Jeff Johnson, past president of the board of UT Libraries’ John C. Hodges Society, has curated an exhibition of rare books at the prestigious Grolier Club.
Founded in 1884, the Grolier Club in New York City is America’s oldest and largest society for bibliophiles and enthusiasts in the graphic arts.
Johnson, a lifelong book collector, is particularly partial to mystery and detective novels. His exhibit, Whodunit? Key Books in Detective Fiction, includes rare works from the 19th century and early 20th century. All books are from his personal collection, and most are first editions from the author’s home country.
Johnson’s narrative for the exhibit presents a history of the detective genre, beginning with the “true crime” books of the early 19th century. One early and interesting example would be the Memoirs of Vidocq, Principal Agent of the French Police until 1827. Vidocq was a real-life criminal who became, in turn: a police informant; head of the first detective force, Paris’s Sûreté Nationale; then the head of the world’s first detective agency.
Johnson notes authors who first introduced tropes that have become recurring themes within the detective fiction genre. American novelist Anna Katherine Green, for instance, set many precedents for future detective fiction: a rich person murdered on the verge of signing a new will, the body in the library, a coroner’s inquest, testimony from expert witnesses, a map of the scene of the crime, and an explanatory chapter wrapping up the mystery.
Fans of detective fiction can view the exhibit online.
Johnson was an architect with the renowned Knoxville firm McCarty Holsaple McCarty for three decades, retiring from his role as executive vice president and chief financial officer in 2021. As a member of McCarty Holsaple McCarty, he played a leading role in the first major renovation of UT’s John C. Hodges Library in 1987 — even designing the library’s iconic oak tables.
In addition to serving as president of the UT Libraries’ John C. Hodges Society board, Johnson has been active in many civic organizations. Earlier this year, he was honored with a UT Alumni Service Award.
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