Friday, January 23, 2009

A last farewell to Murder One

I happened to be in London earlier in the week and, with half an hour or so to spare between meetings, found myself in the vicinity of Leicester Square.  In the past, that's the point at which I'd have made a visit to the excellent Murder One on Charing Cross Road, idled away some time browsing through the racks, and emerged with at least one book I wouldn't have found anywhere else. I've been doing that, given half a chance, for much of its 20-odd year existence.

I did the same this time, of course, but it was a poignant visit because, as we all know, Murder One is due to close imminently.  The credit crunch bears a little of the blame - in that it hindered Maxim Jakubowski from selling the business as a going concern, as he'd hoped.  But the real culprit, lurking in the drawing room with the lead piping, is the internet.  The likes of Amazon, Abebook and Alibris may be a boon to those of us who buy too many books, but they're increasing sounding the death-knell for the independent bookshop - particularly, I imagine, for the specialist shops like Murder One.  Ten or fifteen years ago, Murder One was pretty much the only place where I could easily buy, for example, US editions of crime books.  Now, I can buy them at the click of a mouse. 

I suppose that's just progress.  But something's been lost along the way - the sheer serendipitous pleasure that comes from browsing in a good, thoughtfully-stocked bookshop.  Whenever I've visited Murder One, I've come away with something that I would never have found through Amazon or its equivalents.  However much the on-line bookshops try to recreate the sensation of bookshop browsing, it's never quite the same without the physical dimension.  I've bought dozens (hundreds?) of books from bookshops just because they caught my eye and looked interesting.  I don't think I've ever done that with Amazon, however much information they throw at me. 

I did it again this week, coming away with a Donald E Westlake I'd not read - something I'd never had bought on-line because it wouldn't have occurred to me to look for it. 

So - with the possible exception of its impact on my bank balance - the loss of Murder One and its equivalents is a great sadness.  I was glad I had the chance to pay one last visit, and also that I finally took the opportunity to say hello to Maxim Jakubowski - in all my visits, I'd never had cause to disturb him if he was in the shop - and to wish him and his staff well.  I understand there are plans to try to continue the mail order side of the business - I hope so, and I hope they succeed in giving their larger, but much more anonymous, competitors a run for their money. 

Comments

1. Maxine said...

What a very nice post. I did not visit Murder One all that much, as although I work in central London I avoid it at other times. I do however go into Murder One when I meet up with Karen of Euro Crime - in fact just before the announcement we were in there buying up some 3 for 2s - not enough, evidently. The Internet has killed off these specialist shops, unfortunately - I hope that some substitute might be found - murder cafes, for example?

2. Michael Walters said...

Thanks, Maxine. I suppose the internet has opened up a lot of possibilities, but it's also closed down a few. I like the idea of murder cafes - perhaps there's a business opportunity for some entrepreneurial soul...

3. philip said...

A nice post indeed, Michael. Thank you for the pleasure of it. Maxine, you have a very nifty idea there. There are, after all, philosophy cafes that do very well - one in K upon T, indeed, though not of the sort about which I am right now having a wee fantasy. There was in Vancouver a philosophy cafe - a good Italian place that weekly hosted discussion of some announced topic, and otherwise did very good business from regular traffic and generally as a meeting place for those who wished for philosophical chat. Worked wonderfully until the idea was co-opted by a singularly imperialistic university, which made the meetings peripatetic (some would say appropriately so), introduced academics to control things, an admission fee to cover their costs, and generally buggered it up royally. But I can see a murder cafe in the style of that original. Pictures on the wall: Agatha, Henning, Maxine, Michael, Norm, Reg, Karen, Phyllis, Rhian...I can see it now. Happy are those whose work is their hobby, so I think you should do this.

4. Michael Walters said...

It's an attractive idea, Philip - though I suppose some customers might be a little wary of sampling the cakes...

5. philip said...

You have a point there, Michael, but I think they could be lulled into a sense of security, possibly false, through the power of music. Elgar's Gerontius for the Sayers night, surely. The theme from the Carry On movies for Crispin/Montgomery - he wrote it, after all. Saint-Saens' Danse Macabre for Val McDermid. Alfven's Swedish Rhapsody for...well, you get the idea.

6. Michael Walters said...

This gets more attractive by the moment - I rather fancy the notion of a string quartet playing selections from Crispen's Carry On themes. And I imagine the risks with the food would provide some customers with an added frisson...

7. philip said...

Oh, I do like that. I think too that Crispin would have been happy to do the arrangement. Now that I have the Naxos Music Library linked to my computer - some 27000 CDs on around ninety independent labels, would you believe - I've been able to hear one of his serious compositions. Rather good. Now with those cakes you mentioned, I decided that incorporating poisons into their customary names might be too much frisson, especially for the Miss Silver fans. Famous fictional murderers would be nice, but there really aren't enough. So I am thinking crime fiction writers and characters or similar. Professor Plum Cake. Madeleine Nabbed, if I am permitted a little license with spelling and punnery. Napoleon a la Upfield. Bit tricky for me -- no sweet tooth. This was Maxine's idea, so I hope she appreciates all this high-powered concept development work we're putting in.

8. Michael Walters said...

Hm...I think we're definitely on to something here. And of course the dishes don't have to be sweet. We could also offer, say, Hammett and Eggs or Cheese and Onion Crispins, all washed down with a glass of vintage Barbara Vine. Perhaps I should stop there...

9. philip said...

Cheese and Onion Crispins!! Wonderful. You shouldn't stop, Michael, but I should -- you're much better at this than I am.

10. Michael+Walters said...

I think I probably should, before I move on to the Jugged Cyril Hare or the John Harvey's Bristol Cream... Any other suggestions gratefully received, though.

11. philip said...

I'm not at all sure how to make Jugged Cyril Hare, but there might be a recipe in Mrs M.C. Beaton's Book of Household Management. We must have Jill Paton Walsh Rarebit, made with Rex Stout and Reed Coleman's Mustard, with a pint of Dorthy Porter to wash it down, ease the passing, as it were. And a nice Marjorie Eccles Cake to follow, perhaps? Margaret Maron Glaces? Iain Pears Belle-Helene? And we do need to mix the fine British fare thus far mentioned with something a touch exotic -- perhaps some Jose Carlos Samosas.

12. Michael Walters said...

Oh, very good - and how could I have overlooked Rex Stout? I suppose an altenative might be to wash it down with a nice cup of Josephine Tey or possibly a sparking glass of Alex Kava. No, I really will stop now.

13. philip said...

Me too. That last surge of creativity left me exhausted. But wot larx!

14. Michael Walters said...

Yes - now, if we could just get it up and running in real life...

Anyway, thanks for the input, Philip - much appreciated!

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