Mystery is the first genre I loved as a reader, and the most enduring. It was fuelled by reading Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys and, of course The Three Investigators series. These books made up much of my reading for the longest time, until I graduated to the adult section of the library and left them behind.
But, I’ve never left mysteries behind. There is nothing quite delving into an investigation with your favourite character, following the twists and turns, your heart beating faster as you follow the clues, the tension strung tight … you know what I mean?
All of which makes me deeply regret I didn’t get a chance to visit The Mysterious Bookshop when I was in NYC recently. This little gem is the oldest bookstore in the US focused on mysteries. To be fair, I don’t know any other store that is focused on mysterious like Mysterious is.
It was started in 1979 by Otto Penzler, an award-winning author, editor, columnist and publisher, and is still going strong. It’s well known for the depth of the titles it carries, and has the largest Sherlock Holmes collection in the world — so it makes sense that Sir Ian Mckellen visited the store to pick up a copy of Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin for his new movie Mr Holmes.
Ian, the store’s manager, answered some questions for me about the store and it’s popularity.
What sort of mystery or author brings out your inner fanboy, and why?
I don’t have any particular favorite author, but I do love any mysteries in the locked-room or impossible crime sub-genres. The more puzzling and ingenious the better!
I’ve been here for 10 years. At that point the store was located uptown on West 56th. It was small, but creaky, musty, and the very idea of a “mysterious” bookshop. I loved it. My very first day began with a visit from Umberto Eco, which only solidified what I knew already—this was a great job.
Mysterious is the oldest bookstore focused on mysteries in the country: tell us a little about what you think has appealed to people and ensured its longevity?
There are a few things that have kept us in business for so long. 1) The owner, Otto Penzler, is a treasure trove of mystery knowledge. I don’t think there’s anyone else who knows more. 2) The staff is very knowledgeable as well. We are all voracious readers and pride ourselves on giving the perfect recommendations. 3) We offer signed first editions at no extra cost and were one of the first shops to do this on a consistent basis.
How did the store start? Tell us a little about its history?
Otto began the shop in 1979. He was already a great lover of mysteries and had started a small publishing company called Armchair Detective. The shop was a natural outgrowth of this. When he opened the shop he had no idea it would continue for 36 years!
Can anyone ever get tired of a good mystery?
I think it’s possible. If writers don’t continuously invigorate the genre with new plots and ideas, then it can get a bit stale. But when done right, there’s no better, more engaging genre in the world.
Is there anything you’d wish readers paid more attention to in the store? A genre? Or an author?
There are a number authors I think deserve more attention. These include John Lawton, Christopher Fowler, Louis Bayard, Michael Koryta, Alafair Burke, Charles McCarry, and Zoe Sharp. They do have some following, but these are authors I think should be on the bestseller lists.
That first meeting with Eco, of course. Our yearly visits Robert B. Parker, Donald Westlake, and Elmore Leonard, before they passed away. A few notable rare book collections containing extraordinary titles.
What are some of the surprising big sellers you’ve had at the store?
Nothing surprises me anymore. That said, the continued success of such books as Peter May’s The Black House and Pierre Lemaitre’s Alex brings me great joy.
What releases from Mysterious Press has you excited this year?
MysteriousPress.com recently released a collection of James M. Cain stories (The Complete Crime Stories) that are phenomenally dark. They also released a collection of Rex Stout’s pre-Nero Wolfe short stories (The Last Drive) that are absolutely wonderful. As for Mysterious Press itself (they’re two separate companies), I would have to say Charles McCarry’s The Mulberry Bush.
The store also works with Open Road Media, HighBridge Audio and Grove/Atlantic releasing ebooks, new books and audiobooks and I thought it was a very comprehensive, covering different mediums in publishing. How else has the evolution of publishing changed things for the press?
The integration of social media is especially important for a small press. More importantly, I’d say, is the ability to digitize and reintroduce an author’s backlist. Ellery Queen is one good example. Classic mysteries that have been out of print for some time. Putting them into physical print can be risky, but as ebooks, the risk vs reward is much more manageable.
Which author would you go searching for at The Mysterious Bookshop? Who are the authors you love the most?