In a town that boosts the largest number of book buying readers in the nation, San Francisco Mystery Bookstore is the city’s own mystery bookstore. Squeezed by townhouses on both sides, the San Francisco Mystery Bookstore has been a Noe Valley feature for over thirty years. Don’t be deceived by the Noe Valley address, the store is located on a typical San Francisco near-vertical street, so be prepared for a calf workout. A simple and understated sign hangs above three picture windows chock full of current mystery titles that lure you in, but you won’t find a front door. What did you expect? It is a mystery bookstore after all. Entry is gained by a side door.
The San Francisco Mystery Bookstore is a compact place, giving it a cozy feel. It’s like you’ve walked into a private library in someone’s home thanks to a pair of easy chairs and wall decorations. Being small, elbowroom is at a premium, but that’s a small price to pay for their vast selection of hardcovers, paperbacks and modern collectable titles. There’s a second room in the rear that’s a treasure trove of old collectables from the fifties and sixties from the princes of pulp, with the prime examples sheathed in plastic. Whatever you’re looking for, they’ve probably got it. If you don’t know what you want, then you’re blessed with people who know (and love) their genre well, in the form of Diane Kudisch, the owner for the last eight years, and her trusty crew. They will only be too happy to point you in the right direction.
Cooper, a lab-mix, completes the team. He’s only too happy to hide under a table when you walk in the door. He’s a shy lad. And don’t feel you can’t bring your own bloodhound with you. Dogs are welcomed with open arms and there are treats on hand for any four-legged visitors.
Diane is the store’s second owner. Bruce Taylor founded the store in 1974 on the corner of Diamond and 24th. Originally, it was only open on Fridays and Saturdays. Like all things in the city of quakes, nothing stays in the same place for long and the San Francisco Mystery Bookstore moved half a block and across the street to its current location on 24th Street in 1995. Diane took over ownership on April 1st, 2001.
In the five years since she took over the mantel as proprietor, she’s never once felt like an April fool. Having been a long time customer, when Bruce told her he intended on retiring and selling the store, Diane, looking for a new challenge in her life, jumped at the chance to take over.
The author’s signing nook occupies one corner of the store and the cream of crime has warmed the Shaker-style wooden chair over the years. Bestselling authors come back again and again to sign and discuss their books. Lawrence Block, Robert Crais and Linda Fairstein are just some of the big names who have sat a spell over the last few years. But the San Francisco Mystery Bookstore doesn’t just cater to stars of mystery. Like Bruce before them, Diane have championed many up and coming authors, never hesitating to give them a go in the author’s nook.
As fans of the genre, Diane have a bookcase set aside for their favorite authors and their recommended titles. And then there are the dozens of local mystery writers who, over the years, have benefited from the "recommended" shelves at the store. Longtime customer and author, Louise Ure says, “I've been a customer at the San Francisco Mystery Bookstore for more than twenty years, but an author there for only one. Now my greatest pleasure is in hearing Diane recommend FORCING AMARYLLIS when someone comes in and says, ‘Anything good with a desert southwest setting?’”
Customers get the chance to discuss the finer points of murder by becoming a member of the store’s reading group. The group meets monthly, usually the third or fourth Wednesday.
If you’re lucky, you may see a regular store phenomenon. Someone will always see the sign, come in, scan the shelves of mystery books and ask, “Do you sell maps?” It’s a tourist thing and shouldn’t be missed.
So if you live in San Francisco or are coming to San Francisco, take a trip to the city’s finest mystery bookstore. You won’t be sorry. The mystery will be why you hadn’t visited before.