Bibliomysteries—Educating Readers in a Fun Way

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By Libby Ware and Charlene Ball, aka Lily Charles

A bibliomystery is a mystery where books are involved. The stories can take place in bookstores, libraries, auctions, or old houses, and can involve books, manuscripts, or scrolls. Some bibliomysteries center on books while others have a bookish setting only. Some are centered on murder, others on researching a paper trail regarding an author or manuscript.

We both love reading mysteries and especially bibliomysteries. Her are some of our favorites:

  • Possession, by A. S. Byatt, involves literary research by two twentieth century scholars who are trying to uncover the truth about a nineteenth century British poet.
  • The Bookman’s Tale; First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen; and The Lost Book of the Grail, by Charlie Lovett, are mysteries involving manuscripts. Their protagonists are researchers or booksellers.
  • The Cliff Janeway series by John Dunning stars an ex-police officer who opens a used bookstore. The first is Booked to Die. Each book features a valuable book or books and Cliff Janeway’s search for the book and the culprit.
  • Camino Island, by John Grisham, is about theft from the Princeton Rare Books Library and an antiquarian book dealer in Florida. Grisham has written a follow-up book, Camino Winds, which will be published this year.
  • The Booktown Mystery series by Lorna Barrett is set in a booktown in New Hampshire. Tricia Miles owns Haven’t Got a Clue, a mystery bookshop, and has a habit of finding dead bodies.
  • The Secret, Book, and Scone Society series by Ellery Adams features Nora Pennington, who owns a bookstore in a small North Carolina village. She uses books as therapy by picking out books that her customers will benefit from. (Ellery Adams has also written other series, for example, the Books on Bay series.)

When we told a bookseller friend that we were writing a bibliomystery, she got excited and said, “My favorite part of bibliomysteries is that I learn something.” In our Molly and Emma Bookseller series, we concentrate on one category of books in each novel. Murder at the Estate Sale is about a secret occult library and a missing 17th century manuscript of magic spells. We are currently working on Murder at the Book Fair, which will focus on Children’s and Illustrated Classics.

Molly and Emma are antiquarian book dealers, and since they frequently travel to book fairs to sell their wares, each book will take place in a different setting. Emma is newer to the bookselling world so Molly serves as a sort of mentor to her, so that readers can learn about the arcane world of antiquarian bookselling through their conversations.

We want to introduce our readers in a fun way to the world of bookselling and to different types of collectible books. In Murder at the Estate Sale, for example, right under each chapter title is a brief bookseller’s description of a different collectible occult book. We got the idea from Lea Wait and her Antique Print mystery series in which she has a description of a collectible print under each chapter title.

We hope that, as our readers pursue murders, kidnappings, thefts, and chasing unsavory characters, they will also have fun learning about rare book dealers, manuscripts, book fairs, and the fascinating world of vintage books.

 

Charlene Ball and Libby Ware. Photographer Amy Gibbons

Lily Charles is the pen name of Charlene Ball and Libby Ware. Under the name Toadlily Books, they sell antiquarian and collectible books. Charlene and Libby married in 2016 and live about a mile from each other in Atlanta. Find them at lilycharles.com

Charlene Ball is also the author of DARK LADY: A NOVEL OF EMILIA BASSANO LANYER (She Writes Press, 2017), winner of the Sarton Award from Story Circle. She has published short stories and articles in academic and literary journals. Until 2009, she worked as a college administrator and instructor.

Libby Ware is a member of Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America and president of Georgia Antiquarian Booksellers Association. She is a fellow of The Hambidge Center for Creative Arts and Sciences. Her debut novel, LUM, won the American Library Association’s Stonewall Honor Book in Literature, a gold medal by the Independent Publishers Association, and was a finalist for Lambda Literary’s Debut Novel Award.

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