I enjoy things that come in sets. It’s some sort of weakness of mine, or possibly even a mild personality disorder, that drives my near-compulsion to fill in the gaps in a collection in which I’ve taken an interest. I did it with the CBS Great Performances LPs, a chase which occupied the better part of two years. I’ve also done the same thing with several authors.
When I stumbled across references to the Heron Library of Crime series on several occasions, while researching, perhaps predictably, the crime novels of Gladys Mitchell, I was intrigued. With the exception of several abortive attempts to find her an audience in the United States, and the occasional translation into French or German, Mitchell’s books had largely been restricted to availability within the Commonwealth, and Britain specifically. So I was further intrigued to discover that, unusually, a late novel of Mitchell’s, 1978’s Mingled with Venom, had been issued as a part of the Library of Crime. Published by Edito-Service S.A., out of Geneva, Switzerland, and printed in Italy, collectively the Library of Crime is a rather odd animal. Online listings for Heron Books titles show them to have been an English-language reprint house, with series of spy novels, children’s classics, fiction, and mystery novels. Published in 1981 and 1982, the Library of Crime are sometimes difficult to identify, as only a few of the latter titles, for whatever reason, are assigned ISBNs, making them harder to locate despite appearing ten years after the ISBN was introduced to help standardise publishing.
As far as I have been able to find, there are about thirty-five titles in the series. If it weren’t for the ISBNs on a few of them, I would have suspected that they were simply some sort of English-language book club edition (book club books don’t normally get their own specific ISBNs), but that’s not the case here. So I don’t know what the story is behind them: some sort of English-language export market edition, or budget publication for the UK market? Many of them are 1970s-vintage novels, like Mitchell’s, but they come from a variety of eras. The earliest original publication that I have been able to find is A.E.W. Mason’s 1910 novel, At the Villa Rose. After that, there are a few titles from each decade, the ‘20s, the ‘30s, and so on, up to the 1970s from which the bulk of the Library derives. They appear without reference to series or order, which results in the inclusion of the first of the Peter Lovesey Inspector Cribb novels, a random Julian Symons, an equally random Jonathan Gash Lovejoy novel, a Ross MacDonald, a Michael Gilbert, a Ruth Rendell… it’s a potpourri, essentially. With, of course, the fifty-third Mrs. Bradley mystery, Mingled with Venom, thrown in for that extra touch of spice.
Physically, the books themselves are bound in a black leatherette which, on all the copies that I have seen, has discolored on the inside (plain) covers, in a uniform browning pattern from the outer edges inward, as though the outer edges were the most highly acidic. The covers remain supple despite this. They are printed with a red Library of Crime logo and author’s name, with the title in gold decorations. The paper of the book signatures, which are glued, not sewn, except where it comes into contact with the covers, remains basically bright and clear, though. Not bad, really, for thirty-five years or so of age. Each volume is unabridged, as far as I can determine, and includes a frontispiece sketch of the author.
So whether you’re looking for a specific title that isn’t otherwise readily available, or like me you have a thing about sets, consider giving the Library of Crime a look.
For those who are interested, the link will take you to a basic copy of the spreadsheet that I have assembled of titles in this series. Corrections and emendations are welcome – just let me know!