Mystery Books 1940-1949
The Bride Wore Black by Cornell Woolrich
A young beautiful widow seeks revenge for her husband's death and leaves a trail of seemingly disconnected murders behind her. Cornell Woolrich was the pen name used by American writer William Irish. After pursuing an unsuccessful career as a literary writer of jazz age novels during the 1920s and beginning of the 1930s, Irish began to pursue pulp stories and detective fiction. His first work of detective fiction, The Bride Wore Black, is a classic noir novel. It was later adapted into a 1968 french film by François Truffaut.
Published by Simon and Schuster in 1940, the first editions have the date printed on the copyright page. In fine condition first editions with intact dust jacket can list upwards of $7,500, although many interesting versions, including vintage paperback and Franklin Library editions, are available as well. The Bride Wore Black is a Haycraft Queen Cornerstone.
The So Blue Marble by Dorothy B. Hughes
Former Hollywood Star Griselda Satterlee returns to New York City to start a new life as a designer. Returning to her ex-husbands’ apartment one night, she is accosted by two handsome young men, who demand the ‘blue marble.’
Published in 1940 by Duell, Sloan & Pearce, NY, this is the debut novel of Dorothy B. Hughes, an MWA Grandmaster. A Haycraft Queen Cornerstone, The So Blue Marble was reprinted in 2018 by Otto Penzler Presents American Mystery Classics, an imprint of W.W. Norton.
A Taste for Honey by Heard, H. F.
A Taste for Honey is the first book in a series by Henry Fitzgerald Heard, also called Gerald Heard or H. J. Heard. This novel features the detective talents of Mr. Mycroft, an old scientist and beekeeper in a rural Sussex village. It is heavily implied that he is an elderly Sherlock Holmes in retirement.
This 1941 novel received quite a bit of acclaim from esteemed sources like Christopher Morley and Raymond Chandler. It was published by New York: The Vanguard Press, 1941.
Murder for Pleasure: The Life and Times of the Detective Novel by Howard Haycraft
This one is not a novel, but we couldn't pass up sharing it because it is an important piece. An often-cited term in collecting mysteries - “A Haycraft Queen cornerstone” - comes from this book. Considered the first book about the detective story as a literary form it is an exploration of the milestones of the detective genre from the beginning in 1841 with Edger Allen Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue, and covering the Golden Age of the detective novel.
Published in 1941 by Appleton-Century Co in New York, the first printing of the First Edition will have Appleton's requisite "1" at the end of the final page. In 1951 an enlarged edition was published, and in 2019 Dover Publications reprinted the 1951 edition. The timing of the publication dates much of the material, and some authors and works explored in the books have been long forgotten, but it is still hailed by many to be the bibliographical source of early detective novels.
Black Orchids by Rex Stout
A Nero Wolfe double mystery and Stout’s first short story collection, Black Orchids is a compilation of two novellas first published in The American Magazine: “Black Orchids” and “Cordially Invited to Meet Death.” The first story involves a murder at the New York annual flower show, while the second revolves around a famous party planner trying to clear her name from a smear-campaign.
The first edition, published in 1942 by Farrar & Rinehart, has the publisher's monogram logo on the copyright page. First editions, in good condition or better, with a dust jacket, list for around $1,500.
The Lady in the Lake by Raymond Chandler
Unlike most other Philip Marlowe mysteries, the majority of this novel takes place outside of Los Angeles in a small mountain town about 80 miles away. Derace Kingsley, a wealthy businessman, hires Marlowe to find his wife, which he believes has run off with her boyfriend. While trying to track her down, Marlowe finds other wives both missing and dead that complicate the mystery.
The Lady in the Lake was published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1943. The first edition will have the publisher's original light green cloth with dark green titles to the upper board and spine. The original dust jacket was illustrated by Norman Reeves and has a $2.00 price stamp on the upper flap. First editions can list for nearly $10,000 and more than double that if signed.
The Dark Tunnel by Kenneth Millar
When Dr. Robert Branch's best friend is killed he knows that it was the work of an underground Nazi group on campus - and that he could be next.
Subtitled The Story of the Homosexual Spy, this is the first book by Kenneth Millar, the husband of Margaret Millar who was achieving her own fame in the mystery genre. To differentiate himself from his wife, Millar later began to publish his well-known Lew Archer series under the pseudonym John Ross Macdonald and then simplified to Ross Macdonald.
Published by Dodds, Mead & Co in 1944, The Dark Tunnel is one of four books published under Millar's real name. Written while he was still a graduate student at the University of Michigan, this is the scarcest of Millar's works. First editions have a $2.00 price stamp and can list from $10,000 to over $15,000 depending on condition. The Dark Tunnel was republished in 1955 under the title I Die Slowly.
The Case of the Gilded Fly by Edmund Crispin
This novel was written by Edmund Crispin, the pen name of Robert Bruce Montgomery, who wrote the novel in a ten-day burst during Easter vacation while an undergraduate. The Case of the Gilded Fly is a locked-room mystery set in Oxford, where Crispin was studying. It features the first appearance of eccentric amateur detective Gervase Fen, a fictional amateur detective and Oxford Professor of English Language and Literature. Fen appears in nine novels and two books of short stories published between 1944 and 1979.
The first edition of The Case of the Gilded Fly was published by Gollancz in 1944 in their standard yellow dust jacket. First editions and other copies of this title are relatively scarce but can be found for $800 and under.
Died in the Wool by Ngaio Marsh
Died in the Wool is the thirteenth novel by Marsh to feature detective Roderick Alleyn. The novel takes place during WWII where a New Zealand parliamentarian was murdered on a remote sheep farm. Detective Alleyn does not arrive at the scene of the murder until fifteen months after it has taken place, and much of his detecting revolves around gathering stories from witnesses.
The first edition of Died in the Wool was published by Collins Crime Club in the UK and Little, Brown and Company in the US in 1945.
The Silent Speaker by Rex Stout
The eleventh novel in the Nero Wolfe series, The Silent Speaker is Stout’s first full-length Nero Wolfe novel since Where There’s a Will in 1940. Stout cut back on detective writing during WWII, joining the Fight for Freedom operation and serving as the head of the Writers’ War Board. In The Silent Speaker, the head of a Federal Agency is killed before giving a speech to an industrial association, and when the public blames the association they hire Wolfe to find the murderer and exonerate them.
The Silent Speaker was first published by Viking in 1946. First editions have $2.50 on the front flap and “First Published By the Viking Press in October 1946” on the copyright page. First editions with the original dust jacket list from the $250-$350 range, although fine condition and a signature can push the price much higher.
I, the Jury by Mickey Spillane
Author Mickey Spillane served in the United States Army Air Corps during WWII and upon returning home after the war he planned to buy a house with his new wife. To boost his bank account he reportedly wrote I, The Jury in just 19 days, then sold the novel to E.P. Dutton.
While the violent debut of Spillane’s character Private Investigator Mike Hammer was heavily dismissed by critics, the book sold six and a half million copies in the first year and Spillane went on to sell 200 million copies of his novels.
First editions of I, The Jury, published by E.P. Dutton in 1947, and list for around $5,000 signed in fine condition. The original dust jacket has a $2.50 price stamp and the copyright page has stated ‘First Edition.’
I Married a Dead Man by William Irish
Helen Georgesson is eight months pregnant and alone when she boards the train back home to San Francisco. The train crashes, and upon awakening in the hospital, Helen finds that she has been mistaken for a wealthy wife who perished along with her husband in the crash. She goes along with the misunderstanding for the sake of her newborn son and settles into a comfortable life with her new family. Then a letter comes in the mail that simply states “Who are you?”
First published by J. B. Lippincott Co., Philadelphia and New York, in 1948, first editions are priced $2.75 on front flap, and have “First Edition” stated on the copyright page. First editions of I Married a Dead Man list for around $350 and under.
Nothing More Than Murder by Jim Thompson
When Joe Wilmot married Elizabeth he was very in love - with her movie theatre. The movie theatre is the best thing about the rundown town they live in and Joe runs it very successfully. But when he falls for the woman his wife hired as a housekeeper Joe suddenly wants out of his marriage.
First editions of Nothing More Than Murder were published by Harper & Brothers, New York in 1949. In fine condition, the first editions can list between $2,000 and $3,000. This was the author’s third novel and his first mystery. It was also his last book to be published in hardcover as Thompson later achieved success through publishing extremely popular paperbacks. However, by the time of Thompson’s death at age 70, none of his more than thirty published novels were in print in the US.
The Screaming Mimi by Frederic Brown
Alcoholic reporter Sweeney is searching for a beautiful woman and a Ripper-style killer in this allegorical retelling of Beauty and the Beast. The story was made into a classic noir film in 1958.
The Screaming Mimi was first published by E.P. Dutton & Company, New York in 1949. Brown wrote many short stories and science fiction novels, and The Screaming Mimi is one of his three mystery novels.
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Author Bio: Amy C. Manikowski is a writer, bookseller, trail-diverger, history buff, and pitbull lover. She graduated from Chatham University with an MFA a while ago, and after wandering aimlessly settled in Asheville NC.