A Tribute to Murder by the Book

I had the honor of writing the following tribute for the 2005 Edgar Awards, when Murder by the Book in Houston was presented the Raven Award for their contribution to the mystery genre. It’s a terrific bookstore. If you aren’t already familiar with them, you need to check them out

A Tribute to Murder by the Book

In 1997, a few weeks after my first book came out, I was sitting at a signing table at a regional mystery con, talking to the author next to me as we both waited for our lines of adoring fans to materialize. We had a lot of time to talk.

“Do you have bookstore signings lined up?” the other author asked, as if this were a painful question. She might’ve been asking me about medical tests I had to undergo.

“A few,” I told her.

I’d already done one signing in my native San Antonio, but I confessed that I was worried how I would do away from my home turf, in a town where my family and friends wouldn’t pack the bookstore.

The other author, a veteran of many novels, nodded sympathetically. “Where is your next signing, dear?”

“Murder by the Book,” I said, “in Houston.”

The look of relief on her face was amazing. Her shoulders relaxed. She patted my hand. “Oh, that will be wonderful.”

I asked her how she could possibly be sure. After all, I was a complete unknown.

“Because it’s Murder by the Book,” she explained, as if that were all I needed to know.

I soon discovered she was right.

My first trip to Murder by the Book spoiled me rotten. Martha, Dean, David and the whole staff welcomed me as if I were a best-selling author. They had a stack of pre-sales for me to sign. The crowd was large and enthusiastic. They even served margaritas. What more could an author ask?

Nor was my first experience a fluke. Year after year, Murder by the Book has consistently been a highlight of my book tours. Judging from what other authors tell me, the verdict is unanimous: Martha Farrington’s Murder by the Book is simply an incredible institution.

For the first few years I visited, I wasn’t sure what their secret was. I had a feeling it was more than Martha’s cute pet dogs, or Dean’s margaritas, or David’s boyish charm at the microphone. The problem was, I was always in and out of the store much too fast. I never got to browse. Last year, I finally got to remedy that situation.

On a rainy spring afternoon, I arrived two hours early for my signing. I expected the store to be quiet. Instead I found it bustling with activity. Authors had stopped by to chat. Customers had driven hours from tiny towns in rural Texas to get their book fix. Locals had strolled in to get recommendations or just visit with the staff. And the staff knew everything about mysteries. They could field the most esoteric question. They could find any author or title the customer was searching for.

The bookshelves themselves were proof of the store’s greatness. They were papered with note cards. Almost every series had a hand-written staff comment, a thoughtful review, a helpful summary. The shelves were a novel in their own right. I spent two hours browsing and learning. I could easily have spent two weeks. Being at Murder by the Book, I felt like I had my finger on the pulse of the mystery genre. No wonder the store was heaven for visiting authors. Who wouldn’t want to attend an event there?

I’m not saying there aren’t other fantastic bookstores. Of course, there are. But whenever I have to explain to someone the importance of independent booksellers, whenever I think back on my best experiences as an author, whenever I need a mystery genre question answered or a new series to read – one store immediately comes to mind. Murder by the Book is simply the best. Thank you, Martha, to you and your awesome staff for the years of dedication and enthusiasm you’ve given the mystery community. Heartfelt congratulations on your Raven Award!

Rick Riordan