Thursday, April 3, 2008

Books (and readers) full of surprises

As the owner of a retail store, I'm continually surprised at what books people buy ... at least in my shop.

I had expected to sell mountains of James Patterson's books, just the way the supermarket here in town sells cases of Pepsi. But I find that Patterson is anathema to my customers who much prefer works by Kate Atkinson, Donna Leon and Ross Thomas.

Meanwhile, books that I considered a hard sell have been proven to be easy.

Case-in-point: We Disappear by Scott Heim.

I knew Heim had written Mysterious Skin, but didn't discover the book until after I'd seen the movie on DVD release. When I met Heim at NEIBA last fall, I got a copy of his book and devoured it. It moved me so much that, while it isn't the traditional sleuth-hunts-down-killer scenario of detective fiction, I invited him to a signing at the store. (It will happen Saturday, April 5 at 1 p.m. for those of you in the Brattleboro, Vt. area).

I brought in some copies, put up a display and expected not to sell many until the event.

I was wrong. When I tallied up my sales last week, it was number 5 among my bestsellers. Even more surprising, We Disappear was my No. 1 seller for the month of March.

Sure, you say, but March is always a slow month. True, I say, but still...

Readers are taking to We Disappear. And while Ian Rankin and Cara Black continue to sell swimmingly, there appears to be interest out there for more eclectic titles written by authors willing to take a chance.

I'm sure Heim didn't write We Disappear with the genre of mystery in mind. He set out to write a good novel and, luckily, those of us who like a good mystery have benefited.

Note: I've just finished and fallen in love with Jennifer McMahon's Island of Lost Girls. This coming-of-age novel has all the earmarks of becoming a classic. That it's also a fine murder mystery is an unexpected bonus.

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