Allen J. Hubin

Hubin_Al_mid-1960s_wbook_copy_2Al Hubin has been one of the prime movers in crime fiction scholarship for almost 40 years, beginning with the founding of the now-legendary magazine The Armchair Detective. His career continued with his work as an influential anthologist and reviewer and somehow along the way he managed to produce the mammoth and definitive bibliography Crime Fiction, which lists and cross-references every mystery novel and writer from 1749 until the year 2000. The recent publication of the fourth edition marks a major milestone in a journey that started a long time ago in a basement far, far away.

We asked Al to tell us how it all came to pass...

Al Hubin, mid-1960s, examining some of the books in his large collection of crime and mystery fiction. Photo courtesy of Al Hubin.

I didn’t set out to be a bibliographer—reading and collecting mysteries were satisfying and sufficient for a couple of decades. Then life began to get complicated—and even more interesting. The Armchair Detective (TAD) emerged from my basement in 1967 because no one else was putting out a general mystery fanzine; who would have thought it would last (in other folks’ capable hands) nearly 30 years? Covering mysteries for the New York Times Book Review—unimaginable, until one day the editor Francis Brown phoned to ask me (with one professional review to my credit!) to fill in for Anthony Boucher. Even then unimaginable, though I lasted at six books a week for almost three years. Editing anthologies?—don’t give it a thought, until it’s Dutton on the phone wondering if I’d also carry on for Anthony Boucher with Best Detective Stories of the Year.

As for crime fiction bibliographies, that was no one’s province until Ordean Hagen appeared on the scene. I would have been happy to leave it in his hands, with Whodunit (1969) and a series of Hagen-generated successors, except that Ordean had the misfortune to die even before his maiden venture was published.

Even then my hands were plenty full without bibliographic work: a family (wife, four young children—later five), a full-time job as an organic chemist, TAD, the six books a week, a spiraling book collection, and reading—without help, mind you—every mystery short story published each year in the U.S. for those Dutton anthologies. I would have been out of my mind to add anything to this.

But certain deficiencies had been identified in Whodunit; corrections and additions were turning up. These could—with almost no extra labor—be accumulated in each issue of TAD.

And there the matter might have stood. However, the additions and corrections in TAD began to be rather numerous and random, and I had notions about how the information might perhaps be better organized than Ordean—librarian though he was—had chosen to do.

Where was Ordean’s successor when he was needed? Nowhere to be seen. Well, perhaps now (the six books a week having blessedly gone away) a little bibliographic endeavor could be managed. How about, say, a 20-page bibliographic supplement at the back of each TAD? Starting with the As, we might get to the end of the alphabet some day. And this would enable me to add a feature dear to my heart: identifying series characters and the books in which they appeared. Author birth/death dates (on a very modest scale) could also be introduced.

In those pre-computer years, I was of course using a typewriter. To avoid endless retypings (or the application of gallons of correcting fluid), the manuscript was created by cutting out error-free (well, mostly error free, but that’s another story) sections of typescript and assembling them on adhesive-coated plastic sheets.

Then the Mystery Library project at the University of California San Diego Extension (in La Jolla)—a John Ball brainchild—came into view. That too is really another story, except that the Library decided to publish a few original works, in addition to its raison d’etre of scholarly reprinting of mystery classics, and a book version of my serialized bibliography seemed to fit. By this time TAD had joined the Library project and we’d finished the alphabet by dint of a special mailing to subscribers of the S-Z section.

Simple, then, just send off the now-completed manuscript to the printers? Not quite. There had been no uniform cutoff date to the serialized version, so the A section was up-to-date through 1971 when published, and the Zs through 1975. And there were no indexes. Not very satisfactory.

So I decided, without fully appreciating the work that would be involved, to update the whole thing through the end of 1975. And to check every piece of data against other (primary) references.

You know about the National Union Catalog? About 600 humongous volumes. And the British Library Catalogue—more hundreds? And the Cumulative Book Index?—the early volumes almost required a forklift truck. Books in Print. Whitakers. All print resources in that pre-electronic era.

I did a few hundred—or was it thousands?—of hours at the University of Minnesota Library standing over shelves and piles of these megatomes, looking up citations. Fortunately Mike Nevins came along to give some help, and eventually the task was done.

Then all the information had to be whipped into a manuscript. Simple: just enter it all into a computer and let it sort and collate, right? Wrong. This was still the typewriter era. Somehow, by way of massive retyping, I had a manuscript. Of the author section.

But what about a title index? A brainstorm struck, and Mystery Library folks bought it. They hired my summerly-unemployed college-age son Loren to cut the titles from a photocopy of the author section, tape each cut-out title to a 3x5 card, print the author’s name on the card, and alphabetize the resulting thousands of cards. Then they hired a typist to produce a title index from the cards.

Isn’t technology wonderful??!!

I was not about to entrust my one and only copy of the author section to the mails, so I hand-carried it to La Jolla and deposited it directly in the hands of the publisher. In due course (1979) The Bibliography of Crime Fiction 1749–1975 appeared.

End of happy story, right? Again, not quite. Hardly had the presses run than the Mystery Library sank without a trace and owing me a goodly piece of change.

Bibliographic retirement loomed. But TAD had moved to Otto Penzler’s hands, after a Californian hiccup or two. The anthologies were done (for me, anyway), and I didn’t want to end on a sour note. I wondered if any solvent publisher would be interested. Perhaps a new feature (settings) could be added (more work!) to enhance interest. And perhaps authors cited in certain other reference works (like Contemporary Authors and Encyclopedia of Mystery & Detection) could be so identified, to tie the field together—another piece of additional work.

I sent an information packet to some half-dozen firms with experience in reference works. It turned out most of them wanted the bibliography, even to the point of bidding against each other for the pleasure. How much that would change in a few short years!


Left to right: In 1967 Al founded The Armchair Detective, the first mystery fanzine. (Although “fanzine” doesn’t adequately convey its significant contributions to genre scholarship.) He followed Anthony Boucher as editor of the Best Detective Stories of the Year anthology series. His first bilbliographical efforts appeared in TAD, then in book form in 1979, followed by three more editions ending with the current Crime Fiction IV: 1749-2000. Al has won two Edgars: one in 1978 for TAD and one in 1980 (far right photo) for the first version of the bibliography.

For better or worse, I selected Garland among the bidding publishers. Time to add another five years to coverage. And to figure out how to produce the manuscript.

I had by this time invested in a computer, an Apple 2 Plus. Remember them? It had about the memory of a wrist watch. And using a computer meant that everything had to be retyped! In due course, off went a manuscript. Garland cut and pasted, and the somewhat retitled (to Crime Fiction 1749–1980: A Comprehensive Bibliography) edition came out (1984).

It sold well enough that Garland was willing to carry on, so the next incarnation was a 1981–1985 supplement. I imagine by this time I’d bought computer number two, so probably the combined memories of two wrist watches were now available. To lure a few more buyers to the supplement and the main volume another new feature was added: the identification of films (by film title, studio, year, screenwriter and director) based on print works (novels or short stories) cited in either volume. And of course the supplement provided an opportunity to fix errors of omission or commission in the 1749–1980 coverage—and many had been identified, thanks to my own researches and the generous help of mystery collectors, dealers, writers and enthusiasts.

Another five years reeled by, and print reference works were starting to give way to electronic (CD-ROM) ones; for example, the print National Union Catalog for U.S. publications disappeared about this time. And the blessed Internet was starting to blossom.

Garland was willing to do one more, and the habit of adding new features was strong: how about listing the individual titles for story collections? My own collection of mysteries, some 25,000 volumes, had been sold in 1982, years before this notion surfaced, so how was this task to be accomplished? There were a few handy reference works (such as Mundell and Rausch’s The Detective Short Story: A Bibliography and Index, which alas only listed the detective stories in mixed collections), but not nearly enough for the job ahead. However, Bob Adey came to the rescue. He’d been assiduously collecting collections for years and decorating his home in England with books by the thousands. Would he help? Would he ever!

I spent several weekends with Bob, feverishly hand-copying contents pages. And Jack Adrian, a friend of Bob’s, lived near by and knew a realtor with a photocopier. The three of us spent days filling Bob’s car with books, carting them to the realtor’s office, slapping contents pages on the copier, and scribbling author/title information on the resulting images. Too bad I couldn’t always read my frantic handwriting later…

Bob sent me dozens (maybe hundreds) of other contents lists separately by mail (a process he generously continues to the present day, now using e-mail), and the work somehow all got done. Since the 1749–1980 and 1981–1985 volumes had to be merged with the 1986-1990 and story title information, I (re)typed everything (creating some fresh errors in the process), using, as I remember, computer number three. This time the manuscript went to Garland on floppy disks, and their computer guru massaged my WordStar (anyone remember that word-processing software?) text files into the final product, Crime Fiction II: A Comprehensive Bibliography 1749–1990 in two volumes (1994).

Again time passed. Garland was taken over by a European firm and lost about 150% of its interest in my bibliography, to the point of returning all rights to me. I wasn’t happy with the supplement approach tried earlier, and wanted to do a full 1749–1995 edition. But the eager suitors who’d turned up last time a new publisher was needed were nowhere to be found.

Then Bill Contento, mostly a science fiction activist and compiler of bibliographies, came on the scene. As I recall, his print publisher backed out of a contract on the grounds that Contento’s manuscript was too long, so he decided to publish it himself on CD-ROM. Thus arose Locus Press. He had an appetite to add to his product line, so we struck a deal and I went back to work. He too could handle my author files on antiquated WordStar, and he could compile all the needed indexes directly from those files: what a wonderful savings in keystrokes for me!

My standard approach over the years was to keep track of criminous works as they came out, primarily in the USand Britain, by subscribing to publishing journals and fanzines, and by spending as much time in bookstores and libraries as possible, then to check all my data against primary references as much as I could before publication. In addition, I would go through every likely published reference work, frequently page by page, looking for new information. And the stream of input from helpful users of the bibliography was bountiful and continuous.

So Crime Fiction III: A Comprehensive Bibliography 1749–1995 came out from Locus in 1999. I thought it was time to hang up my bibliographic hat as I had, in 1996, hung up my regular employment one. But the year 2000, the end of the 20th century, seemed a more fitting climax to what would be more than 30 years of bibliographic effort. Contento and Locus Press were willing to publish a CD-ROM, but I’m still a book person and wanted a print version as well. Happily, George Vanderburgh and his Battered Silicon Dispatch Box in Canada agreed to publish my last crime fiction bibliography.


Dan (left), Wendy Hubin (middle) and Loren Hubin (right) were all drafted into service on The Armchair Detective circa 1974. Loren later spent a college summer creating an author index to Bibliograpny of Crime Fiction: 1749-1975.

Crime Fiction IV seemed worth all the extra effort I could give it for completeness. With the Internet as close as my computer, these steps were added to the usual data-gathering process:

a) Searching WorldCat (the combined electronic card catalogs of thousands of libraries worldwide) on keyword bases (like mystery fiction, detective fiction, crime fiction, intrigue, suspense, etc.) year-by-year back through 1978, looking for previously unnoted crime fiction. I found a great deal of it, including self-published and locally published works.

b) Looking up thousands of books in and the US and British versions of Amazon, checking for new settings information. Tedious but productive, and this turned up some books and film adaptations that otherwise would have been missed.

c) Checking thousands of books and bylines in the US copyright register for author dates and pseudonym/real name information. Also tedious but productive.

d) Looking for (and finding) previously unnoted death dates in the Social Security Death Benefit records.

e) Checking hundreds (at least) of entries in the Library of Congress, British Library, Canadian National Library and Australian National Library sites.

f) Running Google searches on hundreds of authors about whom (or whose works) I had questions, finding answers to many directly and querying authors in other cases when e-mail addresses turned up.

g) Searching the online catalogs of the major POD publishers (like Xlibris, IUniverse and 1st Books) entry-by-entry to scoop up their hundreds of mysteries.

h) Adding all this and the further five years to the CD-ROM version was relatively easy: I sent publisher Bill Contento files (WordStar still!) of new information and he did the integration. For the print edition I had to enter everything new into the previous WordStar files for the author section as well as all indexes. Fortunately George Vanderburgh could also manipulate WordStar files, though toward the end his yeoman work on the manuscript (would you believe he turned every author name into bold type individually?!) also included a lot of data integration into my “complete” electronic typescript.

So Crime Fiction IV: A Comprehensive Bibliography 1749–2000 is done, containing author and title indexes to over 106,000 books, the contents of more than 6,600 collections, identification of over 4,500 movies. If anyone is to cover 2001 and beyond it won’t be me—and it most probably won’t be anyone. It’s been an interesting 30+ years.

Although I’ll be adding no more years to coverage, I’m still gathering additions and corrections from my own browsings in connection with a little project that’s underway, and from the most welcome continuing input from users of the bibliography. These will find a home in due course, perhaps with the output of that project. In the meantime, the highlights of new information will appear in my column Addenda to CFIV in Steve Lewis’ recently revived fanzine, Mystery*File.

As for that project, I have an interest in demonstrating statistically the trends in the mystery field over the years of the 20th century, as reflected in entries in the bibliography. The project when complete will show the number of books published by year in the US and in Britain, by form (paperback or hardcover), by content (novel, collection, play), by gender of author, and by the presence (and gender) of series character. Should be interesting—at least to me. Stay tuned.

Allen J. Hubin, Crime Fiction IV: A Comprehensive Bibliography 1749-2000. Print edition: The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, Box 204, Shelburne, Ontario, Canada L0N 1S0; five folio volumes, $400. CD-ROM edition: Locus Press, Box 13305, Oakland, CA 94661; $49.95

“So Crime Fiction 1749-2000 is done. If anyone is to cover 2001 and beyond it won’t be me. It’s been an interesting 30+ years. Although I do have another little project underway...”

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Winter Issue #83.