Murder mystery bookstores are magic squared. First, you have the joy of the bookstore, where you encounter many books and find old mystery classics and discover unexpected books. Second, you have the mystery focus—which means there will be an excellent mystery selection and knowledgeable staff who can help you find new sleuths to obsess over. And it can also mean finding the first book in a series, which many other bookstores often do not have.
In the spirit of celebrating murder mystery bookstores across the United States, Murder & Mayhem talked with bookstores and asked them four questions. The responses we received were delightful and mysterious...
Centuries and Sleuths
Forest Park, Illinois
Augie Aleksy had always wanted to open a bookstore but knew he didn’t want to open a general bookshop. With his business background, he did market research and decided to open a bookshop dedicated to both mystery and history. Aleksy said, “Due to my having earned an M.A. in History, I felt connections between the two; because in studying history, one finds many mysteries, a lot of them unsolved.” Given the store’s specialties, they have a lot of historical mysteries as well as local authors who set their works in Chicago.
They have author signings as well as mystery author panels and even a weekend of different panels, both fiction and nonfiction. The store also has book discussion groups, including the G. K. Chesterton Society and History Discussion Group. They've also conducted live events like a trial of Richard III based on Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time among other events. The shop has even seen members write their own mysteries, including John Dickson Carr. Aleksy explained, “Between the [Mystery and History] groups’ activities, we liked to state we made mystery & history come alive.”
Related: Daughter of Time: A Mystery Lover's Guide to Josephine Tey
When asked about their favorite murder mystery, Aleksy said, “that’s like asking a parent who is their favorite child. After much review, I’d have to say Three Strikes You’re Dead by Robert Goldsborough. My wife/partner, Tracy had the same reaction, but ultimately decided on a Bess Crawford mystery by Charles Todd.”
Mystery to Me
About nine years ago, Joanne Berg decided to open Mystery to Me when she heard that another mystery bookshop in Madison called Booked for Murder was closing. She had always wanted to own her own bookstore after working in the administration at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She ended up buying the store’s inventory and bookshelves and moved them to a new bookshop location. When asked about specialties within the genre, Berg said, “We very carefully curate our mystery section to get in lesser known authors in addition to the most popular. We like to surprise our customers with a new author. We also are more inclined to buy literary mysteries.”
Their top three best-selling authors are Kathleen Ernst, Louise Penny, and William Kent Krueger.
When asked about her favorite mystery author, she said, “I find it very hard to answer that question as it depends on my mood! Here are a few of my favorite authors: Elly Griffiths, Jacqueline Winspear, Tana French, Deborah Crombie.”
Related: 7 Mystery Books About Books About Books (and That’s Not a Typo)
The Cloak and Dagger
Princeton, New Jersey
Aline Lenaz, store founder and partner, had always wanted to run a bookshop, her husband Jerry explained as “an encore career”. He noted that when an opportunity came to buy a small bookshop in Princeton, they did. Aline Lenaz had read murder mysteries all her life from Nancy Drew and Agatha Christie to contemporary writers so it seemed like a good fit for a store. The store focuses on “well-written mystery stories by independent presses and authors that cover the basic genres of the mystery community,” Jerry said.
The current bestsellers that they are recommending include: Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. Manansala; The Coldest Case by Martin Walker; The Satapur Moonstone by Sujata Massey and A Fiancée's Guide to First Wives and Murder by Dianne Freeman. Jerry’s favorite murder mystery is The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers.
This New Jersey shop is nicely located in the historic district in a “100-year-old colonial revival home.”
Once Upon a Crime
Opening in 1987, the store has been owned by several people over the years, and is currently owned by its fourth owners, Meg King-Abraham and Dennis Abraham. Their daughter, Devin Abraham, runs the shop full-time: “We were customers when the previous owners wanted to retire. My parents actually thought the store would be a great fit for them when they retired and asked me to run it temporarily.” She’s planning on becoming the fifth owner in the near future.
The store stocks local Minnesota crime along with all other mystery genres. Abraham noted, “Long cold winters have apparently made Minnesota a breeding ground for crime writers and we have lots of really good local authors.” She also notes that the shop also has an Annex that holds used mysteries, including vintage paperbacks, collectibles, and more.
Right now, they are recommending Naomi Hirahara's Clark and Division. Devin's favorite mystery is Sherlock Holmes's "The Adventure of the Speckled Band". She reflected, “My dad loves Sherlock Holmes and read us the short stories as kids. I think it was my first exposure to mysteries, and to this day I can clearly picture the events of that story in my head.”
They have one of the best murder-themed logos for their store—an outline of a chalk body with their name.
Murder on the Beach Mystery Bookstore
Delray Beach, Florida
After retiring from 20 years as a financial manager in Connecticut and New York, Joanne Sinchuk explained she came to Florida to “fulfill her dream of owning a small specialty bookstore” in 1996. Sinchuk describes the shop as “a comfortable, friendly neighborhood bookstore specializing in mystery, suspense, thrillers, true crime and children’s mysteries.” While she ended up selling the bookshop to BookSmart Enterprises in 2007, she remains the store manager.
Murder on the Beach does book signings with major authors like James Patterson and Lisa Garner; they also have book discussions. They do specialize in Florida based mysteries on top of general mysteries.
Related: 8 More Books for James Patterson Obsessives
Sinchuk shared that they are hoping to celebrate their 25th anniversary in the near future, depending on what happens with COVID-19. They also offer a variety of programming including virtual writers workshops, literary launches with local restaurants and so much more. Sinchuk also notes that they are “the official on-site bookseller for many writers conferences including Killer Nashville, Mystery Writers of America SleuthFest, Florida Writers Association, and Florida Authors and Publishers and library author events.”
Murder by the Book
Martha Farrington opened Murder by the Book in 1980 specializing in all sorts of murder mysteries. McKenna Jordan later purchased the shop in 2009. They have new and used books as well as first editions and practically anything murder mystery themed. They hold 200 events, which they have transitioned well to the virtual world in COVID-19 times. They have some great monthly book subscriptions for people who want to stay on top of what’s new in crime. People can choose from Best of the Month, Crime Fiction Legends, and Cozy Corner.
On their website, Jordan’s favorite mystery writers are listed as “Megan Abbott, Cara Black, Ken Bruen, Kerry Greenwood, Charlaine Harris, Carolyn Haines, Peter Lovesey, Daniel Silva, Jacqueline Winspear.”