Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Murder Ink

Why is Manhattan's 34-year-old mystery bookstore Murder Ink closing? It has something to do with the $18,000 a month rent. To be fair, that bill comes from the bookstore, which is on Broadway between 92nd and 93rd Street, and its neighbor, Ivy's Books & Curiosities. According to the Associated Press, Jay Pearsall owned them both. And what's more, he could apparently afford the rent. It's the 5% increase this year that put him out of business: "I was a little outraged that a well-run bookstore couldn't make it in the best book-buying neighborhood in the world, but there's no business model that can work," he told the AP.

Mystery bookstores are an odd but virile breed. I was a huge devotee of Minneapolis' trashy twin giants Uncle Hugo's Science Fiction Bookstore and Uncle Edgar's Mystery Bookstore. They became famous when a naked man was found stuck in the chimney on Christmas morning in 2003. Yes, you read that right. He was trying to burgle the bookstore, and he thought he could simply slide down the chimney, Santa-style, if he just removed his cumbersome clothes. From CNN.com:
"He was lucky," said police Lt. Mike Sauro. "He was only stuck in that chimney for a few hours. It's kind of a happy ending, because if he had been in there until that store opened Friday morning, it's my judgment he would have died.

"He doesn't appear to be a hard-core criminal, just stupid."
You may remember the bad lieutenant Mike Sauro from the Twin Cities papers in the 90s. According to the City Pages, "$980,226, was paid to a man named Craig Mische in 1995 over claims that MPD Lieutenant Mike Sauro had savagely beaten the St. Thomas University student." But that was another era. I digress.

Another Minneapolis mystery bookstore, Once Upon a Crime, may be a fraction of the size of Uncle Edgar's, but it's feisty. I saw both Carl Hiaasen and Kinky Friedman give readings there. You may remember the Kinkster for his failed but valiant Jesse Ventura-style attempt at the Texas governor's office last fall. I seldom bought books at Once Upon a Crime. Just went to readings. One of the owners once made some snotty and unbecoming remarks about Uncle Edgar's to me. I thought it was bad form and I didn't go back often.

Now I go to Partners & Crime, a wonderful mystery bookstore in Greenwich Village. It claims to be the largest mystery bookstore in Manhattan. I've always been convinced that it's owned by a lesbian couple, hence the partners part of the name, but I have no proof. Every time I went in -- until the last time -- it was staffed by one of two women. The last time I went in I found a copy of a new mystery I'd been searching for for weeks: Icelandic author Arnaldur Indriðason's Jar City.

That odd letter in the author's name-- ð -- (Ð in uppercase) is one of a number of Icelandic letters that are unfamiliar to English speakers. It makes a hard th sound, as in them. Another letter, the þ, sounds like the soft th sound, the one in the word Thor.

An interesting editor's note in the beginning of the Indriðason book advises English translation readers of the Icelandic practice of calling people by first names:
Icelanders always address each other using first names, since most people have a patronymic rather than a "proper surname," ending in -son for a son and -dottir for a daughter. People are listed by first names even in the telephone directory.

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