The Hooded Gunman (2019) by John Curran

Collins have been in the publishing game for 200 years, but for mystery lovers, they are best known for the Collins Crime Club imprint. It ran from 1930 to 1994 and was responsible for publishing numerous authors whose names have become synonymous with classic mysteries – Agatha Christie, Freeman Wills Croft, John Rhode/Miles Burton, Philp Macdonald, Ngaio Marsh, Reginald Hill… the list goes on. And on.

Now, the result of presumably years of research, John Curran has produced a tribute to Collins Crime Club. But it’s a hefty book and not a cheap one – is it worth your precious pennies?

First of all, take a look at that cover. A long, long look at that cover.

Right, if you’ve finished ogling that, back to the book itself. “Tribute” is probably the wrong word. Encyclopaedia comes closer. Having introduced the book with the history of the imprint, John proceeds to present every cover – yes, every cover – in the range. Even the early ones with just a miscellaneous number of hooded gunmen on the cover. Interspersed with these beautiful images is information about the authors and some individual titles.

It’s a fascinating archive, well worth the price of admission alone, but that’s not all. My favourite bit – odd, because I usually ignore them – is the section presenting the blurb for every title. Given that so many books from the time have long lost their dust jackets, this gives the crime collector a wealth of information that has been mostly unavailable.

On top of that, there’s information on the paperbacks, card games, crime collections…

This is a fantastic book – probably the most entertaining reference material that I’ve ever come across. A reference book that is both an easy and informative read. Anyone who can wait until Christmas, put it on your list for Santa. But, to be honest, I wouldn’t wait…

PS: One final bit – John Curran mentions that the influence of Bernard Capes’ The Mystery Of The Skeleton Key – or the book itself – is rarely lauded. Would you like to know someone who was impressed and likely inspired in part by it? One Anthony Lotherington Bathurst, as detailed in The Billiard Room Mystery by Brian Flynn, back in print in a week’s time. Just thought I’d mention that…

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