Monday, April 16, 2007

Biblionovels: A Selected Reading List

The last Book Trout entry described the classic Christopher Morley novels “The Haunted Bookshop” and its predecessor, “Parnassus on Wheels” and it made me think of so many other great bibliophilic novels. The following is a selected reading list of Biblionovels of note.


Adamson, Lydia, ”Beware the Laughing Gull”, (NY: Signet, 1998). Retired librarian and full-time birdwatcher Lucy Wayles solves the murder of a bride on her wedding day.

Andahazi, Federico, ”The Merciful Women”, translated from the Spanish by Alberto Manguel, (London: Doubleday, 2000). A novel featuring Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley and other hangers-on during an 1816 Swiss vacation. On the same night that Mary Shelley is to read aloud her Frankenstein tale, another literary dare had been extended to Byron's physician, Doctor Polidori, to offer a vampire tale. Great jacket art featuring Michelangelo's David with vampire bat codpiece.

Barron, Stephanie, the Jane Austen series. I particularly love this series. The literary conceit here is that a cache of Jane Austen's letters have been discovered at the bottom of an American relative's coal chute and they reveal that Jane had been working to solve murders, fall in love and spy for her country behind the mask of a proper English lady. The style and vocabulary fit Austen perfectly and there is plenty of dashing adventure to spice up the actual biographical events of her life.

Beresford-Howe, Constance, ”A Population of One”, (Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1977). Our heroine is a professor of English at a university and struggles to juggle revolting students, boring departmental assignments and a serious of romances.

Blackstock, Charity, “Dewey Death”, (NY: Ballantine, 1985). Intrigue, eccentric librarians and murder stalks the Inter-Libraries Despatch Association in London, a librarian's library.

Block, Lawrence, The Burglar Who series. Burglar-turned-used-bookseller Bernie Rhodenbarr is the hero of this comic mystery caper series set in Manhattan. Bernie just wants to focus on selling his beloved books, but he hasn't given up his lock picks yet.

Bradbury, Ray, ”Fahrenheit 451” (pick your edition from any number of editions and printings) is probably the one that springs to most peoples' minds, a futuristic fantasy-noir in which books are officially verboten, but so beloved that people memorize their favorites and recite them underground.

Byatt, A.S., "Possession”, (NY: Random House, 1990). A great literary puzzle wrapped inside a passionate romance between bibliophiles that shifts between present day and Victorian London.

Caldwell, Ian and Dustin Thomason, ”The Rule of Four”, (NY: The Dial Press, 2004) Murder breaks out when two Princeton students solve a ciphered message encoded in the 15th century manuscript of Hypnerotomachia Poliphili.

Colapinto, John, ”About the Author”, (NY: HarperCollins, 2001). Stockboy Cal Cunningham toils away in a Manhattan bookstore and dreams of writing the Great American Novel in this darkly humorous autobiographical novel. His killer shark literary agent is wonderfully over-the-top.

Curran, Terrie, ”All Booked Up”, (NY: Worldwide, 1989). A rare incunabula turns up missing at the academic Smedley Library, followed up by the corpse of one of its patrons.

Dobson, Joanne, Karen Pelletier series. Fordham University English Professor Joanne Dobson has turned out several elegant, quasi-autobiographical bibliomysteries featuring an English professor who solves literary puzzles involving nineteenth century American writers with the help of a hunky detective of Polish extraction.

Dunning, John, the Cliff Janeway series. Dunning just doesn't write these fast enough. His first book is the most satisfying, as his Denver police detective turned book scout seems to find an underpriced literary treasure at every single thrift shop and garage sale. The later books in the series focus less on his book finds and more on shoot 'em up chase scenes with villains. But do seek out Dunning's first bibliomystery, "Booked to Die", if you haven't read it.

Eco, Umberto, ”Foucault's Pendulum”, (San Diego, CA: Harcourt, Brace Jovanovich, 1989). Forget "The Da Vinci Code", this literate thriller about books, Knights Templar, Gnosticism, Stonehenge and international cabals is the one to read. Eco's other great biblio-roman is "The Name of the Rose"(San Diego, CA: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1994), a murder mystery set in a 14th century Italian abbey. Lots of symbols and secrets hidden in illuminated manuscripts with a superb ending.

Engel, Howard, ”Murder in Montparnasse”, (Woodstock, NY: Overlook Press, 1999). A thriller set in 1920s Paris, in which our detective, journalist Michael Ward attempts to solve the Jack-the-Ripper-style serial murders of young women, aided by his cafe-loving writer and artist pals, including Gertrude Stein, Jules Pascin, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, etc.

Fforde, Jasper, The Thursday Next series. Several recent novels to date which are sort of a mix of mystery and fantasy, featuring literary detective Thursday Next, who investigates the kidnapping of Jane Eyre in one novel, hangs out with Shakespeare in the next.

Goodrum, Charles A., ”Dewey Decimated”, (NY: Crown Publishers, 1977). A classic bibliomystery involving death in the stacks of a rare book library. Author photo on rear jacket flap seated at his Library of Congress desk.

Gottlieb, Samuel Hirsh, “Overbooked in Arizona”, (Scottsdale, AZ: Camelback Gallery, 1994). An apocalyptic tale of bibliomania gone terribly wrong. The narrator begins his tale from a Death Row jail cell in Arizona and relates his book obsession through the Southwestern and Western United States. Lots of real-life used and rare bookstores and books discussed.

Grimes, Martha, ”Foul Matter”, (NY: Viking, 2003). Intrigue set in the cutthroat world of New York City book publishing.

Grudin, Robert, “Book”, (NY: Random House, 1992). In jacket protector. An academic caper in which University of Washington English professor has disappeared along with all known copies of his obscure but brilliant novel.

Hart, Carolyn, Death on Demand series. Annie and Max Darling run a mystery bookshop on a South Carolina resort island and solve murders on the side. This is a great series for anyone who loves classic mysteries, because Hart peppers the books with references to various authors and novels and always has a puzzle involving paintings of scenes from famous murder mysteries that is solved at the end of the book. Her two black cats, Agatha and Dorothy (after Christie and Sayers) and the coffee mugs with famous mystery book titles displayed in the store add to this literary homage.

Hess, Joan, the Claire Molloy series. Molloy owns a new bookstore in a college town but always manages to be able to lock up and sneak off to solve murders. A light, humorous series.

Hunt, Barbara, ”A Little Night Music”, (NY: Rinehart and Company, 1947). Scots second-hand bookseller assembles a collection of rare books as a legacy for his daughter, but his plans are complicated by the arrival of a mysterious stranger.

Johnson, Pamela Hansford, “Cork Street, Next to the Hatter's”, (NY: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1965). London bookshop owner Cosmo Hines and his poet wife Dorothy Merlin preside over a raft of eccentric customers, including a literature professor who sets out to write a play, The Potted Shrimp, "so overpoweringly loathsome that nobody could put it on".

Jones, D.J.H.” Murder at the MLA”, (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1993). Chicago homicide detective Boaz Dixon must enlist the assistance of Yale professor Nancy Cook to solve the pile-up of bodies at the Modern Language Association annual meeting.

Kaewert, Julie, the Alex Plumtree series. Plumtree owns a small publishing house in London and must investigate murders on the side. All the titles start with Un- (Unbound, Untitled, etc.).

Kelly, Susan, ”Out of the Darkness”, (NY: Villard, 1992). Free-lance journalist used to write about true crime for magazines, but then recessionary cutbacks squeezes her markets. She hooks up with creepy true crime bestselling writer to investigate the serial murders of young New England women.

Kurzweil, Allen, “A Case of Curiosities”, (NY: Ballantine Books, 1993). Young inventor Claude Page "learns the arts of enameling and watchmaking from an irascible defrocked Abbe, apprentices himself to a pornographic bookseller, and applies his erotic erudition to the seduction of the wife of an impotent wigmaker" in this witty novel set in late 18th century France.

Kurzweil, Allen, “The Grand Complication”, (NY: Hyperion, 2001). A stylish novel about reference librarian Alexander Short, who is hired for some after-hours cataloguing by an eccentric bibliophile looking for information about an 18th century French inventor.

Marlowe, Stephen, “The House at the End of the World”, (NY: E.P. Dutton, 1995). A novel featuring Edgar Allan Poe which offers a fictional explanation for the missing week in the author's life in 1849 when he vanished and then reappeared mortally ill at a Baltimore hospital.

McAleer, John, “Coign of Vantage, or the Boston Athenaeum Murders”, (Woodstock, VT: Countryman Press, 1988). An erudite mystery involving multiple murders at a Boston Brahmin gentleman's club neatly solved by Ralph Waldo Emerson biographer Austin Layman.

Meredith, D.R., ”Murder in Volume”, (NY: Berkley, 2000). A light, fun read about a motley cast of characters in a murder mystery book group at the local bookshop. Of course, they have a real-life murder to solve.

Michaels, Barbara, ”Houses of Stone”, (NY: Simon and Schuster, 1993). "When young professor of English Karen Holloway happens on a privately printed volume of verse dating from the early nineteenth century, it's all in a day's work. But when a battered manuscript bearing the same mysterious attribution, "Ismene," turns up, Karen realizes that it is an important discovery that could be the making of her academic career". Barbara Michaels (real name Barbara Metzger) also writes those great Egyptological Amelia Peabody mysteries under the name Elizabeth Peters.

Monfredo, Miriam Grace, the Glynis Tryon series. This is a great historical series set in Seneca Falls, New York in the mid-1800's. Not only are Civil War events swirling around, but the women's rights movement was born in this little Finger Lakes village. Enter librarian Glynis Tryon, who helps the local sheriff solve the inevitable murder.

Poe, Robert, “The Black Cat”, (NY: TOR, 1997). The author, a distant relation to Edgar Allan Poe, relates the story of a journalist, also a distant relation to Poe, who investigates the arrival of a witch woman and an outbreak of evil doings in his small town. Based on the original Poe's short story "The Black Cat".

Richardson, Bill, “Bachelor Brothers’ Bed and Breakfast”, (NY: St. Martin’s Press, 1996) and its’ sequel “Bachelor Brothers’ Bed and Breakfast Pillow Book” are wonderful, cozy reads about two gentle eccentric twin brothers, Virgil and Hector who run a bed and breakfast for bibliophiles. A great mix of humor and erudition.

Riley, Judith Merkle, ”A Vision of Light”, (NY: Delacorte, 1989). Wealthy young Margaret of Ashbury has the audacity to wish to write a book about her remarkable experiences, but this just isn't done in 14th century England, so she must hire a renegade monk to chronicle her life.

Savage, Sam, “Firmin: Adventures of a Metropolitan Lowlife”, (Minneapolis: Coffee House Press, 2006). Firmin the Vermin (he’s a rat) comes of age in the basement of a used bookstore and then ends up hanging out with a fantasy writer in 1960s Boston. He develops an appreciation for literature after consuming various books.

Truman, Margaret, “Murder at the Library of Congress”, (NY: Random House, 1999). While researching Christopher Columbus and his travels at the Library Congress, writer Annabel Reed-Smith helps solve a murder and searches for a legendary diary by one of Columbus' shipmates.

This is only a partial list of books I have in my personal collection or on our bookshop shelves, so feel free to recommend other favorites I have missed or let me know of any biblio novel bibliographies that may be available on the Internet. There are some great resources for the bibliomystery subgenre such as this one), but I am not aware of any bibliography that addresses the bibliophilic novel.

Have a lovely time reading.


B.N. Guffey said...

Hi Rachel, just thought I'd let you know about an ongoing, slow going, books about books project I add to every now and then.


Rachel Jagareski, Old Saratoga Books said...

Man, I need more reading time to tuck into this comprehensive list!

Great bibliography, B.N. Feel free to use any of the listings above to add to your fantastic books about books list if they are not already there.

-Rachel, Book Trout

nbeale said...

Hi Rachel,

Two more fiction titles I saw whilst browsing at the book store this evening: The Book Doctor and The Floating Book.