Thomas J. Shamon’s mystery recommendations

While we’re most well-known for our our major collecting areas in Irish history, Jesuitica, and Catholicism, Burns Library also has a strong mystery collection. With over 5,000 volumes, our mystery collection ranges in date from 1827 to 2018, and in language from English to Dutch to Swedish and several in between. It contains books, journals, audio recordings, and one doctoral thesis, all devoted to the mystery genre.

On May 18, 1994, our mystery collection grew even further when Burns Library finalized a gift from Thomas J. Shamon. We don’t know much about him, other than that he came bearing a formidable collection of 19th-21st century English-language mystery fiction, criticism and reference, and he wanted to give all 40 boxes of it to us.

This year we were able to devote the resources to more thoroughly catalog these books.

shows the embossed stamp TSJ, a handwritten rating of C-, and the words “Very, very tiresome” in pencil.

The front flyleaf of Death at Swaythling Court PR6037.T4627 D43 1926

And while we were going through it, we discovered a fun little feature Shamon built in to his collection: In addition to his personal monograph stamp, which is present on the front flyleaf of every book he gave us, he also penciled in his handwritten ratings and reviews of the novels.

Shamon was fairly moderate in his ratings. The lower end of his ratings never really dipped below C- . His reviews could get scathing, however–one C- book (Death at Swaythling Court, by J.J. Connington, for the record) had a handwritten review that just read “Very, very tiresome.” Of another book, The mystery of the

the embossed stamp TSJ, a handwritten rating of C, and the words “This book has no value except its historical significance” in red pencil.

The front flyleaf of The mystery of the French milliner PR6039.H688 M97 1937

French milliner, by Sir Basil Thomson, Shamon declared, “This book has no value except its historical significance.” (What historical significance the book has could not be determined.) And the novel Strike out where not applicable, by Nicholas Freeling, had the review “Freeling’s growing obscurity is getting very trying.” Ouch.

We’ve gotten through the full collection of fiction (only a couple boxes of criticism to go!) and we can now present to you Thomas J. Shamon’s Top Mystery Books of the Past 150 Years. We’ve collected titles of every book that received an A+ rating or higher. 14 books

with the embossed stamped TSJ, a handwritten rating of B, and the words “Freeling’s growing obscurity is getting very trying” in red pen.

The front flyleaf of Strike out where not applicable PR6056.R4 S78 1967

were rated A+, 19 were rated AA, 5 were granted an AAA rating, and one exceptional work received the rating AAA+. All of these books are in Burns Library’s catalog if you want to come verify the ratings or check out the reviews (although if you want to take them home and read them, you might want to check O’Neill Library or Interlibrary Loan).



  • Bailey, H.C. Orphan Ann. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1941.
  • Bonett, John and Emery Bonett. Dead lion. Garden City, New York : Published for the Crime Club by Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1949.
  • Cauldwell, Sarah. The shortest way to Hades. New York: Scribner, 1985.
  • Gielgud, Val Henry. Cat: a novel. London : Published for the Crime Club by Collins, 1956.
  • Gordon, Neil. The silent murders. Garden City, New York: Published for the Crime Club, Inc. by Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc, 1930.
  • Grimes, Martha. The Anodyne Necklace. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1983.
  • Harrington, Joseph. The last doorbell. Philadelphia : J.B. Lippincott Company, 1969.
  • Hill, Peter. The liars. Boston : Houghton Mifflin Company, 1978.
  • Irish, William. Phantom lady. New York : P.F. Collier & Son Corporation, 1942.
  • McGuire, Paul. A funeral in Eden. New York: Garland Publishing Inc., 1976.
  • Sjöwal, Maj and Per Wahlöö. The laughing policeman. Translated by Alan Blair. New York: Pantheon Books, 1970.
  • Symons, Julian. The Detling secret. New York: Viking Press, 1983.
  • Waugh, Hilary. Last seen wearing–. San Diego: University Extension, University of California, in cooperation with Publisher’s Inc., 1978.




“The perfect detective novel and a masterpiece among all fiction”- Thomas J. Shamon

embossed stamp TSJ, a handwritten rating of AAA+, and the words “The perfect detective novel and a masterpiece among all fiction” in pencil, with multiple underlinings

The front flyleaf of The Bellamy trial

— Tess Amram, Special Collections Cataloging Specialist, John J. Burns Library


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