Monday, March 28, 2016

A real-life Bookman

In New York: A Serendipiter’s Journey (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1961), Gay Talese describes the work of John T. Murphy, “veteran sleuth” and Supervising Investigator for the New York Public Library. Murphy and a staff of seven tracked down missing books. An excerpt:

Although people who maliciously keep overdue books thirty days or more can be jailed, Murphy is content to regain the books and collect the five-cents-per-day-overdue charge, and then ban the culprit from the libraries. Many fines have run into hundreds of dollars per person. Not long ago Murphy’s men caught a little lady in Brooklyn with 1,200 overdue books. They were able to track her down, despite all her pseudonyms, by matching the handwriting on her various cards and by noting that she invariably borrowed novels of light romance. Librarians were alerted to the handwriting style and the lady’s penchant for light romance, and it was only a matter of time. When the lady was caught she was sent to a mental hospital; she was an insatiable kleptomaniac — but one of New York’s most well-read crooks.
Talese first wrote about Murphy for The New York Times (July 4, 1960), in an short article titled “Library Sleuths Trail Lost Books.” The image below is from a larger Times photograph of Murphy and books.

Also from this book
Chestnuts, pigeons, statues : “Fo-wer, fi-yiv, sev-ven, ni-yen” : Klenosky! : Leeches, catnip oil, strange potions : Tie cleaning in New York

[If you’re not familiar with Lieutenant Bookman, see here and here.]

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