Otto Penzler is the proprietor of The Mysterious Bookshop, the founder of The Mysterious Press, the creator of Otto Penzler Books, and the editor of many books and anthologies. He lives in New York City.
Otto Penzler is the proprietor of The Mysterious Bookshop, an iconic New York City store for decades now; certainly if I ever get to NYC, it's the first, and fourth, and ninth place I'll check out. Some 17 years ago, he began commissioning authors to write a short story for Christmas, which he gave in bound copies to longstanding customers; "Christmas at The Mysterious Bookshop" is a hardcover collection bringing those stories, from 1993 to 2009, together in one volume. The requirements were that the story had to be set at Christmas, had to include a mystery and had to have at least some of the action take place in the real store. Stories by Donald E. Westlake, George Baxt, Edward D. Hoch, Ron Goulart, Lawrence Block, Jeremiah Healy, Ed McBain, S.J. Rozan, Anne Perry, Michael Malone, Thomas H. Cook, Lisa Michelle Atkinson, Rupert Holmes, Charles Ardai, Andrew Klavan, Jonathan Santlofer and Mary Higgins Clark are included; as always with such collections, I liked some stories more than others, but all of them were professional and well-written, and most of them were quite funny too. Mr. Penzler himself figures in almost all of the stories, so much so that in his introduction he felt compelled to note that while he is himself a real person, the characters bearing his name in these various stories are not. This is a quick read, perfect for Christmas holiday evenings (by the fire if you have one, which alas I don't) when you're up for a few short and murderous outings in your reading life. My only quibble is that no biographies of the authors are provided; although I know most of these names, some of them are unfamiliar to me and it would have been nice to learn a little bit about them in addition to reading their contributions to this very wonderful tradition - I wish other bookstores would do the same for their customers! Recommended.
Was this review helpful to you?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Pensler wins 'ANTHOLOGY CONCEPT OF THE YEAR' awardNov. 18 2010
- Published on Amazon.com
What a FABULOUS idea. A bookstore marketing idea that apparently worked for at least 17 years (17 authors). Otto Penzler, store owner and book editor, hired mystery writers to do a short piece for him to hand out to strong customers at Christmas. Would it encourage spending? Obviously! Stories had to also include the NYC Mysterious Bookshop in the plot. Often Otto appears. 6-stars for the concept.
Finally putting them together into a single publication is another master marketing stroke, making the quite collectible NYC item available world-wide. In his introduction, Otto admits it's for personal profit and he says, "will thrill my creditors." I wish I could meet this bookseller, see his store, but preferably the old store location.
The downside is the fact that this is not these author's greatest works. They are good, mind. Clever and follow the guideline with "Mysterious Bookshop" location in the story. That makes the collection worthy, like being chapters of one story, but characters changing, except for the frequent appearance of Otto. If Otto had been killed off in story one, it would have been a disaster. Just remember, it's a way to sample authors, not judge them. Search on to find their best works.
I still recommend this book to mystery lovers. And it is Christmas stories, of a sort. Nothing like a good Christmas murder to cheer the family get-together. But please bear in mind that ALL of these authors have better books to read. But for packing in a lot of short Christmas Mystery into a doable holiday span, a set easily put aside between authors, this is a must-own. It's a good addition to a Christmas book collection since this adds a bit of suspenseful tartness to the typical Christmas book fictional sugar-plumness. A well balanced Santa is a jolly fictionally-fat man.
Merry Christmas all, and middle America thanks you, Otto.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Let it snow!Nov. 16 2010
- Published on Amazon.com
A great collection for Christmas holiday reading. An impressive array of authors with clever stories (with wonderful twists) all including Otto Penzler and set (at least in part) in his bookstore. A wonderful extra Christmas gift. Just add falling snow, a fire in the fireplace, some hot chocolate, a cozy sofa, a large soft throw, and read!
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Mystery lovers will not be disappointedDec 22 2010
- Published on Amazon.com
New York City is famous for many landmarks, including the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, the Statue of Liberty, and Derek Jeter. But among its greatest is one that many tourists miss: The Mysterious Bookshop. Their lives are poorer because of it.
The Mysterious Bookshop opened, appropriately enough, on Friday the 13th in 1979 and for the next 27 years was nestled in the heart of Manhattan, occupying a narrow brownstone on 56th Street right down the street from the stage door of Carnegie Hall. Since 2006, it has been located at 58 Warren Street, downtown in Tribeca. It is one of the oldest, largest and, dare I say, most important mystery bookstores in the United States.
The same can be said of its owner, Otto Penzler, who is quite important in the world of mysteries. He knows the genre and the fraternity of men and women who write in it. He has won multiple awards for his work as editor of mystery anthologies, such as the annual THE BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES and THE BEST AMERICAN CRIME WRITING. He has also edited a book that came out this year, THE BLACK LIZARD BIG BOOK OF BLACK MASK STORIES, which is a companion to a large book that came out a few years ago, also edited by Penzler, THE BLACK LIZARD BIG BOOK OF PULPS. Both are essential bookshelf items for those of us who love noir.
But Penzler is also a bookseller, an independent one in these days of struggling chain stores and "the 800 pound online gorilla," which he is far too much of a gentleman to name. In the introduction to CHRISTMAS AT THE MYSTERIOUS BOOKSHOP, he writes, "Book stores have been places of worship and wonderment for me since I was a child and little has changed in the ensuing decades. One of the enduring thrills of my fortunate life is when visitors to my own store have kind things to say about it."
So Penzler began giving something back to his cadres of loyal customers at the holiday season. Beginning 17 years ago, he commissioned many of the finest mystery writers of our times to do a short story and then published one a year in a handsome booklet. Then he would hand it out to customers during the holidays. The only thing the writers had to do was write a mystery, set it during the Christmas season, and have the action take place in or around the bookshop.
Now for the first time, all these stories have been published together. The result is CHRISTMAS AT THE MYSTERIOUS BOOKSHOP, a must-read for anybody who loves mysteries, not to mention a swell gift for the mystery fan in your life. It is worth having just for the lineup of writers alone. They include giants of 20th-century crime writing, such as Ed McBain, Donald E. Westlake, Lawrence Block and Mary Higgins Clark.
How great to read about Westlake's famous burglar, Dortmunder, swinging out a midtown high rise after another narrow escape and then being forced to take refuge in a poker game taking place after hours in The Mysterious Bookshop with Penzler and friends at the table. (Penzler makes guest appearances in most of the stories, although he claims the character is purely fictional.)
The glory of this book is not just the excellent writing, but the fact that it runs the spectrum of mystery writing genres. Lawrence Block puts his series character Chip Harrison to work in the wonderfully titled "As Dark as Christmas Gets," which pays tribute to the fictional Nero Wolfe and its great creator, Rex Stout. There is an exceptional Ed McBain story from 1999 called "I Saw Mommy Killing Santa Claus," a chilling account of the loss of innocence and senseless violence, topics McBain mined brilliantly for half a century. Then there is a 2004 gem by Charles Ardai, founder and editor of Hard Case Crime and an award-winning writer in his own right, called "Cold Reading." The story deals with the search for a long-lost manuscript from a mystery master, which is something Ardai himself has done over and over again at Hard Case Crime in recent years.
There are light mysteries, such as Mary Higgins Clark's "What's in a Name?" from 2009, and then dark, dark tales, like Jonathan Santlofer's "The 74th Tale," which gives a tip of the hat to none other than Edgar Allan Poe. So there, in back-to-back stories, you go from a heartwarming tale about grandma to a guy who enjoys experimenting with burying people alive. And both feature the bookshop, with Penzler as witness. For those who are more "Bah! Humbug!" types, there is George Baxt's "Schemes and Variations," which contains my favorite opening paragraph of the collection, if not the entire year:
"Christmas in New York. No longer the kind that once inspired Yuletide songs destined for a prominent place on `The Hit Parade.' Yet after sixty-two years, the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree was still a big attraction. It towered over the ice skating rink, facing Fifth Avenue as proud as an aged whore who could still score tricks. A bunch of vendors catered to the holiday tourists, mostly women from all points of the country wearing stretch pants that emphasized their watermelon-sized buttocks. Two fisted women with a nosh in each hand, clutching a knish, a hot dog, an oversized pretzel, a soft drink, wearing backpacks or sporting oversized handbags stuffed with boxes of cookies, candies and sandwiches wrapped in tin foil, prepared for the famine they thought might overrun the city. They were unaware that a murderer was threading his way among them..."
Ah, Christmas in New York indeed! How can you not love it? I have not been to Rockefeller Center for quite some time due to the alarming crush of humanity featured there. But this might be a good year to go down to visit The Mysterious Bookshop on Warren Street. And if you can't make it there, buy CHRISTMAS AT THE MYSTERIOUS BOOKSHOP. Mystery lovers will not be disappointed.
--- Reviewed by Tom Callahan
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Something different for Christmas reading...Dec 20 2010
- Published on Amazon.com
I don't actually read that many mysteries, so I'm probably not the ideal target audience for this book--however, I picked it up thinking it would be a nice change from sappier Christmas reads and ended up enjoying it quite a bit. The stories are all fairly short and there's enough range in tone/mood to keep the reader interested. And I did end up jotting down a few names of writers I'd like to read more of! My guess would be that a more dedicated mystery fan would enjoy it even more, as there seemed to be lots of in-jokes scattered throughout.
My biggest regret after reading it is that I don't live closer to the Mysterious Bookshop itself...it sounds like a great place to shop! (Of course, I'm assuming the crime rate there is not as high as this book suggests...)
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
excellent entertaining collectionOct. 10 2010
- Published on Amazon.com
This compilation of seventeen short stories that were given out as pamphlets to the customers of the legendary store date back to 1993 with one a year since. The only two stipulations are it takes place at Christmas and the bookstore must be involved at least in one scene. The contributors are a who's who of the mystery-suspense genre with most lampooning the classics including those written by the author as Donald E. Westlake did in 1993 with Dortmunder learning to "Give Till It Hurts" and Mary Higgins Clark in 2009 with Alvirah in" What's In A Name?". Lawrence Block satirizes Nero Wolfe in the amusing 1997 "As Dark as Christmas Gets" or the 1995 jocular self-deprecating "I Saw Mommy Killing Santa Claus" by Ed McBain (is that his ninth plum of an pseudonym?). With No clinkers, fans who appreciate a strong mostly tongue in cheek anthology in which part of the fun is discovering the insider jokes will want to stop in Manhattan's Tribecca neighborhood (in person or from the armchair) to visit Otto Penzler's Mystery Bookshop as this is an entertaining collection.