Saturday, February 03, 2007

David Lehman

Say you want to read a novel by a prolific crime author such as Agatha Christie or John Dickson Carr, and you don't know which to read in which order, and which to avoid. Let Barzun and Taylor be your guide. Revised and enlarged several times since it was first published in 1971, A Catalogue of Crime is the single best annotated compendium of mystery and espionage literature ever assembled. There are more than 5,000 entries in this work of heroic scholarship by emeritus Columbia Prof. Jacques Barzun and Wendell Hertig Taylor, Barzun’s late partner in crime-fiction criticism of the most practical kind. The editors render their generally reliable judgments succinctly and with a suitable amount of caprice. Nicholas Blake's “Thou Shell of Death” has “complex situations and killings” and, oh yes, a “good use of snow.” The book proves once and for all that the murder mystery is, in Barzun’s words, “a highbrow enterprise, inescapably.”
— David Lehman, “Whodunnit? The four finest mystery anthologies, and one vital guide”, Opinion Journal.