Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Black Orchid Bookshop: Play It Again,
Bonnie and Joe

The 13th anniversary party for the The Black Orchid Bookhop was spectacular. In appearance, it seemed very similar to past anniversary parties at that same store, save for one obvious difference: the “Store for Rent” sign mounted in the front window. Although everyone tried hard to ignore it, the realization that the Raven Award-winning duo of Bonnie Claeson and Joe Guglielmelli were shuttering their shop doors for good come September caused nearly the same reaction from everyone in the mystery-loving community. As one reader remarked to me, “I’m devastated.”

Gabriel Cohen, Reed Farrel Coleman, and Keith Snyder were among those who turned out to celebrate at The Black Orchid one last time. (Photo courtesy of Mary Reagan.)

The store opened on East 81st Street, on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, back in 1994. Bonnie had previously worked in the Foul Play bookstore, and Joe then needed a break from the world of law. Their business was a smash from the get-go, attracting media attention in such newspapers as The New York Times, and winning over both mystery readers and writers. More than the books they offered, it was the knowledgeable and giving personalities of Bonnie and Joe that stood out. Author Robert Crais said, “I have never stepped into their store when I did not feel cared for, and cared about.” That sentiment goes across the board for so many who entered their narrow exposed-brick environs.

I moved into the neighborhood in 1992 and discovered Black Orchid randomly one day, soon after it opened. It was nirvana. Heaven. My first purchases? The Elmore Leonard backlist and Ross Macdonald reprints. I was so excited to find this store, I dragged my friend Jeff Bliss into The Black Orchid one day. He was not, and is not, a mystery reader, yet he was impressed, too. So many times over the past 13 years I would go into the store, not only to buy books, but to talk shop with Bonnie and Joe. Sure, the chains exist in the neighborhood (there are two Barnes & Noble outlets within two avenues of each other), but Black Orchid was the only specialty shop for mystery fiction. It was the only place on the Upper East Side where you could be nurtured in the genre by two very expert guides. I cut my teeth on mysteries before I discovered The Black Orchid, but it was from Bonnie and Joe’s store that I bought the books that made the genre come alive and grab hold. They kindled this great association for me.

And so we come to the final party. It was great to see a large collection of very talented writers and enthusiastic readers gathered under threatening skies on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. I’m going to mention some names, and apologies to those who are neglected due to my failing memory.

I don’t know whether it was because I happened to be looking at the front of the store or because he just commands immediate attention, but I first spotted Michael Connelly. A fan had found him and Connelly was doing the writer thing: signing copies of his books. Lee Child was standing and talking with Laura Lippman, and across from them was Dave White. Clustered together were Sarah Weinman, Charles Ardai, and Jason Pinter. Jason and I talked about his upcoming sequel novel, The Guilty. Sounds awesome.

Megan Abbott was the topic of many conversations overheard (“I loved Queenpin”), and she too was doing the writer thing: signing copies of her latest book. Kimberly Tellus regaled the author about her book club’s decision to pick Die a Little as their last month’s title. Always good to see Reed Farrel Coleman hoisting a beer and shooting the breeze (well, actually, there was no breeze that humid night). Jason Starr was holding a copy of his newest novel, The Follower, after coming from a signing at a book chain. That seemed symbolic, given the circumstances of the evening.

The talented Alafair Burke was present, as were Gabriel Cohen, Keith Snyder, Jane Cleland, Meredith Anthony, Larry Light, Wallace Stroby, and Margery and Steve Flax. I caught up with Karen Olson, whom I last saw at Mayhem in the Midlands. Always good to see Karen, whose books must be read. We chatted about the possibility of yours truly moving to the Nutmeg State. And the hosts? They were busy being the gracious souls they always have been, through all the signings, pre-Edgar and anniversary parties. Bonnie and Joe. Two of the nicest people in the business, and they will always be part of the business.

I can’t imagine a time when I’ll walk down East 81st Street between First and Second avenues, and not see all of those mentioned above in my memories, under the leafy trees and boiling skies of Manhattan.


Gina said...

Wow, lots of good stuff in this post! Thank you.

Ali Karim said...

Yes, great post about a sad day - thanks Anthony


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