Mystery Books 1980-1989
The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum
The Bourne Identity is a spy thriller written by Robert Ludlum and it is the first of the ‘Jason Bourne’ series. Bourne has retrograde amnesia and remarkable survival abilities, both of which he needs as he circumvents his own murder and tries to find his true identity. The Bourne Identity has been named one of the best spy novels of all time, and the Bourne series has been adapted into a television movie in 1988 and a blockbuster film starring Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in 2002.
The Bourne Identity was first published in 1980 by Richard Marek Publishers in New York. The original dust jacket, illustrated by Rob Sauber, has a $12.95 price stamp.
Red Dragon by Thomas Harris
The second book by author Thomas Harris, Red Dragon centers around an enigmatic serial-killer nicknamed ‘The Tooth Fairy’ and former FBI profiler Will Graham who comes out of retirement to track him down. The novel introduces Dr. Hannibal Lecter, both a brilliant psychiatrist and cannibalistic serial killer. The novel’s sequels, The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal, and Hannibal Rising also feature Lecter as a prominent part of the story.
The first edition of Red Dragon was published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons in 1981. The original dust jacket has a price stamp of $13.95 and a large black and white photo of the author on the back.
Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith
Gorky Park is the first book by author Martin Cruz Smith and it introduces his homicide detective Arkady Renko. A triple murder in Moscow’s famous Gorky Park leads detective Renko into a battle with the powerful agencies of the KGB, FBI and New York police to undercover the culprit. Smith had been publishing novels for a decade leading up to the publication of Gorky Park, which became instantly successful, and led eight subsequent books in the Renko series.
The first edition of Gorky Park was published in 1981 by Random House. ‘First edition’ is stated on the copyright page under the Random House number line starting with a ‘2’. The original dust jacket has a $13.95 price stamp on the front flap and 3 blurbs on the back by authors, starting with P.D. James.
"A" is for Alibi by Sue Grafton
“A” is for Alibi is the first Kinsey Millhone novel, written by SueGrafton. Grafton finished up through “Y” is for Yesterday in the ‘Alphabet Series’ before her death in 2017. Millhone is a tough-talking former cop, an unattached loner with a soft spot for underdogs who sets up her own detective agency. In “A” is for Alibi Millhone is trying to clear the name of Nikki Fife, recently released from serving time after being charged with killing her philandering husband.
“A” is for Alibi was first published in 1982 by Holt, Rinehardt and Winston, New York. The original first issue dust jacket has a $12.95 price stamp on the front flap, and the copyright page includes ‘First Edition’ and a full number line.
Indemnity Only by Sara Paretsky
The first book by Sara Paretsky, Indemnity Only introduces V. I. Warshawski, a female private eye based in Chicago.
Warshawski is hired by John Thayer, a prominent banker, to find his son’s missing girlfriend. When it turns out the client and the girlfriend aren’t who they say they are, the case gets more complicated and more deadly. Paretsky is credited with transforming the role and image of women in crime novels, bringing a feminist perspective to the mystery genre with her strong female leads.
The first edition of Indemnity Only was published by Dial Press, New York, and Victor Gollancz, London in 1982. Signed first editions list for around $1200 or more in fine condition.
The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
The Name of the Rose is a murder mystery set in a wealthy Italian abbey in the year 1327. An ‘intellectual mystery’ written by Umberto Eco, an Italian professor of semiotics, it is one of the best-selling books of all time. Brother William of Baskerville is called in to investigate when a series of mysterious deaths occur at the abbey. The novel is a fictitious eye-witness account of the investigation of the deaths, complete with secret symbols and coded manuscripts, depicting a medieval world on the edge of transformation.
The Name of the Rose was first published in Italian in 1980 under the title Il nome della rosa. In 1983 it was finally translated into English by William Weaver and published by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, New York, and Secker and Warburg, London.
Pacific Vortex! by Clive Cussler
Adventurer Dirk Pitt finds a distress signal from the top-secret super-sub Starbuck, which has vanished without a trace. He tracks it to the perilous waters of the Pacific Vortex - a Bermuda-triangle type area where dozens of other ships have vanished and other secrets await.
Pacific Vortex was the first book Clive Cussler wrote starring his famous protagonist Dirk Pitt, and although after he reportedly wrote it before the other Pitt books, it was not published until 1983, and then as more of a ‘historical curiosity’ since Cussler didn’t believe it lived up to his other writing.
The first edition of Pacific Vortex was published by Bantam Books. New York, NY in January 1983. It was released as a Mass Market Paperback, with a price stamp of $3.95, featuring a die-cut porthole on the cover. The UK mass market paperback was released by Sphere, and a hardbound edition was published in the UK by Piatkus the same year. All editions are relatively scarce. James Cahill Publishing also released a limited edition of 300 copies of Pacific Vortex in 2000.
The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy
The Hunt for Red October is a Cold War thriller about the search for a top-secret Russian missile submarine. Loosely inspired by the mutiny on the Soviet frigate Storozhevoy in 1975, the novel introduces Tom Clancy’s character Jack Ryan, an analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency. The Hunt for Red October was author Tom Clancy’s first novel. Although it initially sold well, going through 45,000 copies in the first few months, after it was endorsed by President Ronald Reagan it became a best-seller. A film adaptation was released in 1990 starring Sean Connery, Alec Baldwin, and James Earl Jones.
The first edition of The Hunt for Red October was printed by Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland on October 1, 1984. A first edition copy will be in red cloth with silver lettering, and the original dust jacket is white, with a red hammer and sickle over a black submarine. The back of the dust jacket has six blurbs, with Clive Cussler’s the 3rd and an ISBN printed on the bottom. There is no price stamp on the original dust jacket. The copyright page has 18 lines of text, with no printing indicators.
The Convict by James Lee Burke
A collection of award-winning short stories by the two-time Edgar Award winner James Lee Burke. The stores are set in and around the American deep South, and The Convict is one of Burke’s earlier and most rare books.
The first edition of The Convict was published by Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge, in 1985. Only 500 hardcover copies were produced. The original pink dust jacket featuring a straining and sinewy man in chains has a $15.95 price stamp on the front flap.
A Perfect Spy by John Le Carre
In his most autobiographical novel, Cornwall (Le Carre) gives a disguised account of his own early life as an intelligence officer for MI6. It tells the life story of Magnus Pym, a British intelligence officer, and a double agent. This well-acclaimed novel was very popular at its release and has been adapted into other mediums.
In 1986, the US edition was published by Alfred A. Knopf, NY, and in London by Hodder & Stoughton.
The Tourist Season by Carl Hiaasen
The crime novel The Tourist Season is the first solo novel written by Carl Hiaasen, after co-writing several mystery/thriller novels with William Montalbano. Brian Keyes, news reporter turned detective, investigates the deaths of a series of victims seemingly tied to the tourist trade in South Florida, from the president of the Chamber of Commerce, to a visiting Shriner, and a Canadian tourist.
The first edition of The Tourist Season was published by Putnam, NY in 1986. First editions will have a full number line starting with a 1 on the copyright page. The original dust jacket is neon blue, with pink palm trees and a neon green gator head.
Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin
Knots and Crosses is a 1987 crime novel by Ian Rankin. It is the second novel by Rankin, and first of his Inspector Rebus novels, which are considered major works in the ‘tartan noir’ subgenre of crime novels. In Knots and Crosses, the city of Edinburgh is horrified by gruesome kidnapping and murders of young girls. Detective Rebus realizes he can solve the crime but he must face his past and his demons to do it. Knots and Crosses was written by Rankin while he was a postgraduate student at the University of Edinburgh. In the introduction to this novel, Rankin states that Rebus lives directly opposite the window in Marchmont that he looked out of while writing the book.
The first edition of Knots and Crosses was published by Bodley Head, London, and Doubleday and Company, New York, in 1987.
Black Dahlia by James Ellroy
Black Dahlia by James Ellroy is based on a famous unsolved murder in Los Angeles in the 1940s. The novel fuses the real-life murder of Elizabeth Short with the fictional story of two police officers investigating the crime. Ellroy was born in Los Angeles in 1948, the year after Short was found murdered, and Ellroy’s own mother was murdered when he was 10 years old - the killer never found. Black Dahlia was adapted into a film in 2006 starring Josh Hartnett, Scarlett Johansson, Aaron Eckhart, and Hillary Swank.
The first edition of Black Dahlia was published by Mysterious Press, New York, in 1987. The first edition copyright page states "First Printing: September 1987" along a full number line. The original dust jacket has a price stamp of $16.95.
A Great Deliverance by Elizabeth George
A Great Deliverance is the first book by American mystery writer Elizabeth George and the first of her Thomas Lynley series. Inspector Lynley, the eighth earl of Asherton, along with Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers, visits the pastoral English country town of Keldale where a daughter has evidently murdered her own father with an ax, showing no remorse. A Great Deliverance received the Agatha Award for Best First Novel in 1988, and the Anthony Award for Best First Novel in 1989, as well as being nominated for an Edgar Award.
The first edition of A Great Deliverance was published by Bantam, New York in 1988. First editions have a full number line, and list for around $100, more if signed.
A Time To Kill by John Grisham
After his 10-year-old daughter is beaten and raped, a Vietnam veteran takes justice into his own hands. But he is black, and the assailants were white, and the story takes place in the small Southern town of Clanton, Mississippi.
A Time To Kill was rejected by numerous publishers before Wynwood Press eventually published it in a small first printing of only 5,000 copies. Grisham bought 1,000 of them and kept a stash of these first editions in his car, selling them out of his trunk. The publisher, Wynwood Press, went out of business the next year. True first editions have an $18.95 price on the front flap, and a subtitle “A Novel of Retribution” on the cover. The Book of the Month Club edition that was released after Grisham’s success with The Firm (1991) does not have these markers. Today, true first editions list for $3,000 to $5,000.
Sign up for our newsletter for a chance to win $50 in free books!
Author Bio: Amy C. Manikowski is a writer, bookseller, trail-diverger, history buff, and pitbull lover. She graduated from Chatham University with an MFA a while ago, and after wandering aimlessly settled in Asheville NC.