The above illustration, "Blowing Bubbles," has been adapted for use here by generous permission from the artist, Cyril Rolando.

April 1, 2010

AUNT AGATHA'S: Our Indie Store of the Month

The only thing better than a book is a lot of books. That's why indie bookstores are my idea of a real tourist attraction. Not only are there lots of books, but in an indie store I know I'll be among like-minded people. Who else would be devoted and courageous enough to run an indie bookstore in today's economic environment? In that spirit, Corey and I are honoring the indie mystery bookstores of the world. Against the tsunami of chain stores, mass merchandisers, e-books, and a broken publishing model, the indie bookstores continue their campaign to serve, and serve well, those of us who crave crime fiction.

Our April Indie Store of the Month is Aunt Agatha's New & Used Mysteries, Detection & True Crime Books, known to readers and authors simply as Aunt Agatha's. Owners Robin and Jamie Agnew have been holding their own against the retail onslaught of chain- and online bookstores for 18 years. You know they're doing something right. A shopper can find both used and new titles at the store, and the website provides not only an online catalog, but also original reviews of new titles, such as Jamie's review of Craig McDonald's Print the Legend. In fact, the website is built for exploration. A reader like me could easily spend the afternoon browsing the online store. There are author interviews (click here for the interview with Megan Abbott), award nominees and winners going back to 2003; owner and staff best-of-year lists; and there are even essays. Yes! You don't see many of those on a bookseller's retail website. Here's one that caught my eye right off:  David Goodis and the Intermittent Noir Revival.

Enough from me. Let's hear what Robin has to say about Aunt Agatha's.

When and why did you decide to open a mystery bookstore? 
Before we lived in Ann Arbor, we lived in Minneapolis, where there's a wonderful mystery bookstore, Uncle Edgar's. When we moved here my husband worked for Borders for a few years- when we decided to open our own place, Uncle Edgar's was in the back of our minds as a model. We've been operating since the fall of 1992.
How is your store different from other mystery bookstores?
I guess the difference is us, what we recommend, how we sell books. When you go to an independent store, you're selling yourself in a way, along with the books. We also sell true crime, which I know not every mystery bookstore carries. It's not a big segment, but readers of true crime really appreciate it. One of my favorite author interviews ever was true crime writer Kathryn Casey.  She's not as well known as Ann Rule - yet.
Do you sponsor any book clubs / book signings?
We do! We have a club that's been meeting since the second year we opened - we vote every month on what we want to read, and cover a wide variety. This month we're reading Alan Bradley's The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Every now and then an author joins us, which is always a blast.

Along with used books, [signings are] the other piece that helps us to keep our doors open.They are lots of fun.
Can you talk about your most memorable customer?
One man visited every week for 2 or 3 years and left me a great deal of money in his will - it's putting our daughter through college!
What is the last crime novel you read that just blew your socks off?
False Mermaid by Erin Hart.
What as yet unpublished book are you looking forward to reading and selling?
Oh, that's a tough one.Anything new that comes out in the future from Louise Penny or Kent Krueger will be fun to sell and recommend. But there's always new things. I'm reading an advance copy at the moment of The End Game by Gerrie Ferris Finger that's very good.
Who is your favorite author?
Louise Penny. My husband's: Megan Abbott and James Ellroy. The difference in our tastes helps round out our recommendations to customers. Our employee, Marty, likes historicals and anything set in another country. He's especially fond of Laura Joh Rowland.

Thank you, Robin, for so graciously taking time out to answer questions about your wonderful store. I'll be watching for The End Game. And Ann Arbor isn't so very far away from Columbus, so I expect I'll get to meet you in person sometime soon.

And did I mention that Aunt Agatha's has a very active facebook page? You'll find information there about upcoming signings with Rosemary Harris, Rhys Bowen, and others. And they have photos there causing me to be eaten up with envy: Sean Chercover, Loren Estleman, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Sara Paretsky, and lots more. Go check them out!
213 South Fourth Avenue
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48104
Hours of Business:Monday - Thursday 11-7
Friday and Saturday 11-8
Sunday 12-5


  1. It is a great bookstore and we visit it every time we are in Ann Arbor. We all need to work together to keep Indie bookstores open. Go Aunt Agatha's!!

  2. It's an outstanding store. Very fun to browse, but I count on Robin and Jamie's recommendations. Love the website and interviews, as well. Well worth a visit (and return visit and return . .. ).

  3. Eleanor and pace, I'd be lost without the indie stores. I hope to visit this one soon. Thanks for stopping by.

  4. Only crime fiction bookstore in Michigan. And they run the Kerrytown Bookfest each Fall. They are the best.