Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Damn you, Unity Books!

As some readers of this blog may know, Unity Books is a highly-regarded independent bookstore in New Zealand, with stores in Auckland and Wellington. The High Street store is fairly close to my work, in the Auckland CBD, so I pop in now and then.

From a crime fiction perspective, for a relatively small store, Unity Books (Auckland) has a very good selection of international crime fiction. They don’t overwhelm their crime fiction section, which is in a prime position right near the entranceway and the cash registers, with stacks and stacks of the big name bestsellers; instead they have a pretty wide selection, especially given their space. On their shelves you will find everything from hardcover reprints of classic Raymond Chandler novels, to a plentiful selection of lesser-seen translated fiction (i.e. not just the Swedes, but many books from the likes of Camilleri, Boris Akunin, Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza, etc).

Especially for their size, they are a great, great store when it comes to getting your hands on some interesting crime fiction. Unfortunately, as I noted when I conducted a bookstore review late last year, this high standard and wide selection didn’t extend as much to New Zealand crime and thriller writers, which was a real shame.

Today at lunch I found myself browsing Unity Book’s shelves once again – looking to see whether something caught my eye for Dorte’s 2010 Global Reading Challenge. I was really only in need of South American crime fiction, but was, as always, looking wider anyway. It’s not like I need more books – my TBR pile is ridiculously large already, both in terms of recent/upcoming releases for review, and older titles and authors from New Zealand and overseas that I’d like to get around to at some point. But I always like the vibe of good bookstores, and you never know when you might find a gem or two. Incidentally, Unity Books is also in the middle of a fairly large sale of some of their older or excess stock – I picked up a handful of crime fiction titles a couple of weeks ago at very, very good prices, and then when I went in today noticed they had increased the discounts even further – they now have a 50 % off sale (that’s 50% off the already heavily reduced sale price), so some excellent books can be had for as little as NZ$4-6. So, along with the excellent crime section, I found myself browsing the sale tables. You never know what you may find.

And as is often the case with book-lovers like myself, even when you wander into a store with no set motivation to buy a book, or the thought you’ll ‘just maybe get one’, with a big sale on, things can quickly change. I ended up walking out of the store with eight books in tow. Oops.

In my defence, most of my purchases were translated crime fiction which I haven’t seen readily available elsewhere (that’s no slight on other very good NZ bookstores – remember, I haven’t visited you all), so I could at least partially justify it as helping with Dorte’s challenge, or at least improving the diversity of my personal collection (since I’d already finished off some of those continents) – which is a good thing. After all, since I want others overseas to try more New Zealand crime fiction, I should of course return the favour too. So, what did I get? Here’s the line-up:
  • SOUTHWESTERLY WIND by Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza (Brazil);
  • STRANGE LOYALTIES and THE PAPERS OF TONY VEITCH by William McIlvanney (Two classic ‘Laidlaw’ novels from the Scottish literary master, and father of Liam);
  • PLAYING FOR THRILLS by Wang Shuo (China);
  • THE PROPHET MURDERS by Mehmet Murat Somer (Turkey);
  • CINNAMON KISS by Walter Mosley (USA – has been on my ‘classic author - I need to read some of his books’ list for a while); and
  • CONAN DOYLE by Andrew Lycett
And all for less than what it would normally cost two buy two books (or less than the cost of the latter book, a nice big hardcover biography, by itself), making my little spending spree even more bearable.

As a side note, when I was in the store a couple of weeks ago (I then picked up a copy of Neil Cross’s NATURAL HISTORY, amongst other books), I noticed that Unity Books seemed to have far more NZ crime fiction than when I’d reviewed them late last year. All four Paul Cleave books were available (THE KILLING HOUR was on the sale table, and the other three in the crime section), as were two of Vanda Symon’s books, Alix Bosco’s CUT & RUN, Liam McIlvanney’s ALL THE COLOURS OF THE TOWN, multiple copies of Lindy Kelly’s BOLD BLOOD, three Neil Cross titles, plenty of Ngaio Marsh (including her autobiography BLACK BEECH AND HONEYDEW), and some other Kiwi crime. I may have to re-review them.

As I was paying that time, I said to the lady behind the counter that they had a great crime section, and that it was also nice to see plenty of Kiwi crime books there too. And you know what she said? “Yeah, I saw a while ago that we’d got a mention on some obscure blog, and they’d come in and done this undercover review and said we hardly had any New Zealand crime writers, so I got some more in.”
It was a strange moment. Not wanting to bust my ‘cover’ (haha), I just thanked her for the books, and walked out, with a smile on my face.


  1. What a great story Craig - and how wonderful to know your undercover efforts have had such an influence. Well done indeed.

    As for your oops moment...I like to think of such sprees as my personal contribution to the struggling economy :)

  2. Actually I think Unity Auckland isn't a patch on the Wellington store - far more crime books to select from and I've always found the staff very knowledgeable. Plus its much easier to find the books. (and I'm not a Wellingtonian!)
    Going back to Wellington in April so will check out their range of titles - also Scorpio Books in Christchurch which I haven't visited for a couple of years so I'm looking forward to checking out what they have to offer. Bernadette - Abbeys Bookshop in Sydney and Pulp Fiction in Brisbane have always been my favourites - thank heavens I can get the GST back after visiting those 2 places.

  3. Splendid, Craig -- good on you. A nice little list of books there and, oddly enough, Peter at Crime Beyond Borders has a post on William McIlvanney this morning, which moved me to comment there that it is unfortunate his crime fiction is largely forgotten, for it is splendid stuff. Not a few writers in a crime fiction sub-genre today might do well to acknowledge his influence, but they don't seem to.

  4. Liked your post. Someday I hope to write a book where the royalties will pay for the copies I give away.

  5. Craig - I love the title of your post! And I think you got some terrific books : ). I hope you enjoy them.

  6. Always fatal for me to go into Unity Books in either Auckland or Wellington!Truly wonderful independent bookstores, long may they flourish. In response to tilleyhelen above I would say in fairness to the Auckland store their Wellington sister-store is more than twice the size so you would expect a larger range.

  7. Thanks for the comments everyone. I didn't get to Unity Wellington when I was down there last a few months ago, so thanks for the tip tilleyhelen - I'll have to make sure I try them (and Scorpio Books in Chch) next time I'm in those two cities.

    Philip - when I was doing background research for my interview with Liam McIlvanny last year, I noticed that Ian Rankin actually gives quite a lot of credit to the Laidlaw books as being very influential, for him, when it comes to Scottish detective fiction.

    Now, as long as people go into stores like Unity, and buy some of the Kiwi crime they stock, things could start to grow...

  8. I also loved that story!

    And when will we learn to resist all these temptations? *sigh*