The Bunburyist: If You Don't Know Her, It's a Crime

Hearing the name of The Bunburyist, the fine blog run by Elizabeth Foxwell, people do one of two things: they either wrinkle their brows in puzzlement or smile in knowing pleasure. It’s a reference that tells you whether you’re in the club or not yet a member. Fortunately, though few can match Foxwell’s crime-fiction erudition—she’s the managing editor of Clues: A Journal of Detection, editor of the McFarland Companions to Mystery Fiction series, coauthor of the Robert B. Parker Companion, and winner of the George N. Dove Award for her contributions to the serious study of mystery and crime fiction—she’s no snooty sleuth. We asked her to clue us in, and she did everything but conjugate Bunbury.

A Bunburyist, as Oscar Wilde fans well know, alludes to The Importance of Being Earnest, as Algernon Moncrieff invents the invaluable permanent invalid Bunbury so he can jaunt off to the country whenever he chooses. Wilde’s works were not unacquainted with crime; An Ideal Husband revolves around blackmail, and Lord Arthur Savile in his eponymous work gets busy when a palm reader tells him that he is destined to commit murder. In my case, The Bunburyist has allowed me a jaunt of more than 5 years to advance the cause of mystery history, reinforcing my role as managing editor of the scholarly journal Clues (the only U.S. academic journal on mystery and detective fiction). The blog features online resources, reviews of neglected mystery works, mystery author birthdays, and posts about lists of the past spotlighting the best of mystery fiction—reflecting my longstanding concern with inaccurate and insufficient information on the history of the mystery genre that exists on the Internet.

Especially crucial is solid information that reaches beyond the “usual suspects” of Raymond Chandler, Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Dashiell Hammett, including attempts to answer the age-old question, “What should I read next?”. For example, the response was gratifying regarding my review of stories by Richard Marsh (best known for the supernatural tale The Beetle, 1897) that featured early female sleuth Judith Lee. I had found these stories, which had been out of print since 1916, in U.S. newspapers via the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America Project. The comment trail to the post eventually revealed that Black Coat Press had issued a new collection of the stories.

I also enjoy finding lighthearted mystery materials such as the Edgar Allan Pooh mousepad by artist Dan Pirarro, the Bob Hope-Jack Webb radio spoof of Dragnet, and a video clip of the late Soupy Sales’s hapless detective Philo Kvetch squaring off against nefarious criminal mastermind The Mask (easy to spot by the paper bag over his head).

Other areas of particular interest are regular posts on podcasts and other multimedia such as the 1958 interview on EUscreen with Leslie Charteris, creator of the Saint. Also important are library and museum exhibitions and collections that pertain to mystery fiction. As I noted in my 2008 speech “Fostering Mystery History: A Manifesto,” libraries and similar institutions need adequate funding to catalog and digitize mystery-related materials and curate exhibitions that can add immeasurably to our mystery knowledge and community. Showcasing such resources can promote appreciation for mystery works, assist librarians and researchers in finding materials valuable to their work, and lead to further support for library efforts. I wish more libraries had the resources to emulate the Room 26 Cabinet of Curiosities blog of Yale’s Beinecke Library, with its interesting items such as the scrapbooks of mystery author Carolyn Wells, or take on a project like the Westminster Library of Detective Fiction—an awe-inspiring effort by Edgar winner LeRoy Lad Panek and Mary Bendel-Simso to digitize mystery fiction in U.S. periodicals before 1891 that features an April 1846 piece by Abraham Lincoln. Exhibitions and collections featured on The Bunburyist include the University of Chicago’s recently catalogued Popular Literature Collection (with works by authors such as C. W. Grafton, the attorney father of Sue Grafton) and Monash University’s “The Body in the Library” exhibition (with a rich panorama of detective pulps and works such as The Double Frame (1958) by Time magazine cover subject Craig Rice.

Excuse me; I have a certain invalid to attend to . . . .

Stay tuned for a follow-up post about Clues!

About the Author:

Keir Graff is Executive Editor of Booklist Publications and the author of six books. His most recent is the middle-grade novel, The Phantom Tower (2018). Follow him on Twitter at @Booklist_Keir.

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