Holiday Homicide and the Dell Mapbacks

Rare Books & Manuscripts is thrilled to see you’ve made it safely into the New Year, unlike NYC real-estate tycoon Myron Jettwick who met his end aboard his yacht, the Trade Wind. It’s a good thing successful private eye Cotton Moon’s boat, Coquilla, was anchored nearby on the East River and he was free to take on the case – not for free, of course.

“A silver HAND MIRROR…

Six WATER GLASSES…

A DRESS SHIRT with a small brown stain…”

So begins the plot and clues found in the pages of Dell mapback #22, Holiday Homicide, penned by Rufus King, a prolific American author of whodunit crime novels. Collectible and campy, these Dell paperbacks are notable for the colorfully illustrated maps on the back cover. Mapbacks were published from 1943 until 1952, and included editions of novels by prominent authors, such as Agatha Christie and Dashiell Hammett. While the majority of mapbacks are murder mysteries, the series also included Romances, Westerns, Science Fiction, and numerous movie tie-in novels.

The maps are the real star, however. From floor diagrams of the scene of the crime, to countries and cities - both real and make-believe, the often highly detailed maps are a captivating gimmick. A title in our small, but growing collection even features the planet Mars, the setting for Ray Bradbury’s short story, "The Million Year Picnic." Chicago artist Ruth Belew has been credited with creating at least 150 of the 577 maps, but most likely illustrated many more. Remarkably, the map artist was never attributed in the pages of the books.

To see our Dell mapbacks or other items in our collections, make an appointment to visit Rare Books & Manuscripts at Central Library by calling 314-539-0370. We’re happy to hear from you!

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