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  • Writer's pictureDavid Morris

COLLECT: The Thriller Book Club (3 Christie titles)

Foyles Book Shops: Foyles started in London in 1903 when the brothers William and Gilbert Foyle started selling used books from their home, and then from a small shop in Peckham. In 1904 they opened their first shop in the West End on Cecil Court, and then by 1906 moved to 135 Charing Cross Road, and then shortly thereafter to 119 Charing Cross Road where they remained until 2014. They then moved to its new location at 107 Charing Cross Road. In 2018, the company was sold to Waterstones but with the proviso that the Foyles name must continue.

The Book Clubs: When William’s daughter, Christina Foyle, took control of the bookstore in 1945, the company entered a period of questionable management. During her early years, she did start the Foyles Book Club and based it from the same building but used the address of 121 Charing Cross Road. While the primary imprint was “The Book Club”, Foyles did use many other variant imprints – including book clubs focused on travel, science, gardening and children’s literature. One of these early book clubs was "The Thriller Book Club".

Foyles promoted their book clubs around the world, though mostly in Commonwealth countries. It appears all books were printed in England despite their global distribution. This was consistent with how Collins handled global distribution (aside from their Indian printings).

One of the primary appeals of Foyles Book Clubs was the low price.

In the 1950s, Foyles sold their book club printings for 3/6 (3 shillings and 6 pence, equivalent to 17.5 new pence), a significant discount from the regular hardback prices of newly published books which ranged from 8/6 to 12/6 (equivalent to 47.5 – 62.5 new pence). This major price reduction was likely afforded through the use of a thinner, lower quality paper, a cheaper cloth board and proprietary cover art.

The Thriller Book club: This specific imprint first secured rights to publish an Agatha Christie title in 1951. Under this imprint, Foyles only published three Christie titles. From 1955 onwards Foyles discontinued the use of "The Thriller Book Club” to publish Agatha Christie titles and started publishing all the Christie books as part of their mainstream “Book Club”, a catch-all for popular fiction titles.

The first two Christie books in The Thriller Book club were printed by Willmer Brothers and Co. Ltd., a family firm known primarily for newspapers, located in Birkenhead (near Liverpool, England).

The third and final title saw the printing revert to Collins. While the paper stock for each of these books was thinner and of poorer quality, the same print sheets were used as the Collins first edition with changes only to the title page and last page. The title page changes related to the imprint (either The Thriller Book Club or The Book Club) and publisher (either by Willmer Brothers or Collins). Any brief promotional blurb Collins included for their Crime Club at the end of the book was also removed from the Thriller Book Club edition, even when printed by Collins. Since these changes are minimal and the actual text of the books used the same printing sheets, it is appropriate to consider these Thriller Book Club editions a ‘variant’ first edition despite their different cloth bindings and dust wrappers (i.e. a first edition, but later printing).

The use of unique cover art is of significant note. Collins’ first uninspired dust jacket was for The Hollow (1946). While Taken at the Flood (1948) and Crooked House (1949) went back to minimal cover art, they were no where near as evocative as earlier books. A Murder is Announced (1950) was the last Collins book for many years to even have a hint of artwork. While speculative, it is highly likely Foyles noticed this shift and opportunity in the market as their books all featured artwork, though often with a hint of damsel in distress.

The Three Christie Thriller Book Club Titles:

A Murder is Announced. Published 1951, Willmer Brothers and Co. Ltd., Birkenhead (UK). Red boards with black lettering. Spine of the book itself just states “The Book Club” where usually it states “The Crime Club”, while the title page states “The Thriller Book Club” and the dust jacket spine states “Thriller Book Club”. Originally published by Collins for The Crime Club in June 1950.

They Came to Baghdad. Published 1951, Willmer Brothers and Co. Ltd., Birkenhead (UK). Red boards with black lettering. The book title page states “The Thriller Book Club” and the dust jacket spine states “Thriller Book Club”. The spine of the hardback states “The Book Club” in lieu of “The Crime Club”. Originally published in March 1951 by Collins for The Crime Club.

A Pocket Full of Rye. Published 1954, Collins, London & Glasgow, Great Britain. Yellow boards with black lettering. While the dust wrapper states “Thriller Book Club Edition” on the front flap, there is no reference to any imprint on the spine of the book or jacket spine. The rear panel of the wrapper promotes recent and forthcoming “Thriller book club” selections.

Values and Collectibility: For the Christie collector, this trio of books presents a desirable addition to a collection. They are not valuable nor overly difficult to find. However, the quality is often poor and finding one with unbrowned pages and a complete, undamaged jacket will prove a challenge. Expect to pay £10-£30 ($13-$40 US) based on condition. As the uniqueness of these books becomes appreciated it is likely values will appreciate. Lastly, while exact print run size is unknown, it is known that in 1959 Foyles' version of Ian Fleming’s Diamonds are Forever was 29,000 in size. Thus it is fair to speculate the Foyles Christies from the early 1950s were likely in the 10,000 range which is likely far smaller than the true Collins first print run size. After these three, Christie books were no longer published under The Thriller Book Club imprint. They were merged into the Foyles ‘The Book Club’ broadening the distribution to a much larger membership. Because of this all future titles are much easier to locate in collectible condition.

The copyright page for A Pocket Full of Rye showing Collins as the publisher.

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