin, June 1984.

An imminently readable history of the wild, wooly paperback revolution in publishing in America, and the havoc it wreaked upon the publishing industry and its culture, written by the future bestselling author of the "Don't Know Much" series. This was his first book.

The sub-title is "African American Crime Literature and the Untold Story of Black Pulp Publishing," and it pretty much delivers. In spades. Eveything you ever wanted to knpw about black pulp fiction, from Cheser Himes, Iceberg Slim and Donald Goines to Holloway House and the commercial rebirth of the genre -- mostly by women -- is covered; a long overdue overview that serves as both a literary and cultural history.

  • Greene, Hugh, editor,
    The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes....Buy this book
    Pantheon Books, 1970.

A pivotal book in the history of the genre, spotlighting those mostly British authors who dared, with varying amounts of success, to take on Holmes. Includes stories featuring Horace Dorrington, The Old Man in the Corner, Dr. John Thorndyke and Martin Hewitt.

  • Greene, Hugh, editor,
    Cosmopolitain Crimes: The Foreign Rivals of Sherlock Holmes....Buy this book
    Pantheon Books, 1971.

Spreading his net further, Greene assembles some of Doyle's more accomplished foreign contemporaries, including stories set in France, Switzerland, South Africa, Belgium, United States, Denmark, Austria, and Canada. Includes stories about November Joe and Colonel Clay.

  • Greene, Hugh, editor,
    The Further Rivals of Sherlock Holmes....Buy this book
    Pantheon Books, 1973.

A second round-up of British authors, although this one steps away from the mean streets of London and ventures into the English countryside, with the stories mostly leaning more towards Christie than, say, Chandler.

  • Greene, Hugh, editor,
    The American Rivals of Sherlock Holmes....Buy this book
    Penguin Books, 1978.

The logical next step in the series, and an indication, perhaps, of things to come. Englishman Greene, feeling all smug and morally superior, states rather patronizingly in the intro that "Marlowe and Sam Spade could have walked into some of the situations and felt instantly at home" but he's not wrong.

  • Haut, Woody,
    Pulp Culture: Hardboiled Fiction and the Cold War....Buy this book
    1996.

Actually, Woody's titles are a bit misleading. This one refers to the paperback originals that took the place of pulp magazines in the period from 1945 to 1963, and the follow-up, Neon Noir, likewise, has more to do with literature than film. Still, his contention that hardboiled fiction has been neglected by serious literary criticism "precisely because it is a class-based literature,'' is an intriguing one. Haut brings politics to the table, and holds forth on how these books, focussing on how "capitalism's relationship to crime, corruption, desire and power,'' managed to reflect the darkness of 1950's. He doesn't offer much new on Raymond Chandler, Chester Himes, Ross Macdonald, Jim Thompson, or Mickey Spillane, but he shines when he discusses more neglected writers like Leigh Brackett, Dolores Hitchens, Dorothy B. Hughes, William McGivern, Gil Brewer, Lionel White, Charles Williams and Charles Willeford.

  • Haut, Woody,
    Neon Noir: Hardboiled Films and Fiction from the 1960's to the Present...Buy this book
    London: Serpent's Tail, 1999.

The sequel to Haut's acclaimed Pulp Culture. File this one under Performing Arts/Dance; Film Noir; Arts In General (Multi- Subject); Pop Arts / Pop Culture; Performing Arts; Film - History & Criticism; Mystery & Detective Literature- Hard-Boiled; History & Criticism and all that other good stuff. What's happened to crime fiction since the fifties.

First edition of once-indispensible guide to living male authors of crime fiction series. Matching pocket guides, and the original full-size companion book focussing on women are also available.
Read Rick Robinson's Review.

  • Heising, Willetta L.,
    Detecting Women 3: A Reader's Guide and Checklist for Mystery Series Written by Women...Buy this book....Buy the Pocket Guide
    Ann Arbor, Michigan: Purple Moon Press, 1999.

Second (and apparently last) print edition of the Macavity Award winner, a once- indispensible guide to then living women authors of crime fiction series. Matching pocket guides, and a full-size companion book focussing on men were also available.
Read Rick Robinson's Review

  • Holland, Steve
    The Mushroom Jungle: A History of Postwar Paperback Publishing...Buy this book
    Borgo Press, 1993.

A fascinating study of the post-WWII pulp explosion in Britain, loaded with oodles of great cheesy covers and illustrations and all sorts of dirt on the often shady, fly by night publishers and the colourful writers who banged out these cheaply produced "alternative classics."

  • Huang, Jim, and Austin Lugar, editors,
    Mystery Muses...Buy this book
    Crum Creek Press, 2006.

Subtitled "100 classics That Inspire Today's Mystery Writers," the keyword here is definitely "inspire" -- not "inspired." Because the beloved classics chosen here (written by everyone from Edgar Allan Poe to Dennis Lehane) have not only inspired the mystery writers (Ron Kantner, Bill Crider, Dick Lochte, Laura Lippman, Gary Phillips and nonety-five others) who have contributed the short essays to this. punchy little treasure.

  • Jakubowski, Maxim, editor,
    Following the Detectives...Buy this book
    New Holland Publishers, 2010.

For those of you who get easily lost when reading crime fiction set anywhere but your own home town, Maxim has the answer: this handy-dandy guidebook that dares to shed light on the stomping grounds of over 20 of crime fiction's greatest detectives. Includes gorgeous colour maps spotlighting real-life locations (buildings, streets, bars, restaurants, etc.), so readers can follow the action, whether it leads to Sam Spade's favourite restaurant or Inspector Maigret's Parisian café. P.I. fans will particularly enjoy the takes on on Chandler's Los Angeles, Hammett's San Raymond Chandler's LA), Sherlock Holmes' London, George Pelecanos' Wasahington, D.C., Sara Paretsky's Chicago, Ross Macdonald's Southern California and Declan Hughes' Dublin. Other contributors include Dick Adler, Declan Burke, Sarah Weinman, J. Kingston Pierce, John Harvey and Barry Forshaw.

A smart and ambitious attempt to trace the evolution of professional female detectives in both real life and fiction is a solid introduction to the subject.


  • The Woman Detective: Gender & Genre


  • Lee, Susanna,
    Hard-Boiled Crime Fiction & the Decline of Moral Authority...Buy this book...Kindle it!
    Ohio State University Press, December 2016.

A Georgetown prof tears into the guts of the hard-boiled mythos, tracking its long history and evolution, positing the hard-boiled hero not as the defender of the status quo but as a figure of "individual autonomy and accountability in modern Western culture," with plenty of moral, ethical and sociological and political questions raised. Thoughtful and eye opening, it'll really give your brain something to chew over.

  • Lupoff, Richard A.,
    The Great American Paperback...Buy this book
    Portland, OR: Collector's Press, 2001.

Subtitled "An Illustrated Tribute to Legends of the Book," this is an affectionate, colourful tribute to the art of paperbacks, with over 600 covers, each of them "a miniature gem, evocative of the fashions and attitudes of its era." As well, there's plenty of intriguing comments by the author, Richard A. Lupoff, historian, writer (he writes the Hobart Lindsey P.I. series) and collector, who drew many of these books from his own collection. Like the publisher's blurb says, "This book is destined to become a classic among librarians and graphic designers alike." Hell, there's even a collectors' guide included.

  • Lyles, William H.
    Putting Dell on the Map : A History of the Dell Paperbacks
    Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1983.

  • David Madden, ed.,
    Tough Guy Writers of the Thirties
    Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press: 1968.

Pivotal work, includes Herbert Ruhm's "Raymond Chandler: From Bloomsbury to the Jungleand Beyond."

  • Margolies, Edward ,
    Which Way Did He Go? The Private Eye in Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Chester Himes and Ross MacDonald
    New York: Holmes & Meier: NY, 1982.

  • Markowitz, Judith A.
    The Gay Detective Novel: Lesbian and Gay Main Characters and Themes in Mystery Fiction...Buy this book
    McFarland & Co., 2004.

Includes an introduction by Katherine V. Forrest, author of the Kate Delafield mysteries.

  • Marks, Jeffrey,
    Atomic Renaissance...Buy this book
    Lee's Summit, MO: Delphi books, 2003.

Marks, best known as Craig Rice's biographer, chronicles seven women mystery writers of the 1940s and 1950s, including Dorothy Hughes, Margerat Millar, Leslie Ford and Patricia Highsmith. Enthusiastic but ultimately disappointing -- skimpy, thematically suspect and at times just dumb. You can read my Rap Sheet review here, if you're interested.

  • McDermid, Val, and Nevada Barr,
    A Suitable Job for a Woman: Inside the World of Women Private Eyes...Buy this book
    U.K.: 1995.
    U.S.: Poisoned Pen Press, 1999.

Val McDermid, the author of the Kate Brannigan mysteries, looked at real-life women P.I.s. for the 1995 British edition. She teamed up with American mystery writer to expand the book for the 1999 U.S. edition.

  • Mizejewski, Linda,
    Hardboiled and High Heeled: The Woman Detective in Popular Culture...Buy this book
    New York: Routledge, 2004.

Illustrated, sharp analysis of women dicks, in print, film and television, covering everyone from Honey West to Sue Grafton and "Silence of the Lambs."

  • Moore, Lewis D.,
    Cracking the Hard-Boiled Detective: A Critical History from the 1920s to the Present
    Buy this book
    Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2006.

Lewis, a retired professor (are mystery fans getting too darn educated or what?) takes a whack at the development of the hard-boiled dick, tailing him through what he considers three main periods: the Early (1927-1955), the Transitional (1964-1977) and the “Modern”  (from the  late seventies on), noting how the character has developed and evolved over the years. Moore taught at the University of the District of Columbia in Washington for thirty years and is also the author of Meditations on America: John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee Series.

  • Nicol, Brian, Eugene McNulty & Patricia Pulham ,
    Crime Culture...Buy this book
    Continuum, 2011.

With a subtitle like "Figuring Criminality in Fiction and Film," its hefty price tag and the fact it's part of something called the Continuum Literary Studies, it's a pretty safe bet this won't be flying off the racks down at Costco. But for more scholarly fans of the genre and anyone else interested in how crime fiction helps us make sense of the broader concerns shaping modern culture and society, this wide-ranging collection of original essays is well worth a look. It covers not only the usual suspects (the classic English detective fiction, the American hard-boiled school, gangster flicks, etc.) but also such diverse topics as neglected films noir, the hitman mythology, true crime, reality TV, female African American writers, and contemporary "literary" fiction by J. G. Ballard, Kazuo Ishiguro, and Margaret Atwood.

  • O'Brien, Geoffrey
    Hardboiled America: The Lurid Paperbacks and the Masters of Noir
    Expanded Edition
    New York: Da Capo Press, 1997.

A re-issue of O'Brien's classic Hardboiled America: The Lurid Years of the Paperbacks, focussing on paperback fiction and, especially, cover art. O'Brien's book discusses the work of the artists who did the covers; the relationship between the cover art and the stories, and most of the key writers of the 'hard-boiled' era. The history of paperbacks is also covered. A real treat for the eyes.

  • Olcott, Anthony,
    Russian Pulp: The Detektiv and the Russian Way of Crime...Buy this book...Kindle it!
    Rowman & Little field, 2001.

Fascinating study of the detektiv, the Russian version of the murder mystery, and it's long, glorious -- although occasionally clandestine -- history. Olcott, a mystery novelist himself (Murder at the Red October, etc.) makes a strong case for the cultural significance of the detektiv, and how it follows and diverges in important ways from its Western counterpart.

  • Panek, Leroy
    New Hard-Boiled Writers, 1970s-1990s...Buy this book
    Bowling Green University Popular Press, 2000.

An examination of how the hard-boiled detective story changed over the last three decades of ther 20th century, focussing on the works of what the author considers the ten most significant contemporary hard-boiled writers of that era: Robert B. Parker, James Crumley, Loren Estleman, Sara Paretsky, Sue Grafton, Carl Hiaasen, Earl Emerson, Robert Crais, James Lee Burke, and Walter Mosley.

  • Panek, Leroy Lad,
    The Origins of the American Detective Story....Buy this book
    Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc.,2006.

Zeroing in on the late 19th century and early 20th, this fascinating and wide-ranging study by an English professor covers the formative years of American detective fiction, and reveals a whole slew of early private detectives I never knew existed. Panek has written a number of books about crime fiction, including Reading Early Hammett, New Hard-Boiled Writers, 1970s-1990s and the Edgar-nominated The American Police Novel.

  • Pronzini, Bill, and Marcia Muller,
    1001 Midnights: The Aficiondo's Guide to Mystery and Detective Fiction...Buy this book
    New York: Arbor House, 1986.

An indispensable overview of the genre, with entries by the editors themselves and a star-studded A-list of writers and critics, including Bill Crider, Max Allan Collins, Ed Gorman, John Lutz, Robert Randisi, Art Scott and all the usual suspects. In fact, it's the reliance on those "usual suspects" which is the book's only flaw: some of the reviews should, perhaps, be taken with a grain of salt. Maybe friends shouldn't review friends' (or spouses') books. And nobody should indulge in sour grape reviews. But assuming the salt shaker's standing by, this is nonetheless by far one of the greatest critical looks at mystery and crime-writing in years. Highly recommended.

  • Richardson, Michael, editor,
    Maddened By Mystery: A Casebook of Canadian Detective Fiction
    Toronto, Canada: Lester & OrpenDennys, 1982.

Dated but fascinating collection of short stories by Canadian writers, including Margaret Millar, Harvey O'Higgins and Hulbert Footner, with generous bibliographical notes, and a brief Who's Who of Canadian Writers.

  • Rippetoe, Rita Elizabeth,
    Booze and the Private Eye: Alcohol in the Hard-Boiled Novel...Buy this book
    Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2004.

Who'd a thunk it? A fascinating and well-argued look at hooch and the gumshoe, featuring an overview of the genre, and a close look at the works of Chandler, Hammett, Spillane, Parker and Lawrence Block, plus a chapter of booze and female eyes.

  • Ruehlmann, William,
    Saint with a Gun: The Unlawful American Private Eye...Buy this book
    New York: New York University Press, 1974.

A provocative look at the whole American moral climate, poking a big sharp stick into the cowboy mythos and its offshoot, the private eye, with a look at the genre's bloody history. It's interesting to note that this book came out just before Spenser and Hawk made their debut, and the subsequent rise of the violent sidekick, who will do what the hero won't. In this book, Robert B. Parker is cited often, but only for his dissertation. We've come a long way, baby. Or have we?

  • Schreuders, Piet.
    Paperbacks, U.S.A.: A Graphic History, 1939-1959
    San Diego, Calif.: Blue Dolphin Enterprises, 1981.

  • Schwartz, Richard B.,
    Nice and Noir...Buy this book
    Missouri: University of Missouri Press, 2002.

A look at contemporary American crime fiction.

  • Skene-Melvin, David
    Canadian Crime Fiction...Buy this book
    Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 1996.

The pioneering and absolutely essential work on the topic, years and years in the making, by the acknowledged and occasionally cranky expert on Canadian crime fiction. I actually met him once -- he used to run a small bookstore in Toronto, and I'm happy to report that years and years ago (the late eighties? The early nineties?) I gave him a lead on a Montreal P.I. he hadn't heard of, although for the life of me I can't remember which one it was. Read a review of the book by Canadian crime writer Howard Engel, who is himself listed in the book himself. An astounding bit of scholarship, really, but out of my price range.

  • The Hard-Boiled Explicator: A Guide to the Study of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald...Buy this book
    Scarecrow Press, 1985.

An annotated bibliography of resources relating to the named authors. Although dated, supposedly a very useful addition to a bibliography/reference collection. At the time of its initial publication, it boasted that "Now, for the first time, those interested in this field have available to them a carefully constructed guide to the wealth of information on this subject."

  • Skinner, Robert,
    Two Guns From Harlem: The Detective Fiction of Chester Himes...Buy this book
    Popular Press, 1989.

Skinner charts the complicated life and work of Himes, discussing how Himes's "experience as a black man, combined with his unique outlook on sociology, politics, violence, sex, and race relations, resulted not only in an unusual portrait of black America but also opened the way for the creation of the ethnic and female hard-boiled detectives who followed."

  • Skinner, Robert,
    The New Hard-Boiled Dicks: Heroes for a New Urban Mythology...Buy this book
    Borgo, 1992.

Labelled a "Brownstone Mystery Guide" in its revised & expanded second edition (1995). Featuring overviews of then-contemporary authors, including Andrew Bergman, James Lee Burke, Robert Campbell, James Colbert, Michael Collins, JamesCrumley, Sue Grafton, Donald Hamilton, Joseph Hansen, Chester Himes, Elmore Leonard, Sara Paretsky, Robert B. Parker, Richard Stark, Andrew Vachss and Chris Wiltz.

  • Sloniowski, Jeannette & Marilyn Rose, editors
    Detecting Canada: Essays on Canadian Crime Fiction, Television and Film...Buy this book
    Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2014.

Touting itself as "the first serious book-length study of crime writing in Canada," this scholarly tome contains thirteen essays on some of Canada's most popular crime writers, including Peter Robinson, Giles Blunt, Gail Bowen, Thomas King, Michael Slade, Margaret Atwood, and Anthony Bidulka, and a few television crime shows, as well, while offering a variety of "perspectives, including postcolonial studies, gender and queer studies, feminist studies, Indigenous studies, and critical race and class studies." Hmmmm... did we leave anyone out?. Ah, yes. French-Canadians. A very serious book, perhaps ("Mounties and Metaphysics in Canadian Film and Television," anyone?) but this is more cherry-picking than comprehensive, able to skip entire categories, authors and genres (not to mention an official language) in a single bound. An absolutely intriguing -- but frustrating -- look at half the picture.

  • Symons, Julian,
    Bloody Murder: From the detective story to the crime novel...Buy this book
    London: Faber and Faber Ltd., 1972.

One of the better known and more controversial works in the field of crime fiction criticism. Subtitled "From the detective story to the crime novel," and as candid, opinionated and sometimes just plain cranky as its author, it was revised twice, in 1985 and 1992, but Symons never let go of its central theme: after dividing the genre into various sub-genres and separating the wheat from the chaff, he concludes that the classic puzzle mystery, associated with such writers as Agatha Christie and John Dickson Carr (and which Symons himself often wrote), somehow fell short of the more modern "crime novel," which put emphasis on psychology and motivation. You can imagine how well that went over in some circles -- and still does.

  • Watson, Priscilla L. Walton and Manina Jones
    Detective Agency: Women Rewriting the Hard-Boiled Tradition...Buy this book
    California: University California Press, 1999.

Intriguing look at the post-seventies female eye, from an unapologetically feminist perspective, by two academics from Ontario, Canada. Featuring interviews with authors and publishers, reader surveys, publication data, and an analysis of internet discussion groups to present a fascinating picture of the "industry" of women's detective fiction, and examine the rise of female detectives in television and film.

A stone-cold classic of the genre, as UK journalist John Williams goes on the ultimate hard-boiled roadtrip, motorvating across the U.S.A.,interviewing (and getting guided tours from) primo American crime writers such as James Ellroy (LA), Sara Paretsky (Chicago) and Elmore Leonard (Miami). A return visit was documented in a sequel in 2007.

  • Williams, John,
    Back to the Badlands: Crime Writing in the USA...Buy this book
    UK: Serpent's Tail, 2007.

Long-awaited follow-up to his 1991 classic Into the Badlands finds U.K. newshawk Williams returning to the U.S. to discover how much America -- and its crime fiction -- has changed in the ensuing years. He visits with James Lee Burke, James Ellroy, James Crumley, Sara Paretsky, Eugene Izzi, Elmore Leonard, George V. Higgins, Vicki Hendricks, Kem Nunn, Kinky Friedman, Daniel Woodrell, and George P. Pelecanos, and gets the goods. Highly recommended.


Compiled by Kevin Burton Smith. Thanks to Randal Brandt and Monte Herridge for their contributions to this page.


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