The very first mystery bookstore I entered was Whodunit? in Philadelphia PA. I was a teen with my mom, and deliberately looked up and found this particular store because I had a couple of books I wanted to sell and they said they bought books in exchange for credit. I was enthralled upon entering. I was amazed that there could be so many books in my favorite genre, enough to fill an entire store! I handed over my hardcover titles, and then began my wandering. There was too much to take in, too many choices, like looking at a case full of favorite candies any which one could be chosen and devoured. I hadn’t been around new titles in some time–my teen budget allowed library sales, garage sales, borrowing from the library, and an occasional purchase from the Cherry Hill Mall independent bookstore chock full of the latest Gothics by Phyllis A. Whitney, and Victoria Holt. The hardcovers I was bringing in for bookstore credit were old finds from where, I’d no memory. One was a book by O. Henry, another I believe was called something like Murder on the 13th Floor. Whatever it was named the owner at the time thought both were just delightful, and indicated that the 13th floor one was rather hard to find. I’d no interest. They were simply books I had read and now I wanted more books to read.
This fact galvanized the bookseller, and he began to size me up and my tastes, finally settling on a new title, James Anderson’s The Affair of The Blood Stained Egg Cosy. I’d never heard of the author or title. and didn’t have any idea what an egg cosy was. The artwork on the paperback cover was splendiferous, character faces prominently displayed around the title. He happily described to me the style of writing, the setting, the tongue in cheek look at the Golden Age of mysteries, and finally recited a snippet of the plot.
He had me at the presentation of the cover’s artwork! The owner was right on the money. The Affair of the Blood-Stained Egg Cosy was to die for! I loved every word, bought the author’s second title when it was published, and was severely disappointed that there were not more forthcoming. Recently I learned he did write a third but unfortunately, it is definitely his last–he passed away.I don’t remember what else I may have chosen. Most likely the latest Ruth Rendell or again, a used copy of a Gothic.
This was many many years past, but Whodunit? is still there. But different. I recently visited, on a rainy day devoted to finding independent used bookstores. There are no new titles within the store. And not everything is crime fiction. It felt smaller, more claustrophobic, probably because there are narrow shelves crammed with all sorts of reading copies, reprints, pulp paperbacks, various juvenile series and offbeat golden age mysteries. For a small space, I spent perhaps 2 hours perusing, choosing, putting books back, finding something else, piling up a stack. I was able to snag a couple of Dell Mapbacks, and a nice Popular Library paperback, an early one with spectacular cover artwork. And there is the neato reprint of an author I enjoy, Helen Reilly, in battered but still fun dust jacket. A unknown girl juvenile nurse title I bought for my niece, an obscure golden age mystery I bought for my husband, and all the rest I bought for me! I left, heavy recycled shopping bag in tow, satisfied the store was still standing, and pleased it contained quite a few gems. If in the Philadelphia area, don’t forget to check Whodunit out!