by Kay Kendall
Located dead center in downtown Austin’s hipness is the bookstore voted best in the state capital for more than 15 years. BookPeople, the largest independent bookstore in Texas, is a beloved institution among denizens who vow to “keep Austin weird.” Yes, that’s a marketing slogan in Austin! Although not generally known for funkiness or artsy-ness, Texas does have the city of Austin, which tries its darnedest to make up for deficiencies in those qualities in the rest of the state. With REI, Anthropologie and Whole Foods as neighbors, BookPeople sits at the corner of Lamar and historic Sixth Street, the world famous part of Austin that produces indie music and nightlife. In 2005 BookPeople’s fabulousity was officially crowned when it was named Bookstore of the Year by Publisher’s Weekly.
The store was not content, however, to rest on its considerable laurels. Since the autumn of 2010, customers wanting to mix in crime fiction with their great Austin lifestyle can walk in the front door of BookPeople and peel off to the right to visit MysteryPeople, which exists to fulfill every mystery fan’s every (legal) desire.
The idea of developing a specialized bookstore within the general one came to Scott Montgomery, crime fiction coordinator. He had joined BookPeople in 2008 after working four years on the sales staff of The Mystery Bookstore in Los Angeles (acclaimed, influential and now defunct since 2011). Amazed that Austin was one of the few major American cities that lacked a mystery bookstore, he decided that BookPeople could fill this niche. Steve Bercu, head of BookPeople, got behind the concept, and MysteryPeople was launched. It was a success from the beginning. After Scott’s first year at BookPeople, its crime fiction sales soared by 35 percent. After his second year, sales went up another 35 percent.
Scott says, “We at MysteryPeople pride ourselves on having not just the bestsellers that all stores carry, but also mysteries published by smaller presses and some for more esoteric tastes. We learn about books and authors the big chains may ignore.”
Besides offering everything new and noteworthy on its shelves and the genre experts who can talk about the latest in mysteries and crime fiction, MysteryPeople also sponsors several kinds of events tailored for their special kind of readers. There are author talks and signings, meetings of the Hard Word Book Club, and classes on the history of mystery writing. All of this is provided free to MysteryPeople’s delighted customers.
“One thing most crime fiction fans love as much as books is drinking,” Scott says, laughing, “and so it made sense when someone combined both. Noir at the Bar was an idea that started a few years back in Philadelphia, where it spread to St. Louis and Los Angeles. MysteryPeople began Noir at the Bar events in Austin and they were rousing successes. “We’ve done over a half dozen in the past year,” Scott says. “The latest one will be held on July 20 and feature crime writers Marcia Clark, Timothy Hallinan and Josh Stallings. On top of that, Austin music legend Jesse Sublett will provide music and do a reading from his latest mystery. That’s all usual for us. It’s how we roll.”
On August 14 of this year, MysteryPeople will hold another in the author series called Wine, Women and Mysteries. A local winery provides the wine, Scott moderates the panel and guest authors perform as panelists to chat about their own books and crime fiction in general. This time the featured authors will be Deborah Coonts and this writer, yours truly. Deborah says she was “raised in Texas on barbeque, Mexican food and beer, but currently lives in Las Vegas.”
Her latest mystery is Lucky Bang, part of her Lucky O’Toole Vegas adventure series. “I will discuss why I set my debut mystery, Desolation Row, during the fraught time of the Vietnam War and how, after living in Texas as a child, I finally managed to find my way back home after decades of wandering around the continent.”
But let’s give an Austin bookworm the last word. Pam Vetter, resident of the city for 40 years and a patent administrator at a software corporation, says that she loves the ambience of the whole store. “You can pull a mystery off the shelf and leaf through it, curled up in a comfy chair in a quiet nook. The coffee shop is wonderful and there is the broadest selection of periodicals I’ve ever seen anywhere. It’s impossible for me to pass by without buying.”
Learn more on the store website.
Watch for more mystery bookstore profiles over the next several months. Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.