Staff Reporter

Trouble is Sheldon McArthur's business.

Each day he deals with murderers, serial killers, grifters, blackmailers, burglars, mugs, molls and plenty of gumshoes hard-boiled, smooth talkers who wear silk suits. But McArthur is no cop, no private eye, no Agent 007.

He runs the Mysterious Bookshop Inc., a hole in the wall on Beverly Boulevard that specializes in crime and punishment and will be celebrating its 10th anniversary in March.

On the neatly stacked shelves is a Who's Who in crime writing: authors like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who brought the world Sherlock Holmes; Erle Stanley Gardner, who created Perry Mason; and Dashiell Hammett, who sent Sam Spade chasing after "The Maltese Falcon."

Atop tables are signed novels by modern crime-writing superstars like James Ellroy, James Patterson, Tony Hillerman and Dick Francis. And in a case are rare first editions by Raymond Chandler, like his "Little Sister," which sells for $450.

"I love books, I love reading, I love talking about books, I love to see someone discover a new author," McArthur said. "I can't imagine doing anything else."

In a world where giant chains and the Internet are squeezing the independents, the Mysterious Bookshop has tried to find a niche where writers, readers and collectors can discuss the latest novels and hunt for out-of-print thrillers.

To keep ahead of the chains, McArthur specializes in service offering novels that no one else stocks and promoting new authors that the big chains choose to pass up. He also has the resources to help find a much sought-after rare book.

When McArthur is not selling books, he is on the phone with bibliophiles in London, Chicago and other cities discussing rare editions. Often, he tells them what to avoid. A doctor in Florida calls repeatedly about assembling a collection of novels by Lawrence Block and Dick Francis.

"He just spent $3,000 on Dick Francis novels," McArthur said. "I am helping him fill out his collections. A lot of it was pretty scattered. I'm helping him redefine it."

Among the celebrities who frequent the shop are former O.J. Simpson prosecutor Marcia Clark, who is addicted to novels about serial killers. Screenwriter Shane Black, who wrote the first "Lethal Weapon" film, is another fan, as is director John Frankenheimer, whose movies include "The Manchurian Candidate."

"It's like a club," said Terriel Lankford, who has written two mysteries, "Shooters" and "Angry Moon." "It's a good hang. You might meet an author you have been reading for 20 years who suddenly just drops by. And the customers really know what they want."


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