One day in 1990, I opened my morning Seattle Post-Intelligencer and read an article about a guy named Bill Farley, a newcomer from Philadelphia, who was in the process of opening the Seattle Mystery Bookshop at the corner of Second and Cherry in downtown Seattle. That very day, I bestirred myself from the house and drove into the city from Bellevue to meet the man in person.
When I arrived, the sign on the door said closed, but the door opened at a touch. I’m one of those people, if you give me an inch, I think I’m a ruler. I pushed it open and let myself inside.
As I recall there were two people in the shop at the time, Bill and his wife B. Jo. They were both surrounded by cardboard boxes which they were busily unpacking. They were totally preoccupied with shelving books. I’m sure the last thing they needed right that minute was an uninvited visitor, but I introduced myself as a local mystery writer and was gratified to discover that Bill already knew my name. We chatted for a few moments, then, just as I was about to leave, another person ignored the closed sign and stepped inside the store. The new arrival was a would-be customer, and he told Bill he was looking for a book by someone named J.A. Jance.
Happily, the book in question had already been shelved. While Bill fetched it, he pointed me out to the customer and introduced us. I was happy to sign it, of course, but then there was a problem. The cash register had yet to be hooked up. Bill and B. Jo had no change. I had kids in school back then. I was always able to find lunch money in the bottom of my purse, so I made change on the spot, thus selling and signing the first book ever sold by the Seattle Mystery Bookshop. Sadly, my signing for Proof of Life on September 7th was their last big signing.
After that auspicious beginning, they followed me everywhere. They handled signings at the Doghouse; at a scary 12-step biker bar on 85th; and at the Women’s University Club. Talk about diametrical opposites. At one point Bill Farley even set up a book table inside a massive fireplace at the Rainier Club. On those occasions when they couldn’t actually staff an event, they sent me off with a cardboard dump loaded with back list titles; a box or two of the new hard back; and a cigar box loaded with change. (Last December, at a dinner celebrating Man Overboard hitting the NYTimes list, J.P. Dickey, the proprietor of the shop since Bill’s retirement in 1999, presented me with that very cigar box as a gift!) And every time a new book came out, I did an in-store signing for them.
B. Jo and Bill were full partners. When B. Jo died in 2007, I dedicated my next book to both of them. On December 21, 2013, I left a houseful of guests at my home to drive into Seattle to celebrate Bill’s birthday. And when we lost him in 2015, I grieved along with everyone else who treasured the Seattle Mystery Bookshop.
Bill’s long time cohort, J.B. Dickey, took over the shop when Bill retired in 1999. In the face of huge changes in the publishing world, keeping the stores doors open had been a long, difficult struggle. On September 30th, those doors will close for good. For years fans around from the world and around the country have ordered signed books and had them shipped from the Seattle Mystery Bookshop. I have no idea who will step into those shoes. More on that later.
I’m so sorry to see all of them go—J.B., Amber, and the rest. It makes my heart hurt to know that another longtime Seattle literary icon has bitten the dust.
So long, you guys. I wish you well. You did good work.