In the small world of independent bookstores that cater exclusively to mystery fiction, Houston has a jewel in Murder by the Book. For thirty years, the good folks at Murder by the Book have extolled the wonders and magic of mystery fiction. Every one of the folks who have worked at Murder by the Books loves the genre and can talk endlessly about their favorite book, author, or character. But I've never known anyone so exuberant about crime fiction than David Thompson.
What's great about the people who work at Murder by the Book is the diversity of opinion and interest amid the wide spectrum of mystery fiction. While David was a fan of just about any genre, he held a special place in his heart for old school hard-boiled stories. It's one of the reasons why the Hard Case Crime series is prominently displayed very close to the register. Over these past two years as I underwent my own personal education into hard-boiled fiction, David was a guide. He told me his favorites among the Hard Case Crime line and, sure enough, they are among the best of the bunch. More than once I'd stop in the store and ask his opinion about some new titles as well as get his input on older names I'd run across in my crime safari. Just talking with him, hearing him get excited at my journey, knowing that I was reading one of his favorites for the first time, you couldn't help but smile and get excited yourself. I couldn't wait to get home to start reading. His passion was infectious.
Most importantly is that he remembered me. He learned my name, knew my interests, and had suggestions whenever I went to the store. Every now and then, he'd drop me an e-mail or hold a collection of newly arrived used books, giving me first crack. He knew that I had a blog and took the time to read the posts and comment on them. In this modern world where most of us are nameless, walking into Murder by the Book and having David greet me by name meant something. On some days, it almost felt like he was my personal bookseller.
As the day progressed and my thoughts kept returning to David amid my day job deadlines, I grew troubled. I knew David only as a bookseller and fellow mystery book fan. We never went out to a bar after an author signing (although he invited me). We never exchanged Christmas gifts or wished each other well at the holidays. And, yet, the loss leaves a hole in my life. My loss is minuscule to that of his wife, McKenna, and the others in the Murder by the Book family. But it is a loss. I wondered if just being a fan of crime fiction was enough to constitute a friendship. Have I lost a friend?
Leave it to my wife to reveal the truth. When I called her this afternoon to let her know about David's passing, the first words out of her mouth was, "Isn't that your friend at the bookstore?"
Yes, David Thompson was my friend. And boy am I going to miss him.