Gift buyers are going retro at "M" Is for Mystery . . . and More
in San Mateo, Calif. Among the store's lead titles for the holiday season are reproductions of early Agatha Christie novels that replicate the type, format and covers of first editions from the Christie family archive. Hercule Poirot's Christmas
"M" Is for Mystery . . . and More has a sizeable section devoted to crime fiction published in the U.K., including the Agatha Christie facsimiles. "We try to carry things that are unique for the area," said owner Ed Kaufman, who in addition to a weekly general newsletter produces a monthly version devoted to its imports.
Signed books are a staple for the store. Throughout the year, "M" Is for Mystery typically hosts 15-20 authors events per month (some in conjunction with area libraries), which keeps the store well-stocked with signed books. More than half of the books it sells are shipped to customers in some 40 states and 15 foreign countries--and almost all of those are signed books, Kaufman noted.
The 2008 line-up included thriller writers Michael Connelly, Tess Gerritsen and Dennis Lehane. In recent years the store has also been hosting writers of more general fiction--Neal Stephenson, Dave Eggers and David Wroblewski just this year--which led Kaufman to add " . . . and More" to the store's name.
Sales at "M" Is for Mystery . . . and More were down 12% through the end of November. To entice shoppers to spend in December--and perhaps garner new customers who will return for future purchasing--Kaufman is offering a 20% discount on most unsigned books. Orders over $100 receive an additional 10%. The store normally doesn't discount.
Sideline items are also on sale, including custom merchandise. Popular for holiday gift-giving are the store's ceramic mugs, each of which features the signature "M" along with a different image--raven, bloodhound, black cat or a portrait of Sherlock Holmes--designed by artist William Crutchfield.
For mystery readers with wanderlust, Kaufman recommends stories set in foreign locales like those by Cara Black (Paris), Donna Leon (Venice) and James Church (North Korea). The pseudonymous Church, a former intelligence officer, appeared at the store on December 4 to promote Bamboo and Blood
, his third Inspector O novel. "His books are particularly interesting to people because most don't know anything about North Korea," said Kaufman. "When you read them, you really get a sense of the flavor of the country."
Headlining this week at "M" Is for Mystery was J.A. Jance, whose most recent thriller is Cruel Intent
. Next week's guests are John Morgan Wilson, the author of Spider Season
, and sisters Pamela and Mary O'Shaughnessy, whose latest Perri O'Shaughnessy novel is Show No Fear.
On December 14, the store will host an annual holiday soirée sponsored by local chapters of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America. Customers are invited to enjoy food and wine, meet nearly 30 local authors and, said Kaufman, "hopefully buy a few books."
At Booked for Murder
in Madison, Wis., owner Sara Barnes has cut back on inventory and is encouraging customers to place special orders. "Once we've explained that this isn't a good time for us to be carrying a lot of inventory and that shipping is so quick, all have been understanding," she said.
Located in the front windows as well as throughout the store are displays intended to make it easier for shoppers to choose holiday gifts. Signs bear questions that correspond to a selection of mysteries along that particular theme. Have a Pet-Lover on Your List? The main character in Nothing to Fear
but Ferrets is a crime-solving pet-sitter. Have a History Buff on Your List? The Dragon King's Palace
is set in feudal Japan. Have a Traveler on Your List? He or she can visit Tibet in the pages of Water Touching Stone
. Have a Chef or Crafter on Your List? That person might like Silence of the Hams
or Hooked on Murder: A Crochet Mystery
. Or even Thai Die: A Needlecraft Mystery
by Monica Ferris, who will be at Booked for Murder for an event on December 21. Each of Ferris's books includes a bonus for crafters: a free needlepoint pattern.
For young mystery fans, the Booked for Murder staff is handselling Rick Riordan's The 39 Clues: The Maze of Bones
. "Aside from the fun of the book, this one comes with so much more interactive bang for its buck," said Barnes. Another item she recommends for kids (and their parents) is the Spiderwick Chronicles Fantastical Field Guide Mystery Game. Among the sidelines for grown-ups are "How to Host a Murder" dinner party games, mystery-themed jigsaw puzzles and crossword and Sudoku titles.
Sales at Booked for Murder have slowed this year--the store is down by about a third--but optimism is running strong. "I have high hopes for a successful holiday season, based on the practical, old-fashioned appeal of books as gifts that can be treasured, saved, shared," Barnes said. "With such uncertainty all around us, it's nice to be able to give something non-ephemeral."
---Shannon McKenna Schmidt