If they don't, McArthur will help.

"He knows about every mystery ever published, and when he finds a book he likes he has the ability to really sell it," said Phil Reed, whose latest mystery is "Low Rider." "He read my first novel ("Bird Dog") in galleys and called and said, 'I am going to sell a lot of copies of your book.' This is the best book store of its kind in the country."

It's also a good place to pitch a tale. When Reed had an idea for a possible series of novels, he asked for McArthur's advice. The bookseller not only jumped at the idea, but also told the novelist where he would place the book in his shop.

"His mind is like a databank," Reed said. "He remembered an author from the '30s who had a similar idea, and he tried to find his book, but it was out of print. You don't get this at a chain."

Among the established authors that McArthur likes today are Michael Connelly, Lawrence Block, James Lee Burke, Dennis Lehand and George Belecanos. The classics are easier; McArthur cites works by Hammett, Gardner and Chandler.

The bulldog-like McArthur, 51, got his start as a teen-ager working in a Westwood bookstore. As an undergraduate at UCLA, he helped run the campus bookstore, and after graduation, he spent 16 years working for various chains. Along the way, he became a devotee of mystery writing.

When Otto Penzler, who founded the Mysterious Bookshop in 1978 in New York, wanted to open a Los Angeles edition, McArthur's name kept popping up.

He scratched together $10,000 of his own money to open a store on Beverly Boulevard, just west of Beverly Center. Penzler put up $75,000. (A third store was opened last year in London.) McArthur acknowledged that while Beverly was not an ideal location for street traffic, he and Penzler had their fingers crossed.

"We knew it would become a destination store," he said. "The question was how long would it take."

In running the shop, McArthur keeps expenses down by having only two other employees one of them a part-time packer. He also doesn't discount books, figuring that his knowledge and ability to find rare books are worth the difference in price.

The rise of the giant discount chains has forced many independent booksellers to shut their doors. Not the Mysterious Bookshop.

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