Despite owning and operating the Mysterious Bookshop in Lower Manhattan, the oldest bookstore in the U.S. specializing in mysteries and thrillers, Otto Penzler said his duties running Mysterious Press don’t leave him with enough time to interact with customers. “I actually spend most of my time sitting and working in the basement at Warren Street, and so don’t see people as much as I used to,” he explained.
That’s one of the reasons Penzler loves ThrillerFest, set for May 30–June 3 in New York (see our preview, p. 18), where the Mysterious Bookshop has a pop-up. He said ever since ITW asked the store to serve as the on-site retailer, he and his team have been there “from the opening of the event until the very last minute.”
The pop-up is stocked with thousands of books, including many by those taking part in ThrillerFest. Penzler starts ordering for the event months in advance, and staffs the book room robustly to minimize wait times for attendees, many of whom rush in to buy books after presentations in order to get them signed by the speakers. The Mysterious Bookshop’s offerings don’t just include nominees for ITW awards, but those by other attendees and participants in CraftFest and PitchFest.
For authors with multiple books, Penzler stocks their most recent offering, and in some cases, older ones as well. With 2023 ThrillerFest Silver Bullet Award recipient Michael Connelly, for example, he will have copies on hand of The Black Echo, the first Harry Bosch novel, originally published in 1992.
Penzler is quick to note that his selection for ThrillerFest isn’t developed with Swiss-watch precision: “It’s based on what we think are the most likely books that people will want, and we just hope for the best,” he admitted. “Like every bookstore in the world, we’ll bring too many copies of some books and not enough of others.” It’s impossible to predict, he observed, which author will make a splash on a panel, leading to an unexpected run on their titles.
At this year’s ThrillerFest, Penzler will be wearing his publisher hat more than usual. On May 30, Mysterious Press is publishing Central Park West, the debut novel from former FBI director James Comey. Penzler said Central Park West is as good a legal thriller as he has read in many years. Comey will be attending ThrillerFest and signing books, a rare opportunity for readers to get autographed copies from a prominent national public figure with firsthand knowledge of how law enforcement works.
In the past, Penzler has been manning the book room “every minute of every day,” he said, but that may not be possible this year, given the number of meeting requests he’s received. But odds are, if someone stops by, he’ll be there to say hello and offer suggestions.
Lenny Picker is a freelance writer in New York City.