Talk about being married to your job: on September 6, when McKenna Jordan, 26, and David Thompson, 36, say “I do” at the Dryburgh Abbey in Scotland, they will cement a bond that already has them spending most days and nights together. Jordan and Thompson are manager and assistant manager, respectively, of mystery bookstore Murder by the Book in Houston, Tex., where they regularly cohost some 150 author events a year. And on January 1, 2009, they will take over as co-owners of the bookstore. “Technically,” says Thompson, “McKenna is the one buying the store, so I’ll be working for her.”
Thompson still maintains a 14-year edge in experience, having started work in the store in 1989 as a shelf stocker. By January 2003, when Jordan walked through the door as a four-hour-a week part-timer, Thompson was already the assistant manager, responsible for the store’s Web site and its quarterly literary magazine, the Dead Beat.
A professional violinist, then working toward a master’s degree in music performance, Jordan had first intended to get a job at a store that sold music and books, and applied at a Barnes & Noble, where she was rejected for being “overqualified.” Now she’ll soon own one of B&N’s few serious local competitors.
Opened in 1980 by Martha Farrington, Murder by the Book today offers some 25,000 new and used hardcovers, paperbacks, first editions and collectibles. Its longevity can be attributed to its specialization, expert selection and, in part, to its location in a high-rent residential district that isolates it from chain competition. While the nearest competitor, Brazos Bookstore, is just a block away, their stock has little overlap.
Farrington, who will retire at the end of this year, says she’d been looking for someone on staff to buy the store for many years. “When McKenna came to the store, I saw that she was the right person,” says Farrington. “For her age, she can handle a lot. I’m not worried about them so much as I’m worried about the future of the book business. I just hope they are able to carry on in the same mode.”
Jordan, who declined to discuss details of the pending purchase, is optimistic: “Three or four years ago, we seemed to have reached our growth potential, but last year we had a 9% increase in sales.” The jump is the direct result of more aggressive hand-selling, in particular of backlist titles (often in a series) that the store was able to turn into bestsellers. In just one example from 2007, Murder by the Book sold 200 copies of Cara Black’s 2000 novel Murder in the Marais; since 2005, they’ve sold more than 1,000 copies of Marne Davis Kellogg’s Brilliant.
Once she’s owner, Jordan says that she’ll consider a few changes, such as refreshing the signage, adding more children’s titles and installing a shopping cart on the Web site, but nothing radical. She says her ultimate goal is to enable Thompson to dedicate himself full-time to Busted Flush Press, a publishing company Thompson founded in 2005 that publishes mystery anthologies and reprints sold in Murder and distributed to other store as well.
As the two move forward, one thing remains certain: books will continue to dominate nearly every aspect of the couple’s life. Even their pet Papillon, Jack Reacher, can’t escape. He is, after all, named for the assassin/hero of Lee Child’s series of thrillers. One can only imagine what they might name a first child.