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“Hercule Poirot just doesn’t look like that. OR that.”

 It’s one of the beauties of getting a Definitive Collection, the kind where the donor has collected every single book by an author, sometimes in multiple copies over several decades, often with little penciled numbers as a reminder of which book comes when. (Sue Grafton and Janet Evanovich make it easier, but with some authors you need a reference guide.) With an author who’s been around a while, you get different artists’ points of view on Philip Marlowe’s suits and Nero Wolfe’s waistline and Sherlock Holmes’s nose. (It’s unfair, I suppose, to have started with Hercule Poirot, whom I regard as one of the great unillustratable figures of literature: that head, those mustaches, all better in the imagination than frozen in some mundane drawing.)

One of the other beauties, of course, is how easy this makes alphabetizing.  Come July, I can all but hear the volunteers singing “Sixty Christies in a row: Marple, Battle, and Poirot.” (I made that up. If the volunteers sing anything when I walk by, it’s “I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead, You Rascal You”.) It gets the boxes emptied onto the tables so much faster.

Oh, it has its down side, too.  What on earth do I do with all those books held together by rubber bands? They had to be the donor’s favorites, but who’ll buy them now, even if I throw in the rubber band for free? And if you’re one who ponders the pity of it all, what caused the donor to give up this collection which took so much time and trouble to pull together? (The latest one came with one small box filled with bibliographies of the authors, downloaded from websites, so the donor could track her progress in acquiring all the books.)

But there are so many other things to ponder.  When did detectives on book covers stop wearing hats?  How is it, regardless of changing fashion, that ladies on hardboiled novels never seem to be able to keep both straps on their shoulders? Who decided, and when, that we didn’t want to see people on the covers of mysteries at all?  (It makes buying easy, I guess: if it’s got a government seal on it, it’s a spy novel.)  And did you notice how, as the price of the book got bigger and bigger, it got printed smaller and smaller?

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