The fine people over at Murder By The Book know a thing or two about a mystery. They have to, after all, because that's all they deal in when it comes to books. The small shop on Bissonnet has been trading in tales of suspense and intrigue for 30 years now, much to the delight of local bibliophiles.
"I think that one of the things that draws people to mysteries is that in the plot of a traditional mystery, everything is normal at the beginning. Then as the book progresses chaos develops, and then - in a traditional mystery - there's a resolution at the end. I think that particularly people who have really hectic lives or need an escape love a traditional mystery like that, because they can read it and at the end feel kind of like all is right with the world," explains McKenna Jordan.
Jordan has been working at Murder By The Book for eight years at this point, a steady growth from her initial four hours a week, working Saturdays whilst attending school at the University of Houston. That growth saw her transition to full-time work, eventually becoming the manager, then book buyer, and as of two years ago owner of the bookstore.
The niche stock includes "anything with a crime element," but don't think that means the spectrum is limited or that the shelves are wanting for stock. There are around 20,000 titles on the floor, with nearly double that within the inventory. The "mystery" umbrella covers traditional mysteries, thrillers, noir and suspense, and it also reaches the realms of science fiction, paranormal mysteries, and some fantasy books.
"We have avid fans across that whole spectrum," Jordan states, "and I read across the spectrum; I have to as the owner." When Art Attack asked what she grabs once she's at home and relaxing, Jordan says it depends on her mood. "All of us here get on little kicks, whether it's historical mystery kicks, author kicks. I have a couple [authors] that the second a book comes in, I have to read it. I love some of the hard-boiled, grittier crime fiction, like Ken Bruen or Dennis Lehane. Ken is about as noir as it comes. Louise Penny is also fantastic - hers are more traditional-style mysteries, set in Canada, and they're some of the best out there right now."
Chances are pretty good that there's a book for everyone somewhere within Murder By The Book - after all, who doesn't like a bit of intrigue to spice things up? But book hunters might be just as likely to discover an author in the store. "If you look at the whole year - it's probably three to four a week," Jordan reveals when we inquired about author appearances. January & December are slower, because of holidays and slow publishing months, but in March we have 28 so far. March through September we usually have at least three per week."
These frequent appearances usually involve the author discussing their life, writing habits, inspiration and of course their works, followed by a Q&A session, and then a book signing. Sometimes the questions get a bit quirky, for instance the last time that Michael Connelly came through an inquisitive fan demanded to know why his character hadn't had a moustache in the past few books. "He hadn't changed anything, he just maybe hadn't mentioned the moustache in like four books," explains Jordan, "but the reader complained, 'well he sounds like he doesn't have a moustache now.'" Fortunately, writers are pretty apt at turning the questions around. "By and large with mystery authors, the darker the crime fiction that they write, as a rule, the nicer and funnier they are in person. The authors pretty much can handle whatever is given them with tact."
Jordan also says the frustrating thing about running the bookstore is "that you don't get to just sit in the chair and read. The hardest part of it is not having enough time in the day to read everything we want to read. We're surrounded by books, and we have to work!"
That fact gets quickly brushed aside though, when she declares, "The best part about it is probably getting to see the customers every day, and the relationships that develop with people over the love of books. We try to have somewhat encyclopedic knowledge about the books we carry here, and we love nothing more than finding the right book for the right person."
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Not only are they eager to help find that perfect book, but also they'll take a few in trade, doling out store credit for used mysteries. While the bulk of the shop is new stock, the used section features both readers and collectables, such as first editions. Maybe it's time we swap out some of our old reads for a new thrill or two.
Murder By The Book 2342 Bissonet Street Houston, TX 77005 713.524.8597