Help my lady find out whodunnit
March 6, 2007 11:31 PM   Subscribe

Where does one to get desperately out-of-print books?

After seeing the BBC's version of The Mrs. Bradley Mysteries (based on the books by Gladys Mitchell), my fiancee has decided that she must read them in their entirety. We expected this to be a time-consuming but not difficult goal as she wrote 66 of them. Alas, her books have, for the most part, gone painfully out of print.

There are a few of her books available through Amazon and a few more through Alibris. But this is far from the complete collection and many of them are nicely preserved hardbacks that cost a pretty penny.

So my question is what would be the best way to try and find an out-of-print book and not go broke in the process? I'm not looking for quality collectables or anything, an absurdly beat-up paperback that was missing the cover would suit me just fine.
posted by jaybeans to Media & Arts (19 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
posted by lee at 11:34 PM on March 6, 2007

abebooks – or has she tried a library? I've read one or two Gladys Mitchell mysteries and they're not the sort of thing one's likely to feel compelled to read twice.
posted by zadcat at 12:02 AM on March 7, 2007 seems to have a few. They have a boolean search, which would be useful in avoiding duplicates & items you have.
posted by Pronoiac at 12:02 AM on March 7, 2007

Curse you zadcat!

(and following that lead: inter-library loans are great.)
posted by Pronoiac at 12:05 AM on March 7, 2007

I worked for a special collections library for a bit in high school and one of the tasks I did was assign values to lots of donated books, for tax purposes. These were ancient Big Little books and the like (the library was of children's books, so that made sense - in any case, waaaay out of print and only four copies in existence, etc) and the valuations I did were based entirely upon searching abebooks and addall and taking the means of the prices I found.

So, what I'm saying is the librarians I worked with didn't know a better way to find rare books.

However, I think your best bet is to somehow become affiliated with a nearby university that has a library you can exploit. 66 books is a lot to buy. It looks like you're in California; if you can figure out any way to construe yourself as having a UC library card, they do ILL like crazy and it's pretty much the world of literature at your fingertips.
posted by crinklebat at 12:17 AM on March 7, 2007

My old junior college was on WorldCat, perhaps one by you will be, too. WorldCat is hands down the most comprehensive resource for libraries.

Purchasing-wise, there's also Alibris, Strand, and Powells (you'll likely find sellers cross-posting across 'em).
posted by hobbes at 12:59 AM on March 7, 2007

It looks like there's a quite a few used copies of her books on Might be a good source for what you can't find stateside. Unfortunately, they all seem to be a little expensive 15-20 GBP minimum and not all sellers will ship internationally (but most will).
posted by timelord at 1:03 AM on March 7, 2007

GEMM also has a used book section, although it's not as extensive as their music listings and you'll doubtlessly find overlaps with ABE/Alibris/etc.

I've been very happy ordering from Powell's in the past, and you can set up notifications for books you're hunting for...very handy.
posted by Smilla's Sense of Snark at 1:08 AM on March 7, 2007

Just throwing my vote in for Powell's. My father found the first book I ever read. He put a request for it up and a couple years later he got an email. It was one of teh sweetest presents ever.
posted by nadawi at 2:45 AM on March 7, 2007

I've been collecting Gladys Mitchell's books for many years, and I can confirm that they are extremely hard to find. For example, I've never seen a copy of Printer's Error (1939) for sale -- and I've been looking for more than ten years. Moreover, there are some very determined collectors out there (not just me), and I have known copies of some of the rarer novels disappear from ABE within a few hours of being posted there.

It has to be said, however, that many of the novels are pretty dreadful. The early ones (Speedy Death, The Longer Bodies, etc) are very poorly constructed, with a lot of loose ends in the plot; while the later ones (after about 1970, by which time she was cranking out a book a year) are very formulaic. She's one of the most inconsistent novelists I've ever read: at her best, brilliant; at her worst, almost unreadable. So you have to be selective.

The best of the books, in my view, are the following:

St Peter's Finger (1938)
When Last I Died (1941)
Laurels Are Poison (1942)
The Rising of the Moon (1945)
Tom Brown's Body (1949)
Faintley Speaking (1954)

Most of these are fairly easy to find in paperback reprints (though first editions will cost you a lot of money). Where possible, I try to buy the Penguin editions from the 1950s and 1960s (in their green crime series), which have the right period flavour. With luck it is sometimes possible to pick up early hardback editions at a reasonable price.

Be warned, however, that if your knowledge of Gladys Mitchell is based on the BBC series, you may be shocked by some of these novels, which are very dark in tone. (St Peter's Finger is about a child murderer; The Rising of the Moon is about a serial killer.) Before getting into the novels, you might want to read Philip Larkin's essay The Great Gladys, which gives a very judicious and sympathetic account of them, not overlooking some of their weaknesses.
posted by verstegan at 3:05 AM on March 7, 2007 [3 favorites]
posted by kmennie at 4:49 AM on March 7, 2007

Also, try, which compiles listings from Amazon, alibris, abebooks and other online sites.
posted by Talvalin at 7:08 AM on March 7, 2007

If you get desperate (this may be more useful for verstegan, perhaps) there's Baggins which is apparently famous for being able to track down hard-to-find and out-of-print books. They will search for free, but the books themselves tend to be quite pricey, and I don't know if they ship outside the UK (though I would imagine they would).
posted by corvine at 8:31 AM on March 7, 2007
posted by SMELLSLIKEFUN at 9:28 AM on March 7, 2007

I don't know where you are but there is a used book shop that specializes in mysteries called Uncle Edgar's in Minneapolis. The staff at their sister science fiction shop have been very useful to me in the past. I imagine there are similar shops in other larger metros.

My own experience (as someone who as bought a fair number of OOP books for the sake of reading rather than collectibility is that a knowledgeable used book purveyor can often track down things the internet fails at. Though I've never discussed it with anyone knowledgeable, my suspicion is that since digitizing book info (particularly older books that lack bar codes) is labor intensive and books are heavy, making their mail order margins slim, there is probably a lot of digitally uncatalogued, not online-available stock out there. Look into your local listings and make some calls.
posted by nanojath at 9:53 AM on March 7, 2007

AllBookStores lists 52 titles by Mitchell.
posted by Infinite Jest at 4:02 PM on March 7, 2007

2nd Bookfinder; I use it all the time; it's easy and thorough and supercedes a bunch of individual sites like, amazon, etc.
posted by mediareport at 8:42 PM on March 7, 2007

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