Wednesday, 27 October 2010
Note: This is the first of a series of features on mystery bookstores.
Halloween will be all treat and no trick for the owners and customers of the Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Oakmont, Pennsylvania.
On Sunday, Oct., 31, the bookstore celebrates its 20th anniversary as western Pennsylvania’s center for crime and mystery fiction.
The business plan for Mystery Lovers Bookshop came to owners Mary Alice Gorman and Richard Goldman, who have been married more than 25 years, in a hospital room. Gorman was hospitalized for 10 days with a lung infection. At night, the couple would sit "staring at the helicopters outside" and talk about their future. They knew they wanted to have a business together and since both were -- and are -- avid readers a bookstore was the logical idea. At the time, there was only one chain bookstore in the
Pittsburgh area and Amazon was just a river. The couple did a bit of research to learn that 17% to 22% of books sold were mysteries, which just happened to be their favorite kind of reading.
"Richard calls it the 'blinding glimpse of the obvious' that we settled on a mystery bookstore," said Gorman in a recent telephone interview. "It was like a lightbulb because that is what the two of us read. We've always read a lot of the same authors."
So Gorman made a list of the mystery writers who were published and compared that list to the books available in area bookstores. She found a huge "gap" in what was published and what was available on the book shelves.
"The gap was where we needed to put our efforts," said Gorman. "Bookstores are magnets for us. We always search for them in whatever town we are in."
Mystery Lovers Bookshop opened on Halloween, 1990, becoming Pittsburgh area’s first mystery specialty bookstore. Mystery Lovers Bookshop opened the first area café in a bookstore in 1992.
It was the right move for Gorman, former Executive Director of The Allegheny County Center for Victims of Violent Crime, and Richard Goldman, a Mellon Bank executive.
Mystery Lovers Bookshop has since grown to be the third largest in the country. Its annual Festival of Mystery is the largest one-day festival in the country and will be in its 17th year in 2011. The Bookshop sponsors 8 book clubs and has a huge Internet presence that accounts for about 25 to 30 percent of its sales, attracting thousands of shoppers from Maine to California. The store's Coffee & Crime author breakfasts have brought hundreds of authors to Oakmont during the past 17 years.
And the Mystery Writers of America recognized Mystery Lovers Bookshop with the 2010 Raven Award. Established in 1953, the award is bestowed by MWA's Board of Directors for outstanding achievement in the mystery field outside the realm of creative
Despite the store's success, the couple considered closing the Mystery Lovers Bookshop about a decade ago. In one year, "we buried both mothers and married off both sons and at the end of the year we were a wreck. We had no energy," said Gorman.
The couple put the store on the market and then took a month-long cruise to South America. They returned energized and took the store off the market.
"The response of the authors and readers at the Festival of Mystery that year warmed our hearts," said Gorman, the emotion obvious in her voice.
"What we discovered is that we really had created a community, almost a family [of authors and readers]," she said. "Every year the festival moves me and makes me realize that we have a far-flung community of folks who come [from many states]. We have more than 40 writers who say they can't wait. We give no awards; there are no speeches. It's just all fun and ends with pizza and beer."
Winning the Raven Award was one of the couple's proudest moments, said Gorman. "Being in that room [during the Edgars] with all those friends we had made through the years and the friends we had never met was special," she said. "We've broken in alot a
people who were not selling in the beginning so people stick with us," she added, naming a few authors the store has championed since their first novels.
Many of those authors who have visited the store are immortalized on the store's bathroom walls, a tradition the couple started about 6 years ago. The restroom is painted to resemble a prison cell and authors are encouraged to leave their autographs on the walls.
But more important than the Raven is the legacy that the Mystery Lovers Bookshop has brought to readers. Gorman said the store is constantly getting notes from customers from throughout the country thanking them, some of which she posts on the
store's Facebook page.
"I can't tell you how much these notes mean to us," she added. "We have relationships with our customers. We do not say something is out of print. We find it. And our staff handsells online. That is why someone will take the time to sit down and write us. I know it's not because we send peppermints in every order. Though we have gotten notes from people saying we forgot the peppermints."
The past 20 years have gone by quickly for the couple, but some things remain constant.
"People want to read and they want to read mysteries. August is one of our biggest months as people are choosing what to take on vacation. I had a customer who was going through a difficult pregnancy. The doctor prescribed Rex Stout. Mysteries are
magical. We sell to readers, not collectors," she said.
"And we're having fun," she added.
Mystery Lovers Bookshop's 20th anniversary celebration will be from noon to 6 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 31. Pittsburgh mystery writers, story telling, treats and surprises will be on featured. Owners Mary Alice Gorman and Richard Goldman "might" wear a costume for the first time. Proceeds from a 10-cent book sale will go to a local library.
Photo: Mary Alice Gorman and Richard Goldman
Sunday, 24 October 2010
Today we have a guest writer -- Bill Hirschman who has written TV reviews and profiles for Mystery Scene. Bill's last feature was on theater master Rupert Holmes. Bill is a lifelong fan of Sherlock Holmes, a habit he acquired from his father. Bill is a theater critic in the South Florida area; his reviews can be found at southfloridatheaterreview.com. He also is married to our regular blog writer, Oline H. Cogdill.
By Bill Hirschman
In the BBC’s 21st Century reinvention of Sherlock Holmes, the consulting detective has traded his pipe for nicotine patches, his laboratory beakers for an electron microscope and his library for the World Wide Web.
But his quirky, anti-social genius is gloriously intact in the three-episode series Sherlock – to be broadcast Oct. 24, Oct. 31 and Nov. 7 on PBS’ Masterpiece Mystery! Check your local PBS affliliate for times and encore presentations.
The creators, Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat of the current Doctor Who, have delivered the most ingenious and addictive job of deconstructing and reconstructing Holmes seen on film since 1979’s Murder by Decree.
They are helped immeasurably by the casting. The lanky Benedict Cumberbatch inhabits the preternaturally brilliant but asocial-cripple Holmes who one police detective taunts with appropriate name “Freak. ” The “normal-looking” but equally haunted Martin Freeman is a compassionate and intelligent Watson just back from serving in
If Sherlock simply transported the original stories to present day London, it would be a mild curiosity and a transitory trick not worth the viewer’s time. The same can be said if the meat of the show was nothing but clever modern analogs for the original traits and touchstones – although they are fiercely inventive here.
Instead, Gatiss and Moffat have taken the canonical A Study in Scarlet, The Adventure of the Dancing Men and The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans as jumping off points for fresh, sophisticated and intricate detective stories that are organically drawn from the 21st Century. The style of presentation is contemporary film with rapid-fire editing and camera work – and yet, underneath, there is that same adoration of intelligence and adventure that imbued Conan Doyle’s work.
Certainly, there are scores of wrly subtle and not-so-subtle allusions to the canon: The first episode is titled A Study in Pink and the word “rache” is scrawled next to a dead body. When one of Scotland Yard’s detectives notes that the word is German for revenge, exactly as Holmes did in the original story, the new Holmes accurately
deflates the theory.
The updating is simply inspired. Holmes doesn’t shoot the initials V.R. in the wall, but creates the outline of a smiley face, also an emblem of establishment complacency. Watson writes up their cases for a blog, initially started as a therapeutic vent for his psychological pain. The familiar black boxy taxis drop the duo off at 221B, not a
Hansom cab. I won’t even spoil who the Baker Street Irregulars are. And Moriarity is as terrifying a force as he’s ever been portrayed -- but not for the reasons you’d expect.
But the tenor can turn dark and dramatic as the stock Victorian figures become frighteningly realistic and credible as contemporary threats, from the formidable hired assassin in the gloom to the psychotic serial killer to the specter of a urban bombers.
Even darker are the explorations of just how much Holmes’ genius is a personal curse. Lestrade may appreciate Holmes’ gifts, but another detective warns Watson not to get too close because Holmes is a psychopathic as likely to be guilty of criminal violence as his quarry.
And when Holmes seemingly allows a victim to die in order to continue a duel of wits with Moriarity, he is censured by Watson.
Holmes answers, “I’ve disappointed you…. Don’t make people into heroes, John. Heroes don’t exist and if they did, I wouldn’t be one of them.”
To that end, this updated Sherlock is not so much about differences so much as heavier emphases. On top of the puzzle-solving and superhuman feats of detection, these are character studies of two damaged people who are all the more appealing for their acknowledgement of their wounds and their refusal to seek an iota of accommodation
for them from the rest of the world – no matter the emotional cost.
Credit the cast for the skill to deliver lines without hardly a shred of self-aware archness, such as:
SHERLOCK: (Looking out on the deserted street) Look at that, Mrs. Hudson -- quiet, calm, peaceful. Isn’t it hateful?
HUDSON: (Teasing) I’m sure something will turn up, Sherlock. A nice murder to cheer you up.
SHERLOCK: (Not getting the joke) It can’t come too soon.
Slightly scruffy as if he had no time for vanities, Holmes dresses in a black overcoat with high upturned collar and long muffler. Tall and slender with light blue irises, Sherlock has a mop of unruly black hair as untamed as his intellect his tamed. A lover of technology, he coaxes information from laptops and smartphones like a virtuoso
elicits a masterpiece from a piano. He rattles off long chains of precise deductions at dizzying speed.
While Holmes may recognize stationary as coming from Bohemia, he needs Watson to provide “useless” facts like the Earth revolves around the sun.
The sophistication of the writing is exemplified when a mysterious cerebral man who describes himself as Holmes’ arch-enemy tells Watson that a psychiatrist’s diagnosis that Watson’s limp is psychosomatic is accurate, but not as fallout from seeing the horrors of war, but because he misses the war. And there is a major twist later in the episode that will force you to review the same scene later with an additional piece of information – a deft trick by screenwriters who know how to manipulate the audience.
The three episodes are: A Study In Pink in which seemingly unconnected people commit suicide but which Holmes realizes is the work of a serial killer. The Blind Banker finds Holmes linking murders where the killer has left a mysterious code.
The Great Game (an unacknowledged riff on Kipling’s term for espionage in Kim) depicts brother Mycroft asking Sherlock to recover some stolen missile plans, but our hero is occupied in trying to catch a monster who puts hostages in explosive vests while challenging Sherlock to solve puzzle-like crimes under a literal deadline.
The show was an immediate hit when it bowed in Great Britain in July. Although the three-episode series ends with a cliffhanging standoff worthy of the Reichenbach Falls, the team has been trying to schedule when to produce another three episodes slated for broadcast in England in the fall of 2011. We can hardly wait until it emigrates over
For more information, see www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00t4pgh. It has links to Sherlock’s website and Watson’s blog.
Photo: Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman PBS photo
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