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The Detective Book Club 3-in-1 Omnibuses:


Dating Volumes published by the Detective Book Club

The Detective Book Club began issuing their volumes in April 1942. Volumes were not individually dated. The primary source of dating information, into 1983, is Michael L. Cook's Murder by Mail. Inside the Mystery Book Clubs 2nd edition, 1983. There was an earlier edition in 1979, and Cook's Detective Book Club listings first appeared in The Armchair Detective of May 1976. That list was compiled with the assistance of Theodore M. Black, then president of the club (and a descendant of the original Walter J. Black).

Cook's listing provides the month and year most of the volumes were issued. One complication is that occasionally left over print runs would be combined in perhaps random ways to produce 3-in-1's that were used for promotional volumes. The most common of these are probably those with three different Erle Stanley Gardner novels.

A second complication is that business was good enough that Black created a second club within the club, the Inner Circle, for readers who wanted more than one omnibus a month. From Cook's listing it appears that Inner Circle most commonly issued two volumes at a time, bi-monthly. Inner Circle volumes are identified by Cook (and, from Cook's authority, in this checklist) though the end of Cook's listing. There is no way, though, from the volumes themselves, to tell of a volume was a regular issue of the Detective Book Club, a special promotional volume, or issued for the members of the Inner Circle.

Cook's checklist ends with October 1983. Dating volumes that are not included in Cook's list is largely arbitrary, based on the original publication dates of the novels included in each volume. There are a few cases where an issue date can be identified by a passing comment in a book review - for example the Los Angelos Times, in an article on Barbara Seranella, mentions that her Unwanted Company was a Detective Book Club selection for May (of 2000) - one of the few confirmations that the club's existence continued into the new century.

Dating Volumes issued after October 1983

The Detective Book Club included books quite soon after publication. Because it seems like a reasonable approach, this checklist continues, after 1983, to continue to assign each volume to a specific year. If you examine any of the listings post October 1983 you should observe that each title is followed by a year in parentheses. This year is based on the date of the novel's original publication in the US. Occasionally both the UK and the US publication dates are shown, each identified. These dates are based on bookseller listings and library catalogs.

These post-1983 dates are only approximations. Lacking access to book club shipping invoices (someone probably has a stash of books in storage somewhere with a dated packing slip inserted into each volume) using the content's publication dates is at least consistant and very likely to be close to correct. If an omnibus contains volumes published in multiple years then the most recently published novel is used to assign a year to the omnibus. For example one volume assigned to 1987. with Tony Hillerman's Skinwalkers, includes 2 titles first published in 1986, and one title published in 1987.

It is extremely unlikely that any book issued in the January of a given year contained any novels that were published in that same year. We know, for example, that the volume assigned by Cook to January, 1982 contains three novels that were first published in the United States in 1981. So it is very safe to assume that from 1983 onwards, some of the volumes arbitrarily assigned to each of those years were really issued by the club in a subsequent year.

What happened to the Club in 1992-1993

The short answer is "I don't know - maybe nothing". However:

  • Based on our arbitrary methodology, only 5 volumes have been assigned to 1992 and 7 to 1993. Perhaps they had overbought in prior years. Perhaps the Inner Circle was ended, and older titles intended for that subgroup were distributed in those two years. But the three years prior have 13, 18, and 10 titles respectively, and the three years after have 13, 17 and 18 titles.
  • Place of publication was moved from Port Washington, NY (where it had moved in 1990 after decades in Roslyn) to Woodbury, NY; and the imprint was modified so that the publisher is identified simply as "The Detective Book Club", rather than "Walter J Black, Inc for the Detective Book Club". So it is not unreasonable to guess that the publisher and or book club went though some kind of transition at that time. The answer is probably buried in Publisher's Weekly.
  • Publishers Weekly, October 20, 1997, Volume 244, Issue 43 has a brief reference to " the Detective Book Club, recently resurrected by Platinum Press in Woodbury, ..."

First editions from the Detective Book Club
The Detective Book Club focused on producing collections of recent reprints of mysteries; usually novels but occasionally a pair of novellas or an anthology. But there are a few cases there a story's appearance in the Detective Book Club represents the first US Edition of a book or even the first edition period.
  • Vera Caspary's The Murder in the Stork Club from September 1946 is a Detective Book Club first edition, and only edition until Crippen and Landrau's 2009 novella collection.
  • Roy Vicker's two novellas, The Sole Survivor and The Kynsard Affair issued in August 1951 did not have a separate US printing until the Dover edition of 1983
  • Blood Will Tell by Agatha Christie was published as Mrs McGinty's Dead; the official Dodd, Mead publication date was February 1952 ( see Publisher's Weekly December 29, 1951 p.9); Cook reports the DBC issue as January 1952; of course publishers may release a book prior to its official publication date, but this may (a) make the DBC issue the "true" first edition, and (b) explain why it was given a different title. Walter J Black also issued copies bound separately; there is no print date, but there is a 1951 copyright on the verso of the title page, which leads some booksellers to offer it as a first US edition. The British edition was published in March 1952.
  • Utter Death by John Hymers,from March 1954. Published in England in 1952 by John Gifford, and by the Thriller Book Club.
  • Murder Most Familiar by Marjorie Bremner April, 1954, published only in England, by Hodder & Stoughton.
  • Murder Will Out by Roy Vickers, more Dead End stories, published only in England, by Faber. .
  • Six Murders in the Suburbs by Roy Vickers, more stories, published only in England, by by Herbert Jenkins, as Eight Murders in the Suburbs
  • Double Image (December 1955) by Roy Vickers, more stories, published only in England, by by Herbert Jenkins, as Double Image and Other Stories.
  • Murder on Trial by Michael Underwood was issued by the club for December 1957, while its official U.S. Publication date, by Ives Washburn, was February, 1958.
  • The Famous McGarry Stories by Matt Taylor had their first (and only edition ) in the June 1958 Detective Book Club issue
  • The Big Blackout by Don Tracy was first published by the Detective Book Club in June 1959. Its first regular publication was in Pocket Books #6006, April 1960.
  • The Black Gold Murders by John B. Ethan was first published by the Detective Book Club in August 1959. Its first regular publication was in Pocket Books #6013 in 1960, and described by Pocket Books as "first published by the Detective Book Club"
  • The Girl Who Wouldn't Talk by Roy Vickers. I find no editions of this; there are references to it being published in 1960, but no details are provided.
  • Columbo and the Samurai Sword. A series of original Columbo paperbacks were issued in the 1970's; this title appeared after the termination of the series - probably 1979 or later - and appears to be its only book publication.
A mis-labeled volume from 1998
The lead title in a volume from 1998 (-ish) has the wrong author on the front cover. The front lists Marian Babson as the author of A Maze of Murders. The spine and title page show (correctly) Roderic Jeffries. I discovered this from a listing by on-line bookseller Turtleman Books, who has had an extensive selection of detective book club issues for sale.
Errors or typos in Michael L. Cooks's Murder by Mail
There are a very few minor errors in Cook's fine reference to the Detective Book Club (and other book clubs) though 1983. Several are noted below. There are others; these are just noted as curiosities.