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NOVEMBER 12, 2010 9:32PM

The Mystery of the Black Cat from Paris

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    pinkerton_eyeunofficial  motto of the ALA


Occasionally, even I, Walking Bibliography, need help.  Luckily, the Online Catalog at my Library can usually point me to something on the shelf—for the public I serve.

 But what about when the librarian has to play detective?

 I can certainly remember many books from my childhood.  I can spot books I read as a child in any bookstore run by chocolate and coffee-vending franchisees.

 Many of those old books are now O.P.

The dreaded Out of PRINT!   In a sane world, this would only happen to celebrity memoirs but in our greedy world, publishers let books die off the vine. Why?

 It goes back to an infamous Internal Revenue Services ruling:  Thor Power Tool Company vs the Commissioner.   . .  .  .Power tools?

Thor toolThor--just a memory now

 Publishers are classed as manufacturers.  While you and I might think that a book and  a power drill are NOT moral equivalents, the IRS thinks otherwise.

 The 1979 IRS ruling, tragically upheld by the Supreme Court, was that companies could not “write down” inventory for tax purposes unless they could prove a lower market price or defects in the inventory.  Companies had been “writing down” inventory based on “We just made too much and we will never sell it all and we’re lucky we don’t have to eat it because we’ll take it off our taxes.”  That made the IRS hopping mad—and Thor was not the only loser. 

 Publishers cleared out inventories.  They printed minimum amounts--chased bestsellers and easy sellers—and started raising prices much more often. 

bookpileShrinking inventory

Being a traditional industry, they would continue to publicize awesome print runs for Judith Krantz or James Mitchener.  Even last summer Scholastic made sure to publicize their 2 million copy print run for the venerable Dav Pilkey’s The Adventures of Ook and Gluk Kung-Fu Cavemen from the Future! 

 All this IRS interference  happened around the time that the Mafia left off distributing paperbacks and magazines.   Publishing changed.  Don’t blame computers or even tv.  It was the IRS and FBI.

 That’s why Johnny Can’t Read anything but FaceBook and txt.

 I grew up in the GoldenAge of SBC, SRA, PBS, RIF, and other literacy juggernauts.  It was part of beating the Russians.  In space.  I guess we did.  We knew a lot of acronyms.

 Somewhere between the space walks and Nixon ordering break-ins, I read a contemporary children’s mystery set in Paris featuring poor kids crammed in high-rises.  There was a black cat involved.  It was French.

Paris riots College student from 1968 Paris


 paris projectsNot Versailles


 Forty years go by. 

The rat bastard IRS and FBI kill off American Publishing, nearly.

 I became a librarian because they had removed all those card-files from the joint.  One day I started thinking about the Paris book.  I hadn’t  seen the book or anything like it in decades.  And I have tracked down some damned obscure books.

 I decided to see if I could, by myself, track it down.  To see how good a librarian I really am. There are better ways to do this BUT I work in an underfunded book joint, so I use free sources.

I fed “Paris” “Mystery” “Black Cat” into Google,, Baker & Taylor.  Rien!

 I decided to see if I could find the author.  French, I posited.

 I tried Google “French mystery” and “French Children’s” “Author” and got a bookstore that would sell me American books in French.  I killed some time looking at juvenile Edgar awards from the 1960s. 

 Amazon let me down.  So much for free shipping over $50.

 Now we come to La Belle Wikipedia, where I spend many insomniac hours tracing links.

  I tried “French mystery” which was rejected.  I tried “Mystery Juvenile” and didn’t get anywhere.  I read a few articles about ship’s cats because Wikipedia leads to thing like that.

 I entered “French authors.” 

  when smoking was sexycourtesy of  bien sûr societé des stereotypes.

 Wikipedia rewarded me with one of those lists—damned lists of links to articles. Two possibilities:  Children’s Authors and Mystery Authors.  By the way, if there are more than five French mystery authors, someone needs to get onto that.

 However, there were about 25 French Children’s Authors avec Wikipedia articles. 

 Hergé?  Non!

Charles Perrault?  Impossible!.


 Alphabetical order then.  Save time looking at birth and death dates.  This was someone publishing in the late 1960s.

 Berna, Paul.  My little heart went pit-a-pat.  Berna wrote Children’s Mysteries!  His most famous work was the un cheval sans tête or million trillion € set in a poor district of Paris and involved a wooden horse which was used by thieved to store their loot when kids weren’t playing with it.. 

 And down below:  The Clue of the Black Cat!!!!!  Fâche moi!

black cat on french carGenuine Parisian cat

 Now to buy a copy.  Naturally, I tried Amazon—Mais non!  I tried the oddball book-lovers website Fantastic Fiction, which flaked out when I tried to use a link.  I tried Powells.  No wonder their cat died!  I went to Better World Books, despite the fact that they make me feel like I should be wearing hemp underwear.

 Est La!  $3.95.  And a sale!   And a chocolate bar for me if I spend $15.  So I picked out a couple of other used books and selected something like “save the planet from bad gas and karma” shipping option which will take up to a fortnight to arrive.

 Baby!  The Internet works.  I was able to wrap up this mystery in less than   . . . . 3 hours? 

Clue of the  black cat I hope to have it in my hands again!


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J'ai adoree cette histoire et, particularment, "courtesy of bien sûr societé des stereotypes"! Sympa! Excellent post for an otherwise soir terrible, malheuresement.
My third wife's previous Mafioso boyfriend's lawyer stalked me in much the same way, but I really didn't know where she'd gotten off to.
I mean where hadn't she? She reminded me of a black cat a lot too!
I love a good mystery solved in a satisfying way - congratulations.
I do hope you enjoy it as much as you did back then, but perhaps that isn't the point after all.
Yet another reason to thank a librarian today.
Tinkertink--I hear that the French rats are particularly tasty!!!!

Cartouche---Merci Beaucoup! Je vous adore!! Le Deux Je Adore.

Fred Hallman--those Mafioso boyfriend lawyers do a lot of stalking, don't they?

Kim--Another case cracked by an MLS!!

Nikki- Thanks! Yes. Anytime you want a childhood favorite tracked down, let me know. I think I can beat my own 3 hour time record.
I love librarians!

Thanks for this. "In a sane world, this would only happen to celebrity memoirs but in our greedy world, publishers let books die off the vine. Why?"

Glad you found the book. Now I want to read it!
Hi Elijah! Yes. We don't have to burn the books that we let go OP to make corporation profits fatter.

Scarlett. I'm gonna review the book after I get it. His other book, the Horse without a head/$100,000 was made into a movie long ago.