Books, Bookstores and Libraries That Are Out to Get You
Do you know that there is a certain sub-genre (sub-sub-genre?) of murder mysteries concerned with the world of authors, manuscripts, rare and deadly books - with the emphasis on deadly books?. Typically, they feature an indefatigable hero leaping around libraries in a race against time, unearthing cyphers, ancient manuscripts and clues hidden in old books.
Thrillers like this belong to a popular sub-genre called bibliomysteries, and as the name suggests, they all concern some sort of bookish skull-duggery. Book lovers love them but if you’re tempted to read one here are a few words of warning. Books can be fatal, as this eager reader is about to discover:
The Book With The Iron Clasps (left), The Book of Death on the right
This deadly tome is called ‘The Book with The Iron Clasps’ and its story lies in the novel of the same name. Written by Angus B. Reach in 1848, it’s the first-ever detective novel (!) and it’s illustrated by George Cruikshank. It may well be a cracking read but don’t try to open it – the Borgias have poisoned the pages. It’s just the first of many books best kept under lock and key...
The bad news is that some books have plain it got it in for you and in fact there are thousands of dangerous books lurking on the shelves. Spotting them should be no trouble - there’s no need to crack a code with a title like "The Book of Death"...
Unfortunately as with all the best thrillers there’s a twist to the tale – readers are not the only ones at risk. Budding authors are told to ‘write about what you know’ but few of them realize just how dangerous writing can be. Bibliomysteries have a habit of biting the hand that writes them:
Sometimes these hapless hacks are cut off mid-sentence long before getting the work to the publisher in the first place. Manuscripts that threaten to expose the truth about the perils of the page are ruthlessly brought to a full stop:
By now even the bravest bibliophile will be glancing at their bookcase wondering if their next read might be their last. Look out for those shelves, by the way – more than one bibliomystery starts with a body under a pile of books. (Did they fall or were they pushed?) I’d choose a short book next if I were you and even then you might not get to the last chapter to find out whodunnit:
Is nowhere safe? Surely the library can provide some sanctuary? Hah! That, gentle reader, is just what they want you to think! Libraries are full of books which makes them the deadliest places of all:
As for bookshops, well, there’s nowhere better to spend a quiet five minutes but from now on it might be better to just cross over to the other side of the street. Used bookstores are dying by the dozen but this is ridiculous:
Things are obviously worse than anyone suspected. Let’s play safe and just accept that books are best avoided:
Is nobody safe? It might be better to ask an expert. What about that most – ahem - noble, upright, sainted individual, the book collector?
Oh well. Maybe it’s better to just wait for the film to come out. And look on the bright side - you probably won’t be able to get your hands on any of these bibliomysteries in the first place. Look what happened to the guy I got them from:
I write about old books for the UK’s leading book collecting magazine, Book and Magazine Collector, under the byline ‘betweenthelines’. I’ve collected bibliomysteries for the last ten years. Apart from the first the ones above date from 1904 to 1959 and are a mixture of American and British titles and editions. Collecting mystery stories by theme is fun and relatively inexpensive and I’ll write more about this soon. In the meantime you can read about plenty of other interesting old books on my website, www.anewlookatoldbooks.com. Please join me each Sunday evening for the book of the week.
Be careful while outside some sinister bookshops, too... Even if you escape the clutches of "fatal" books, you can still fall victim to a store's drain pipe:
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