Maybe it comes from working in a library for so long, and an academic one to boot, but I love reference books. They are such founts of information and I can spend hours with them. I have two really good reference resources when it comes to mysteries and crime novels, and I thought it was about time to pull them out for another perusal.
You are probably already familiar with the Lonely Planet series of travel guides, but did you know they also put out other books as well? I keep my copy of The Rough Guide to Crime Fiction, edited by Barry Forshaw on my pile of mystery books that sits next to my bed (it's a very tall pile by the way). The Rough Guide is a small book but packed with a wealth of information. There are fifteen chapters covering a variety of different types of crime novels--from Golden Age books, to police procedurals to historical crime stories to international crime (novels in translation). Within each chapter are the best books of the genre with a little explanation and description. As well there are lots of other interesting bits--along the lines of trivia, but certainly nothing trivial.
If you're not sure what to read next, want to know which are the classic books to choose from, or which books by an author are the best or not to be missed, this would be a handy little guide to have on hand. For example, in the chapter on "Amateurs" Ruth Rendell's book, Adam and Eve Pinch Me is described. Ruth Rendell is probably by all-time-most-favorite mystery/crime writer (though I have not yet read her Wexford books--maybe I should add one to my reading pile?). She also makes an appearance in seven other places in the Rough Guide, which is a good thing as I have not read Adam and Eve Pinch Me (maybe I had best rectify that, too).
"One of Ruth Rendell's most quirkily titled books, this is also one of her most individual, utilizing a real-life event - the Paddington train disaster - in a fashion that is audacious, but not meretricious."
Then again it might be dangerous to peruse this too much in fear of adding yet more books to my already towering pile of mystery possibilities.
Another great resource and one I have not (to be honest) explored in much depth is Maxim Jakubowski's Following the Detectives: Real Locations in Crime Fiction. I coveted this book when it first came out, but it has never been published in paper form here in the US. Finally the price has come down on used copies, so I had to have it for my collection, but of course after a cursory browse it went to my bookshelves. Now I think I will spend more time with it.
As there are just over twenty detectives that Jakubowski (though twenty is still a lot, really) writes about, I think I won't be in too much danger of going on a binge of ordering and starting to read (too many of) the books that are unknown to me.
This is a really cool book. He takes famous fictional sleuths and writes about the cities they made famous. There's Sherlock Holmes's London, Inspector Rebus's Edinburgh, Montalbano's Sicily, Sam Spade's San Francisco, Brother Cadfael's Shropshire and a number of others as well. There are maps, loads of color and B&W illustrations, information about films made and links to useful websites. These aren't essays per se, but there's just enough written to give the reader a sense of each character and the city he/or she inhabits.
I'll share more of the San Francisco section this weekend when I tackle the Continental Op, but here is a little teaser.
"After seeing some of his work published in 1922 in The Smart Set, a literary magazine, he started peddling fiction to another periodical more interested in adventure and mystery stories: The Black Mask. It was there, in a series of stories beginning with 1923's 'Arson Plus' (which he published under the pseudonym 'Peter Collinson'), that Hammett introduced the Continental Op, a short, 'fat, middle-age, hard-boiled, pig-headed guy' of about 40."
I think the Op is a no-nonsense sort of guy, but I still need to read more of Hammett's stories about him. Anyway, the book is oversize and chock full of interesting information. It's the sort of book you can spend lots of time browsing through and dipping into to either study up on a favorite sleuth or maybe find someone new! My only small quibble is that only one femle sleuth is represented and only two women authors.
This is part one, by the way, as I have more mystery resources to share with you soon.