Oakmont's Mystery Lovers Bookshop is celebrating 25 years in business
One of the legacies of Mystery Lovers Bookshop is its bathroom.
By measures of convenience and efficiency, it's a serviceable accommodation. By decor, it's a testament to the perspicacity and vision of the original owners, Mary Alice Gorman and Richard Goldman.
Meant to mimic a jail cell, the bathroom walls are filled with the signatures of writers who have visited the cozy Oakmont bookshop, from Lisa Scottoline and Laura Lippman to Dennis Lehane and Steve Berry.
While that might seem like a cute affectation, it's proof that at least one of the couple's missions — to bring novelists to Pittsburgh — succeeded.
“Writers did not come to Pittsburgh (before),” says Gorman, who will help current owners Trevor Thomas and Nathalie Sacco celebrate the store's 25th anniversary on Halloween (costumes are welcome). “Pittsburgh was always in the Top 20 in terms of places to come to because of the numbers of libraries we had. But the market was never looked at as a market where readers purchased books.”
Gorman phoned publishers, booksellers and anyone else who would take her calls, insisting there was an avid audience waiting to meet visiting writers. She was proven right, and Mystery Lovers became an important cog in the mystery circuit.
Some of the most popular mystery writers working today, including Ian Rankin, Jo Nesbo and Michael Connelly, made the trek to Oakmont when they were relatively unknown. Others, like Lippman and Scottoline, grateful for the boost given to them when they were starting out, continued to stop at the store when they became best-selling writers.
Gorman and Goldman also established the Festival of Mystery, which for 18 years on the first Monday in May attracted writers from around the country. In 2010, Mystery Lovers was given a Raven Award by the Mystery Writers of America for its contribution to mystery writing.
When Thomas and Sacco purchased the business in May, they were aware of the store's history and prominence. But the community's enthusiasm for Mystery Lovers took them by surprise.
“They want you to succeed, and they want you to do well,” Thomas says. “Everyone's gone out of their way to come in and introduce themselves. We got a bunch of flowers and gift baskets, there are author introductions all the time. (Authors) have helped us out immensely. Without them, there would be no us.”
It also can be argued that without Mystery Lovers, the local mystery-writing community might be less successful.
Rebecca Drake, who teaches popular fiction at Seton Hill University in Greensburg and is the author of three psychological thrillers, joined a critique group that regularly met at the bookshop when she started to write fiction.
“In many ways, I owe my career to that,” Drake says. “They were very open from the beginning to making it a community place. We used to meet when the store was closed, so it was not like they were benefitting from us meeting there.”
Nancy Martin, the author of the Blackbird Sisters mystery series and the new stand-alone mystery “Miss Ruffles Inherits Everything,” says a shop like Mystery Lovers can “make or break an author's career.”
“When I got started writing mysteries, I had Mary Alice Gorman cheering me on in Mystery Scene magazine where she had a presence as a columnist, but also within the larger national mystery community where she had relationships,” Martin says, “She introduced me around, so to speak. Without her influence, it would have been an uphill battle for me to break into the genre.”
The free anniversary celebration will include a 10-cent book sale, with proceeds going to the Homeless Children's Fund of Pittsburgh.
Emmy-winner and film writer Bonnie MacBird will be at Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Oakmont at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 26 to promote her Arthur Conan Doyle-inspired book, “Art in the Blood.”
MacBird, who penned the script for 1982's “Tron,” has written a new story for Conan Doyle's famous characters, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.
The story begins in 1888, with Holmes in a deep depression and back on cocaine after a disastrous Ripper investigation. An intriguing encoded letter from a beautiful French singer, who says her illegitimate son by an English lord has vanished, rouses him from his malaise.
The book signing and talk are free. Details: 412-828-4877 or on Facebook