Friday, July 06, 2007

Book Collector Murdered

Rolland Lee Comstock, 70, a Missouri bibliophile known to travel far and wide in order to get his books signed and for his ability to spot emerging authors and gamble on their eventual success was found shot to death in his home on Tuesday, the Springfield News-Leader reports. Theft does not seem to have been the motive: "A Greene County Sheriff's detective on Thursday scoured Rolland Lee Comstock's extensive book collection for missing volumes, aided by a person familiar with the slain attorney's unique cataloging system. Nothing appeared to be missing from the two-story library," which holds more than 50,000 volumes.

Police say eight detectives are working the case, the first homicide this year in rural Greene County. Comstock suffered "multiple gunshot wounds," including a fatal shot to the abdomen. The Columbia Tribune notes that there were no signs of forced entry around Comstock's home.

Nick Basbanes profiled Comstock in Patience & Fortitude, noting his penchant for tirelessly collecting any items relating to his favorite authors and his willingness to gamble on a writer's eventual success (he once bought 1,085 copies of Jim Crace's first book, Continent, because he'd heard it was to be remaindered, Basbanes notes). He had a rather different approach to book possession than most people: "I get a kick out of possessing ten copies of a great book. If one copy is great, it stands to reason that having ten copies is going to be ten times as great" (P&F, 174).

Basbanes is quoted in the News-Leader report on Comstock's death: "This is going to be buzzing through the book world. Now what's going to happen to that collection, we don't know yet ... It's a very daring, innovative collection, and it is unique to my recollection."

Comstock's will is to be filed next week, his attorney told the paper. Comstock is survived by an ex-wife, "with whom he was embroiled in an ongoing civil suit," along with children and step-children.