Does Crime Pay?

Does Crime Pay?

Tuesday, 28 April, 2020

Crime fiction is now officially the most popular book genre. In 2017 18.7 million crime fiction books were sold - which represents 30 - 40% of the total book market and is the biggest selling genre. Comprising mystery, thrillers, suspense and whodunnits it covers a range of storytelling.

It became obvious to publishers in the early 20th Century that a series of novels based on one character created a demand for successive publications and later they found these stories could be turned into television series which, in turn, created a further demand for the books. The sale of Agatha Christie novels was boosted by David Suchet’s portrayal of Hercule Poirot, then we had Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse, Peter Robinson’s DCI Banks, Ann Cleeves’ Vera Stanhope - to name only a few.

So, is there any monetary value in crime novels? Well, people are generally not wanting to collect ‘stuff’ like they used to and many prefer e-books to cluttering up their home with physical copies, but there is a market for rare first editions which goes up and down and is difficult to predict.

Which are the crime novels that currently sell well at auction? Ian Fleming’s James Bond first editions continue to command high prices. The first one, ‘Casino Royale’, reaches at least £16,000 and near perfect copies are being offered by dealers for as much as £60,000.

A book with a James Bond association is ‘The Mask of Dimitrios’ by Eric Ambler. Originally published in 1939, it can be seen being read by James Bond in ‘From Russia With Love’. Now quite rare, a first edition in a chipped dust jacket sold in auction in 2006 for £2,900 and one is currently being offered for sale at £6,750.

A classic book described as the first modern spy thriller is ‘The Riddle of the Sands’ by Erskine Childers. It was first published in 1903 and is regularly seen in Top 100 Book Lists. It has not been seen in its original dustjacket for many years, but unjacketed copies occasionally come up in auction. A copy in very good condition sold via our Wolverhampton sale room for £2,100.

Agatha Christie’s first editions continue to be highly prized but are difficult to spot. Many were first published by Collins Crime Club and are sometimes dismissed, as Book Club versions of novels are usually worthless. Her first Hercule Poirot novel was ‘The Mysterious Affair at Styles’ published in 1920. It now cannot be found with a dustjacket and, if one turned up, it would fetch thousands.

To show the difference a dust jacket makes the 1928 first edition of Christie’s ‘The Mystery of the Blue Train’ can be bought without a dustjacket for £300 – however, there is one currently for sale in original dust jacket for £38,500!

So, if clearing a relative’s loft or getting rid of the books that have sat on the bookcases for years it is wise to get them checked out before consigning to the charity shop or the tip!

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