Diagnosis: Out of Print

Readers of this blog may have noticed over time that I’m a somewhat obsessive person coming back with metronome-like regularity to a set of subjects I seem never to get tired of. Among them is the way the crime fiction community (mis)handles the classics of the genre, allowing them to go out of print and be forgotten. This post will deal with that topic once again, so if it isn’t of interest to you (at which point I wonder why you came here in the first place) you have my permission to skip it.

Still here? Fine.

Let’s picture a book so good, so brilliant, so innovative and influential that it won its author every major literary award coming their way and is regarded by everyone that matters as one of the best novels ever written. Now imagine that despite all this praise the book in question goes out of print and becomes nearly impossible to find even on specialized websites. Impossible or quite improbable you say? Well, that happens all the time in the crime fiction world and as a manic collector I can say it’s very frustrating. I’ve been spending a lot of time lately trying to locate a decent-priced copy of Lawrence G. Blochman’s Edgar-winning collection Diagnosis: Homicide and as of now I have been a sad failure. The only copy I could find was sold along with Blochman’s Edgar statuette for a price that even Jeff Bezos would frown upon – and yet it somehow found a buyer, which proves everything can sell.

As a lover of obscure books I am accustomated to such difficulties but the problem is – THIS IS NOT AN OBSCURE BOOK! It won an Edgar and Ellery Queen included it in its Queen’s Quorum, which is the highest honour that can (or could) be bestowed on a short story collection – and yet it has been out of print for sixty years and cannot be found anywhere! That finding copies of excellent but little-known books like Smile and Murder, Death on Ravens’scar or The Chandler Policy may turn to be problematic is something I can understand if not rejoice of, but that the same occurs with a book that was once hailed as a milestone is very weird.

Of course it doesn’t help that Blochman himself is no longer a household name. He belongs with Doris Miles Disney, Helen McCloy, Baynard Kendrick, Aaron Marc Stein, George Harmon Coxe and Judson Philips – to name just a few – to this group of seasoned professionals that were very successful and highly regarded in their lifetimes but fell between the cracks after their death. Some of these writers enjoyed kind of an afterlife thanks to the ebook revolution but most of them are now only known to vintage mystery fans like yours truly and their books are extremely rare until you can read a foreign, non-English language.

I’m not making a claim that they were all forgotten geniuses, but they were important enough to the development of the genre to stay in the fandom’s memories and have a place, however tiny, on the bookshelves. I mean, why should – say – Baynard Kendrick, a MWA Grand Master, remain out of print when some writers obscure even in their lifetimes are now widely available and successful? We’re walking on our heads, as the French saying goes.

I’m not losing hope though. The last few years have seen even more improbable miracles happening in our field. Writing on the same subject one decade ago, I expressed doubts about the possibility of an E.R. Punshon revival – and yet it happened! The situation on the vintage mystery front has improved quite a lot recently so there is no reason a priori it doesn’t benefit Blochman & Co. someday. In the meantime, you can email me if you have a copy of Diagnosis: Homicide or The Whistling Hangman that you can do without. 😉

 

 

8 commentaires sur “Diagnosis: Out of Print

  1. Well, I don’t have a copy of Diagnosis:Homicide, but I have See You At The Morgue. I also have the novella Dr. Coffee And The Philanderer’s Brain published in EQMM August 1966.
    Incidentally, Blochman worked for some time as a journalist in Kolkata, as a result of which his first 3 novels are set in India.

    Aimé par 1 personne

    1. I also have See You At The Morgue – two copies as a matter of fact, don’t ask me how and why.

      Blochman seems to have been quite the cosmopolitan: many of his stories have foreign (i.e., non-American) settings. He married a French woman and was fluent enough in our language to translate a few Simenon novels.

      J’aime

    1. I, too, came to know Blochman through his short fiction (he was a fixture of the French editions of EQMM and The Saint Mystery Magazine) and I agree it’s top notch. « Red Wine » in particular is a gem. He definitely deserves to be rediscovered.

      J’aime

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