As you may know, I'm the resident librarian at Dead Guy. Now and then I like to flex my library muscles, and this is going to be the first in a series of three posts looking at reference works on detective fiction. My plan is to compare some pricy print sources to the information we can now get for free on Wikipedia and elsewhere.
Bruce F. Murphy's Encyclopedia of Murder and Mystery (St. Martin's, 1999) is a single-author work with entries on authors, titles, characters, and themes in detective fiction. It lacks neutrality, making it, to my mind, less of an encyclopedia and more a work of criticism. There are facts here (short biographies, occasional incomplete bibliographies), but the thrust of the entries is critical. Sue Grafton gets a rather nasty overview (when Kinsey Millhone goes undercover, she "sounds like a character from Happy Days"; the writing is "vapid" and "bland," and the marketing of the books is "cutesy"); Robert B. Parker gets similar treatment (his later books are "simple" and even "canned").
Murphy's Encyclopedia is a good book. It's intelligent and well-written, and I can see why libraries all over the country have acquired it. But I'm not sure why anyone in 2014 would spend $75 on it ($65 for the paperback) when more and better factual information is readily available online, for free. The 1999 edition of Murphy misspells Janet Evanovich's name (Evanovitch) and lists her birth year as unknown, while Wikipedia knows all about her; Murphy's entry for Agatha Christie is under 1000 words, about a tenth of the size of the Wikipedia entry.
In the early days of the internet, we librarians cautioned researchers against depending on Wikipedia. It had no editor! It was written by amateurs! It could be changed at any moment, by anyone! Of course, these things turned out to be strengths, in the end, and while you can't always trust everything in Wikipedia, it's frequently got more and better information than print sources.