British crime writer Dorothy Sayers said, “Detective stories keep alive a view of the world which ought to be true. Of course people read them for fun… but underneath they feed a hunger for justice… the orderly world in which we should all try to be living.” Perhaps this explains their undeniable draw, especially during uncertain times.
A mystery lover’s delight, The Mysterious Bookshop in New York City is the country’s oldest independent bookstore devoted entirely to the genre. Its owner, Otto Penzer, opened his doors in the late Seventies and carries a mix of classics, new writers, rare finds and titles published under his own imprint, The Mysterious Press. The space, lined in soaring shelves and wooden library ladders, feels like it was lifted out of a Sherlock Holmes novel. Chesterfield sofas in worn leather carve out cozy nooks and ‘crime scene’ tape cordons off private offices and storerooms. Nestled near the corner of Warren Street and W Broadway in TriBeCa, it’s a hidden gem filled with history and charm. Searching for a good page-turner? We asked Otto to share his top five mystery books of all time.
Doyle, Arthur Conan: The Complete Sherlock Holmes
This is pure homage. I could have said The Valley of Fear or The Hound of the Baskervilles, but it would be criminal to ignore the other fifty-eight stories and novels about the greatest literary creation of all time (with apologies to Don Quixote, Dracula, Alice, and Tarzan). While Edgar Allan Poe invented the detective story, Doyle refined and popularized it, opening the floodgates to imitators that persist to the present day, though none have equaled the eccentric genius and his sidekick.
Crumley, James: The Last Good Kiss
Perhaps the greatest private eye novel ever written, with prose so powerfully poetic that it cries to be read aloud to anyone within earshot. The only mystery I’ve reread in the past twenty years.
Perry, Thomas: Vanishing Act
This novel introduced one of the most original and memorable characters in contemporary crime fiction. Jane Whitefield is a Seneca Indian whose unasked-for job has become helping people disappear. They tend to be innocent bystanders who have witnessed a crime and the perpetrators decide they must be killed to silence them. Using her intelligence and skills inherited from her tribal elders, she dedicates herself to saving their lives while putting her own at risk.
Connelly, Michael: The Black Echo
I’m not sure if this is Connelly’s best book, but it introduced Hieronymus (Harry) Bosch, the Los Angeles policeman whose integrity and sympathetic sensibility have made him an international bestseller for more than a quarter-century. His mantra is “either everyone matters or no one matters.” Amazingly, after more than thirty books, the quality level hasn’t diminished one iota.
Oates, Joyce Carol: Blonde
Not exactly a mystery, but an examination of Marilyn Monroe’s life in fictional form, including her mysterious death. It’s a big book, beautifully written, as most of Oates’ books are. It brings to life an icon more deeply than the real-life biographies that have filled shelves since she became the most beloved actress of her time—or probably all time.