What is a Bibliomystery?

Thursday, November 15, 2012 by Otto Penzler

jeffery deaver bibliomysteryIf you go to the dictionary (as a traditionalist), you will discover that there is no listing for the word bibliomystery—or hit your computer’s spell-checker and the squiggly little red line in your word processing program will flag the term as a nonexistent or misspelled word.

Nonetheless, bibliophiles who also are mystery fiction aficionados certainly know what the word means, however abstruse or esoteric it may seem to those poor souls who do not share those affections. Books and short stories that fall into this small but elevated category of literature are, as the name suggests, mystery stories set in the world of books. Bibliomysteries cross all subgenres, such as the hard-boiled private-eye stories (such as Raymond Chandler’s classic The Big Sleep), cozy mysteries (including those of Charlotte MacLeod’s librarian sleuth), and the mainstream detective novel (such as Booked to Die by John Dunning). Admittedly, “the world of books” covers a lot of territory and is not nearly as specific as the reader or collector might wish it to be.
death of a bookseller

Bibliomystery eligibility is pretty clear if the crime involves rare books, or if a book or books are the primary MacGuffin (another word not in the dictionary or accepted by spell-checkers). If much of the action is set in a bookshop or a library, the novel or story is a bibliomystery, just as it is if a majorcharacter is a bookseller or librarian. A collector of rare books counts, and often a scholar or academic working with rare books, manuscripts, or archives may be included. Publishers? Yes, if their jobs are integral to the plot. Authors? Tricky. If they just happen to write books (and it is amazing to note the number of fictional mystery writers who stumble onto corpses) and get involved in a mystery, it is a borderline call. If the nature of their work brings them into a mystery, or their books are a vital clue in the solution, they probably qualify.

Short tales about deadly books from C. J. Box, Anne Perry, Ken Bruen, and Jeffery Deaver are now available from MysteriousPress.com, with new authors being released every month.

More Recommended Reading:

Veil of Darkness by Gillian White

Death’s Savage Passion by Jane Haddam

Asta’s Book by Ruth Rendell

Book of Shadows by Marc Olden

Emily Dickinson Is Dead by Jane Langton

No Questions Asked by Ross Thomas

The Missing Chapter by Robert Goldsborough

Poison in the Pen by Patricia Wentworth

The Man Who Would Be F. Scott Fitzgerald by David Handler

Carolina Skeletons by David Stout

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