When I went looking for cover images to include with Bill Deeck’s recent review of Death Paints the Picture, by Lawrence Lariar, the first thing I discovered was that there wasn’t a single copy of the Phoenix Press hardcover up for sale on Abebooks.com, not one. There were five copies of the paperback edition up for grabs, which isn’t too surprising, but the lack of hardcover copies reinforced a small realization that is obvious in many ways, but one which I’ve been slow in coming to and putting into words.

   And that is, there is only a small finite number of hardcover mysteries from the 1940s that still exist, and the number that are in the hands of dealers and not already in collections is rapidly decreasing. Endangered species, is what they are.

   Deciding to investigate further, I decided to look into the availability of all of Lariar’s mysteries published under his own name, the hardcover first editions only, thus excluding paperback reprints, British editions and the occasional hardcover reprint from the Detective Book Club.

   I don’t know what the following data tells us, if anything. The numbers depend too greatly on a lot of different factors, none of which were controlled. I’ll have some comments after the following list. If you find any of this interesting, you can leave any insight you have as well, as usual.

      Death Paints a Picture, Phoenix Press, 1943. No copies available.

      He Died Laughing. Phoenix Press, 1943. Four copies, two in jacket.

      The Man with the Lumpy Nose. Dodd Mead, 1944. Twelve copies, seven in jacket.

      The Girl with the Frightened Eyes. Dodd Mead, 1945. Four copies, two in jacket.

      Friday for Death. Crown, 1949. Two copies, two in jacket.

      You Can’t Catch Me. Crown, 1951. Six copies, five in jacket.

      The Day I Died. Appleton, 1952. Seven copies, five in jacket.

      Win Place and Die! Appleton, 1953. Six copies, four in jacket.

   I kept a record of the stated conditions, but I decided not to clutter up the presentation by including them here. Suffice it to say that they ranged from Good to Very Good, with only two (Lumpy Nose) being described as Near Fine. If you wished a complete set, price generally shouldn’t be a problem. Lariar is not a mystery writer in high demand, so even though the supply is low, the asking prices (with a few exceptions) were pretty much $20 or less.

   But if the Internet did not exist (and you were not even reading this) think of the difficulty you’d have in putting a set of Lariar mystery novels together. How many bookstores would you have to travel to with want list in hand, from one end of the country to the other, to obtain them? Of course there’s slow mail, and I remember pre-Internet days of scouring fanzines for ads of various dealers who specialized in mysteries and asking for catalogs.

   With a maximum of 12 copies available for any one book (Lumpy Nose), getting a set together would be a long slow process. The 1940s were 60 to 70 years ago – a lifetime in fact. The number of survivors is getting fewer and fewer.