If you're a mystery fan, you're likely still stinging from the loss of Pioneer Square's Seattle Mystery Bookshop. But you should know that this Saturday you'll have an opportunity to find some great deals on mystery novels while also supporting the Friends of the Seattle Public Library.
From 9 am to 5 pm at the North Seattle College, the Friends of the Library will host their holiday "better" book sale, which features "like-new" books that make for great gift opportunities. The thing that makes this sale extra-special is that before they closed, Seattle Mystery Bookshop donated a significant part of their collection to the Friends. You'll find a lot of that collection at this sale.
If you're feeling selfish and want to keep the books for yourself, that's okay, too. Books start at $3 a pop, and it benefits a great cause.
Friends! Horizon Books is proud to re-open it's doors. We'd love to invite friends, community members and book lovers of all stripes to come and celebrate our re-opening party and sale. Come say hi to Don, Dave or Brandon, and see the new lay out.
For the one night only, everything under $20 will be %50 off, and include a huge range of free, dollar, $3 and $5 books, with the hope of clearing enough space to start shuffling off some dust, and clearing a few extra boxes out of the way.
Horizon will have a sale for the whole month of October, so drop by and see what they've got onhand.
Remember: Seattle Mystery Bookshop is closing forever on Saturday, September 30th. Go and say goodbye to one of the best bookstore staffs that Seattle has ever seen. We've been writing about Seattle Mystery Bookshop since the very beginning of our site, and we've always been in awe of their bookselling ability. I'll miss them very much.
In a long and thoughtful post, Seattle Mystery Bookshop owner JB Dickey explains why he's closing his bookstore at the end of this month. I'm sad the bookshop couldn't find a new owner, but I'm glad that Seattle had so many wonderful years with such a wonderful bookstore.
On the first day of August, I reported that Pioneer Square mystery bookstore Seattle Mystery Bookshop was for sale. Last night, a number of Seattle-area book journalists received an email from Seattle Mystery Bookshop owner J.B. Dickey. "We've received no firm offers for the shop," Dickey says, "so it feels as if it is time to start winding things down."
"Most likely the end of the month will be it," Dickey explains. He wants everyone to know that the store is now hosting a big sale: 50 percent off all used books and 30 percent off all new books published before 2017. The bookshop is open from 10 am to 5 pm Monday through Saturday.
If no last-minute buyer comes through, hopefully some other Seattle-area bookstores will hire Seattle Mystery booksellers Fran and Amber, both of whom have years of bookselling experience and are voracious readers.
If you'd like to read more about Seattle Mystery Bookshop, we featured them in our Bookstore of the Month feature a couple years ago:
Stop by the bookshop in the next few days. If you haven't visited in a while, your presence will be much appreciated. If you've never visited before, you'll want to spend some time in an underappreciated Seattle literary treasure before it goes away forever.
Seattle Mystery Bookshop, the mystery-centric bookstore that has held down a storefront on Cherry Street in Pioneer Square for decades, is for sale as of today. You may recall that Seattle Mystery Bookshop ran a GoFundMe in January of last year. In a note on the store's blog, owner J.B. Dickey says that successful fundraiser "bought us a year – but barely, and that has taken its toll." He says another fundraiser would continue an unsustainable business model.
I visited the store this afternoon and talked with booksellers Fran and Amber about the news. (Dickey was out of town but is due to return tomorrow.) They confirmed that if it doesn't find a buyer, the store will at least be open through the end of August and early September. "Judy [J.A.] Jance is scheduled for a reading in September, and we're not going to miss that," Fran told me.
Why is the store on the market? The booksellers confirm to me that sales are down, but they believe it's because Pioneer Square foot traffic, in general, is on the decline. Without Elliott Bay Book Company to anchor the satellite bookstores, bookish tourists don't visit Pioneer Square anymore. Additionally, the city has failed to support the neighborhood, and the uncertainty surrounding the soon-to-be-demolished Alaskan Way Viaduct looms over local businesses.
Fran and Amber both firmly believe the bookstore would be successful if it moved to a more active, vibrant neighborhood with foot traffic — somewhere like Queen Anne or Fremont. An enthusiastic young owner who loves books would likely do very well by combining the store with a cafe and creating a Seattle Mystery Bookshop for Seattle as it is now — something like a crime-minded version of Ada's Technical Books.
Interested buyers, if they purchase the store, would receive the store's stock, access to a staff with more than a half-century collective bookselling experience, and the goodwill of a tight-knit community of loyal mystery authors. The shop has hosted hundreds, if not thousands, of mystery authors over the years, and some of them travel to Seattle Mystery Bookshop on their own dime to launch their latest books into the world.
You should let prospective buyers know about this incredible deal. And in the meantime, Seattle Mystery Bookshop is throwing a sale for the rest of the month. Visit their site for more details, and stop by to show your support.
Anna Pulley started writing haiku when her girlfriend dumped her. It quickly became an obsession. Now, her new collection The Lesbian Sex Haiku Book (with Cats!) boasts a gushy blurb by Tegan and Sara calling it “an adorable and hilarious way to start the day!” and urging the reader to — count these exclamation points — “Check it out!!!!” Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600, http://elliottbaybook.com . Free. All ages. 7 p.m.
This morning, Pioneer Square's Seattle Mystery Bookshop launched a GoFundMe campaign "to make sure the rent is completely paid off, all our suppliers are happy, and to restore missing titles and depleted series to our shelves." Their goal is to raise $50,000. Rewards for the campaign include signed first editions, a noirish 1974 Michael Garmin sculpture, tote bags, and coffee cups.
If you'd like to learn more about what makes Seattle Mystery Bookshop so great, we have a whole series of pieces explaining just that — they were our Bookstore of the Month back in September. We explained the unique pleasures of the shop, their amazing propensity for finding just the right book for just the right person, the way they seduce non-mystery readers into reading mysteries, and we ran some brilliant recommendations from their booksellers.
If crowd-funding isn't your thing, stop by Seattle Mystery Bookshop — they're at 117 Cherry St — and pick up a few titles. Your purchase will be much appreciated. Here's hoping they'll stick around to introduce readers to the great mysteries for many decades to come.
As I’ve gotten to know the staff of our September Bookstore of the Month a little better, I realized that Seattle Mystery Bookshop’s greatest strength is in its recommendations. The staff is impossibly well-versed in the genre. So I thought I’d ask them for some recommendations for our readers, particularly those of you out there who would never normally consider giving a mystery a try. Thanks so much to Seattle Mystery Bookshop owner JB Dickey and his staff (Fran, Adele, and Amber) for agreeing to do this. If any of these titles interests you, please stop by Seattle Mystery Bookshop to check them out, and tell them the Seattle Review of Books sent you. If you’re not in Seattle, feel free to order directly from their website; all the books are linked for your convenience.
In your opinion, what's the best single mystery for someone who thinks they hate mysteries?
JB: Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye – as much a novel about friendship as a mystery, and there are set-pieces of Chandler’s literature that are not to be missed.
Fran: Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger. It’s a coming-of-age story, it’s a building thunderstorm, it’s brilliant. And it doesn’t read like a mystery, but there’s a mystery at the heart of it.
Amber: There are so many! For those with an urban fantasy bent, The Rook by Daniel O’Malley is a great place to start. The story centers on a woman who has her personality/memories stolen; she needs to find out who did this to her as well as who is a traitor to the crown. This book has a strong heroine who never falls into the trap of relying on a romantic relationship to save the day! If you are looking for a classic I would highly suggest Endless Night by Agatha Christie. It moves along really well, is one of the author’s favorites, and is an absolute classic! Not quite as well-known as And Then There Were None, Murder Of Roger Ackroyd or Murder On The Orient Express – it’s a good one to start with because you run into less spoilers in pop culture as to whodunit!
What the best mystery series for someone who think they hates mystery series?
JB: Craig Johnson’s Longmire series – literate, funny, moving books about the people and landscape with echoes of everything American. Easy to read them and love them and to not think of them as "mysteries." You have to read them in order because there are hints of things to come and references to past books in each.
Fran: Thomas Perry’s Jane Whitefield series is great. Jane is a Seneca woman who helps people with legitimate reasons to disappear. Her rules are stringent and she will die before revealing her secrets. I was initially skeptical about a man writing from a woman’s perspective, but I have to say that Mr. Perry has created a truly unique, intriguing and captivating series. Start with Vanishing Act. But too, I have to agree with JB about the Longmire series!
Adele: Louise Penny’s Gamache series. At the start of the series, Gamache is Chief Inspector of the Sûreté du Québec who is always investigating happenings in Three Pines, a lovely village in southern Quebec where we all want to live despite the fact that people are always dying there. Louise has developed characters that you care about and cannot wait until the next book to see what happens. The series didn’t really catch me until the second book but they must be read in order (the first may not be skipped) due to the development of the main characters. When I first came to work at the bookshop, I ended up reading a lot of authors so that I could answer the question of “now that I am caught up with the Louise Penny series, what am I going to read until the next book?” Still Life is the first in the series. And let me echo JB and Fran about Craig Johnson!
Amber :This one is tricky…most of the reluctant readers I run into are kids. So the series I always suggest to them are for middle graders and up – Jasper Fforde’s The Last Dragonslayer, which features Jennifer Strange, the acting manager for Kazaam (an employment agency for wizards) who finds herself embroiled in a plot to kill the last dragon in England. This whole series has a great sense of humor and never takes itself too seriously — there are a bunch of single kids’ titles which are great, but Jasper Fforde’s series is one of my all time favorites!
What’s the best mystery you've read lately?
JB: Don Winslow’s The Cartel, A David Lean saga of the horrific drug war along the US/Mexican border – timely and timeless lyrically told.
Fran: I just finished the science-fiction thriller Saturn Run by John Sandford and Ctein. Holy cow! Solid science (which could be overwhelming or boring but isn’t,) people to care about, clever humor, and non-stop action. Quite possibly the best of 2015, in my opinion.
Adele: Paul Cleave’s Trust No One. A mystery writer is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s and his career is ending. His twelve books contain stories of brutal murders committed by very awful men. As his mental balance breaks down, he starts confessing to horrible crimes. Did he commit them or has his writing world collapsed into his reality? I have never wanted to skip to the end of a book so badly. I didn’t and held out to the shocking end. This and The Cartel are the two of the best but JB got to the Winslow first!
Amber: Ben Aaronovitch’s Midnight Riot. Set in modern London, it is about Constable Peter Grant who discovers a witness to a brutal murder. The only thing is this witness is a ghost and when he lets this slip to Detective Chief Inspector Nightingale, his entire career takes a left-hand turn. Each book has its own crime, plus an overarching storyline which builds in tension with each book. It is one of the few police procedurals based on magic, which I find absolutely fantastic.
JB Dickey happened to walk into the Seattle Mystery Bookshop on the day that they received their first order of books from late, lamented west coast distributor Pipeline in 1990. There were boxes everywhere. He made a deal with Seattle Mystery founder Bill Farley: “I traded him work for store credit” on that first day, Dickey says, and “a few weeks later, I ended up starting with him part-time so he could do other, non-bookselling things.” In those early days, Seattle Mystery Bookshop was one of hundreds of mystery-only bookstores in the US. Today, Dickey estimates that it's one of "about fifteen, maybe twenty."
Before he became a bookseller, Dickey was a painter — one of his originals hangs behind the register at the Bookshop today — and he never suspected that he’d one day wind up owning the store, even though “I’d been reading mysteries for most of my life, and I was on a heavy diet of mystery movies and TV shows, so I was familiar with all the conventions.”
Turns out, bookselling was in his blood. He concedes that “it was a nice fit.” First he worked one day a week, which quickly became a couple days a week. By the time his son was born in 1993, Dickey says, “it was really evident that it was time to close up my studio and just sort of give myself over” to the store. “I never set out to be a bookseller, and I never set out to be a small business owner.” But here he is.
It’s a Monday afternoon, and Dickey and Seattle Mystery bookseller Amber are on duty. Amber’s specialties include urban fantasy, golden age mysteries, Agatha Christie, and mysteries for kids. Dickey reads literary fiction, big-name authors like Lee Child, and true crime. On the staff, everybody knows everybody else’s beat, but their tastes evolve naturally. Dickey says, “I’ve never been one to assign reading. We all read whatever we want to read.”
Does Amber ever try to convince Dickey to give urban fantasy novels a try? “It’s just not his bag. If I had to recommend one, though, I think the author he’d like the most would be Jim Butcher. But you can’t force somebody to read something they’re not interested in reading,” she says.
So what do they do when someone comes in who says they don’t especially care for mysteries? Amber usually proposes a thought experiment: “think about what you watch on TV and think about the movies you like.” Most people don’t think of themselves as mystery fans, she says, but they'll spend hours a week watching mysteries. “Chances are we can find something for you.” Dickey adds, “sometimes people will say ‘I don’t really read mysteries,’ and then you ask them a few questions about their interests. Maybe they like to travel, so you can get them a mystery set in a foreign land. Some kids are interested in science or computers. There are mysteries that are set in every different kind of passion.”
With such a varied stock, do they ever fail to find a book for a customer? “We couldn’t find an accordion mystery,” Amber admits. Also, “we couldn’t find a mystery set in the French Revolution,” although a few days after that customer search happened, she said she realized that The Scarlet Pimpernel would have fit the bill. Dickey and Amber start sharing customer service stories. They recall the young man in his 20s who was despondent after the staff had to inform him that Sherlock Holmes wasn’t a real person. One woman asked if Jessica Fletcher (of Murder She Wrote fame) ever came in for a signing.
Amber and Dickey start talking about Sherlock Holmes, which turns into a conversation about James Bond. Soon, they’re discussing a wide range of subjects: whether the larger trade paperbacks that have largely elbowed out smaller, cheaper mass market paperbacks are “elitist;” ways the publishing industry could have better handled the transition to e-books; the importance of fan fiction. It’s a delight to listen to people talk about books with such passion and knowledge. When I say as much, Amber nods. “We love our books,” she says. “We love ‘em. You don’t get into books for the money. You have to love them.”
You can’t stay in business for as long as (our September Bookstore of the Month) Seattle Mystery Bookshop has without becoming really, really good at a thing or two. The most readily apparent sign of the bookstore’s excellence is in its selection, which I wrote about last week. The selection is really quite impressive — the shelves of Seattle Mystery Bookshop display a stock that is comprehensive enough to please the most deeply OCD mystery nerd and yet welcoming enough to appeal to a novice browser who has never before considered reading a mystery novel.
But the store’s not-so-secret weapon is its comprehensive understanding of the mystery genre, which it puts to great use as a tireless engine of book recommendations. A sign on the front counter as you’re walking in to Seattle Mystery Bookshop reads, “for mystery lovers who know what they want and for those who haven’t a clue!” That’s about right.
One of the store’s greatest resources is its seasonal list of new arrivals, which arrives in newsletter form and is consistently updated on their website. The list is broken out into subsections including local authors, new in paperback, historical books, international mysteries, and so on. Elsewhere on the site you’ll find long lists of staff picks to give you a sense of which booksellers’ tastes most align with your own. With its combined decades of bookselling experience behind it, the website has got to be one of the best online resources for mystery-lovers.
The real magic happens, of course, when you visit the store in person. Drop by at any random hour and you’ll see customers get connected with books that no algorithm would retrieve. The ever-changing displays provide a passive form of connection: one woman picks up Leonie Swann’s delightful Three Bags Full, about a herd of sheep trying to solve their shepherd’s murder, from a display of light-hearted mysteries.
But other pairings are more intentional. A young couple buys the latest volume of an urban fantasy series from bookseller Adele, mentioning offhandedly that it’s the only series of prose novels their autistic son is interested in reading. At that, Fran asks the couple to wait and disappears into the store for a quarter-minute, returning with a copy of Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, a mystery narrated by a young autistic boy. The couple are effusive in their thanks, saying that they might have to come back and buy a second copy because their reading-addicted daughter will likely grab hold of the book and not let go.
I decided to put the recommendation engine to work. I tell Fran and Adele about one of my favorite reading experiences: one morning a long time ago, I sat down to read a book from Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series. I was entranced by both the mystery — it involved The Deaf Man, a recurring antagonist who plagues the 87th Precinct with elaborate, almost super-villainous schemes — and by McBain’s writing voice, which was short, and punchy and, it turns out, addictive. I finished the book in a couple hours and wanted more. I walked up to Twice Sold Tales, bought another Ed McBain mystery, took it home, sat down, and read that one from beginning to end, too. Then I returned to Twice Sold Tales again, bought another Ed McBain mystery, read that one from cover to cover, and then I ordered a large pepperoni pizza, ate it all by myself, and fell asleep. It was one of my favorite days. Do they have any recommendations for McBain-like thrillers, written in staccato sentences? Bonus points for a little bit of levity — McBain had a great, underrated sense of humor.
Without a single step wasted, Adele leads me to The Life and Death of Bobby Z, a novel written by Don Winslow. Get a load of these opening paragraphs:
Here’s how Tim Kearney gets to be the legendary Bobby Z.
How Tim Kearney gets to be Bobby Z is that he sharpens a license plate to a razor’s edge and draws it across the throat of a humongous Hell’s Angel named Stinkdog, making Stinkdog instantly dead and a DEA agent named Tad Gruzsa instantly happy.
“That’ll make him a lot easier to persuade,” Gruzsa says when he hears about it, meaning Kearney, of course, because Stinkdog is beyond persuasion by that point.
Sold! I ask if I should read Winslow’s latest, The Cabal, which is earning rave reviews everywhere. Adele gasps. “You haven’t read The Cabal?” I admit that not only have I not read The Cabal, but I haven’t read the novel that preceded it, The Power of the Dog, either. I ask if I should just pick up The Cabal. Adele shakes her head. “You really won’t get it without reading The Power of the Dog first.”
But I have another question: those mysteries that I like, the ones with the short, punchy sentences — McBain, Elmore Leonard — why are they always referred to as “masculine” books? Surely there are women authors who have a similar style? Fran and Adele both light up and lead to me Kelli Stanley’s San Francisco-set novel City of Dragons, a Hammett-like historical thriller that opens with a bang: “Miranda didn’t hear the sound he made when his face hit the sidewalk.”
And sold again.
From a memory of a terrific reading experience, Adele and Fran guided me to two books that I never otherwise would’ve encountered. On a certain online book retailer, the recommendations for those who look up McBain are Go Set a Watchman, the newest Michael Connelly mystery, and The Girl in the Spider’s Web, none of which are very appealing to first-time readers and none of which necessarily seem appealing to McBain fanatics. When it comes to suggested reading, people are in no danger of being replaced, John Henry-like, by algorithms. And when it comes to personally suggested reading, Seattle Mystery Bookshop has some of the best humans in the business.
On an uncharacteristically blustery Saturday, Seattle Mystery Bookshop employees Fran and Adele are getting the store ready for an author visit, but they’re happy to stop for anyone who wanders in out of the windstorm. They sometimes greet visitors with the words of the bookshop’s owner, JB Dickey: “you’re welcome to stay as long as you like, but we won’t feed you and we won’t do your laundry.”
Fran has worked at Seattle Mystery Bookshop for over 12 years. Adele can’t recall if she’s been there for five or six years, but she knows she’s been shopping at the store for 17 years. The transition from one side of the counter to the other seems effortless, in retrospect. “I ran into Fran on the street one day and she told me one of their employees was going to be leaving. She asked if I wanted to apply.” She did. Adele laughs, “I was the one employee JB hired who he didn’t ask ‘...and who do you read?’” After all, he’d been talking books with her for over a decade by that point.
A mystery-only bookstore is a unique pleasure. In a general-interest bookshop, the mystery section tends to look trivial, slammed up against the sci-fi section and overrun by cheap-looking mass-market paperbacks. But in Seattle Mystery Bookshop, a browser can see the nuance of the genre. One display features comedy mysteries. Another contains the first books in recommended series. Many shelves, nearly a full wall, are given over to Northwest authors. A walk around the shop will reveal sections full of rare pulp paperbacks, noir stories, young adult mysteries, a Sherlockiana section, and a true crime section full to bursting with books by local author Ann Rule, who passed away earlier this month. (Seattle Mystery Bookshop employees have a ton of stories about Rule’s many appearances at the store through the years, most of which revolve around the way she treated everyone at her signings with kindness, even the people with glassy stares who demanded she uncover the truth about Kurt Cobain’s death.)
As you may expect for a shop specializing in a genre that leans toward series, Seattle Mystery Bookshop has its share of obsessive-compulsive customers who seek out the latest edition of their favorite detective series on the first day of publication. Fran explains that some of their most frequent customers are “people who are insanely loyal to an author. We love those people.”
And the Bookshop loves authors, too. Novelists will return time and again to the store’s lunchtime signing series. For instance, Fran says, “Jackie Winspear will fly up on her own dime to support us [with a signing] if necessary. Author support has been a big deal” for the store. You’d think staff would get a little blasé about all the novelists floating through, but Fran says “we still fall apart on meeting some authors, make no mistake.” She names a few names — Michael Chabon, Michael Connelly, Jasper Fforde — who freaked even the most veteran booksellers out. Adele proudly says Carol O’Connell “threatened to bitch-slap me” because she was so nervous during an event.
After the signings, every visiting author is asked to sign the store author book. They’re assured that the only other people who will ever see its contents, besides Seattle Mystery Bookshop staff, are other authors. Fran encourages the authors to lean to the naughty side of things: “you can draw pictures, you can be risquee and obscene.” She said for a long time, authors would communicate to each other through cartoons. If you haven’t published a mystery she won’t let you flip through the book, but you might be able to convince her to tell you about some of its contents: Mary Daheim sketched a piece of toast, Anthony Bourdain drew a beautiful picture, Jim Butcher composed a haiku.
As you might expect when booksellers and authors get together, gossip flies. Hang around the shop long enough in one of its comfy chairs and you’ll learn about the nitty-gritty of the mystery industry. On book covers, “cats sell,” and so even if there are no cats in the stories, publishers will frequently try to sneak one onto the front. One author successfully argued with her publisher because the solution to her latest mystery was revealed on the cover. A local author originally set his novel in Seattle, but the editor and publisher insisted that he move the series to New York. Another author claims that her contract is so ironclad that there’s even a clause indicating that her work belongs to the publisher even if humanity discovers alien life and sends the book into outer space.
Pioneer Square used to be the closest thing Seattle had to a publishing district, but now Seattle Mystery Bookshop is one of the last bookstores left in the neighborhood. The shop has a defiant feel to it. The staff saw Pioneer Square decline into seediness — everyone remembers the Mardi Gras riots of 2001 — but now they’re watching it sway back to a trendier part of town, with fancy restaurants opening a few blocks away and new tenants moving in seemingly every day. Some customers still stop by looking for Elliott Bay Book Company, which moved to Capitol Hill in 2010, but more and more, people seek Seattle Mystery Bookshop out as a destination in and of itself.
“I told my friends about you,” a young woman with a gaggle of tourists in tow explains to Adele as she walks into the shop, “and they had to come in and see it for themselves.” Adele welcomes them with a huge smile, tells them to grab a book and sit down and make themselves at home. That’s just what they do.
Seattle Mystery Bookshop has announced that their co-founder, William D. Farley, passed away on Sunday, June 28th, "just three days short of the shop’s 25th birthday." Our thoughts are with the staff of Seattle Mystery Bookshop at what must be a tremendously difficult time. What a legacy, though! The store he helped found is keeping a proud tradition of Pioneer Square bookshops alive.