The Crime Writers’ Association

Bookseller of the Month: October 2022 – Richard Reynolds

As part of the new CWA Bookshops Champion initiative, we want to celebrate bookshops and booksellers, because we believe they don’t just sell our books – they bring our streets alive.

This month there’s a special CWA Bookseller of the Month – not a shop but a remarkable person. In September, Richard Reynolds stepped down from his job as a bookseller at Heffers in Cambridge after over forty years. He talks to William Shaw.

Richard’s been a great champion of crime writers. His pioneering Bodies in the Bookshop events – and his book catalogue of the same name – have brought a huge range of crime fiction to readers over the decades. He’s also been a good friend to the CWA, most recently chairing the Gold Dagger judging committee. We spoke to him in early September.

So today is the actual day you retire as a bookseller? What are you doing to celebrate?

Well, Heffers are throwing a party tonight for myself and another colleague who left after 34 years, so that’s really lovely.

So it’s been 41 years?

Nearly! It would have been 41 in November. It’s 40 years plus. And that’s enough – though I love what I do and I have loved what I was doing there.

Did you work in bookselling before you started at Heffers in Cambridge?

I saw there was a small advert in Jardine’s window in Manchester for a bookseller and went for the interview. He asked me where I’d been to school and that was the end of the interview. That’s how it was in those days.

You arrived at Heffers in Cambridge in 1981. Was crime a specialism of yours?

Not at the time. After I was interviewed by John Cheshire in the office he told me I had got the job and he told me I was looking after sport! It was a small section and I think it was a way of gauging how good a bookseller you were.

Did the shop feature crime then?

It had crime within fiction. I did sport, then travel and biography, then they moved me to the literature section. The then manager didn’t want people going to our competition to buy their crime fiction, so she said, ‘You like crime, don’t you? Would you like to do a crime section?’ The downside was that it was an area underneath the ledge by the stairs. You would literally have to be crawling on the floor to look at these things. I thought, well, that’s a really good place because I knew that there were lots of crime read ers and they would complain, and it would have to be moved. I thought, ‘Yes. Go for it.’

In 1990 our marketing department wanted to do something crimerelated and I came up with the Bodies in the Bookshop event which was a riff on RT Cambpell’s [1946] book Bodies in a Bookshop. It was fantastic. We had Reginald Hill, Colin Dexter, the late June Thomson, Lindsey Davis… We might have had Michael Dibdin and I think Minette Walters the year after that. It was a Saturday afternoon event – I think it was 1990, but it might have been 1991.

Which was very early compared to other bookshops…

We had a cataloguing department and I started doing a crime catalogue too, submitting all the authors I could think of at the time.  And it all grew from there. The catalogue was my hobby, really. I did it at home. We did 22 Bodies in the Bookshop events altogether until we had about 65 authors in the shop. The problem was one very nice author spoke for far too long so we had to introduce the bell. You could only speak for two minutes and then we rang it. It became a game.

Most booksellers don’t get to meet as many of the writers as you have.

Yes, and that has been a privilege. Lindsey Davis was always fantastic. Colin Dexter used to come in regularly. Nicola Upson and Mandy Morton knew PD James really well so they started to interview her for Heffers. Kate Rhodes, Elly Griffiths. Oodles of people!

Are there any authors who you think you’ve really helped emerge onto the scene by championing them?

I don’t know. I think it would be arrogant to say that. It’s a privilege selling people’s books when I love them. Once Alexander McCall Smith brought me a case of wine because he had heard that I had been hand-selling The Number One Ladies Detective Agency, but I can’t have been the only one!

Tell us about your crime book reading club Crime Crackers, which you held at Heffers.

My wife coined the name. We’ve been meeting for 21 years. We normally get between 15 and 20 people coming. Pippa McAllister [also a CWA judge now] was one of the first to join. We had a lively discussion at Heffers at our last one there. Pippa made a cake and we discussed The Boat Race Murder by RE Swartout which I’ve just reissued with my publisher friend Jon Gifford, which was a really good loud and lively discussion. We’re going to carry on, though we’ll be meeting in Bill’s.

There’s also the huge amount of work you’ve done on behalf of the CWA’s Daggers over the years – including chairing the Gold Dagger committee – which is a huge commitment.

Yes it is, but that’s the fun side of it, also. I’d been on the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger (which I’d loved being on) and Philip Goodman said, well, would you like to chair the Gold? My goodness. My first panel was Barry Forshaw, Margaret Kinsman and Heather O’Donoghue – and I decided we should all meet first to see the whites of each other’s eyes. We always try to meet first now, and I love to speak to people about books.

And you’ve now got a website:

I’m going to carry on recommending crime fiction authors of all sorts and I’m working with Jon Gifford of the Oleander Press. We’re going to specialise in Golden Age books. I have been supplying information to the British Library who publish Golden Age titles. A few years ago I recommended Death of a Bookseller by Bernard J. Farmer – mainly because I wanted to read it and it was so expensive second hand. I had this lovely conversation with Martin Edwards, who said, ‘Oh, you’ve read it?’ Well, actually I haven’t … I’m also planning to do podcasts there.

I love the idea you get titles brought back into print because you want to read them. What extraordinary power.

I don’t think of it as power. I just think of it as being overly enthusiastic.

You can explore Richard’s website here here. Read more about William and his novels here.

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