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Spenser's Mystery Bookshop

Catalog updated 8/13/06!

Now that so many fans of the mystery genre are picking up their "to be read" pile from on-line sources, I wonder where everyone is getting their ideas for new authors and series. I imagine a number of people continue to read only bestsellers or books they find discounted at the big chains or discounters (Costco and similar outfits sell their bestsellers at a bigger discount than most booksellers can get from the publishers).

Some of us can find terrific books recommended by the members of DorothyL, a digest dedicated to discussion of mysteries of all sorts. And the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association regularly lists its bestsellers and the winner of the Dilys Award for the books IMBA members most enjoyed selling, as well as the nominees for the award.

I remember when nearly all the books I was reading had been recommended to me by Spenser's customers. More than anything, I miss discussing favorite books with customers who gave me as much (or more) than I could give them in the way of tips and remembered delights. We had our favorite books on lists posted around the store, not to mention lists of general fiction, science fiction and films. Of course, I had found out about a number of authors from co-workers back in my in-house counsel days. I particularly remember a lawyer asking me what I thought of Ross Thomas, and I had to pass—back in 1978 I was actually unaware of the wonders that awaited me. She gave me a copy of CHINAMAN'S CHANCE, and the rest (for me) is history. I wish I had it to do all over again—find out about Ross Thomas and sit down and read him for the first time.

I was getting ready to play golf one day (while in law school, I think, when I had an inordinate amount of time to play golf), and I took a book from my car and stuck it in my bag to read while waiting to tee off. A man at an adjacent car asked what I was reading (I want to say it was something by John D. MacDonald); he pulled out a copy of Parker's THE GODWULF MANUSCRIPT. For me, as the say, the rest is history.

Moving back in time, before I thought to go back to school or to prefer mysteries to science fiction, I was browsing the tables downstairs at the Lauriat's at Downtown Crossing (Boston natives and visitors might remember it). A book intrigued me, for no other reason than it had a kind of neat dust jacket—black, white and red line drawings. And it was from Harper & Row, a house I had long admired. It cost 79¢—I remember the amount because the sticker is still on the dust jacket, and the book is still on my shelves. You don't forget the first time you read someone whose stuff you've loved.

I remember that Jim Huang told me about THE MONKEY'S RAINCOAT by Robert Crais when Spenser's was still at 314 Newbury Street (I don't think we ever got over moving). I remember when Spenser's founder, proprietor and my future partner, Andy Thurnauer told me about France Fyfield (A QUESTION OF GUILT). In fact, I think I remember better the advice I got than the advice I gave, although I had a number of favorite customers who were as delighted with my recommendations as I had been with the initial discoveries of the authors I was recommending.

We discover our authors piecemeal, but it's not unlike finding friends among a large gathering—the books don't stand on their own but remind us of others, other times, and other authors. I can't think of Brian Garfield without being reminded of Bill Granger and his November Man. And Michael Z. Lewin reminds me immediately that there's also Jonathan Valin, Arthur Lyons, and Stephen Greenleaf. Some authors I confess I discovered when my father shipped his bookclub selections to me after he'd read them, often with commentary. The book club editions discovered at library sales were also a boon when I was looking for earlier books in series that were out-of-print (back in the days when we had to drive around among bookstores to fill our needs and often came up empty).

I don't sell the book club editions now except when the first edition is extraordinarily expensive, but I've often picked them up to give away—when I think someone will like an author or a book, I'll include a copy with an order. Sometimes I've located the paperback of a wonderful book that I can't keep in stock or won't let my last copy go—A J Quinnell's MAN ON FIRE is such a book. Then I'll send the paperback along with an order.

So if you are ordering something and want a recommendation, let me know. I'll include a free title, if I have one around that might interest you. Obviously, the more you order, the better able I'll be to gage your interests. Or you can tell me what kind of authors you read.

And believe me: I will be delighted to get your recommendations. I'm always looking for new friends.

Have a good Spring.

—Kathy Phillips

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Spenser's Mystery Books

This Month's Featured Titles

School Days
by Robert B. Parker

The Big Over Easy:  A Nursery Crime
by Jasper Fforde

The Stranger House
by Reginald Hill

Ticket to Ride
by Janet Neel

Read more about our featured titles.