Let me begin today’s lecture with a brief introduction. I am Professor James T. James, retired from my post as a university lecturer on 19th century English literature, and currently the manager of Pettistone’s Fine Books here in Brooklyn. I will not bore you with my curriculum vitae. Suffice it to say that I hold multiple degrees from more than one prestigious institution, and I have earned a not-inconsiderable reputation in my particular literary specialty among my peers. If you check past issues of 19th Century Literature Quarterly—no, it is not available on the internet, only in proper journal format—you will discover several monographs with my byline.

As for my association with Pettistone’s, I chanced upon the bookstore almost a decade ago. I had learned from a small ad in an obscure publication that its owner was offering a particularly rare printing of Twain’s Huckleberry Finn for an astonishingly reasonable price. I hurried over to the store and introduced myself to the owner, one Darla “Dee” Pettistone, expressing my interest in that book.

Dee was a blunt-spoken woman in her seventies who, despite her handicap of being from that singularly backward state of Texas, displayed an admirable business sense. A year previously, she had single-handedly converted her brownstone’s lower levels into retail space, which she had divided between new merchandise and collectible volumes. At the time, however, her merchandizing skill did not interest me. My sole interest lay in acquiring the Twain.

I made a counteroffer that she accepted, and I swiftly purchased the book in question for cash. Once our transaction was completed, however, my conscience got the better of me, and so I explained to her that she had undervalued the edition by several hundred dollars. Being the shrewd businesswoman that she was, Dee did not linger over her loss. Instead, she candidly admitted that her knowledge of antiquarian books was limited, and she offered me a part-time position with her store buying and selling first editions and other rarities.

Since I had been contemplating retirement from my professorial post–one can take only so many years of force-feeding knowledge to clueless college freshmen without succumbing to madness–I agreed to take the job. Later, Dee offered me a permanent position as store manager (having by then reached her 80th year, she was finally ready to take on a more limited day-to-day role). As I had grown to enjoy the retail environment, I accepted.

I can say with pride that my rare book expertise kept Pettistone’s from following the sad lead of numerous other independent bookstores over the years that fell victim to the economy and shuttered their doors. As Dee and I agreed, one cannot put all one’s fiscal eggs in one basket and hope to succeed. Indeed, life at Pettistone’s proceeded at an agreeable pace until a few months ago, when Dee succumbed to a sudden illness and passed on.

While I did not expect Dee to make me her heir, I confess to no little surprise when I learned she had left the entire brownstone, including the bookstore, to a grandniece from Texas. And that is how I came to work for Dee’s namesake, Darla Pettistone. Our start was somewhat rocky, but to Darla’s credit she quickly realized the asset she had in me. We have since made a fine team; I taught her the ropes, as they say in the parlance, and she has done a capable job of running the store. My sole criticism is that she has an unfortunate tendency to embroil herself in all manner of unsavory crimes…purely by accident, she assures me.

I see a hand raised in the back. Ah, yes, of course. You wish to know a little something about our store’s mascot. Hamlet the cat has been a fixture at Pettistone’s for a bit longer than I. (In fact, some customers have begun referring to our store as the Black Cat Bookshop, but I refuse to indulge in such fancy, myself.) As I understand it, Hamlet was a feral kitten who made his way to the store one chilly day. Foolishly, Dee let him inside, where he promptly pulled down a paperback copy of one of the Bard’s famous tragedies and fell asleep upon it, thus earning his sobriquet.

Hamlet grew into a handsome if somewhat imperious beast (some people have claimed he and I have similar personalities, but I cannot see that). He doted upon Dee, and merely tolerated the rest of us, although he has formed something of a bond with Darla. Perhaps it is because Hamlet, too, has a propensity for involving himself in—dare I say it?—murder. In fact, he has brought more than one clue to the attention of the police following some heinous killing and thereby helped solve the case.

I would tell you more about Hamlet and his doings, but it seems that our time is up for today. Please be certain to collect all your belongings as you leave the lecture hall…and do stop by to visit Pettistone’s Fine Books when you are next in Brooklyn. Thank you.

** Ali is giving away one (1) autographed copy of A NOVEL WAY TO DIE. Contest open to US residents only and ends November 11. Leave a comment to be included in the giveaway. Book will be shipped directly from the author. **

Meet the author
Ali Brandon is the national bestselling author of Double Booked For Death, the first in her new Black Cat Bookshop Mystery series from Berkley Prime Crime. The second in that series, A Novel Way To Die, will be on the shelves November 2012, with at least four more books to follow. Writing under her real name, Diane A.S. Stuckart, she’s also the author of the popular Leonardo da Vinci historical mystery series, which has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Library Journal, as well as a Florida Book Award Silver medal. Additionally, she is the author of several published works of short fiction and five full-length historical romances.

A native Texan with a degree in Journalism from the University of Oklahoma, Diane a/k/a Ali now lives in South Florida. She’s a member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime. Visit her at www.dianestuckart.com or www.alibrandon.com.

Books are available at retail and online booksellers.

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