Wednesday, 7 January 2009

End of an era


I was very sorry to read that Murder One, the legendary crime bookshop in Charing Cross Road, has fallen victim to the credit crunch, and is to close at the end of this month. I well remember my delight when the shop first opened, in Denmark Street. Over the years, naturally, I bought quite a number of books there. After a while, at the 1990 Bouchercon, I got to know the owner, Maxim Jakubowski, who is a man of many parts. Not least, he is a prolific and notable crime anthologist; I am in his debt, for if he hadn't included 'The Bookbinder's Apprentice' in his Best British Mysteries, it would never have won the CWA Short Story Award. I'm sure he will continue to feature prominently in the crime fiction world.

Roughly a decade ago, central London boasted no fewer than three specialist crime fiction bookshops, all of which have now gone (although Goldsborough Books has arrived, and continues to fly the flag in Cecil Court.) The Mysterious Bookshop, an offshoot of the American shop of the same name, did not last too long, although I one did a very enjoyable book launch event there with Andrew Taylor, at a time when we were both published by Hodder. There was also a very nice shop called Crime in Store, not far from The Strand, where on another occasion I did a launch with Judith Cutler and Julia Wallis Martin. I'd worry that hosting event involving me would spell doom for any shop, but I never had a launch at Murder One (though come to think of it, as the photo confirms, they did feature Waterloo Sunset in the window display a while back...)

Small businesses up and down the country are suffering through no fault of their own. Bookshop businesses are, by their nature, highly vulnerable to economic stresses and strains, and their disappearance from the scene is bad news for customers, and especially for the people who work in them. I’d hoped that Murder One would continue to survive, and I’m sad that it hasn’t. But it’s worth paying tribute to Maxim for his vision in setting it up,and for keeping it going for almost 21 years. Quite an achievement, quite a bookshop.

12 comments:

The Dotterel said...

Indeed, and quite a casualty of the credit crunch. I wonder whether traditional publishing and bookselling will change much in the next few years?

Martin Edwards said...

I'm sure it will, although publishing and bookselling(like football) tend to operate to different business 'rules' than the rest of the world! There is much talk of authors' publicity budgets being slashed. Then again, for those of us without our own mega publicity budgets, will it make much difference? One thing is for sure, the 'mid-list' will continue to be squeezed, and as a result a number of very good writers and very good books will continue to be lost to the genre. A shame.

Michael Walters said...

That's a tremendous shame. It's been a regular haunt of mine whenever I was in London for - well, probably most of its 21 year existence, if I think about it. But I can also imagine that the growth of internet bookselling has eroded some of its market. I used to go there specifically to find books I knew wouldn't be available elsewhere (particularly US publications), but there are other ways of accessing those now. Nevertheless, it was always a thrill to see so many diverse crime novels in one small area, and I always came away with at least one purchase I'd never have found elsewhere. And I still haven't quite recovered from the even greater thrill of seeing one of my books actually displayed in their window (I do hope it wasn't that that proved the final kiss of death...). Best of luck to Maxim Jakubowski and to all the staff in their future endeavours.

Sarah Hilary said...

That is a shame. I loved that shop, even the romantic fiction section which abutted the crime. I could just see all those soupy love stories ending in a little light murder...

Nan said...

My greatest hope in response to the gloom of closing bookstores, is that blogs will help sales of all authors. I am just one person, but the books I've bought (including three of yours!) over the past couple years are the result of reading about them solely on blogs. If you multiply that by more avid book bloggers/book buyers it has to be beneficial, right?

I am currently reading about Sylvia Beach opening Shakespeare and Company. I shake my head in amazement at the community of book lovers and writers there were, and how they all came together. I read her memoir years ago, but this newish (1980s) book tells so much about her, about Joyce, about life then. Makes me wish I had been born a long while ago.

Martin Edwards said...

Michael, I know exactly what you mean about the thrill of the shop.
Sarah, yep, could be a short story idea there!
Nan, your comment about the potential impact of blogging is very interesting. I'm sure many people have similar views.
I was told about the Shakespeare and Company book recently by a good friend and I gather it is a really fascinating read.

Peter Rozovsky said...

I was surprised and pleased the first time I visited the shop and found Maxim Jakubowski, that versatile star of the fiction world, at a desk working. He spared the time for a nice little chat, an experience repeated during a subsequent visit.

That's one less stop to make the next time I stroll from Bloomsbury to the National Gallery. I'll miss it.
==============
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
http://www.detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

maxine said...

Karen (Euro Crime) and I were actually in Murder One buying books on the Friday before the weekend announcement - clearly we did not buy enough. It is indeed very sad news. According to various comments made by Maxim J, the cause is more the Internet than the credit crunch - it is so easy for people to buy books on Amazon now. Nevertheless, the current financial crisis cannot have helped.
I remember Crime In Store - I think I went to their launch, or at least to a few events there in their early days, which was before I had children and stopped going out apart from to work. It was a good shop. What a pity that economics and the Internet means that these places find it so hard to keep going.

Martin Edwards said...

Peter and Maxine, it's notable how so many crime fans (not just from the UK) enjoyed visits to Murder One when in London. And over the years, I came across many books from overseas for the first time when browsing there.

Penny Crayon said...

Wow - I only just saw this shop the other evening, even though I have lived in London for more than five years, and I resolved to pay it a visit during its opening hours, perhaps this weekend - wished I had known about it earlier.

crimeficreader said...

In London this weekend, I called in there yesterday. The shop is to close - I was told that even if a buyer comes in at the very last minute, it would still have to close and then re-open, because of how far down the line proceedings are. But mail order and internet will continue. Indeed, at the front cash desk there was a set of sheets giving customers the opportunity to leave their email address to remain in touch for the future. To anyone who would like to take this up and can't get there, I suggest you use the contact form on their website (murderone.co.uk) to register your email addy.

There were quite a few customers in there yesterday afternoon when I popped in and, given the dire prospects, the staff members were lovely and still very obviously committed, retaining a strand of optimism (especially the lovely lady I spoke to, who was preparing a mail order at the time).

Like Michael, I wish the team all the very best for their future endeavours. Let's hope that the internet and mail order side of the business can be a success in the future. Alas, at least two other UK crime fiction specialist concerns have failed on this in the recent past, but I have hope that Murder One might find the model to prove others wrong.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks. It's very good to know the business will continue in some form, at least, though the physical presence of the shop in Charing Cross Road will leave a real gap.