Monday, December 21, 2009

It's a steal

There have been a number of articles recently on stolen books...that is, the books people steal from bookstores. I'm not sure why people steal anything, and I'm more unsure as to why anyone would steal a book. Books, at least to this bookseller, are sacred and should never be stolen, abused, burned or even have their corners bent to mark a page -- that is what a bookmark is for.

Book stealers are usually book resellers, usually on a street corner (if in a large metro area), a flea market or to an unscrupulous bookstore that buys stolen merchandise. Over the past 40 years, I've worked in bookstores only to learn that no book is impossible to heist. A pile of Herman Wouk's "War and Remembrance" took a hike one afternoon with a fellow who simply put his raincoat around a stack and walked out of one Manhattan store. We found him hawking them two blocks away for $2 a pop. I have also handed a customer an expensive book, turned my back for a moment and ... poof!...he was gone; I caught up with him a couple minutes ... and blocks ... later.

An article in the London Times earlier this year had a bookseller claiming that London A-Z was the most stolen book in the world. Maybe for him, or for his time selling books, but I'd like to see proof. Maybe it only holds true if you sell books in London, but I'd think it would be the Harry Potter books in England.

I put the whole book-stealing thing on '60s radical Abbie Hoffman who titled his tome Steal This Book, thereby encouraging rampant bibliocrime.

Of course, if one were to steal a book you'd think it would be something rare and valuable -- some first edition of some antique manuscript that was worth a fortune. But in my experience, the most-often pilfered book is the Holy Bible (King James version). Whether it has been from a small independent or a large chain store, it always seems that the most taken is the (supposedly) most sacred.

One wonders whether the people who steal bibles actually get around to reading them,. They might want to check out Exodus 20: 2-17. There are a bunch of Thou Shall Nots they should probably become acquainted with.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Fen for yourself

It seems that everybody wants to know what the latest and greatest mystery books are...and here I sit reading Edmund Crispin's The Moving Toyshop, the third book in the Gervase Fen series. While I rave that The Girl Who Played With Fire is the most exciting book of the year, I have to admit that Crispin's 1946 entertainment remains a corker.

While the mystery (about a poet who stumbles upon a body in a toy shop only to return with the police to discover the body gone and the toy shop nonexistent) is clever enough (think Bryant and May at its most droll), it is decidedly an entertainment, one in which Crispin even breaks the "fourth wall" -- while locked in a closet, Fen speculates on what title Crispin will give this new adventure and comes up with several possibilities that place him in an heroic light.

Crispin, who wrote his first Fen mystery while he was still an undergraduate at Oxford, is so funny and so fey that one expects his novels to offer guest appearances by Bertie Wooster and his valet Jeeves. While he was a composer (he did music for the Carry On series, written under his real name Bruce Montgomery), book editor and crime fiction reviewer for the Sunday Times, it is for the Fen books that he is most remembered.

There are a total of nine delightful Gervase Fen novels and several dozen short stories. Felony and Mayhem Press has reissued six in the series so far, but The Moving Toyshop remains among the missing. Still, you can find it in some shops who have imported it (it is published by Vintage, a British imprint of Random House). It may not be a Christmas story but it certainly is a holiday treat.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Change of habit

Once we dismiss the unfortunate cover of this week's Publisher's Weekly -- Afro Picks!, which features an African-American model wearing a forest of afro picks displaying Black Power fists (o, my) -- and head inside the issue, it turns out that there is some good news for book lovers.

When I say "book lovers," I mean those people who actually have a fondness for real books with paper pages...i.e., traditional bound books, not plastic screens tailored to the tactile impaired. As reported in PW, Simon and Schuster has joined a growing number of publishers who are questioning the logic of publishing titles as books and e-books simultaneously.

Simon will delay several dozen e-book titles to give the paper-and-print variety some time on the shelves. HarperCollins and Hachette Book Group are also toying with different ways to save traditional printing from the fangs of discounted e-books.

While some are quoted in the article as saying that this kind of delay is what hurt the film industry, you don't see movies like Avatar or Blind Sided coming out on video the week they hit the big screen. Those who want to see the film immediately must go to a movie theater; others wait the three to six months before they can buy it (or rent it) from a video store.

Publishers need to protect their books, their authors and the industry. My suggestion to publishers: If you are going to retail an e-book for under $10, wait until it is published in mass market paperback form for under $10. Instead of caving in to the Nook and the Kindle, do the smart thing before people start copying book titles as easily as they share music.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Tempest in a 'Teaglass'

Bibliophiles love mysteries, so what better mystery could there be than the tale of bibliophiles plunged into murder and romance? The Broken Teaglass is a wonderful find -- a literary mystery. Among the dusty files of a dictionary publishing house, editors pore over new entries and investigate meaning and origin. But it looks as if someone has left a cache of coded clues to an unsolved murder.

Author Emily Arsenault explores words and how we define ourselves, as coworkers Billy Webb and Mona Minot puzzle out a mystery of wit and intelligence.

And luckily, author Arensault recently dropped by to sign copies for the store.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Clash of the Titans

Wal-Mart and Amazon have declared war by offering books for sale well below wholesale prices. You'd think that the small retail store would be wise to duck for cover.

Looking for the latest John Grisham book (Ford County, out Nov. 3)? The book retails for $24 and you can pre-order it online from both companies for a paltry $9. Since the average mom-and-pop bookstore pays approximately $15 for the same book (plus shipping), they could be left out in the cold. The forthcoming James Patterson I, Alex Cross book priced at $27.99 is available at the same $9 rate. And Stephen King's Under The Dome is an even better deal: $35 retail, $9 online at Wal-Mart and Amazon (a savings of 75 percent).

As an independent bookseller, I probably shouldn't be letting people know where they can get these book deals. But the fact is that this book fire sale won't effect our store much because these are not authors who sell well in an independent store. These are authors whose books are sold by the truckload in supermarkets and drug stores, Wal-Marts and Costcos...and Barnes & Nobles and Borders (who will probably feel the pinch in this clash of the titans). Most likely, I will sell only one or two John Grisham books while the Stephen King book may or may not sell at all. I don't even bother to buy James Patterson books for our shop; he may be a brand name writer but his sales do little or nothing for an independent shop like ours, unless he shows up to do a book signing.

November is a difficult month for many book stores and both Amazon and Wal-Mart probably feel the pinch too, so maybe they've decided to do "loss leaders" to get people onto their web sites and, while they are shopping for their book bargains, possibly buy more. It will be interesting to see how long this price cutting lasts (can Amazon continue to sell books below the price of a Kindle download that, many suspect, is well below their costs already?).

These mass discounts may be good for the bottom line, but they cheapen both the book publishers and the authors they publish. Still, the giants will do what they do best: sell popular fiction, widgets or cans of peas by the caseload. Those of us who love books will continue to look for talented new authors and promote them by word-of-mouth one at a time.

Wish us luck.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Gunther goes gunning

Lovers of police procedurals will find much to enjoy in Archer Mayor's The Price of Malice, the 20th investigation headed by Joe Gunther of the Vermont Bureau of Investigation.

After a man is found brutally murdered in Brattleboro, Vermont, the killer remains at large. But it soon develops that the murdered man is a suspected child predator tangled in a network of an extended family living in a local trailer park. Any member of the clan would have had the opportunity to kill him, and, as he was involved with both the mother and her 12-year-old daughter, reason to commit the murder. At the same time, Gunther has learned that his girlfriend Lyn’s fisherman father and brother, believed lost at sea off the coast of Maine, might have actually been murdered.

Lyn returns to Maine to investigate while Gunther periodically puts his on-going murder investigation on hold—irritating his colleagues and angering his bosses —to go and help Lyn in Maine. Torn between his conscience and his heart, a murder investigation and a personal search for the truth, Gunther finds that betrayal and loyalty are often a matter of viewpoint. This is another fine entry into the series, bringing to the fore some of the secondary characters who have been a part of Joe's career over the years. Fans of the irascible Willy Kunkle will be especially pleased, because whenever Willy's on the case the dialogue between him and his associates catches fire.

Basically, The Price of Malice offers solid detective work written by one of the best in the business.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

O Death, where is thy sting?

Death comes to us all, but the way we die varies. This Will Kill You: A Guide to the Ways in Which We Go enumerates 75 different ways that people annually kick the bucket. From a Great White Shark attack to anthrax, from going over Niagra Falls in a barrel to being slimed by a dart frog, authors H.P. Newquist and Rich Maloof catalog our road to dusty death.

The book rates each death for frequency (only one or two people a year is eaten by an alligator), lethality (maybe you can escape being totally eaten and just get chewed up a bit) and its horror factor (the alligator thing is thought to be quite terrifying). You even get an urban legend or two, like the one about the Boy Scout Troop that was wiped out from toasting marshmallows over a fire made of oleander leaves.

There is a forward by a doctor from the Mayo Clinic, so one suspects that the science is right. It's easy to pick up and put down (each death is covered in two to three pages), so you may want to leave a copy in the bathroom this Halloween. Anyway, at $14.95 it's a cool read.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Fictional author's fiction
Cabot Cove's Jessica B. Fletcher has a long string of mysteries to her name, and we don't mean the novels mentioned on the show Murder She Wrote. And although the show never mentions author Donald Bain, it's pretty much an open secret that he's the brains behind such novels as The Corpse Danced at Midnight and Mystery of the Mutilated Minion, for which Fletcher has been credited through her publisher New American Library. (Bain has written a host of novels under his name and others, and there are some who claim he actually wrote all of Margaret Truman's books, althou
gh Bain has denied that.)

Now comes another fictional fiction writer to the mystery world: Richard Castle. You may have caught him on the TV show Castle where he is a consultant for the NYPD. Anyway, Castle, so the story goes, has just killed off his popular fictional detective Derek Storm and is now researching a new series. The result is the just-released Heat Wave, available in bookstores from Hyperion Press. It follows the exploits of NYPD's Nikki Heat who, Castle fans might recognize, is based on Detective Kate Beckett, one of that show's main characters. (The book is dedicated "To the extraordinary KB and all my friends at the 12th" (precinct, that is).

Heat Wave has a blurb by James Patterson (don't most books get those?) who along with Stephen J. Cannell (with blurb on back cover) have appeared on Castle as themselves as Castle's poker game buddies. Now, the real game begins as fans of the show speculate who actually wrote Heat Wave. (Note: Fans of Nathan Fillion, who plays Richard Castle on the show, will be pleased to hear that there is a large, color photo of the actor on the back cover. Now, if we could just get him to do some author appearances -- that would be awesome.)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Reading redux

Like most people with favorite authors who are no longer writing, I like to go back every few years and reacquaint myself with their work. It not only helps me in my job by reminding me what is good out there, but it also informs me what is gone. Take Ross Thomas, for example.

The fact that he was a great novelist, writing 26 witty thrillers in as many years, doesn't come into play:
Most of his work is no longer in print. Reprints of what is still available attest to his powers: Introductions to his stories are written by Sara Paretsky, Donald E. Westlake and Lawrence Block, among others (no slouches in the writing department themselves). And I guess we should be thankful that Twilight at Mac's Place and The Fools in Town Are on Our Side remain available, along with his Edgar winners, Briarpatch and Cold War Swap.

But after re-reading Chinaman's Chance and Out of the Rim, both featuring con artists Artie Wu and Quincy Durant, one logically wants to move on to their third adventure, Voodoo Ltd. However, moving on is itself limited because the third in the trio is o.p. And after you've read the two Mac McCorkle and Michael Padillo books available (Cold War and Mac's Place), you'd expect to fill in with the other two: Cast a Yellow Shadow and The Backup Men. And if you are hunting for a St.Ives novel, forget them: All five are nowhere to be seen.

While I applaud St. Martin's Press for making a third of Thomas' oeuvre available, I'd like to also make a plea to some enterprising publisher out there. If you are looking to do some great reprints, think of Thomas. I, for one, will be eternally grateful.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Talking mystery

The annual New England Crime Bake, sponsored by the New England chapters of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime, will be held Nov. 13-15 at the Dedham/Boston Hilton.
This year's guest of honor is Sue Grafton, whose latest alphabetical entry U is for Undertow goes on sale Dec. 1.

As usual, there will be agents to meet (if you are a writer), author breakfasts (if you like authors or eating) and master classes (if you want to write and are just learning how). There will also be seminars, manuscript critiques (for those who've finished their tome), a cocktail party, some mystery theater and a forensic presentation.

Go to: for details, fees, times, etc.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Some pooch
I'm not a great fan of mystery books featuring talking cats. Truth to tell, I'm not a great fan of cats, in general, although I share a house with two and we seem to tolerate each other...mostly.

So, when I picked up a copy of Spencer Quinn's Dog On It, a tale of murder narrated by a talking pooch, I didn't have much hope for it. After reading the first chapter, I put it aside and went on to other books. A couple of months on, I picked up Dog On It again ... and, dog gone it, I found it to be a delight. The story of Chet (he's the dog) and Bernie (he's a human) in search of a missing girl and getting mixed up with the Russian mob is entirely engaging.

Quinn, known in other circles as Peter Abrahams (The Fan, Delusion), ladles his tale with large dollops of suspense and a healthy sprinkling of humor. I can't wait for the next one.

In the meantime, Dog On It gets its paperback release on Sept. 29, and all we can say to you is "fetch"!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Wally the Mart strikes again

Just when you thought that life at an independent bookstore couldn't get any tougher, out comes Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol. Not that the book is a problem, or even Mr. Brown or his publisher. No, it's the wonderful world of discounting that is eat into your neighborhood bookstore a surely as a mouse can gnaw through a flaking classic.

For months, had been promoting The Lost Symbol at a discount of 42 percent, which is cheaper than your mom-and-pop bookshop can get it from a wholesaler. Then comes WalMart offering a whopping 52 percent off each copy...or well below the price that motley mom and pooped-out pop can buy it directly from the publisher.

So...what's an independent bookstore to do? Suck it up and remind you that as you bemoan the bookshops closing around you, remember that buying from your independent bookseller will go a long way toward keeping bookstores alive.

A side note: WalMart's current TV and web ads feature the game Monopoly. To our mind, that seems a bit redundant.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Pug ugly

Oh, how I hate ebooks. Certainly the kindle is the greatest threat to publishing to come along in the past 100 years. Another problem is publishers: How can they produce a hardcover book that retails for $24.95 and turn around to let Amazon and the like sell it for $9.99. Publishers, in this case, are probably the greatest threat to publishing since ... well, the ebook.

I'm not sure why there is now a larger size ebook from kindle. It's bulkier and more expensive. It's plastic, beige and impersonal. You can take a paperback book to the beach without fear. Not so the the ebook: They hate sand and water, not to mention magnets, hot coffee, iced tea and a whole lot of other things. Drop a paperback in the tub and you are out $7.99;
drop an ebook in the tub and you are out $300.

I guess I simply don't understand the appeal of these mass-produced I like the feel of paper, the progression of turning pages, the typography, the drop caps and so much more.

I'm not the only one. A recent article in Wired puts it very succinctly. ebooks are just ugly.

go to:

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A house tour is announced
Back in 1493 Greenway was established but it was until 1700 that the central part of the main house was built alongside Greenway Court. What's so interesting about Greenway? Well, back in 1938 a British writer named Agatha Christie bought the house, which became the family's summer house up until 1950.

Now Greenway will open to the public, complete with guide tours, country walks and special events. There's even a cottage on the property that you can let and an apartment in the main house that's also available (if you can get a reservation and have the money for the privilege).

Still, Greenway is a place of destination for all fans of the amazing Agatha. Not that it's the place where she wrote all of her books -- you'll have to travel to Turkey's Hotel Pera Palace, for example, to visit the room where she wrote "Murder on the Orient Express." Still, there's plenty of Christie around Greenway. She was born in Torquay and a plaque for the Agatha Christie Mile can be found at Torre Abbey in Torquay.

Greenway is in southwest England, north of Dartmoor and west of Brixham in Devon. It opens to the public Saturday.

For more information, go to the National Trust site at:

Or visit: