Anyone who buys second hand books online through Abe Books probably knows a few things about the service. Firstly that their books (they are sourced from second hand book shops all over the country) are enormously cheap; secondly that the postage can often cost twice the amount that you are paying for the title itself, and thirdly that you are never quite sure what it going to turn up.
And I mean that in a good way. Sure they give you indications: ex library, tanned, normal wear and tear, student notes – that sort of thing. But old books become so individual that it’s not too much of a surprise when you end up with note-ridden histories, accidental rare editions and ex-library copies, hammered with stamps.
I’ve always liked thinking about the biographies of individual books and was quite pleased when my copy of Clive Emsley’s Crime and Society in England turned up and transpired to have been fished – albeit some time ago – out of the Metropolitan Police Library at New Scotland Yard. It seemed quite apt.
It was apparently in there in the early 1990s, when terrorism meant the IRA and ETA and little else, when Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were inseparable and the Commissioner was Paul Condon.