I REMEMBER WHEN I discovered
the place. It felt like a rare find. Part of me wanted to keep it my
little secret and another part felt the excitement of discovery, which
always leads to word of mouth. I dont go a lot, not
because of a lack of appeal but life gets busy and its one of
those places that I would rather go when time is not of the essence.
The space is small and full but whenever Im there I always feel
I could browse for hours and still find something new and intriguing.
With any good bookstore there is the feeling that the world just got
a little bigger, a little more inviting; life becomes an adventure waiting
to be explored. Its a world I love to enter and hate to leave.
The best part is that you can always come back and the emblems you can
take with you promise to keep the imagination alive till your return.
Despite its unassuming storefront, the Whodunit
bookstore, located on Winnipegs Lilac Street, does just that.
This world, though not for everyone, is a dream come true for those
with the taste for mystery, suspense and intrigue. Mystery, in fact,
is the only genre the store offers. At first thought, having a store
so specific in what it offers might be a hindrance but it is exactly
this very focus that makes Whodunit a place that keeps people coming
When we decided that reading would be the theme of our next Watershed
Online edition, it felt like the perfect opportunity to find out
a little more about Whodunit and the people behind what I consider one
of the better bookstores in Winnipeg. I set out to solve the mystery
of what makes this place so unique. I know one thing. On first detection,
they always seem to have a hot cup of spiced tea in the offering, a
little different than having to put out $5.00 for a cup of coffee. But
thats just window dressing to what lies beyond.
much as I love a good mystery, I still feel I am just a newcomer. What
Ive discovered is a much larger, more complex genre of literature.
Besides my early diet of Nancy Drew mysteries, I have tasted only bits
of what is out there, but it was definitely not a taste I had to acquire.
Perhaps the types of books I usually read leave me needing a break,
the inevitable escape my mind needs after plowing through theory. Mystery
for me is definitely a satisfying reprieve. It would only make sense
that many people, in their demanding schedules and fast-paced lives,
yearn for such a reprieve.
In our interview with Henrietta Wilde and Gaylene Chestnut, the founders
and shopkeepers of Whodunit, I resigned myself once again to the same
conclusion. I will not read all the wonderful books out there and, in
fact, I am just scratching the surface. Despite the small square footage
that Whodunit takes up, the world of mystery is huge. There is a series
out there for anyone, set in any time period imaginable, whether your
fancy is Roman, Victorian, Egyptian, Italian art history, Native American
or American Civil War.
Then there is the option of a cozy mystery which I discovered
is a mystery much like an Agatha Christie mystery (Henriettas
favourite mystery writer). The plot is played out with a series of red
herrings to give you clues along the way, and a solution is well in
place. Of course, for those who would rather explore the ambiguity of
a messy character and a gritty storyline, there
are the darker noir mysteries.
A distinction also exists between British and American mysteries. Then
there are historical mysteries
suspense. The categories
could go on forever. In favour of maintaining the quality of the book,
Gaylene noted that when you start breaking mystery down into too many
categories the feel and essence of the individual book is lost. Henrietta
commented that perhaps the best way to decipher the quality of a mystery
is whether it is plot-driven or character-driven.
Henrietta and Gaylene find themselves naturally drawn to these two opposite
extremes. What makes this bookstore so unique is that you can regularly
walk into the store and walk out with a custom designed purchase. If
its a sense of resolution that you want, Henrietta is the one
to talk to but if you dont mind loose ends with a
darker tone, Gaylene can steer you to the right book. Like many mystery
readers, Gaylene finds that she loves plot twists. I love it when
they trick you. I think Ive got it all figured out and then the
author tricks me, and I love it. She recommends Minette Walters,
especially The Sculptress, and Deborah Crombie, for those who
What re-awakened my love for mysteries was British television and the
many adaptations from mystery books they produce. The most obvious example
is Colin Dexters Inspector Morse. What is it about the
Brits, I keep asking myself, that they do mystery so well? I mistakenly
believe that they are the true and only masters of mystery when really
the history of this genre spans many cultures and countries, which explains
the fact that there are so many translations available. In fact, Henrietta
corrected my misperception by reminding me that the first detective
writer was actually the American Edgar
Allan Poe. There is a rich history to this genre which grew in the
19th century when a lot of detective and mystery stories were serialized
so that anyone could afford them. This helped to build up an audience;
readers have been hooked ever since.
Both Gaylene and Henrietta pointed out the obvious in terms of rendering
a book to TV. The British are usually much more faithful to the book
than Americans. As one of them said, I think the British feel
the author did a good job of the book, so they dont feel they
have to mess with it too much.