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Detective fiction bookshop's appeal is no mystery

China Daily | Updated: 2024-05-25 10:35

SHANGHAI — In the realm of detective fiction, the truth often lies shrouded in enigmas, with both the characters within the pages and the authors who pen these tales of suspense working to unveil them. Shi Chen, a detective novelist born in 1987, has not only penned 15 gripping detective novels but also founded a bookstore dedicated to the genre, called Mystery Books.

With its pure white exterior and gray-black cement floor, the minimalist industrial design of Mystery Books mirrors the essence of detective fiction.

Within its 60-square-meter space, a meticulously curated collection of hundreds of books awaits readers. The shelves are adorned with works by writers such as Edgar Allan Poe, Agatha Christie, Keigo Higashino and many others. Shi's own acclaimed titles, Liangshan Hunter and The Obsidian Mansion Murder, are also among the tomes.

Shi's journey of detective literature began in his second year of middle school when The Complete Sherlock Holmes ignited his passion for detective novels. The classic series by Arthur Conan Doyle sparked Shi's fascination with the meticulous observation and logical deduction that are central to solving seemingly insoluble crimes.

During his university years, Shi's first short story was published in a detective fiction magazine. Since then, he has kept writing and gradually gained some fame among detective novel lovers.

After graduation, Shi's commitment to his craft remained unshakable. Each day after his regular job, he would spend around two hours writing stories.

In 2011, his first full-length novel, Criminal Fragment, a compelling campus crime narrative, debuted. With an initial print run of just a few thousand copies, Shi considered himself "very lucky".

"By that time, my experience from a detective fiction enthusiast to a detective novelist inspired many authors who tried to write full-length detective novels," he says.

Shi attributes his success not only to luck but also perseverance, which has been instrumental in his creation of 15 intricately woven mysteries characterized by suspense and rigorous logic.

He emphasizes that his inspiration stems from close observation of life and massive amounts of reading. "Reading fuels my creativity, making it a crucial part of my writing," he says.

Following the outbreak of COVID-19, Shi made a bold decision to quit his job and dedicate himself entirely to writing detective fiction and opening a bookshop.

Since its establishment in January 2023, Mystery Books has raised public interest in detective fiction. Most customers are fans of detective novels, and others are casual readers.

While the best-sellers in his store often feature detective novels by Japanese authors such as Seicho Matsumoto, Rampo Edogawa and Higashino, Shi is particularly passionate about promoting Chinese detective fiction. He has even set aside a corner of his bookshop for domestic writers.

"Chinese domestic detective novelists are showcasing increasing sophistication and creativity infused with the unique allure of Chinese culture. However, local authors face challenges due to higher critical standards from domestic readers, limited promotional channels, and the lack of attention from publishers, placing them at a disadvantage in the market," he says.

To him, the establishment of Mystery Books is more than a personal hobby, but a testament to his commitment to the future development of Chinese crime fiction.

"I'll keep writing and keep the bookshop open as long as possible to bring more Chinese detective novelists into the spotlight and foster the love for Chinese domestic detective novels among readers," Shi says.


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