Glossary & Abbreviations

As Used on this Site

Okay, sometimes I’m just lazy. I’m guilty of occasionally using abbreviations, French words and personal slang. You can probably suss out most of ’em but just in case, here are a few explanations. I’ve also included a French Glossary you may need.

Feel free to make suggestions or contributions. And if you’re troubled by references to sneezing roscoes and the like, check out Twists, Slugs and Roscoes: A Glossary of Hardboiled Slang, originally compiled by “Wild Bill” Denton of Rara-Avis fame.

AKA, aka = also known as

ANTHOLOGY = a collection of works by various authors.

ARC = An Advance Reading Copy, usually a paperback version of a soon-to-be published hardcover, mailed to book stores and reviewers in hopes of attracting sales and favorable book reviews. The reviews will hopefully produce copy for the blurbs on the hardcover’s dust jacket.

AHMM = Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine

BDs = Bandes dessinées; European-style comic books/graphic novels (French; see below)

BIG BOOK SYNDROME = One of the biggest impediments to enjoyable books, wherein an 180-page story may take 300, 400, even 600 pages to tell. Most classic P.I. novels of the past rarely ventured past the 200-300 page mark, and many barely made it past 150. Even the relatively long-winded Ross Macdonald rarely made it past 300 pages, but in a misguided motion to give people “their money’s worth” some publishers (and occasionally writers) routinely crank out bloated, puffed-out novels, full of irrelevant scenes, redundant characters and more padding than the NFL…Not all lengthier books are guilty of this, but crime fiction in particular generally seems better suited to shorter lengths.

BLURB SLUTS = I don’t know if this phrase originated on the DorothyL list or not, but that’s where I first stumbled across it. Simply put, the authors (or “reviewers”) who are quoted in puffy, generic blurbs on the covers of books, often in exchange for blurbs for their own books or — in the case of “reviewers,” free books. Could also refer to those who indiscriminately bestow five-star reviews without any apparent sense that they’ve read the book in question.

COLLECTION = a group of stories — usually by one author — presented in one volume. T are other definitions, but this is the way I’m taking it. One author? Collection. Several authors? Anthology.

EQMM = Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine

FROM THE PEANUT GALLERY = Comments found under this heading tend to be casual, brief remarks, often pulled from our mailbox. Excerpted quotes from more formal, published reviews are generally found under the heading, Under Oath (see below).

GRAPHIC NOVEL = Usually refers to a “novel-length” long-form comic book, that may or may not collect previously-published material. May be adapted from a work from another medium. (I can’t believe I still have to explain this).

HUBIN’S = Refers to A Bibliography Of Crime Fiction, 1749-1975, a well-known reference work written by Allan J. Hubin. There was a second, third and fourth volume, the last two available on CD-ROM, taking us up to 2000.

MASS MARKET = Small paperbacks (your grandparents may call them “pocket books.” The size you regularly see in spinner racks.

MEN’S ADVENTURE = Goes back to the seventies when “Men’s Adventure” books were all the rage. Violent, ultra-manly (to the unintentional point of parody)  paperback originals, usually featuring one guy (and occasionally, his “team,”) at war with some evil, all-powerful organization (the Russians, the Mafia, the Apaches, some Ludlumesque global conspiracy, etc.), featuring pulpy, tacky covers full of manly men, guns and buxom women prone to severe wardrobe malfunctions.  The books were pumped out so quickly (often by several different writers under a house pen name) that they were numbered, so that readers wouldn’t accidentally buy the same book twice. Not that in many cases it mattered — many of the books were so formulaic that the number on their spine might have been their most distinguishing characteristic. They were mostly crime novels, but there were also westerns, martial arts, military, fantasy and science fiction novels. They weren’t all bad (the best of them, mostly written by writers whose tongues were firmly in their cheeks, were great fun), but far too many of them were simplistic, dumbed-down male wish-fulfillment books filled with simplistic sex and violence, even more simplistic plots and paper-thin characters.
I know, I know. I must sound like a terrible snob.

MHCMM = Mary Higgins Clark Mystery Magazine

MSMM = Michael (later Mike) Shayne Mystery Magazine

PBO = Paperback originals. A book printed in paperback originally (ie: not a reprint).

PWA = The Private Eye Writers of America. An organization primarily for professional writers, founded by Robert Randisi, devoted to private-eye detective fiction. They also bestow the annual Shamus Awards. I’m a member, and also do their web site.

RIYL = Recommended If You Like

TAD = The Armchair Detective

TSMM = The Saint Mystery Magazine

THRILLER = Thriller, yes, but it might even be used to describe something like Elmore Leonard. Crime fiction, then, that doesn’t necessarily have a mystery angle, although for many — particularly in the U.K. — a “thriller” is simply a blanket term for any sort of crime fiction.

TRADE PAPERBACKS = An oversized paperback, sold mostly in bookstores (ie: trade).

TVM = A TV movie. A film made for television.

UNDER OATH = Comments found under this heading tend to be excerpted quotes from formal, published reviews. Less formal quotes, often pulled from our mailbox, are found under the heading, From the Peanut Gallery (see above).

YUPPIEBACKS = Derogatory name given to oversized (trade) paperbacks that first hit it big in the eighties, mostly in North America, when Jay McInerny’s Bright Lights, Big City and Bret Eston Ellis’ Less Than Zero were first published in this format. Black Lizard was soon cranking out reprints by David Goodis and Jim Thompson in this format, thereby allowing themselves to justify jacking up the prices. Many other publishers soon followed suit. I figured at the time that it was just plain price gouging.

But correspondent Jim Mann spoke to a few publishers and was told that for many titles, it was a choice of trade or nothing. For books that don’t sell enough copies in mass market for publishers to afford a standard paperback, they can sometimes afford to release a trade paperback. This is for two reasons. The price is one. But the other is that trade paperbacks are not strippable/returnable. Bookstores can’t just buy way too many, sell only a few, strip and return the covers, then pulp them all, while getting their money back from the publisher.

Hmmm… you don’t need to go to one of those top business schools around to think there’s something a little fishy with this sort of business model. No wonder publishing is in trouble.

Ross Macdonald books, for example, have more or less always been in print. Yet suddenly, starting in the late eighties or early nineties, they were being released in trade paperback at twice the price. Meanwhile, both the Travis McGee series by John D. MacDonald, and the Perry Mason series by Erle Stanley Gardner, were being released in regular (mass market) paperback size. It seems to me bookstores aren’t ordering any of these in massive quantities, in either format; they’re all, after all, old books now, and none of ’em are going to miraculously hit the bestseller lists again.

But charging 14 bucks will move more copies than if they’re eight bucks? Strange…


The first difficulty in understanding the French crime novel (assuming, of course, you can read French) is figuring out the meanings of the terms used to describe the genre and its sub-genres. It is often difficult to know what term to use, and frequently not even the French can agree. Most of this glossary is by Brad Spurgeon, a Canadian living in Paris since 1983, who worked at the International Herald Tribune. It originally appeared in the Winter 1997 issue of The Armchair Detective.

If you’re interested in French crime writing, make sure to check out Brad’s “France and the Crime Novel”, which remains the definitive, online English-language guide to the subject, complete with transcribed interviews with many of France’s best hardboiled writers, and other movers and shakers of the scene. And check out our own Les Flics Privés: French Eyes for a quick rundown on Gallic gumshoes.

ALBUM = Generally, a collection of bande-dessinées, generally hardbound, comprising a complete, usually previously-serialized, storyline. Sometimes referred to as graphic novels.

BANDE-DESSINÉE = Also called BDs. French for comic books. But these finely-detailed, stylish, classy European BD’s are a far cry from North American comic books, which are often poorly-produced fodder for children (Brad’s opinion, not mine, necessarily). Challenging, intense, literate, often aimed squarely at adults, some of the genre’s best writers have written for or had their work adapted into this form.

BILIPO = The Bibliothèque des Littératures Policières, more commonly known as the BILIPO, is the French mystery library, located in Paris, that houses more reference work about, and examples of this genre, than you can shake a baguette at.

NOIR = Really hard-boiled, similar to polar, but not perhaps necessarily fast-moving. Very black, in fact. But the hero does not necessarily have to die at the end. Perhaps the only French term to be adopted in English to describe the same thing.

NEO-POLAR = The 1970s-’80s version of the French mystery novel, after the rebirth of the genre following May ’68. Often a politically-oriented novel with a social message.

NOUVELLE = A short story

POLAR = Hard-boiled, hard hitting, often fast moving. But also often a pejorative, as in a cheap potboiler.

ROMAN MYSTERE = Mystery novel in the lighter vein than, say, a roman policier.

ROMAN POLICIER = General term meaning just about everything, but with the emphasis on cops or private eyes.

SERIE NOIR = An amazing publishing imprint, specializing in (usually hardboiled) crime fiction that has existed since 1945. Detective writer Patrick Raynal is the current editorial director, and has been since since 1991.