Michael L. Cook’s Mystery, Detective, and Espionage Magazines

mlcook_colorAdmittedly, the number of reference volumes on my bookshelves
is modest. Nonetheless, Michael L. Cook’s Mystery, Detective, and Espionage Magazines is the most essential, complete and informative book on its topic that I’ve encountered. Its 1983 publishing date is its only real drawback. Until recently, most of the action in genre fiction magazines occurred on newsstands prior to 1983. But with the rise of self-publishing/online distribution, change is rapid and every year dates a reference volume like this one.

Cook explains in his Preface the why and wherefore of the book. Since escapist literature—mystery, detective and espionage in particular—is a preferred reading choice of the general public, Cook advocates it’s an important resource to understand the attitudes and morals of the people who read it, within the context of the era in which it was published.

“There can be no claim made for completeness, although coverage of magazines published in the United States, England and Canada is fairly complete. Magazines included here are of both the professional and amateur categories, and nonfiction magazines providing commentary, as well as magazines providing fiction are included.”

Defining the cutline for what’s relevant and what’s not, can be a source of controversy for researchers and collectors. Cook devotes a page and half to clarify his decisions.

Information on yesterday’s popular culture has always been held in the hands of a few and not necessarily preserved through generations. In the pre-internet world it was often difficult to find authoritative resources and impossible to provide easy access to the information gathered. Few libraries valued and preserved this aspect of popular culture. Cook provides a list of the few who were building their collections in 1983.

A work of this size and scope can only be compiled with the assistance of many experts and contributors. Cook fills a page with his acknowledgements, many names familiar to collectors and avid crime fiction readers.

In the book’s introduction, Cook provides a concise history of fiction magazines beginning with story papers and dime novels, then moving on to pulps and digest magazines. He touches briefly on key publishers, writers and characters and ends with an acknowledgement to fanzines. “Fanzines have made for themselves a significant place in the study, development, and enjoyment of popular fiction and are a vital part of it.” No wonder a few, like The Not So Private Eye, are included in his listings.

The listings make up 627 pages, arranged alphabetically by magazine title. Each entry begins with
a narrative summary of the title’s significance, highlights of its run, a contents overview, key contributors and stories of particular note. Far too many fiction magazines saw only a handful of issues and Cook sometimes speculates on the reason a title ended such as poor funding, distribution, low quality, etc.

The wide-ranging sources of information gathered for each entry is noted, encompassing other reference volumes, private collectors, libraries, articles from magazines and fanzines, etc.

The publication history includes any title changes, number of issues, publisher, editors, original price, dimensions and page count, and current status— which for most is “discontinued.”

The listings are comprehensive and I have seldom run across a title that is not represented.

As mentioned, the main section covers U.S., Canadian and UK titles, but it’s followed by a section devoted to “Overviews of Foreign Magazines” that includes entries for Australia, Denmark, France, Norway and Sweden.

“Book Clubs in Profile” provides a rare look into the history of the book clubs that advertised in many of the magazines covered in the listings. Some like the Detective Book Club experienced amazing growth—from “the humble office in 1923 that rented for $480 a year” to a 23,000 square foot office on Long Island by 1954. Book clubs covered include Ellery Queen’s Mystery, Masterpieces of Mystery Library, Mystery Guild (US and British), Mystery Library, Raven House Mysteries, Thriller (British) and Unicorn Mystery.

A: Magazines by Category provides a quick reference to check formats. Separated into three groupings for the U.S., Great Britain and Canada, magazines are grouped as Dime Novels, Pulp Magazines or Digest Size Magazines. Further divisions separate fiction from nonfiction magazines.

B: Key Writers in the Golden Age “While this list is by no means complete, either for the authors listed or for the magazines in which they were published, it will serve to identify many of the early markets for these selected writers.” A list of author pseudonyms follows.

C: Chronology provides the year in which each magazine originally appeared, beginning with 1882 (New York Detective Library) and ending with 1982 (Hamilton T. Caine’s Short Story Newsletter, Mystery News and Spiderweb). Paging through the years it’s easy to see when publishers felt most optimistic, and browsing the titles testifies how difficult it is to launch a title that lasts.

D: American True-Detective Magazines provides a partial list of magazines, noted “if for nothing more than identification, since many bear titles similar to fiction magazines.” A list of 41 titles is certainly better than nothing, but I wish it were more exhaustive and included their size. None
of the few pocket- or digest-size titles I’ve run across are included.

E: Canadian True-Detective Magazines

F: Sherlock Holmes Scion Society Periodicals “While some are of general interest to all who like Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, others are primarily of value only to their own members.”

G: Other Periodicals of Interest to the Collector Although its unlikely any of the 25 titles listed remain active, it may provide collectors new titles to seek out in secondary markets.

The final pages of Cook’s volume include a two-page Selected Bibliography, Index and seven pages of Contributors.

Mystery, Detective, and Espionage Magazines
Greenwood Press, 1983
Hardcover, 6.25” x 9.5” 800+ pages
Prices ranges from $50 to $200 in secondary markets
Available at many libraries for reference