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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 are not individually dated. The primary source of dating information 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, the 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 arbitrary, based on the original publication dates of the novels included in each volume.

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, ..."