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Chatelaine's Antiques & Appraisals Magazine > Books & Manuscripts > Feature: The Appeal Of A Good Mystery

Old Novels

Library Books


 We all like to curl up with a good mystery novel every now and then. From old-fashioned whodunits to hi-tech spy novels, it's a rich genre.
And it's also a rich field for collectors. You can choose a favorite author, a favorite time period, or even favorites that have been made into movies.

Some of you mystery enthusiasts may have been glued to your computers last week, as sothebys.amazon.com held a special sale of detective and mystery novels. More than 500 volumes were on the block, everything from classics such as Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles to modern thrillers such as John Grisham's The Firm.

People collect what they love it's really that simple and a lot of people love mysteries. The storylines are highly accessible and tend to have a universal appeal.

But that doesn't mean all mysteries are equally collectible. For some, newness is the big attraction. There are hot new authors every year, and copies of their books get run up into the hundreds of dollars. But many of these hot writers turn out to be passing fads.

The Maltese Falcon: classic mystery, classic film  expensive book.

When everything is said and done, the most sought-after novelists are those whose work has endured, writers like Agatha Christie, Dashiell Hammett, and John MacDonald.

Does that mean if the novel isn't considered a classic, it's not valued by collectors?

Throw mainstream literary standards out the window. As a distinct genre, mysteries tend to be judged on their own terms, and it's doubtful whether literary critics have much influence. Mystery fans have their own standards.

And the thrill for some collectors is discovering an author who isn't well-known. There are some truly great mystery writers, like Charles Williams, who are collected by connoisseurs of American hard-boiled fiction, but pretty much ignored by the critical establishment.

Well, there was no mystery in the results of last week's online sale. The big seller was a signed first edition of The Hound of the Baskervilles. It fetched $5,250 (not including a 10 percent buyer's premium) more than double its reserve.

This first edition sold for $5,250.

This first edition sold for $5,250.

Another popular item was a first edition of James M. Cain's Mildred Pierce. After half a dozen bids, it finally sold for $350. Perhaps some of those bidders were remembering the 1945 film starring Joan Crawford. The movie was nominated for six Academy Awards and Ms. Crawford won an Oscar for best actress.

Can a successful movie based on a book make that book more collectible? Immensely!

Many of the great mystery novels have been made into films. Often, that means two groups of book collectors those who collect mysteries and those who collect first editions of books made into movies are competing for the same novel. The competition adds to a book's collectibility and its value. Think of the Maltese Falcon: classic mystery, classic movie. Very expensive book.

Tracking down a copy might make a nice little mystery of its own.




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