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