Douglas Greene, übereditor and biographer, runs that fine publishing house known as Crippen & Landru. C & L specializes in reprinting crime fiction short stories, plays, and scripts in high-quality first editions, thereby preserving some of the most ephemeral and unjustly forgotten mystery productions for posterity.
Think of Arthur Conan Doyle and his creation Sherlock Holmes: If Doyle hadn’t had his Strand short fiction collected under hardcover, it’s possible the world might never have heard of Sherlock, much less clasped him to its collective bosom as a cherished — if entirely fictional — popular culture figure. (Indeed, I’ve read that some people actually think of Holmes as a real person and even now attempt to engage him professionally.)
If you’re a mystery aficionado and recognize, as most knowledgeable readers do, that some of the best examples of that genre have appeared in the shorter form, then you can’t help but appreciate the fine work Crippen & Landru does. In this economy especially, C & L deserves your attention and support.
Q: First, let’s briefly discuss origins. How did Crippen & Landru begin and evolve?
A: C & L happened because I live the mystery short story, and the large commercial presses shy way from publishing short story collections. Back in the early 1990s, my brother and I sold our large Wizard of Oz collection at auction to pay for our children’s college education, and with the amount left over my wife Sandi and I founded Crippen & Landru — named after two early 20th century murderers (though not everyone gets the reference — we have people calling and asking to speak to “Mr. Landru” or “Ms. Crippen”). Our first book in 1994 was an 8-part John Dickson Carr radio play, Speak of the Devil, followed by Marcia Muller’s The McCone Files — which remains one of our best sellers. In the last 16 years we have published more than 90 short story volumes in two different series. Our Regular Series is made up primarily of living authors, and each book is published in two different forms — trade softcover, and signed, numbered clothbound with an additional story in a separate pamphlet. The other series is our Lost Classics — 30 volumes now — uncollected stories by great authors of the past.
Q: The American Culture weblog concerns itself primarily with issues dealing with America’s way of life. If you were asked to, how would you relate what you do at Crippen & Landru to the American culture?
A: I think that popular literature reflects the time and the age far more accurately than highbrow literature. Whether Westerns, or romances, or (in our case) detective stories, such works sell because they appeal to the fears, hopes, fantasies of “everyman.”
Q: Could you tell us how you go about locating the stories you republish and how a typical book comes to see the light of day?
A: For the Regular Series, sometimes authors or their agents approach us; for the Lost Classics the process is more elaborate. We find the stories in crumbling pages of old pulp and slick magazines or in newspapers. For our forthcoming collection by Michael Innes, Appleby Talks About Crime, we collected 18 stories from The London Evening Standard of the 1950s.
Q: Do you have any projects in the works that you would like to tell us about?
A: We are almost ready to go to press with a book by William Link, who with his partner Richard Levinson, created many of the greatest mystery series on televison — Murder, She Wrote, Ellery Queen, Mannix, Columbo, and others. For The Columbo Collection, Bill Link has written 14 original stories about the great Peter Falk character.
For The Lost Classics, we are beginning work on the third volume of our Erle Stanley Gardner series, The Exploits of the Patent Leather Kid — stories from the pulps of the early 1930s.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to say that we haven’t already discussed?
A: Ever since Poe and Doyle, the short story has been the purest form of detective fiction, and I’m proud that Crippen & Landru is carrying on the tradition.