Mystery Books 1930-1939
The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
Detective Sam Spade and his partner are hired by the beautiful Miss Wonderly to follow Floyd Thursby - the man that her sister has run off with. But when Spade’s partner Miles Archer is shot dead, Miss Wonderly’s real identity comes out and the deadly search for a valuable gold and jewel-encrusted bird is on. The 1941 film adaptation of The Maltese Falcon starring Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade is considered a film noir classic.
The Maltese Falcon was originally serialized in Black Mask magazine, starting in September 1929. It was later published as a novel by Alfred A. Knopf in February 1930. First editions of this classic are among the most valuable mystery books. In fine condition, listings can range upwards of $75,000, and higher if signed.
The Door by Mary Roberts Rinehart
Middle-aged spinster Elizabeth Bell leads a quiet life until her family nurse is brutally murdered. The Door twists and turns through more murders until the surprising conclusion. Although it is not included verbatim in the text, this book popularized the phrase ‘The butler did it.’
The US first edition of The Door by Farrar & Rinehart has a dust jacket with a cover design by Cleonike Damianakes, who designed the cover for Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, and A Farewell to Arms as well as Zelda Fitzgerald’s Save Me the Waltz. The first UK edition published by Hodder and Stoughton has a similarly lovely cover with a door illustration.
The Cape Cod Mystery by Phoebe Atwood Taylor
The Cape Cod Mystery was Phoebe Atwood Taylor’s first published book, and the first to feature her character Asey Mayo, the ‘Codfish Sherlock.’ When Dale Sanborn ends up dead on vacation at a cabin in Cape Cod, it could have been any number of visitors who did him in - an old girlfriend, his fiancee, an outraged husband, a long-lost brother. Sanborn made a number of enemies over his career as a muckraking author, philanderer and occasional blackmailer, and Asey Mayo has to figure out which enemy did the deed.
This Haycraft-Queen Cornerstore novel was published by Bobbs-Merrill in Indianapolis in 1931. First editions in the original dust jacket are very scarce and can list for over $5,000.
Before the Fact by Iles
Before the Fact is a novel by Anthony Berkeley writing under the pen name "Francis Iles". Iles' novel is experimental in that it is not a ‘whodunit’ - it does not take long to determine the identity of the villain and his motives. According to Colin Dexter, Before the Fact is a "crime novel" rather than a "detective novel", with Iles being "the father of the psychological suspense novel as we know it today.” The novel covers a period of approximately ten years starting with Johnnie Aysgarth's courtship of and marriage to Lina McLaidlaw. It follows through the disintegration of their marriage and her imminent death – although it is uncertain that she is really going to die. The whole story is told from Lina Aysgarth's point of view. In 1941 the novel was adapted into an Oscar-winning Hitchcock classic titled Suspicion, starring Cary Grant and Joan Fontaine.
Before the Fact was first published in 1932, the US edition by Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc and the UK edition by Victor Gollancz. The dust jacket of the first UK edition featured a list of the possible identities of "Francis Iles", including E. M. Forster, R. Austin Freeman, Patrick Hamilton, Aldous Huxley, Mrs. Belloc Lowndes, Eden Phillpotts, Osbert Sitwell, Hugh Walpole, and H. G. Wells. Like most books of the 1930s, editions with dust jacket are very scarce, and this particular lists around $10,000 with the intact original jacket.
The Case of the Velvet Claws by Earle Stanley Gardner
Criminal defense lawyer and sleuth Perry Mason is hired by Eva Belter, who is being blackmailed after having an affair with a Congressman. Mason’s secretary Della Street is not thrilled with Mason getting wrapped up in the case, claiming Eva is “all velvet and claws.”
Earle Stanley Gardner’s first book and the first Perry Mason Mystery, The Case of the Velvet Claws was published by William Morrow in 1933. First editions have a $2 price stamp and no mention of later printings on the copyright page, and depending on condition and jacket, it can sell for around $5,000. Gardner went on to write 150 books that sold 300 million copies worldwide and spurred multiple popular television series.
The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain
Frank Chambers stops into Nick Papadakis’ diner for a meal and ends up staying for a job and an affair with Nick ‘The Greek’s’ much younger wife, Cora. Frank and Cora conspire to murder her husband and take over his diner but things do not go smoothly. The novel has nothing to do with mail, and many have speculated on the origin of the title. There does seem to be a parallel with the idea of the postman ringing twice and the inevitability of fate - a plot point of the story. The novel has been adapted for the cinema at least 7 times.
Considered one of the most important crime novels of the 20th century, The Postman Always Rings Twice caused a sensation upon publication for both violence and sexually explicit content. First editions, published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1934, are highly prized and valuable for mystery collectors and can list from $5,000 to $25,000 for a signed first edition.
The Nine Tailors by Dorothy Sayers
The Nine Tailors is the ninth Lord Peter Wimsey novel by Sayers, and considered by many to be her finest literary achievement. Lord Peter Wimsey tries to solve the murder of an unknown corpse in a quiet country churchyard. The ‘Nine Tailors’ from the title is a reference to nine strokes of a church bell announcing when a man from the village has died. ‘Change ringing,’ the art of ringing a set of finely tuned bells in a controlled manner forming bell music, is an integral part of this story.
The first UK edition by Victor Gollancz, Inc. London was published in 1934. The UK edition has a yellow dust jacket printed in black, a blank front flap and three ads on the rear flap. The rear panel contains an ad for Anthony Adverse and "Publication Date: January 8Th 1934" at the top with a comment by Noel Coward at the bottom. The first US edition was published by Harcourt, Brace and Company, NYin 1934. The first issue dust jacket has a church and moon on the front panel, a Dashiel Hammett blurb at bottom of rear panel with five titles above, and a $2 price on the bottom of front flap.
The League of Frightened Man by Rex Stout
Years after a hazing incident left a controversial author crippled, a group of his friends from college begins to fear for their lives as two of them die under mysterious circumstances. The League of Frightened Men hires Nero Wolfe to solve the mystery and protect them.
Rex Stout began his writing career in the 1910s publishing short stories for income but gave it up for over a decade to pursue other means of work. He revisited writing in the 1920s but did not gain recognition as a writer until he turned to detective fiction.
The first in his Nero Wolfe Series, Fer-de-Lance, was published in 1934, followed by The League of Frightened Men, published in 1935 by Farrar & Rinehardt. A Haycraft Queen cornerstone, the first edition of The League of Frightened Men with a fine first issue dust jacket can list upwards of $15,000.
High Wall by Alan R. Clark
Due to an injury suffered as a pilot in the war, David suffers from blackouts. After discovering his wife having an affair with her boss he awakens over her dead body with no memory of what happened. He confesses to the murder and is put away in an asylum, where a nurse becomes interested in his story. The novel is the basis for the 1947 film noir classic of the same name and starring Robert Taylor.
Published in 1936 by Harrison Smith & Robert Haas, this appears to be the only book written by Alan R. Clark, and the author appears to be as mysterious as his novel. First editions with dust jacket can list upwards of $1,200, although any edition of this out-of-print title is scarce.
Dancers in Mourning by Margery Allingham
While detective Albert Campion investigates the harmless pranks played on a popular actor Jimmy Sutane, Sutane accidentally runs over and kills fellow thespian Chloe Pye. No one seems upset that the melodramatic actress is dead, but Campion has a feeling that it wasn’t an accident. Campion’s own judgment is clouded enough that he doesn’t solve the case until the very end.
The eighth novel by Allingham to feature Campion, Dancers in Mourning was first published in the UK by Heineman and in the US by Doubleday Doran. Many critics consider the work one of Allingham’s masterpieces, but first editions are scarce and still inexpensive.
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
The unnamed protagonist of this story marries a wealthy widowed Englishman and arrives at his estate only to be constantly held in comparison with his seemingly perfect deceased first wife Rebecca. The second Mrs. Winters is unable to live up to the comparison, especially in the eyes of the sinister housekeeper Mrs. Danvers. When Rebecca’s body is found on her shipwrecked boat, the dark secrets held by the husband are discovered as well. The novel has had many adaptations in film, radio, and television, the most famous being the Academy-Award winning Hitchcock adaptation released in 1940.
The first printing in the UK was by Gollancz, London, who expected the book to be successful and ordered 20,000 copies for the first print run. Within a month the novel had sold twice that. First editions have a $2.75 price stamp and “First Edition” on the copyright page. Signed, these can list from $3,500 to $6,500 with first issue dust jacket depending on condition.
The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
Detective Philip Marlowe gets called to the house of General Sternwood, whose wild young daughter is being blackmailed by a bookseller. The bookseller turns out to be a pornography dealer, and both Carmen and her sister Vivian, whose husband is missing, turn out to have their hands in the seedy underworld of Los Angeles. The plot of the novel is famous for its complexity, and not without its faults, including loose ends that even Chandler didn’t know the answer to - like who killed the chauffeur?
The Big Sleep is Raymond Chandler’s first published novel and introduces the character of Philip Marlowe. Published in 1939 by Alfred A. Knopf, the first edition barely sold 13,000 copies. The 1946 film adaptation starring Humphry Bogart and Lauren Bacall helped the novel gain popularity. Signed first editions can now list for upwards of $25,000.
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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.