Remember the Mystery Bookshop?

Once upon a time, when Laurie King had some brown in her hair and people used telephones to talk into, the world was filled with specialty mystery bookshops. Most big cities had one—some, like San Francisco, had two—and they were an amazing place to fossick about and discover someone new.

There are still a few, my beloved Poisoned Pen Books in Scottsdale for one (where I’ll be doing an event in November!) but most of the mystery-reading community has gone online.

I miss it.  I miss walking into a shop and seeing those familiar spines—always a few of the grey Dorothy L. Sayers paperbacks.

And there was generally a chance to fill in the missing Ellis Peters on my shelf.

Mysterious Bookshop, Murder by the Book, Mysterious Galaxy—what writer did you discover in a Mystery Books store, and who’s your favorite?

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  1. Chris on October 12, 2019 at 10:22 am

    Heavens! I recall being shown a copy of the first edition of The Beekeeper’s Apprentice in the San Francisco Mystery store in Noe Valley, many, many moons ago (kept high up behind the register!!). This was about 20 years ago when I had just tracked down the UK edition (signed!) via No Alibis in Belfast. But waaaaay back, I think it was Ruth Rendell, when I was about 13, in a second-hand book stall at an indoor market near my then-home town in Cornwall. What a find that was!

  2. janet on October 12, 2019 at 10:28 am

    I’ve been in lots of bookstores but never one devoted solely to mysteries. As we’re moving to the Mesa area next year, I’ll have an opportunity to visit Poisoned Pen Books. I’ll look forward to it. Whatever bookstore I do visit, I always look at the mystery section first. Who do I like best? Well my comfort reading mysteries include the Holmes/Russell series (re-reading many of them yet again), Deborah Crombie, Dick/Felix Francis, Tony/Anne Hillerman, Elizabeth Peters, J.A. Jance, Earlene Fowler, and Susan Wittig Albert’s China Bayles series. I’ve read and re-read these many times and plan to keep doing so. 🙂


  3. Robin on October 12, 2019 at 2:03 pm

    I used to hunt down mystery bookshops when I would travel and try to find a book with a local setting (and local author, most of the time). There is always a table filled with books by local authors or with local settings, and I learned a lot the city I was visiting, I particularly remember one trip to Evanston, IL (as part of a college visit trip with my son) where I was just in agony choosing among the different authors. My backpack was limited in size and I couldn’t take them all home.

    While I much prefer reading on a device (my eyes are going and I can increase the font size — when my bookclub reads books I have on my shelf, I often have to buy an e-version of the book because I can’t read the type in the one I have, plus on long trips they take up a lot less room — I have been known to take 20 books on a vacation), I do miss curated mystery collections, where I can find new authors that appeal to me. I was in Powell’s in Portland last month, and it was overwhelming, because while I suspect they have everything (I found an out of print copy of a book that a TV series I like is based on), it isn’t curated the way a mystery bookstore would be.

  4. Merrily Taylor on October 12, 2019 at 3:07 pm

    I remember when one of the treats of going to Washington, D.C., for meetings was the opportunity to visit the mystery bookstore on Connecticut Avenue, near Dupont Circle. It’s been gone so long that I can’t remember its name, but I never went there without coming out with a pile of books!

    • D. Darnell on October 13, 2019 at 1:37 am

      That’s the bookstore I was going to mention! I used to go there when I was in grad school. I went in one December and asked them to help me find half-a-dozen historical mysteries by different authors as a Christmas present for my mom, who was just getting into historical mysteries. Nothing beats a good bookstore run by people who know books, not just merchandising.

      • Laurie King on October 13, 2019 at 9:17 am

        God bless all good booksellers!

      • Fredrica Klemm on November 3, 2019 at 1:33 am

        I also visited this bookstore every time I was in DC. I was devastated when it closed. The people who worked there were so knowledgable and always had great suggestions. They introduced me to so many new authors and helped me track down old favorites. I believe they sold me Beekeeper’s Apprentice along with tons of other books over the years. I deeply appreciated the time and care they took with their customers – never minding that ringing up a sale could evolve into 15 minute conversation about books you were reading and other authors you might enjoy. I really miss that bookstore!

        • Laurie King on November 4, 2019 at 8:30 am

          Among many…

    • Catharina on October 20, 2019 at 9:30 pm

      Dang it! I can’t believe I never knew about that store—but I still miss Lammas Books, which was also in the Dupont Circle area, and specialized in books by female authors.

  5. Kathe Gust on October 12, 2019 at 3:16 pm

    I loved the now defunct “M is for Mystery” in San Mateo, and always visit “Poisoned Pen” whenever I’m in Phoenix, but I also enjoy the opportunity to develop online relationships with mystery bookstores all over the world. I often see coverage in their newsletters for new authors that I wouldn’t have discovered otherwise.

  6. Barbara Swahlen on October 12, 2019 at 3:20 pm

    Footprints of a Gigantic Hound in Tucson, AZ. My introduction to Nevada Barr, J A Jance , and you!

    • Laurie King on October 12, 2019 at 4:12 pm

      I loved Footprints–and their dog!

    • Hilary Gleason on October 20, 2019 at 5:26 pm

      Best mystery bookshop name, ever!

  7. GraceAnne Andreassi DeCandido on October 12, 2019 at 3:35 pm

    Partners & Crime (alas no longer) in Greenwich Village in New York City. It was adorable and small and held everything. I helped plan an event there for Deborah Grabien, of “Rock and Roll Never Forgets” and the rest of the Kinkaid chronicles, but in that store I had also caught up with Sarah Caudwell, too.

  8. Mary Burton on October 12, 2019 at 5:57 pm

    I’ve never been in a mystery bookstore, or maybe I just don’t remember. Wandering around the mystery section brought me to Laurie R. King 🐝, Jonathan L. Howard’s Johannes Cabal series, and Martha Grimes’ Richard Jury series.

  9. Betsy Miller on October 13, 2019 at 1:27 pm

    Once upon a time, The Science Fiction and Mystery Bookstore in Atlanta GA. (Virginia-Highland to start with [I’m old] and then Cheshire Bridge Road.)

    Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael is one of the series that periodically gets discounted in e-book form, and I have the entire series on my tablet! Just in case I run out while traveling, you know …

  10. Jessica on October 13, 2019 at 2:10 pm

    We are lucky enough to have at least two in Minneapolis: the divine Once Upon a Crime ( and Uncle Edgar’s. I’ve gotten several of your books at Once Upon a Crime.

  11. Serena DuBois on October 13, 2019 at 8:51 pm

    Back when we lived in San Francisco prior to 1992 I was also in and out of the San Francisco Mystery store in Noe Valley. At that point I was looking for John MacDonald’s Travis McGee books and Manning Coles spy mysteries with Tommy Hambleton. I also found two large trade paperbacks, one about women mystery writers the other about men. These days aging eyes send me to Early Bird Books for building my digital library on the cheap. I have gotten all of the Dorothy Sayers Peter Wimsey books that way and almost all of Peter Bowen’s Montana mysteries. I used to take a separate book bag or traveling library on my car trips. Now I just pack my tablet. I do a lot of my Christmas shopping in on line bookstores, mystery and otherwise and am glad the owners can keep them going in our digital age.

    • Laurie King on October 15, 2019 at 1:59 pm

      Ah yes, the SF Mystery Books, those were good days. And I remember those two reference books—by Dilys Winn, I think.

      Online bookstore communities are nice, but not quite the same…


  12. Michael Bush on October 14, 2019 at 4:20 pm

    Mysterious Bookshop, when it was on 56th Street, NYC (loved the spiral staircase. next to Stanley Kaplan Test Prep. I also purchased a first edition Beekeeper’s Apprentice by a new writer and was hooked.

    Late of memory, Murder Ink when it was next to the garage with a great reisdent large cat. It moved twice. The first location was the best.

    Also in Montclair New Jersey – Beam me up Watson. SciFi and Mystery bookstore. It worked well together,

    • Laurie King on October 15, 2019 at 2:00 pm

      Yes, loved the spiral staircase–and the fact that once Otto got to know a writer, s/he might be invited into the back quarters…
      And yay for bookstore cats.

  13. Benjamin L. Clark on October 15, 2019 at 12:55 am

    I can remember checking out a mystery bookshop in Omaha, Nebraska in the summer of 1999. There were several great used bookshops. I wasn’t that much into mystery novels yet, so I popped in more out of curiosity. Sadly it was closed by the time I lived in Omaha again and had become a die-hard mystery fan.

  14. Bruce Cotter on October 15, 2019 at 3:21 pm

    There was a terrific little mystery bookshop called Mystery on Main Street, in Brattleboro VT. The owner David, was very knowledgeable and friendly and it was a delight to browse in. Sadly, it closed this year, marking the demise of what I think was the only specifically mystery oriented bookstore in New England. Poisoned Pen remains one of my favorites, I was for several years in its book club and was introduced to literally dozens of wonderful books and authors that way.

  15. Susan D on October 19, 2019 at 11:58 am

    I’ll just throw in a shout out to Sleuth of Baker Street, still alive and kicking in Toronto. Big on all mysteries, and very supportive of Canadian mystery writers.

  16. Kate on January 15, 2020 at 3:46 pm

    Murder One on the Charing Cross Road, although they still have an online presence and was the first place I sourced my US editions of the Russell and Holmes books.

  17. Steven Janiver on September 25, 2020 at 2:18 pm

    Just recently in a Bookmans in Tucson , i discovered Lia Matera, Christopher West and Valerie Wesley. Happens all the time. Read the first few pages, if it clicks than you’ve a new author.

    • Laurie King on September 29, 2020 at 5:00 pm

      Love those second hand bookshops! Tell yours hi from me!

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