04 October 2017

The Librarian Murder Mysteries

by Robert Lopresti

Thanks for all the additions, comments, and corrections! All those received by October 6th have been added in red.  Keep them coming!

Crime-writing attracts people from many different fields, including crime-fighters and, of course, criminals.  I am working on a list of mystery writers, past and present, who happen to be librarians.  (I am limiting it to this to fiction writers with M.L.S. degrees.)

I went to the geniuses who dwell at Dorothy-L, the listgroup for fanatical mystery fans, and asked for their collective wisdom.  And boy, was I impressed with the list they came up with.  If you know of any we missed, please pass them along.

James R. Benn.   Benn served as the head of school libraries for West Hartford, CT, and then managed a private history library before going full-time into mysteries.  The history stuff might have helped him with his books about Billy Boyle, a Boston police detective who spends World War II as confidential investigator for his "Uncle Ike," Dwight D. Eisenhower.  

Jon L. Breen.  Jon is a retired reference librarian who is best known for his nonfiction, which has won him both Edgar and Anthony Awards.  His What About Murder? is a definitive (and continuing) guide to reference books in our field (it now appears in each issue of Mystery Scene Magazine).  He has written around ten novels and several collections of short stories. My favorite is Kill the Umpire!, a collection of fair-play mysteries starring Ed Gorgon, major league ump.

Barbara Cantwell.  With her husband Brian, she forms B.B. Cantwell, who writes the Portland Bookmobile mysteries.  She did work on a bookmobile in th 1980s, and now stays more in one place  at the University of Washington.

Donis Casey.  Casey has been an academic librarian in Oklahoma and Arizona.  Now she writes full-time.  Her first book was The Old Buzzard Had It Coming.

Jo Dereske.  My friend reference librarian Jo Dereske wrote a series of comic mysteries about Miss Wilhelmina Zukas, who works at the public library in a small northwestern city not unlike the one where I live.  Helma is in some ways a stereotypical librarian but she has enough quirks and spine to make her a pleasure to spend time with.  In one book the police want to know who borrowed a particular book and to protect her patron's privacy, Helma destroys the records.  Making this more interesting is  that her would-be lover is the police chief.

Amanda Flower is a librarian in Ohio.  So is her character India Hayes who works and sleuths at a college there.

Charles Goodrum.  Goodrum may have been the first librarian to write crime novels about a librarian.  Dewey Decimated (1977) and its equally pun-titled sequels centered on an institution reminiscent of the Library of Congress, where Goodrum worked for many years.

Dean James used to be a medical librarian in Houston.  Under the name Miranda James he writes the Cat in the Stacks books about a small-town Mississippi librarian.

Jayne Ann Krentz. Krentz was a school librarian in the Virgin Islands (which she considered a "disaster" of a career move), and then worked at Duke University.  She is a hugely successful author or romantic suspense and donates generously to libraries, setting up a foundation to provide money for UCSC's humanities collection, among other gifts.

Eleanor Kuhns is the assistant director at the Goshen Public Library in Orange County, New York,  She writes about Will Rees, a weaver in Colonial America.

Robert Lopresti.  Yeah, that guy.  I wrote three stories about a public librarian buit couldn't sell them.  I got some satisfaction by slipping the character into one of my stories about eccentric mob detective Uncle Victor.

Mary Jane Maffini.  How many people can boast of once being the librarian of the Brewer's Association of Canada?  Maffini can.  She authors three series with female amateur sleuths.  The most popular may be the books about professional organizer Charlotte Adams, as in The Busy Woman's Guide to Murder.

Annette Mahon.  Mahon has worked in public and academic libraries.  Now she writes novels about the St. Rose Quilting Bee. The quilters, like their author, live in Arizona.

Jenn McKinlay.  She was a librarian in Connecticut, then tried writing.  McKinlay switched from romance to mystery because "I'm just better at killing people than I am at making them fall in love."  Among her series are the Library Lovers' Mysteries.

Shari Randall.  Randall has had two short stories published.  Her first novel, Curses, Broiled Again,comes out in early 2018.

Robert F. Skinner.  Skinner was the head librarian at Xaver University in New Orleans.  He wrote a series of novels about Wesley Farrell, a nightclub owner "passing for white" during the 1930s.

Triss Stein.  Stein describes herself as a small town girl who became a children's librarian in Brooklyn.  Later she ran the library for DC Comics!  How cool is that?   She says that part of the inspiration for her books set in Brooklyn neighborhoods came from the places she worked in libraries there.

Marcia Talley.  Most of these authors worked in public, academic, or school libraries.  Talley represents another major category: special libraries.  She worked for corporations, a non-profit, and the government.  She writes about Hannah Ives, a cancer survivor now living in Annapolis.

Will Thomas.  Thomas is a librarian in Oklahoma.  His characters Barker and Llewelyn are private inquiry agents in Victorian England.

Ashley Weaver.  Weaver runs the technical services side of things at a library system in Louisiana.  Her books are set far, far away, involving an Englishwoman named Amory Ames who solves crimes with her playboy husband in stylish spots in the 1930s.

Of course, one reason there are so many librarians in mystery fiction - including ones not written by people in the field  - is that a lot of librarians are fans, and therefore potential customers.  How many?  Enough to make it worthwhile to have a Librarian's Tea every year at Bouchercon.  Next week in Toronto a lot of people in my field will gather for tea and cookies and the chance to hear some famous writers tell us how much they love libraries.  And no one will tell them to shush.


  1. Now we know what librarians do during those quiet late hours in the stacks!

    A great lineup.

  2. Rob, I'll send this article to my cousin who is a retired county librarian.

  3. Nice, informative article.
    Here's another librarian mystery writer:

    Robert F. Skinner was the head librarian at Xavier University in New Orleans.
    While he was librarian he wrote and published his Wesley Farrell crime series, and other mysteries.

    SKIN DEEP, BLOOD RED (https://www.amazon.com/Skin-Deep-Blood-Robert-Skinner/dp/157566092X/)

    CAT-EYED TROUBLE (https://www.amazon.com/Cat-Eyed-Trouble-Robert-Skinner/dp/1575662507/)

    BLOOD TO DRINK (https://www.amazon.com/Blood-Drink-Wesley-Farrell-Novels/dp/1890208337/)

    DADDY’S GON A-HUNTING (https://www.amazon.com/Daddys-Gone-Hunting-Wesley-Farrell-ebook/dp/B0015A86Q4/)

    PALE SHADOW (https://www.amazon.com/Pale-Shadow-Wesley-Farrell-Novels-ebook/)

    THE RIGHTEOUS CUT (https://www.amazon.com/Righteous-Cut-Wesley-Farrell-Novels-ebook/dp/)

    SPANISH LUCK (https://www.amazon.com/Spanish-Luck-Robert-Skinner/dp/1515108554/)

  4. ELEANOR KUHNS is the 2011 winner of the Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel competition. She lives in New York, received her master’s in Library Science from Columbia University, and is currently the Assistant Director at the Goshen Public Library in Orange County, New York. She writes a historical mystery series featuring weaver, Will Rees.

  5. Hi Rob, thank you for including me! My first novel, CURSES, BOILED AGAIN, comes out at the end of January 2018. My other two credits are short stories in the Chesapeake Crimes series - This Job is Murder and Homicidal Holidays. I don't mean to be too mysterious, it's just that St. Martin's and I are working on all my social media stuff now. My MLIS is from the University of South Carolina and I worked in children's services in Fairfax County, Virginia. Hope I see everyone at the librarian's tea at B'con!

  6. WILL THOMAS is the author of the “Barker & Llewelyn” historical mystery series and a librarian at the Tulsa City-County Library System. He and Ms. Kuhns were profiled in 2014 by Library Journal.

  7. Quite a list, Rob.

    I've met James Benn at a few events, and during a chat, we discovered that one of my former students went on to work with him when he was still a librarian in West Hartford, CT.

    Small world, innit?

  8. Fun list, Rob. I didn't realize that some of those people were librarians.

  9. Yes! Fun list! (My Mom is a retired High School Librarian, so I grew up among the stacks!) It goes without saying that your list will include Jorge Luis Borges! I don't know if Anthony Boucher ever worked as a librarian, maybe in college---one of his short mysteries about Nick Noble has a clue involving libraries and library science.

  10. Hey! I know some of those names! Clever idea, Rob. I like that.

  11. Thanks for the suggestions, all. I think I shall add them in here when I have the time. Jeff, Borges was the head of the Argentinian library, but he did not have a library degree - as was also true of every Librarian of Congress until the current one.

  12. Triss Stein (listed) here: Thanks for this interesting information. May I correct mine? I was never a school librarian. I was a children's librarian with the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) system, then for many years in the research department of a global consulting firm (business librarian), then managed the internal library at DC Comics for a few years.Part of the inspiration for my series set in Brooklyn neighborhoods came from the very varied places I worked for BPL.

  13. Rob, I didn't know all that about Borges! Thanks! (You sound like the guy who collects Librarian Cards and can quote their stats! :) ) Triss! DC Comics! Wooooooah!

  14. May I add that I am a new librarian author? (Well, not a new librarian -- I've done that for over 30 years). But my Blue Ridge Library Mystery Series launches with book one, A MURDER FOR THE BOOKS from Crooked Lane Books this Dec.!


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