The Imaginary Bookshop 1934

Walking Library 1930s

For my 200th post, we’ll be traveling all the way back to 1934. Despite (or perhaps because of) the Depression, this was a banner year for mystery fiction that would see the publication of many future classics, most notably Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers, The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain, The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett, and Fer-de-Lance, the debut of Rex Stout’s iconic detective Nero Wolfe.

Orient Express is only one of three novels Christie published in 1934—one of which, Three Act Tragedy, actually appeared in the United States prior to its UK publication in 1935. (The UK got its revenge this same year, as Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? made its debut there well before American readers got their hands on it.) Since the covers below are American editions, representing what a reader like me might be able to find in their local bookstore that year, it becomes especially obvious how many titles were changed for the US market during this time.

The year’s other prolific authors include John Dickson Carr/Carter Dickson, who produced three books under two different names; Erle Stanley Gardner’s three Perry Mason novels; and grand champion John Rhode/Miles Burton with four. Not all of these titles are pictured below due to their repetitive cover designs, but they would certainly have tempted any discerning book buyer of 1934.

  • Death of a Ghost by Margery Allingham
  • Out Went the Taper by R. C. Ashby

Death of a Ghost by Margery AllinghamOut Went the Taper by R C Ashby

  • Mr. Pidgeon’s Island by Anthony Berkeley
  • Plan XVI by Douglas G. Browne

Mr Pidgeon's Island by Anthony BerkeleyPlan XVI By Douglas G Browne

  • The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain
  • The Eight of Swords by John Dickson Carr

The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M CainThe Eight of Swords by John Dickson Carr

  • Mr. Parker Pyne, Detective (aka Parker Pyne Investigates) by Agatha Christie
  • Murder in the Calais Coach (aka Murder on the Orient Express) by Agatha Christie

Mr Parker Pyne Detective by Agatha ChristieMurder in the Calais Coach by Agatha Christie

  • Murder in Three Acts (aka Three-Act Tragedy) by Agatha Christie
  • Death in the Quarry by G. D. H. and Margaret Cole

Murder in Three Acts by Agatha ChristieDeath in the Quarry by G D H and Margaret Cole

  • End of an Ancient Mariner by G. D. H. and Margaret Cole
  • The Brandon Case (aka The Ha-Ha Case) by J. J. Connington

End of an Ancient Mariner by G D H and Margaret ColeThe Brandon Case (The Ha-Ha Case) by J J Connington

  • Wilful and Premeditated (aka The 12.30 from Croydon) by Freeman Wills Crofts
  • The Plague Court Murders by Carter Dickson

Wilful and Premeditated by Freeman Wills CroftsThe Plague Court Murders by Carter Dickson

  • The White Priory Murders by Carter Dickson
  • The Cat Screams by Todd Downing

The White Priory Murders by Carter DicksonThe Cat Screams by Todd Downing

  • The Cases of Susan Dare by Mignon G. Eberhart
  • Sinister Inn by J. Jefferson Farjeon

The Cases of Susan Dare by Mignon G EberhartSinister Inn by J Jefferson Farjeon

  • For the Defense: Dr. Thorndyke by R. Austin Freeman
  • Mr. Pinkerton Goes to Scotland Yard by David Frome

For the Defense Dr Thorndyke by R Austin FreemanMr Pinkerton Goes to Scotland Yard by David Frome

  • The Case of the Lucky Legs by Erle Stanley Gardner
  • The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett

The Case of the Lucky Legs by Erle Stanley GardnerThe Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett

  • The Hand of the Chimpanzee by Robert Hare
  • The Murder of My Aunt by Richard Hull

The Hand of the Chimpanzee by Robert HareThe Murder of My Aunt by Richard Hull

  • The Lesser Antilles Case by Rufus King
  • Settled Out of Court by Ronald Knox

The Lesser Antilles Case by Rufus KingSettled Out of Court by Ronald Knox

  • Still Dead by Ronald Knox
  • The Manuscript Murder by George Limnelius

Still Dead by Ronald KnoxThe Manuscript Murder by George Limnelius

  • The Greenwell Mystery by E. C. R. Lorac
  • The Chianti Flask by Marie Belloc Lowndes

The Greenwell Mystery by E C R LoracThe Chianti Flask by Marie Belloc Lowndes

  • The Clue of the Dead Goldfish by Victor MacClure
  • Give Me Death by Isabel Briggs Myers

The Clue of the Dead Goldfish by Victor MacClureGive Me Death by Isabel Briggs Myers

  • The Puzzle of the Silver Persian by Stuart Palmer
  • The Divorce Court Murder by Milton Propper

The Puzzle of the Silver Persian by Stuart PalmerThe Divorce Court Murder by Milton Propper

  • The Adventures of Ellery Queen by Ellery Queen
  • The Chinese Orange Mystery by Ellery Queen

The Adventures of Ellery Queen by Ellery QueenThe Chinese Orange Mystery by Ellery Queen

  • Poison for One by John Rhode
  • The Robthorne Mystery by John Rhode

Poison for One by John RhodeThe Robthorne Mystery by John Rhode

  • The State vs. Elinor Norton by Mary Roberts Rinehart
  • The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers

The State vs Elinor Norton by Mary Roberts RinehartThe Nine Tailors by Dorothy L Sayers

  • Fer-de-Lance by Rex Stout
  • For the Hangman by John Stephen Strange

Fer-de-Lance by Rex StoutFor the Hangman by John Stephen Strange

  • The Talking Sparrow Murders by Darwin L. Teilhet
  • Richardson’s Second Case by Basil Thomson

The Talking Sparrow Murders by Darwin L TeilhetRichardson's Second Case by Basil Thomson

  • Criss-Cross by Don Tracy
  • The Casino Murder Case by S. S. Van Dine

Criss-Cross by Don TracyThe Casino Murder Case by S S Van Dine

  • The Visiting Villain by Carolyn Wells
  • Fear by Night by Patricia Wentworth

The Visiting Villain by Carolyn WellsFear by Night by Patricia Wentworth

  • The Case of the Gold Coins by Anthony Wynne
  • Death of a Banker by Anthony Wynne

The Case of the Gold Coins by Anthony WynneDeath of a Banker by Anthony Wynne

There were also quite a few notable titles that, as far as I can tell, were UK-only releases that year—including a number of future British Library Crime Classics.

  • The Case of the 100% Alibis by Christopher Bush
  • Insoluble by Francis Everton

The Case of the One Hundred Percent Alibis by Christopher BushInsoluble by Francis Everton

  • Death at Broadcasting House by Val Gielgud and Holt Marvell
  • The Unfinished Clue by Georgette Heyer

Death at Broadcasting House by Val Gielgud and Holt MarvellThe Unfinished Clue by Georgette Heyer

  • Murder at the Bookstall by Henry Holt
  • Obelists En Route by C. Daly King

Murder at the Bookstall by Henry HoltObelists En Route by C Daly King

  • A Man Lay Dead by Ngaio Marsh
  • Henbane by Catherine Meadows

A Man Lay Dead by Ngaio MarshHenbane by Catherine Meadows (UK)

  • Quick Curtain by Alan Melville
  • Scarweather by Anthony Rolls

Quick Curtain by Alan MelvilleScarweather by Anthony Rolls

  • Death of an Airman by Christopher St. John Sprigg
  • Constable Guard Thyself by Henry Wade

Death of an Airman by Christopher St John SpriggConstable Guard Thyself by Henry Wade

It’s honestly mind-boggling how many great books were published in this single year. With summer, and therefore the 20 Books of Summer reading challenge, just around the corner, my plan is to immerse myself in 1934 reading. The only question is which twenty to choose…


28 thoughts on “The Imaginary Bookshop 1934

  1. Happy 200th! Thanks for all the great posts and for this delightful collection of gorgeous covers. I wouldn’t be able to choose a mere twenty out of this list if I tried!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Many thanks! It will be a challenge for sure, but something tells me that I might not be stopping at twenty. And congratulations on your excellent podcasting performance over at The Invisible Event! Quarantine reading is certainly a topic near and dear to everyone’s hearts right now, and it’s a pleasure to listen to such a knowledgable and wide-ranging conversation.

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  2. Some superb covers – The Manuscript Murders is a particularly fine one!
    I would strongly recommend The Postman Always Rings Twice. A classic title that makes for a really quick read.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Manuscript Murders is one I wish I had for real–any book that includes all those characters must be interesting.

      Postman I do have, and it’s on my TBR list for sure. Summer is the best time for hardboiled noir!

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  3. What a wonderful post to celebrate your 200th posting. So many titles and even authors I have never heard of. Among the lesser-known titles, I recommend STILL DEAD and THE CHIANTI FLASK. SINISTER INN, on the other hand, is highly avoidable😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good to know Sinister Inn isn’t worth tracking down. My local university library does have The Chianti Flask and Still Dead in their rare books collection, so that’s something to look forward to when (if?) it reopens.

      Speaking of Ronald Knox, I have to wonder if it was that machine gun on the cover of Settled Out of Court that first started him wondering whether writing detective stories was really appropriate for a clergyman. It is quite menacing!

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      1. Looks like I missed that Settled Out of Court is actually the American title of The Body in the Silo, so luckily there are ebook and audiobook versions out there under that title.

        Here is one of several theories about the Secret Six put forward by the Harry Stephen Keeler Society website: “According to a newsgroup posting, ‘they were a secret group of wealthy businessmen who worked behind the scenes against Capone, letting Elliot Ness and his Untouchables take the headlines.'” That sounds like a story in itself…

        Liked by 1 person

    1. After 200 posts, it’s about time for a change of pace! I did this for my 100th as well, with 1946 as the year, but didn’t follow through on actually reading very many of the books. Hopefully I can do better with this batch, because there are some tempting titles among them.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This is a fantastic post. I love book covers and I wish I could travel back to that book shop. I had forgotten that Fer-de-Lance was published in 1934. And The Thin Man! Happy 200th post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Same–if I really could visit that shop in 1934, I’d bankrupt myself buying books. So no different from the present day, really! It’s amazing to realize how many straight-up classics, and especially debuts of future greats like Rex Stout, were published during just this one year. I wonder if readers of the time realized it?

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  5. Congratulations on reaching 200 posts!
    I always like seeing how many I have already read, a sort of challenge-to-self. I didn’t do too bad, I managed 17 with your list. The BL reprints have certainly helped in that regard. I look forward to seeing which you pick for the 20 reads of summer.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve read 15, so not too bad (though Heyer’s The Unfinished Clue probably shouldn’t count, since it made no impression whatsoever). Only two of those have been reviewed, though, so it’ll still be a tough choice to narrow down to twenty. A few extras might have to sneak in there!

      It is interesting to see how many British Library titles came from this same year. There are even two more 1934 BL books as well that were not included here, Weekend at Thrackley by Alan Melville and Portrait of a Murderer by Anne Meredith. I couldn’t find a first edition cover image for the former, and the latter is just that boring Gollancz yellow dust jacket. Just goes to show what a superior year this was for crime fiction.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Happy 200th! Much love for all of those beautiful covers. According to The Times Literary Supplement and The NY Times Book Review, any of these (brand new) cost 7s 6d and $2 respectively, so you would only be spending 4£11s or $124 for the who collection. We’ll just pretend that there is no such thing as inflation (£1100/$1200) and seller markup😳.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. At those prices, sign me up! Though it also looks like minimum wage in the United States was $12 a week in 1934, so $2 for a book would put quite a bite into that. No wonder inexpensive paperbacks were such a revolution.

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  7. What a lot of work has gone into this column. That you, immensely , for all the writing and all the gorgeous book covers. It’s almost like being there. I’m suspecting that many of have been born out of our proper time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, it was a lot of fun to do! In some ways it would be a lot of fun to live in 1934, though obviously these were challenging times as well. It’s also a nice reminder that no matter what is going on in the world, people are always creating art for others to enjoy or find comfort in.

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