Two of my favorite mystery writers have characters who live in bookstores. The hero of Steve Berry’s series, Cotton Malone, leaves his post as a Justice Department agent in the Magellan Billet, and buys an antiquarian bookstore in Copenhagen. Located in a four-story building on Højbro Plads, Malone’s apartment takes up the 1,000 square feet of the top floor. He has a bedroom, kitchen, bath and a few closets. The bookstore proper takes up the first floor, with the second and third used as storage, the third for general used books and the second locked and secure for those rare treasures he loves to discover.
Once a spy, always a spy, or so the saying goes. This is true for Cotton Malone, whose shop is torched in one novel. Yet it comes back remodeled and better than ever in the next. Malone has installed wooden risers that announce footsteps in notes “like keys on a piano.” He also keeps a gun nearby.
Malone attends antiquarian book conferences and auctions, but Berry doesn’t go into much detail about the business. Malone also has three employees, something that made me wonder. Is the bookstore business still that good? I hear independent stores are making a comeback.
Dion Fortune presents another antiquarian bookstore in her 1936 metaphysical fantasy The Goat Foot God, this one in London. Hugh Paston, wealthy and non-magical, discovers his wife has been having a long-standing affair when she and her lover die in a car crash. Close to a breakdown, Paston stumbles into a bookshop and buys a book on Pan. Expressing an interest on raising Pan through a Black Mass, proprietor Jelkes takes the poor man under his wing, knowing full well that mischief will come of trying to evoke a Greek god using a Catholic ritual turned on its head. Freud being very much in vogue at the time, his theories and Dion Fortune’s very deep knowledge of Western metaphysics are put to use by Jelkes and an artist friend, Mona Wilton, to cure Paston.
The shop itself is almost enough to cure him, though. Jelkes has a sitting room curtained off in the back of the shop where he can jump up to attend to any customers that might appear. Few do, since this is mostly a postal business. Paston enjoys the casual, shabby comfort of the old leather chairs, their bottoms shored up by stacks of books from the penny bins, the strong tea always available from the hob, and the amazing meals produced by Jelkes on his hotplate.
A cleaning woman comes in once a day to wash yesterday’s dishes that are unceremoniously piled in the sink, dust and sweep, and then do the shopping. Paston sleeps upstairs in an old bed with mismatched curtains hanging from it and washes from a bowl since the tub is broken.
Unlike Berry, Dion Fortune does populate the shelves of this store with real titles of ancient and contemporary magical works and metaphysical novels. One could get quite an alternative education reading the books she mentions.