James, (Darryl) Dean

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JAMES, (Darryl) Dean


Born in MS. Education: Received B.A. and M.A. (both in history) from Delta State University; Rice University, Ph.D. (medieval history), 1986; University of North Texas, M.A. (library science).


Office—Murder by the Book, 2342 Bissonnet St., Houston, TX 77005.


Writer. Houston Academy of Medicine-Texas Medical Center Library, Houston, TX, worked as librarian and director of cataloging; Murder by the Book (mystery book store), Houston, general manager, 1996—.


Macavity Award, Mystery Readers International, and Agatha Award for best nonfiction, both for the first edition of By a Woman's Hand: A Guide to Mystery Fiction by Women.



Posted to Death, Kensington Books (New York, NY), 2002.

Faked to Death, Kensington Books (New York, NY), 2003.

Decorated to Death, Kensington Books (New York, NY), 2004.


By a Woman's Hand: A Guide to Mystery Fiction by Women, Berkley Books (New York, NY), 1991, revised edition, Berkley Prime Crime (New York, NY), 1996.

Killer Books: A Reader's Guide to Exploring the Popular World of Mystery and Suspense, Berkley Prime Crime (New York, NY), 1998.

The Dick Francis Companion, Berkley Prime Crime (New York, NY), 2003.


(Editor, with Jan Grape and Ellen Nehr) Deadly Women, Carroll and Graf (New York, NY), 1998.

Cruel as the Grave, Silver Dagger Mysteries (Johnson City, TN), 2000.

Closer than the Bones, Silver Dagger Mysteries (Johnson City, TN), 2001.

Death by Dissertation, Silver Dagger Mysteries (Johnson City, TN), 2004.

(Editor, with Claudia Bishop) Death Dines In (anthology), Berkley Prime Crime (New York, NY), 2004.

Work represented in anthologies, including Malice Domestic 7, Avon Books, 1998; Canine Crimes, Ballantine, 1998; A Canine Christmas, Ballantine, 1999; and Magnolias and Mayhem, Silver Dagger Mysteries, 2000.


Works adapted for audio include Faked to Death.


Dean James is a Mississippi native who relocated to Houston, Texas. There, after working as a librarian at the Texas Medical Center, he became the manager of the well-known mystery book store Murder by the Book. James's first works were several nonfiction books written with Jean Swanson, a librarian at the University of Redlands in California. Their first collaboration, By a Woman's Hand: A Guide to Mystery Fiction by Women, profiles women writers from 1977—the year Marcia Muller's first "Sharon McCone" mystery, Edwin of the Iron Shoes, was published. The writers featured in the volume are modern; consequently, "Golden Age" writers like Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers are not included. Writers are listed alphabetically by all names under which they have written and are indexed by regional setting, type of detective, series character, and author. Included is information on award winners as well as other pertinent information. Choice reviewer L. O. Rein commented on the fact that at the end of each chapter, James and Swanson include a listing of authors of similar works. This feature, claimed Rein, "will be invaluable to casual readers and students alike."

James and Swanson next wrote Killer Books: A Reader's Guide to Exploring the Popular World of Mystery and Suspense. This volume is similar to their first but focuses on both male and female writers. It includes essays arranged within chapters focusing on plot content or hero subgenres, such as historical mysteries, legal thrillers, psychological mysteries, police officers, amateur sleuths, or private eyes. Each category includes between fifteen and thirty authors, mainly contemporary, whose heroes are profiled and whose series are examined. James and Swanson also include trivia, such as which mysteries have musical themes and which authors like to fish. The Dick Francis Companion is their third collaboration.

James has written a number of mystery novels for Silver Dagger Mysteries, an imprint of Overmountain Press. The second, Closer than the Bones, is set in Mississippi and follows retired schoolteacher Ernestine Carpenter through the investigation of the death of Sukey Lytton, a young woman writer whose revealing manuscript is now missing. Suspects include the six proteges of Mary Tucker McElroy, matriarch of Idlewild, who has invited the young writers to assist with her memoir, and each of the six has a secret that may have been included in the missing novel. The last guest to arrive is a literary agent who has found the manuscript. A Publishers Weekly reviewer noted that "before long, bodies lie draped about like antimacassars."

Death by Dissertation is set in Houston. As the novel opens, Ph.D. candidate Andy Carpenter finds fellow student Charlie Harper lying on a couch in the library, dead from a violent blow to the head. A Publishers Weekly critic called Andy "an appealing narrator" and noted that his investigation includes explorations into rumors about kinky and gay sex, plagiarism, intellectual theft, and blackmail. James also collaborated with Claudia Bishop to edit Death Dines In, a collection of sixteen short stories, including those by the editors, all of which involve food.

The first installment of James's "Simon Kirby-Jones" mystery series is Posted to Death, which a Publishers Weekly reviewer felt "is sure to revolutionize the traditional British cozy and win the hearts of fans everywhere." Simon Kirby-Jones is a gay, American writer, born in Mississippi, who became a vampire while living in Houston, and who now lives in the English town of Snupperton Mumsley. He is able to go out during the day with the help of a pill that negates sunshine's side effects. Simon is a best-selling author writing under female pseudonyms, including Daphne Deepwood and Dorinda Darlington. Eager to become part of the community, he joins the fundraising committee of St. Ethelwold's Church. Following an argument about the choice of which play should be staged to raise funds, town postmistress and busybody Abigail Winterton is found murdered. Enthusiastic about helping the attractive Inspector Robin Chase, Simon searches out the killer and ultimately uncovers the secrets of the little village. Other romantic possibilities include bookstore owner Trevor Chase. Houston Chronicle reviewer Amy Rabinovitz commented that "the setting and characters are as high camp as anything in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but underneath the loving mockery is a worthy and cozy village mystery you can really sink your teeth into."

Reviewing the book in Lambda Book Report, Therese Syzmanski pointed out that James "has skillfully created a charming mystery whose language fairly dances across the page. His clever wit shines from the properly British dialogue, to the very names of his characters, all of which are aptly named and quite English. For instance, the Lady Prunella Blitherington has a distinct tendency to, well, blither. On and on."

The second book in the series, Faked to Death, finds Simon and his young aide, Sir Giles, at a crime writers' conference, where the featured speaker claims to be Simon's nom de plume Dorinda Darlington. Nina, their literary agent-in-common, seems to be behind the scam, but it is the Dorinda imposter who is killed, flattened by an urn pushed from a terrace. Library Journal's Rex Klett called the book "great entertainment."

Detective Robin Chase again directs a murder investigation in Decorated to Death, with help from Simon. In the book Zeke Harwood, the pompous host of a room-makeover television series, is found dead in the locked drawing room of Lady Prunella Blitherington. In planning the makeover of Prunella's drawing room, Zeke had suggested that the room be painted red, which led to a huge argument between Zeke and Prunella, and which was caught on tape. Simon discovers that Prunella may not be the only one who had an ax to grind with Zeke. He also realizes that his own urge to suck blood is returning, in spite of medication he takes to control it. A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that "as in an elaborate and fun game of Clue, all the pieces come neatly together." In Library Journal, Klett called this outing "great fun."



Booklist, June 1, 1994, review of By a Woman's Hand: A Guide to Mystery Fiction by Women, p. 1868; June 1, 1998, Bill Ott, review of Killer Books: A Reader's Guide to Exploring the Popular World of Mystery and Suspense, p. 1707; May 15, 2004, review of Death Dines In, p. 1600.

Choice, December, 1994, L. O. Rein, review of By a Woman's Hand, p. 582.

Denver Post, April 7, 2002, Tom and Enid Schantz, review of Posted to Death, p. EE2.

Houston Chronicle, February 12, 1995, review of By a Woman's Hand, p. 24; June 2, 2002, Amy Rabinovitz, review of Posted to Death, p. 21.

Kirkus Reviews, January 15, 2002, review of Posted to Death, p. 77; February 1, 2003, review of Faked to Death, p. 189; April 1, 2004, review of Death Dines In, p. 300.

Lambda Book Report, May, 2002, Therese Syzmanski, review of Posted to Death.

Library Journal, April 1, 1998, Denise Johnson, review of Killer Books, p. 89; March 1, 2003, Rex Klett, review of Faked to Death, p. 122; April 1, 2004, Rex Klett, review of Decorated to Death, p. 126.

Publishers Weekly, April 30, 2001, review of Closer than the Bones, p. 60; March 4, 2002, review of Posted to Death, p. 59; March 3, 2003, review of Faked to Death (audio), p. 57; March 15, 2004, review of Decorated to Death, p. 58; April 12, 2004, review of Death by Dissertation, p. 42; April 19, 2004, review of Death Dines In, p. 43.

School Library Journal, February, 1999, Peggy Bercher, review of Killer Books, p. 140.*

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