As part of a massive clean-up effort, I grabbed a stack of Drood Reviews and headed for the recycling pile (or, recycling mountain, as it soon came to be known). I was half way there before I looked – really looked – at what I had in my hands. And realized what small treasures I was holding.
The Drood Review of Mystery began publishing in 1982 and ceased, in a rather appropriately mysterious manner, in 2005. Many of us devotees of the genre had been clinging to Drood since the demise of The Armchair Detective in 1996. Armchair was a thick, boisterous mag chock full of reviews, author interviews and profiles, media news, and more. It had lots of advertising, but because they were for mystery bookstores, small presses, and various crime fiction titles, these ads were interesting and welcome rather than noxious and disruptive, as is most often the case with that plague of modern capitalism.
Here’s what’s said about Armchair Detective on the Thrilling Detective site:
The one and only. The late and lamented. The standard by which all other non-fiction mags are judged. This quarterly was around forever (or at least since 1967). It began as a mimeographed newsletter by Allen J. Hubin, spent a few years under the sponsorship of the University of California, and eventually found a home with Otto Penzler, as part of his Mysterious Press. The journal of record for the entire genre. A bit stodgy at times, and it was usually out of date by the time it finally came out, but back issues are well worth hunting down. It’s still recommended, and it is still missed.
Drood Review was a very different kettle of fish. It was shorter and carried no advertising. And the writing, IMHO, tended to be more erudite, analytical, and elegant. Its reviewers and commentators assessed the state of the genre and mined its past for overlooked gems. They urged us to read good crime fiction that was not being widely reviewed. They attacked controversial subjects like racism and gender prejudice head-on, with verve and intelligence. They alerted us to reference works on various aspects of our favorite genre.
One of my favorite features in Drood was the yearly “Editors’ Picks.” It’s interesting to look back from the vantage point of several years on and see what was selected back then. For instance, in the May/June 2002 issue, eight novels were selected from a mind boggling nine-hundred-plus titles published that year: Final Copy by Jan Brogan, Echo Burning by Lee Child, Red Hook by Gabriel Cohen, Grandmother Spider by James D. Doss, Six-Pound Walleye by Elizabeth Gunn, Poor Tom Is Cold by Maureen Jennings, The Good German by Joseph Kanon, and The Reaper by Peter Lovesey.
I’m a great fan of Lovesey’s work, and The Reaper is a really delicious little standalone. But I really got a kick out of seeing Red Hook on this list. The annotation begins, “The setting – the Red Hook section of Brooklyn – in this first novel is as evocatively rendered as in any book we’ve read; its history is smoothly integrated into the novel, both atmospherically and plot-wise.” Here here! It took a while for the sequel to appear, but The Graving Dock has more than fulfilled the promise bodied forth in Red Hook.
For a list of “Editor’s Choice” selections from 1989 to 2000, click here.
I also found the January/February 2001 edition which covered the conclusion of Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse series. There’s a review of the final novel, The Remorseful Day (I’ve read the book but I’ve never been able to watch the film); it’s followed by an intriguing analysis of why the series enjoyed such enormous success:
“Dexter makes Morse attractive for readers by making him attractive to Lewis.Lewis provides a humanizing element, connecting Morse to us as readers. He is Sancho Panza to Morse’s Quixote, Patroclus to Morse’s Achilles….If Morse is a genius, Lewis makes him an approachable one.
From its inception to its cessation, Drood Review was edited and published by Jim Huang. One look at his bio/resume will show that he has performed yeoman service when it comes to promoting and appreciating crime fiction. Jim’s Crum Creek Press has published two of my all time favorite mystery references:
In 2003, Jim opened The Mystery Company in Indiana, just north of Indianapolis. I strongly recommend the most recent post on Jim’s blog, “The Traditional Marketplace.” A cri de coeur from an independent bookseller – and passionate book lover – trying to hang on to a modest share of the market, it is enough to make you weep.
I wonder if Jim has ever thought of putting together a collection of essays and reviews that have appeared in The Drood Review over the years. I for one would snap it up! Meanwhile, if you look at the website for the magazine, the word “hiatus” is used in a rather tantalizing way. Is there any hope for a revival, I wonder…