The grey door tucked between a bike shop and sushi restaurant is easy to miss.
But the keen-eyed passerby who ducks inside the Whyte Avenue doorway and climbs the staircase will find themselves in the midst of shelves chock full of mysteries. Book cases winding around the room are dotted with labels like “Scandinavian,” “espionage,” “legal,” and “Sherlock Holmes.”
In a moment when Netflix is flooded with serial killer series and true crime podcasts abound, a brick and mortar bookstore specializing in mystery seems almost trendy.
But Kristy Hollingshead-Rumsey said that when she opened Blue Lamp Books in 2016. It was because she wanted a focus for her store, and tales of crime and intrigue are a “safe harbour” for her.
Popular interest in mystery isn’t anything new, and Hollingshead-Rumsey has the first-edition Agatha Christies and late 19th century copies of Strand Magazine to prove it.
But she does think there’s a renewed interest in the genre. She attributes some of that to recent translations that have made stories by international authors available in English for the first time, citing works from Germany, South Africa and across Scandinavia. And when a book series gets made into a television show, it buoys interest in the original texts.
She also suspects there’s an escapist element — a desire to see goodness prevail in the aftermath of evildoings.
“Yes there’s terrible, horrific things that happen, but in the end justice is done, and that I think helps people get through some difficult times,” she said.
“Sometimes people need that when there’s questionable things going on in the world.”
Hollingshead-Rumsey said when she fulfilled her dream of opening a bookstore in an era of Amazon, she wasn’t particularly apprehensive about the move.
“I’d like to say that I was, and that I gave it a lot of thought, but no I just barrelled ahead,” she said.
She said the strength of a local bookshop is in the experience it offers: it’s a place for “book people” to meet, to exchange recommendations, and to form community.
Though she carries some new books, about 90 per cent of her stock is used. She likes to recommend books by local authors, but she has acquired much of her collection on her travels, picking up one or two titles at a time. Sometimes she’ll purchase a collection from someone who is downsizing, or from the estate of a mystery-lover who has since died.
Hollingshead-Rumsey has a passion for museums, and likes to treat her store like a gallery, interspersing curiosities with the books. A special stash of pulp fiction, with colourful and sometimes lurid cover art, is cheekily displayed in a closet, and a throne that her grandfather used to keep in his downtown photo studio found a home in one of the shop’s corners.
Her favourite part about running the shop is helping people who come in with lists of their favourites find new things to read, and she loves learning about new authors from her customers. Her personal favourite type of mystery is the classic British police procedural, but even she needs a pallet cleanser now and then, and so she turns to “cozies.”
“Those are kinder, gentler mysteries. They always say the murder takes place, the peril takes place, offstage, and then it’s simply the figuring out thereafter,” she said.
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