Bookstore of the week: Book’em Mysteries in South Pasadena


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Westwood’s Mystery Bookstore closed its doors Monday, but Book’em Mysteries is still open across town, in South Pasadena. ‘We’re hanging in,’ says co-owner Mary Riley. ‘We’re not here to make a fortune.’

Book’em Mysteries has an extensive stock of colorful paperbacks, including all kinds of mysteries, from cozies to noir. ‘We really wanted this bookstore to be for readers, not collectors,’ Riley says. ‘People that buy books because they want to read them, then might give them to a library or a friend.’


Trade paperbacks, larger than the classic compact mass-market paperbacks, have become more popular in recent years at the store. The store does stock hardcovers too.

In addition to hundreds of tales of mayhem and murder, Book’Em Mysteries has a kids’ section, stocked with children’s books that Riley likes -- and she should know: she’s a former teacher for kindergarten through third grade.

That’s Riley reading -- Kathryn Stockett’s ‘The Help’ -- in the store. She and Barry Martin have co-owned the store for more than 20 years. They started seeing each other after both their spouses died; for more than 15 years, they’ve lived together, and about a year ago, they got married. Although she seems a decade or two younger, Riley is 78.
Hanging inside the front door is a two-part commemoration to the store’s difficult beginnings: In 1991, 10 months after opening, its first building -- and all the books inside -- were destroyed by arson. Luckily, insurance came through for Book’em, and the store was able to start anew. Its current locale is big enough for nooks for sitting and reading, including the historical mysteries at right.

‘We wanted to retire into something,’ Riley said. She and Martin considered opening a restaurant and a clothing shop before settling on a bookstore. The store hosts a monthly book club and book signings, most recently with bestselling author Robert Crais.

Located at 1118 Mission St. in South Pasadena, Book’em Mysteries has seen the neighborhood go from a quiet street of antiques shops to a neighborhood that bustles with people drawn to the Gold Line metro stop, the new cupcake shop, the Mix n Munch Cereal and Grilled Cheese Cafe and a weekly farmers market. Every day, someone new discovers the shop, whose storefront is emblazoned with its logo. Martin came up with the name; Riley is the one who said the O’s in ‘book’ should be handcuffs.

-- Carolyn Kellogg