Settings for a crime scene

      KIng Dell

(Click to enlarge)

Rufus King, Holiday Homicide (Dell 22)

Dell books paperback comprised different populargenres, from the Western to the adventure and the sentimental novel.  But  half  or more  of them were crime fiction. The maps on their backs merges visually all these genres. After all, the four of them can, to an extent, rely diegetically, figuratively or at least metaphorically on sketches and raw drawings (Treasure island map, carte du tendre, maps of a crime scene or croquis for a heist). More than 250 Dell Books Mapbacks  were actually Crime scenes.  Crime Scenes without crime, without traces of violence, and almost always without people. A pure material and geographical world.  Put all together, they display a great sense of continuity,  attributable to the unity of style and colours in the work of artist Ruth Belew (who, according to Gary Lovisi, drew more than  150 of them). The wild, unruly, imaginary space of Crime Fiction looks here tamed, domesticated. Pleasant, harmonious, and perfectly defined squares look like the parts of a puzzle. A puzzle reassuring both in its nature as a game, and for its apparent completeness (although it would be interesting to inspect the spaces, states, counties and countries which are not represented).

Pieces in a grid which can suggest control beyond the disturbance of crime (so euphemised here as to be totally unrepresented),  the Dell maps can help establishing of typology of Crime Fiction topography.  They show different types of represented spaces, from the urban map, to the map of a region, province, or  to a simple house, or an apartment. They also show different types of representation, from the abstraction (see Dell 363, below) , to the minute drawing of details of a place, to the multiple  views of a same space (for example various representations of Manhattan, see below). The maps, selecting salient traits of the narrative, help to read  the works. They reduce some of their complexity, but in doing so create an enigma on their own. They open a new way  to look at the story. And they add a new layer of possible meaning to the texts.

Many of the Dell books were republications of books which, in their original version were published without a map : the Dell’s mapbacks created a map where there had been none.  Such Dell’s editions are hence augmented version of the original. Such is the case of Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera (Dell 24), where the mapback translates the textual depths of the  Palais Garnier (the Opéra de Paris) by projecting them on the  flat surface of the cover.    The maps design is itself an interpretation of the novel. Two hermeneutic regimes are in concurrence, that of the text and that of the map.

The following post, consisting of an ordered  choice of Mapbacks, invites to distant- read 30 novels, or more exactly to gain an orientation through them, based solely on the maps which cover them.  Further, turning upside down the function of the maps (which, from an editorial point of view, is to reinforce the commodification of the texts, and to facilitate their commercialization) this posts proposes to use them to rediscover a jouissance (Roland Barthes) in the text they support. In other words, it invites the reader to take delight in using the accompanying maps for reinventing these texts, for actively (rather than passively)  (re) contrust meaning(s), free from preestablished narratives. To  write the novels differently (or not) chosing to adhere or not to the cultural or ideological codes the maps (merely seem to) indicate.  The maps are texts not only to be read but to be written ; they map not only a reading, but a multiplicity of new, substantially differerent writing horizons.

 Millar dell363back

Kenneth Millar, Blue City (Dell 363)

 Manhattan dell

Kieran Abbey, Beyond the Dark (Dell, 93)

  Stewart Sterling Dell 583 Dead of night

Stewart Sterling, Death of Night (Dell 583)


Faith Baldwin, Alimony (Dell 397)

Self made woman

Faith Baldwin, Self made woman (Dell 163)

Kane dell 231

Henry Kane, A Halo for Nobody (Dell 348)

hammett_Dell Stories back

Dashiell Hammett, Yellow Ladies (Dell 308)

Continental Op 129back

Dashiell Hammett, The Continental Op (Dell 129)

Top Hat 69back

Clayton Rawson, Death from a top Hat (Dell 69)

Dark passage 221back

David Goodis, Dark Passage (Dell 221)

Leroux Del24

Gaston Leroux, The Phantom of the Opera (Dell 24)

Christie. 226back

Agatha Christie, Murder at the Vicarage (Dell 226)


Brett Halliday, The Private Practice of Michael Shayne (Dell 23)

Chandler 184back

Brett Halliday, Murder is my business (Dell 184)

Girl Meets Body

Jack Iams, Girl meets body (Dell 384)


Mignon G. Eberhart, Unidentified Woman

The Man Dell319back

Agatha Christie, The Man in the Brown Suit (Dell 319)

   GreatMistake dell297back

Mary Roberts Rinehart, The Great Mistake (Dell 297)

House of Darkness 237back

Allan McKinnon, House of Darkness, (Dell 237)

Dangerous Ground248back

Francis Sill Wickware,  Dangerous Ground (Dell 248)


Helen McCloy, Do not Disturb (Dell 261)

DateWithDeath Dell

Leslie Ford, Date with Death (Dell 547)

Woman dell447back

Leslie Ford, The woman in Black (Dell 447)

Chute dell470back

Verne Chute, Flight of an Angel, (Dell 470)

Christie dell0550back

Agatha  Christie, Mr Parker Pyne Detective (Dell 550)


Margaret Millar, Do Evil in Return (Dell 558)


Helen Reilly, The Silver Leopard (Dell 287)

Reference Reading :

William H. Lyles, Putting Dell on the Map: A History of Dell Paperbacks (Contributions to the Study of Popular Culture), Greenwood, 1983

William H. Lyles, Dell Paperbacks, 1942 to Mid-1962: A Catalog-Index, Greenwood, 1983

All Dell’s “Mapbacks” Covers :

Gary Lovisi  : Dell Map Back Mysteries: They Don’t Make ’em Like that Anymore!” , Mystery Scene,


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