When I lived in New York City, there was a bookstore called the Gotham Book Mart. The store had a long and famous history and was a favorite for many authors and other celebrities. Allen Ginsberg and LeRoi Jones worked there as clerks. Arthur Miller and Woody Allen were frequent visitors. Patti Smith’s book of poetry Witt was published by the Gotham Book Mart. That was in 1973 about the time I was making my own sojourns to the 47th Street location. At the time, I had no idea of the bookstore’s background and history, but the Gotham Book Mart was a book lovers’ ideal dream of what the perfect bookstore should be.
The Gotham kept coming to mind as I read Joyce Carol Oates eloquently written short story, Mystery Inc. Bookstores like the Gotham Book Mart and the one described in Oates devious tale are a dying breed. Located in Seabrook, New Hampshire, Mystery Inc. is a charming, cozy, four leveled store with one level dedicated to rare signed first editions by Agatha Christie, S.S. Van Dine, John Dickson Carr and unsigned first editions of A Study in Scarlet and The Hound of the Baskervilles. There is much more, enough to make our narrator, Charles Brockden, salivate. The name is an alias and with good reason. You might say Mr. Brockden collects bookstores like others collect books. His method of acquisition is a deadly one for the owners. Brockden does not like to kill, but his desire to own the bookstores is more potent than his will see them in other less deserving hands. Unbeknownst to our narrator, he has never come up against someone who likes to murder just for the sake of killing.
The owner, Aaron Neuhaus, is outgoing and enthusiastic and happy to engage with someone who loves books as much as he does. He invites our narrator to talk in his private office over a cup of cappuccino. Brockden likes the man and feels terrible that he has to murder him. Still, he sees himself as the owner of the cozy store and even imagines himself marrying Neuhaus’ widow.
”Mystery Inc. was initially published as part of Otto Penzler’s Mysterious Bookshop’s Bibliomystery series which has been ongoing for some years now with something like more than thirty titles in the series. It has since been published as part of a collection of short fiction by the author (The Doll-Maker and other Tales of Terror) and as a stand-alone.
Oates is a fabulous writer, and while you may be able to guess how it will turn out, this foreshadowing just makes it more chilling.