Mystery Pier Books
Interview by Scott Laming
If you were a famous Hollywood star looking for a sophisticated gift or, as is more likely for the majority of us, perhaps you happended to be a serious book lover in the LA area, you would eventually find your way to Mystery Pier Books.
Turn off Sunset Boulevard onto a stone path, through blooming flowers, to a charming English cottage that houses father and son bookselling team Harvey and Louis Jason. Booklovers and collectors from birth, they opened their shop and started listing on AbeBooks in 1998. The pair specialize in collectible modern firsts (with many signed or inscribed by authors or actors from film interpretations), American and British literature, Mysteries and the best of True Crime.
Due to the shop’s location and extraordinary collection of modern and signed first editions, Mystery Pier quickly became extremely popular in the glamorous world of motion pictures, TV and music, having sold books to the likes of Bono, Oprah, Mel Gibson and Julia Roberts. Literary figures too have graced their doorstep, and now signed photos are on display in evidence of this: Kurt Vonnegut, Nelson DeMille, and Harper Lee are the tip of the iceberg. Louis made a habit of collecting doodles from these frequent visitors and has since published a coffee table book, Louis M. Jason's Literary Celebrity Doodles, which contains the author’s artwork as well as information about the authors themselves.
With all of these celebrity sightings came a wash of publicity. TV and radio stations, national papers and magazines ran features on the shop, which in turn lead to more opportunities. Mystery Pier has since been asked to build personal libraries for LA’s elite, to find and purchase investment literature (such as important firsts for which prices will rapidly inflate - in seven years The Catcher in the Rye, appreciated from $12,500 to over $25,000) and has been contacted to sell books as gifts for winners at the Academy Awards, Golden Globes, and other awards.
When asked to recall a favourite bookselling moment Harvey recounts a story of one very memorable visitor to the shop. “The shop bell tinkled alerting us to a visitor. I went to the door to see an elderly man standing at the entrance; at first impression, he was obviously destitute, perhaps homeless. Carrying two shopping bags filled to the brims with used soda cans, he stood in the doorway gazing inside the shop through the thick lenses of his glasses. His hair was long and totally disheveled. His crumpled, torn trousers and much stained, frayed shirt were covered with dirt. The man glanced at the titles in the cases with slow admiration and then asked ‘Do you have any Charles Dickens first editions?’ The question absolutely surprised me but I answered that we had three and offered to show him our copy of Nicholas Nickleby. The man was delighted, it was as if I’d handed him the Holy Grail. While he leafed through the book I walked out to the cash register to give this poor homeless guy a couple of dollars. His voice turned me around. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘I’ll take these three.’ I turned toward him he was handing me an American Express card, the ultra-select onyx one. This man has since become a faithful and regular client.”
As it turned out the man lived in a palatial home in Bel Air and had just been tending his garden (hence the dirt and tattered clothes), and saw Mystery Pier’s sign on his way to his hairdressers (hence the messy hair). The soda cans, which were bound for the recycling center, were his last errand of the day but he was worried about leaving the bags of cans in his un-attended Rolls Royce Corniche convertible.
The man has since been back several times and has become a regular client. The lesson from Harvey Jason. Don’t judge a book by its cover!
From Mystery Pier Books
The actual Agency Submission Copy. With accompanying letter of provenance by Chandler's agent attesting to the fact, this is Raymond Chandler's original typescript, the one he himself brought into his agent's office. The 62-page short story, typed on onionskin sheets, is in his official agency (H.N. Swanson, Inc./ 8523 Sunset Blvd. / West Hollywood 46, Calif. / CRestview 15115) black cardboard folder, and the agency cover sheet preceds Chandler's story. Enclosed in an absolutely magnificent custom polished ebony full oasis morocco 91/2" x 12" gilt-ruled clamshell box, silk lined, with raised bands, scarlet leather title label, and gilt lettering and devices. A stunning presentation case for a valuable investment collectible.