Relic of a lost era

I found this bookmark in an old paperback I grabbed off my bookshelf a couple of days ago.

When I moved to Austin in 1996, there were three bookstores where a lover of crime fiction could achieve Nirvana–Austin Books, Adventures in Crime and Space, and Mysteries & More. And then time passed.

Mark Finn worked at Austin Books and kept the crime fiction section well-stocked. When he moved on, the owners decided to go 100% comic book and a great resource was gone.

Adventures in Crime and Space had a primo spot on 6th Street. Not surprisingly, selling books to geeks wasn’t enough to pay the rent. It still exists as an online dealer, but that’s just not the same as a brick-and-mortar store that you can walk into and lose yourself for awhile.

Mysteries & More was run by an old couple, Jan and Elmer, who closed it when they decided it was time to retire. Elmer told me he wanted to sell it, but couldn’t find a buyer. I wanted so much to be independently wealthy right then, so I could buy it and run it at a loss as a service to my adopted town and lovers of books everywhere. Alas, not meant to be.

The last time I was at Mysteries & More, only a couple of weeks before the doors were shuttered, Elmer related to me that in the many years that he owned the store, only one customer had bounced a check. That customer later went in to make things right. Apparently, most of us who love double-dealing, dishonesty, and betrayal in our fiction wouldn’t dream of it in the real world. In general, I don’t really think of myself as part of any crime fiction “community.” I’ve never been to a convention, and, with a couple of exceptions, have no contact with the movers and shakers who produce the books that I love. But at that moment, hearing that story, I was proud that I was a part, in my own little way, of whatever community there is.

We’ve gained a lot in the Internet era, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. If I’ve got the bucks, I can now find and purchase any book I want, and I’ve probably acquired well over a hundred titles I wouldn’t own if I had to do it by haunting used bookstores. But we’ve lost something, too; something I miss deeply.