Saturday, October 13, 2012

What Bookstores Are All About.

I’m back in Ohio.  After five days in Cleveland for the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention, the two days I spent in NYC sent me scooting back to the Buckeye state.  Why, you say?  No, not because it’s currently ground zero for every imaginable form of Presidential political campaigning and will be until the first Tuesday in November, but because one year ago at the St. Louis Bouchercon Convention I made a promise to attend a book event in Westerville, Ohio.

Say what?  Or rather, “Where?”

Westerville.  You never heard of it?  It’s just northeast of Columbus—Ohio’s capital city located in the middle of the state and home to Ohio State University.  Still no bells ringing?

Well, let’s put it this way.  A lovely lady asked me if I would be willing to appear at her bookshop there, and being the party guy that I am I said sure.  Besides, it was a year away…until last Wednesday.

That’s when I had to find my way to Foul Play Mystery Bookshop, 27 East College Avenue, Westerville, Ohio.

I’ve been to “out of the way” book signings before, and many times it’s just the owner, the cashier, a cousin of the cashier, and me.  Plus a cat or two.  But, book tours are about building relationships and lots of interesting folks live in places many of us never heard of.  Besides, a promise is a promise. So, I flew out of LaGuardia, landed in Columbus, and headed off in search of Foul Play.

It was nothing at all like what I expected.  Imagine magnificent fall foliage, bright blue skies, crisp apple picking weather, well maintained two-story brick buildings with cleanly finished wood trim, and a grassy churchyard filled with neatly stacked pumpkins at the ready for the local Boy Scout troop’s annual weekend pumpkin sale.

And in the midst of all this Norman Rockwell charm sits the Cross clan’s Westerville gem of a bookstore. 

Judy Cross, her brother John, and his wife, Toni, run Foul Play today as they have for nearly twenty-five years, fifteen years at its current location.  It is the sort of place Harry Potter would chose if he were a bookseller.  A snug, brick and gabled two-story escape from the digital world crammed with 30,000 REAL books and two special effects cats.  Special effects I say because it’s hard to imagine they are of mortal form; more like T.S. Eliot’s Macavity in the Broadway’s musical Cats, but on steroids. 

John and Toni Cross live above the shop, and somewhere betwixt and between the floors lives the ghost—a “she ghost” they say.

Harry Potter, welcome to Ohio.

Foul Play is blessed with dedicated, longtime customers who support not just their bookstore, but the authors who come to visit as well. Early Wednesday evening two-dozen mystery junkies braved a frosty night to sit talking about books.  Many were Bouchercon veterans with distinct opinions on who and what they’d seen and read, and frankly, I learned far more listening to them than they possibly did from me. 

Hours later, when we moved en masse to a neighboring Italian restaurant for dinner and more talk, I realized this was not just a group of fans who loved the genre.  These were people who cared very much about each other in camaraderie born out of murder and mayhem. 

I’m sure Hannibal Lechter would be pleased.

Bottom line: If you’re an author who enjoys touring, do not miss Foul Play.  It’s set in another time…yet only only twenty minutes from the Columbus Airport.

Now it’s on to Pittsburgh, for a family get together of a different sort at my home town Mystery Lovers Bookshop hosted by it’s new owner, the incredible Laurie Stephens.  Can’t wait!



  1. Lovely piece, Jeff. It's good to know there are still bookstores like this around... but I fear for their future. Taking a look at the photos you provided, the average age of the "dedicated fans" appears to be somewhere north of "no longer cool," which doesn't bode well for the long-term health of the business.


    1. The spirit of that group and other like them is catchy, Everett. I think there is a whole new young generation getting into reading. In part because of all the content available on their digital devices they're realizing there's something new out there...paper!

  2. Sounds like a great bookshop. Long may it, and its ilk, continue.

    1. Amen, my friend, amen. And congratulations again, Dan, on that fabulous, well deserved award.

  3. What a wonderful story, and bookstore. For a shortage, I worked in a bookstore while I was in graduate school. It was in one of the cottage like buildings that evoke an old Cape Cod, and had all these wonderful nooks and crannies. The people that came to the store were of all different ages and stripes so to speak. It is no longer there, but my small town now supports five book stores, each with its own population, so to speak. I buy all my Jeffrey Siger books from mine, long may it survive!

  4. The book store blesses you, Lil, and I SURELY bless you! Thanks.

  5. It's a great store, isn't it? We all went out to dinner the night I was there, too, and it's one of the nicest experiences I ever had on the road. Wish I'd been there.

  6. Yes, it's a terrific store, Tim, and had you been there I can see the billing now: "Tonight only, a Foul Double Play."

  7. We always take our authors to dinner, if they can make it. Or we have a tea for them (Louise Penny) or wine and cheese (Julia Spencer Fleming) or a lunch (Mary Higgins Clark/William Kent Krueger) We LOVE our authors! Though we are "north of cool" in age, the three of us who own the place still think books are the best things ever invented. My hope for the future is there will always be people like Jean Luc on Star Trek who prefer an actual book, and not an electronic substitution. You guys keep writing; we'll keep reading. (and selling, we hope)From Judy Cross, one of the owners of Foul Play

  8. And your authors love you, Judy! Thanks again for a wonderful, memorable time. Best to all.