M is for Mensch: A Fond Farewell to Ed Kaufman

By David Corbett

Ed Kaufman, the elfin, indefatigable owner of M is for Mystery (and More …) Bookstore, passed away on December 20th from complications resulting from kidney disease.

He was known by many of us in the writing biz—and cherished. You arrived in his store and felt like royalty. He not only actually read your books, he generously and knowledgeably expressed his enjoyment of them. He knew what you were up to and respected it. His encouragement crackled in his voice and in his eyes. 

Ed Kaufman spoiled me. After my first acquaintance with him, I suspected—or more appropriately, I suppose, hoped—that his level of intelligence, energy, and personal fondness might propel me along like the current of a river throughout my career. If only. Men like Ed are rare. Which is why his passing hits so hard.

More than once he came at me like a buzzsaw: “Where’s the next book?!” For a slowboat writer like me, it was half pat on the back, half kick in the pants. But I knew he was saying it because he genuinely believed my books were worth reading, not just putting on the shelf.

He also offered me the chance to introduce and interview writers like Michael Connelly and Richard Price, two men I very much admire.

He was the quirky uncle with a steel-trap mind and the metabolism of a dervish. His smile engulfed you, and his handshake was always warm and strong. I’m sure he could be prickly and impossible and self-absorbed at times—like I’m one to talk—and his employees were no doubt more long-suffering than we might imagine. His manager, Pam Stirling, remains one of the people in the book business whose warmth and appreciation remain among my fondest memories as a writer, and the other members of his staff, Jen and Ann and Warn and Charlotte, were always so welcoming and kind.

He closed the bookstore in December, 2011, and it felt like someone had dropped a nuclear bomb in the business. You can imagine what his death feels like.

There were two lovely obits online, one in the San Francisco Chronicle, the other in the The Daily Journal, and they flesh out his prior years—his growing up in Ohio, his service in the military as a plainclothes Counter Intelligence Corps officer, the chance to serve as clerk to US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart that Ed turned down because he needed to make more money for his family, his longtime work as a lawyer in Los Angeles, his passion for art and opera—and his marriage to Jeannie, whom most of us got to know as well: She was the lovely, witty, wise-cracking counterpoint to Ed’s almost boyish enthusiasms.

In 2012 the Mystery Writers of America bestowed on Ed the Raven Award for outstanding achievement in the mystery field outside the realm of creative writing. But awards only say so much. Here are some words from other writers to give you an idea of what he meant to us all:

I am so very sad. I loved Ed, loved his drive, his manners, his charm and energy. He built a great business and you could see he just loved it when an author grew almost right in front of him. I was so nervous on my first visit there, with my first book, that I almost passed out. And a few years later, after a packed event during which I signed about 85 books, he put a few hundred more books in front of me to sign and date — and I almost passed out again, this time with shock! But it was always nothing but a pleasure to do anything for him, because he was a wonderful supporter of authors and of the mystery. That sparkle of passion was always there, even if he seemed weary the last time I saw him. —Jacqueline Winspear

Here’s my favorite Ed story: I was once in M is for Mystery talking to Ed and I saw a copy of The Kite Runner on the front table. I looked at him and said, “Really Ed? The Kite Runner in a mystery store?” And he kind of grumbled and said, “There’s a kidnapping in it. Besides, as far as I’m concerned, if someone in the story gets a parking ticket, it’s a crime novel.” —Mark Haskell Smith

What a champion he was of first-time authors, and how loyal. I remember how supportive he was so early on and how it never wavered. Then, as recently as August, he called me at home out of the blue to congratulate me on a review. Whenever I saw him we talked about his love of opera. When he spoke of it, his face just lit up from within. —Megan Abbott

I always looked forward to visiting Ed Kaufman.  He was a kind, enthusiastic, cultured man, with a love not only for the contents of books but for the artifact of the book itself.  A generation of great booksellers is passing, and we will not see their likes again. John Connolly

Ed Kaufman was a gentleman of the old school, unfailing in his support of authors at all stages of their careers. I treasure the memories of events I was honoured to participate in at M is For Mystery. He made me feel so welcome, and did so much to help bring my work to American readers. I shall always remember him with gratitude and great joy. Zoë Sharp

I met Ed when I was in law school in the bay area, well before I ever realized my books would be among those in his store. He was my friend, and I will miss his big hugs and sweet laughs. —Alafair Burke

I had the tremendous honor of presenting a Raven Award to Ed in 2012. I have always thought of him as “The Mensch of Mystery,” and it was awfully nice to be able to honor him in return for his having hosted my very first signing at M is for Mystery. What a lovely, lovely man. —Cornelia Read

Ed was my hometown bookseller and a broke-the-mold guy. One of my highlights every year on tour was seeing him at the store. Because I’m from the Bay Area, he got to know my family and friends over the years and always remembered them and had a good word — and a book recommendation or two — for them. I miss him. —Gregg Hurwitz

Ed was such a gentleman, but always with that little twinkle in his eyes. He made me feel welcome, and special, and I’m sure he did the same for readers as well as authors. Most of all, you could feel his passion for books. —Deborah Crombie

I thought Ed treated me as a friend because he was an ex-New Yorker and a reader of The Wall Street Journal. Then I learned he treated everyone with warmth and friendship. He was a sweet man who was a joy to visit and a tireless advocate for authors whose work he admired. I miss him and am so glad we met. —Jim Fusilli

Ed was a leprechaun of a bookseller; kind and mischievous, delighted by literary finds both bound and unbound (in the form of the visiting authors), he regarded books and writers as gold to be treasured, promoted and championed. Ed and the staff at M is for Mystery—Pam Stirling, the manager, Ann, Charlotte, Jen—were like a family to me. I’ll miss him—and the wonderful Xanadu they built together–forever. —Kelli Stanley

Ed was a superb lawyer, an extraordinary bookseller, a wise counselor and a supportive friend. He will be greatly missed. —Sheldon Siegel

When I interviewed Ed K last year to write something up for the Edgar Awards program – he was awarded the prestigious and well-deserved Raven – I met him for coffee which turned into Ed taking me to lunch, yes that was Ed, but in all the years I knew him I realized I didn’t know where his love of books came from. So I asked him. ‘Years ago when I was a young lawyer I travelled all the time. Always on the road, my family at home. But I discovered bookstores. From then on I was never without a book under my arm – airports, waiting rooms, hotels, conference breaks in law offices.  A book was always my companion. Then as now you won’t find me without a book under my arm.’ That’s how I always remember Ed, holding a book.  —Cara Black

When my first book came out I got a phone call from Ed, inviting me to sign at his store. I was new and completely unknown and felt so honored that he’d asked me. Never mind that only a couple of people showed up. Ed has been a dear friend ever since and even ordered me to bring my Celtic harp to play once. If you know how shy I am about playing instruments in public you’ll know in what high regard I held him. His passing has left a hole in my heart. —Rhys Bowen

Ed made new writers feel incredibly valued, cherished. I’ll always cherish him for that! —Pari Noskin Taichert

When my first book came out, Ed read my industry reviews and then took the initiative to contact my publisher and request to host my book launch (shown here).

I remember how he toured me, my husband, and our pug around his shop. My stage fright soon melted away in the warmth of Ed’s welcome. He made this first book event so special for me. He even taught me how to sign my books. Such a mensch! Ed loved literature and was a true champion of authors. He had a keen intellect and a big heart. I’m sure that everyone who knew Ed was all the better for it — and Ed knew a lot of people! —Cynthia Robinson

What I remember most is Ed’s infectious passion for mystery writers and anyone who shared his passion. Ed made me feel like I’d finally found my clan. I think that’s why the local chapter of MWA always held their Christmas party there. Being in that store and standing among those bookshelves, seeing your name on the spines of some of the books and listening to Ed’s stories, that was as big a thrill as getting published for the first time. He made a small bookstore in a small town a destination, because Ed was the destination.

Ed was also a great connector. He called me several times, sometimes at the last minute, to guest-host a number of author events, either at the store or occasionally at the local library. Usually they were authors I knew, but sometimes he just had an instinct an event would work if he threw certain authors together, and he was always right. I made some great friends at those events because Ed had a matchmaker’s eye for people with shared passions. He was a great soul, and whatever bookshelf he gets in heaven, I hope it stretches as far as his reach did on Earth. He’s the kind of guy we should all write stories about. Tim Maleeny

As a final note: I posted the following on my website in 2007 when the publication of my third novel coincided with Ed’s birthday:

I and a number of other northern California mystery writers—including Rhys Bowen, Ann Parker, Camille Minichino, Nadia Gordon, Tony Broadbent, Tim Maleeny, Kirk Russell, and Dylan Schaffer—threw a surprise birthday party on Friday evening, March 23rd, for Ed Kaufman, the owner of M is for Mystery in San Mateo, one of the premier crime and mystery bookstores in the country.

The evening was billed as a reading for my new novel, Blood of Paradise, but when Ed and I booked the date, he let it slip that it was his birthday, and the scheming began.

Ed’s wife Jeannie, store manager Pam Stirling, and the rest of the M is for Mystery staff were in on the caper, and even though Ann and Camille, with all the best intentions in the world, almost blew the surprise by walking in a bit early with balloons, Ed didn’t catch on until the cake appeared. (Though he did, in introducing me, express a little surprise that so many folks had turned out for my event—hmm.) Cara Black and Steve Hockensmith, unable to attend because of other obligations, nonetheless sent congratulations from afar, and a grand time was had by all (even Tilly and Morgan, the canine celebrants). The inscription on the cake read, “M is for Mensch,” and truer words were never written—certainly not with icing. Many happy returns, Ed!

As it turned out, there were only five more happy returns. Far too few.

You’re missed, Mr. K. More than even a bunch of writers can say.

* * * * *

If you have any words or a recollection of Ed you’d like to share, please feel free.

* * * * *

Jukebox Hero of the Week: In honor of Ed’s abiding love of opera, here’s Angela Gheorghiu in a live performance of Puccini’s “Vissi d’arte,” from Tosca. (Yes, it’s a crime story—she sings this aria right before murdering the villain, Scarpia):

Bonus Track: Ed’s wife, Jeannie, when we emailed back and forth about possible arias, said, “just about any aria from Puccini’s ‘La Boheme’ — such as ‘Che gelida la manina’ (“…how cold is your little hand…” he flirts) and Pavarotti never disappoints. And neither does Puccini.”

When I told her I was thinking of Puccini’s “Vissi d’arte,” she responded, “Oh, Vissi d’arte even better! Of course — I lived for art, etc. etc. How silly of me not to think of that! (though Ed loved the schmaltz of the Boheme youthful flirtation).”

So, in honor of Ed’s love of schmaltzy youthful flirtation — as well as crime: 


15 thoughts on “M is for Mensch: A Fond Farewell to Ed Kaufman

  1. David Corbett

    This extended tribute was provided by Tony Broadbent:

    Remembering Ed Kaufam — with acknowledgements to Mr Chandler

    Down those mystery book aisles—in between often-times mean critics and an often brutally unforgiving book-buying public—a man of books must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. He is a complete man, and a common man, and yet an unusual man. He his own man; he is a hero. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor—by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world.
And just such a man—was Ed Kaufman.

    As much as he applauded the bigger names in the mystery writing field—for of necessity they were good for business—Ed never failed to reach down—and help up the new—the aspiring—the untried and untested author—and not only warmly bid them welcome—but buy their books—in stacks—and speak well of them—and hand sell them—to any and all intrepid mystery readers that ventured into his much missed: ‘M’ is for Mystery.

    Taken all in all—Ed was a true gentleman—and a truly gentle soul. And I’m but one of countless authors who will say they are very glad—and most privileged—to have known him and to have once been able to call him friend.

    —Tony Broadbent

  2. David Corbett

    This tribute from JT Ellison came in just as the post went live:

    He was a lovely man who welcomed me into the store with a big hug and a smile. I loved my evening there, it was pouring rain and our crowd was cheerful but soaked, and Ed was funny and fascinating and charming. It was a memorable night, and I'm sorry I didn't get a chance to go back. He will be missed.

    –JT Ellison

  3. Clair Lamb

    It's also worth mentioning that Ed was part of the group of investors who made it possible for The Mystery Bookstore in Los Angeles to go independent when Otto Penzler decided to close Mysterious Bookshop West in 1999-2000. Ed was never a silent investor, but a hands-on bookseller whose energy and enthusiasm helped keep that store going for a decade. It was a privilege to know him and work with him.

  4. Camille Minichino

    Thanks so much for this, David. You've expressed what we're all almost unable to speak.
    I remember so well that wonderful birthday party, where you so generously gave up your spotlight to Ed and we all had a feast with our friend! We're lucky to have known him.

  5. David Corbett

    Thanks for mentioning that, Clair. Ed didn't just have great taste in writers and books. He had great taste in bookstores. Nice to hear from you. Hope you're well.

  6. Gar Haywood

    True story:

    When my novel writing career was still in its infancy, I was working full time as a field service repair tech in the computer industry. Our clients were all over the map, professionally speaking, and I met all kinds of interesting people on the job. One of our job sites was a law firm in Century City (I believe), and my service contact was this incredibly nice attorney whom I discovered, once we started talking, was a huge fan of mystery fiction. When he found out I was a published author, his eyes lit up: He had plans to open a book store up in San Mateo and he'd love to have me sign there. Naturally, I said yes.

    That attorney was Ed Kaufman.

    I ended up signing and reading at Ed's store several times over the years, and he always treated me the same way: With admiration and respect.

    We've lost one of the nicest people the crime fiction community will ever know.

  7. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    I only met Ed once, when I did a signing and reading during my first book tour. I remember that he had a remarkable memory and a true love for the ins-and-outs of the Hollywood scene. I wish I'd had more interaction with him over the years, but I do feel honored to at least have shared a special moment with him.


    Thanks, David, for expressing what so many of us are feeling.

    I still remember the great birthday party, where you generously gave up the spotlight so we could all feast in Ed's honor. He was a mensch indeed and is greatly missed.

  9. David Corbett

    Thanks to everyone for commenting. I know people who loved Ed have been checking in from time to time, and they've been very heartened by everyone's kind and generous words.

  10. Gerald So

    Thank you for this tribute, David, and thank you for helping get THE LINEUP: POEMS ON CRIME #4 stocked at "M" is for Mystery. Your rapport with Ed and Pam was instrumental.

  11. David Corbett

    Zoe: Puccini — One more thing you have in common with Ed, beyond the both of you having such infectious smiles.

    Gerald: You overestimate my influence. It was really as easy as telling Pam and Ed about the collection. They were true supporters of us all. It's a much harsher world for the loss of that store, and now Ed.

  12. David Corbett

    And this little gem from Tod Goldberg, who posted it last night on Facebook:

    When my first book came out, I spoke to an audience of exactly two people at his store — Ed and my wife Wendy — and I thought he was just going to have me sign my stock and get the hell out of his store, particularly since he'd set up an awful lot of (empty) chairs. But instead we sat there and talked for an hour about books and about the Bay Area, where I'd grown up, and about what I was reading and what I wanted to write about and where I saw myself in ten years. I was 29, scared to death, worried as hell, and embarrassed that I was keeping this man from going home. Ten years and about ten books later, turns out I was right back in that store. There just aren't many booksellers (or people in general) like this anymore and that's a shame.

  13. Priscilla Royal

    In each of our lifetimes, there are a few unique people who never leave our hearts and memories. Ed is one of those. From my first book to the one before the store closed, he made me feel like one of the best writers around. I miss him.

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