A little while ago, via TomCat over at Beneath the Stains of Time, I learned to my immense sadness that the Rue Morgue Press has officially shut down and will no longer be publishing books. If you don’t know RMP, then you’ve been missing out: set up by Tom and Enid Schantz, they have kept in print the kinds of classic detective novels that give the Golden Age such a deserved reputation while big-hitters like Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers hog all the limelight. The cessation of their endeavours is a tremendous loss, and what follows is an attempt to explain what they’ve meant to me as a reader for several years now.
Dear Tom Schantz,
I have been reading classic crime novels for something like the last 16 years. I started with the entry-level drug that is Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and worked my way steadily through her books for a few years before branching out. Eventually I discovered The Hollow Man by John Dickson Carr, which I hated and gave up on before realising how amazing it was and burning through it in less than a day. Suddenly, I had a new obsession: the acquisition of more Carr.
Except that he was almost completely out of print. All I could find available was a seemingly-random selection of five of his books published by a non-mainstream publisher I’d never heard of and so, with no other option, I bought the available trade paperbacks of The Case of the Constant Suicides and The Judas Window to tide me over until something more reliable came up. When they arrived, well, they looked like real books and the pages weren’t falling out, so my expectations had already been exceeded (I was something of a pillock back then, you realise). Opening them, I saw that each contained a three-page introduction to Carr and his works that sketched out the main details in light and easy prose without spoiling anything as many introductions tend to, and I was actually pretty charmed by the effort that must have gone into that facet of the publication. Score one for this slightly-less-suspect tiny publisher.
The books were, of course, fantastic, and so I went back and bought Hag’s Nook, The Peacock Feather Murders, and The Crooked Hinge and was finally away with my new sickness: other Golden Age authors seemed pretty good as well. Maybe I should abandon my pursuit of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett and start reading this stuff that I actually enjoyed instead of that stuff that I felt like I should enjoy. And, hey, maybe a good place to start would be with this publisher, perhaps they’ve put out some other stuff by authors I might enjoy.
So began not just my long association with Rue Morgue Press but also the fixation that will doubtless remain for what remains of my life: high-quality Golden Age detective novels. Some research of your catalogue revealed good things being said about Kelley Roos. I bought The Frightened Stiff on account of its hinted semi-impossibility and, less than halfway through, bought the remaining three on your catalogue (the non-publication of There Was a Crooked Man as promised for so long on the RMP website is going to hurt for a long time…!). It was a delight to realise that the charming introductions were part and parcel of every book that Rue Morgue put out, and suddenly I became swept up in whatever other hidden gems you may have to offer.
It was the Roos books that convinced me that something must be worth reading purely because it had been published by Rue Morgue: the Little Sisters, Glynn Carr, Craig Rice, Michael Gilbert, Clyde B. Clason, Dorothy Bowers, Catherine Aird, Pamela Branch…all followed in due course, providing many hours of utter delight that I would have otherwise missed entirely but for the efforts of yourself and Enid in bringing these books to public awareness and ensuring they were available in good editions at sensible prices. This seemed almost treasonous given my experience of trying to track down GA authors – surely you should have been charging like a wounded bull for the most battered and ill-treated versions going, and your desire to seem to actually want to get these books into the hands of readers was like a breath of fresh air.
I had just assumed that we would keep doing this for years: you’d find them and publish them, I’d read and enjoy them. Juanita Sheridan, DeLano Ames, and Eilis Dillon have recently been commended to me, I still have several Little books to read, and – dammit! – you were going to keep me in Kelley Roos until they ran out and I was able to go back and read them all again. I even harboured the secret hope that you’d acquire the rights to some more (JD)Carrs, and that you’d unearth some other long-forgotten gems and send them my way with typically-excellent introductions to quell my questioning heart at who in the hell this author was and what else have they done and how soon can I read it.
But that’s not going to happen now. And given the immense loss that you must feel at the collapsing of an endeavour you have poured so many years of your life into, it feels remarkably petty for me to talk of my own sadness. Nevertheless, I am sad at the loss of the Rue Morgue Press in a way that this will never be able to accurately convey. Oh, I know plenty of other small publishers have since sprung up now that Golden Age mysteries have become somewhat de rigueur, and so there’s untold scope for lost classics to be rediscovered, but that’s something akin to the “plenty more fish in the sea” platitude that follows the ending of a relationship. Rue Morgue was there at the start, you are about as responsible as it gets for the direction my reading has taken these last ten or so years, you have taken up hours of my time and quantities of my bank account that I could not have more willingly given, and I am grateful in so many ways.
So, thank-you. From the bottom of my heart to the very top of my bookshelves, thank-you for all your work, your time, your lost evenings and weekends, your late nights, your strained eyes and frustrated plans, your cover art discussions, your contractual negotiations, and your obvious love and support of a past-time that so many of us around the world have had enriched by everything you have done under the guise of Rue Morgue Press. It seems so horribly unfair that something undertaken with such good intentions and such superb results can come to an end as this has, but know that while it lasted it provided joy on a scale that will be beyond the achievements of most people in this world.
For the Christmas that has just passed, I received 12 classic mystery novels, seven of which were published by Rue Morgue Press. A quick glance at my shelves reveals around 40 books that Rue Morgue have put out and, provided they don’t disappear too quickly, that number will increase in the coming months. I will continue to reread them, to blog about them, to tell people about them, and so many others will continue to do this for years and years to come. You have achieved something extremely special, and I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t be grateful for what you have enabled us to experience.
So thank-you once more. You will be missed, but never missing. As corny as it sounds, what you have done in this life will live on through the people who have been able to share in it. And I am so phenomenally grateful to have been a part of that.