Who wouldn't want to meet author Richard Gross?
It's a mystery.
Mr. Gross, the best-selling author of thriller novels, travels from New York for an appearance tonight at the Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Oakmont.
"I believe thrillers are the most relevant form of fiction today because they best represent the crises and the issues that face the world today, which I don't think is mirrored in conventional fiction," said Mr. Gross, who was in the apparel business before becoming an author.
Mystery Lovers Bookshop was started 22 years ago by Mary Alice Gorman and her husband, Richard Goldman, and eventually became the largest independent mystery bookstore in the tristate area.
Laurie Stephens, 59, bought the shop last summer when the original owners retired.
"We're a mystery-centric bookstore," Ms. Stephens said. "In other words, we have 90 percent mystery books. A good collection of local authors and a good kids collection."
All the books are new. And Ms. Stephens does her best to stick to mysteries.
"Sometimes it's hard to draw the line," she said. "We do not deal too much in vampires, etc. Or science fiction. Although we do have mysteries that are set in the future."
The shop encompasses 1,600 square feet, but don't ask Ms. Stephens how many books that means.
That, too, is a mystery.
Owning a bookshop was natural for Ms. Stephens, a native Texan who moved to Pittsburgh five years ago when her daughter took a job with Highmark.
"I had been a bookseller and librarian for some 35 years," Ms. Stephens said. "In Dallas, I was directing a literary series for the Dallas Museum of Art. And before that, in Houston, I was a librarian and a bookseller.
"I'd already heard about the bookshop before I visited, and when I heard it was for sale I just jumped on it. I came because it's a destination shop. I mean we get customers from all over the United States. When they're in the area they come. It's a well-known mystery genre store."
You don't believe her? Check out the walls of the shop's one bathroom.
"We're kind of famous in the mystery-author community because our bathroom walls are a virtual autograph board. A who's who of the mystery world," Ms. Stephens said. "Everyone who comes in writes a little note and signs their name."
That would include such best-selling authors as Jo Nesbo, Craig Johnson, Michael Connolly, Lisa Scottoline and Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Owen Butler. All authors who have stopped in as part of the shop's author events.
"I forget what I wrote, but I put on my New York scatological hat on and put up something appropriate," said Mr. Gross. "It was kind of hard to find space."
Ms. Stephens said opportunities to meet authors are important to readers.
"Once you've made a personal connection with that author, you read everything that author's written," she said. "That author becomes your author. The experience of meeting the author and hearing the back story and the future story. It makes a book come alive. It really makes such a difference. And it keeps you reading.
"There's something about holding that book in your hand and having the author write his name in it. Those books stay on your shelf. And they become permanent connections to that point in your life."
Mr. Gross said he enjoys events such as the one tonight.
"It might make more economic sense to sit back and write rather than doing the road shows and going to mystery conferences," he said. "But I like meeting people. That is the most refreshing part of my job. I like hearing from them online and I like interacting with them in person. As an ex-business person, it's almost the same as going out and shopping the stores or meeting the customers."
"He came last year. He was one of my first events when I took over the store," Ms. Stephens said. "He's one of those writers that you lie in bed reading and tell yourself, 'I'll just read five more pages.' And then you read five more, and five more, and five more after that. He gets you going. He has an excellent style and great characters. They're very contemporary, and you can really identify with the situation. His latest two books, for example, grab you by the throat and make you think, 'This could have been me,' for that one decision you make that causes everything to go wrong in your life. And then he gets the character out of it with twists and turns. And you're just on the edge of your seat."
Mr. Gross will read a few paragraphs, but most of the event involves the authors talking about their process, what brought the story together, and the publishing experience. After that, the audience gets to ask questions.
So you can find out if he writes in his underwear.
Another mystery solved.
The event begins at 7 p.m. at the Mystery Lovers Bookshop, 514 Allegheny River Blvd., in Oakmont. It is free and open to the public (though you might want to bring a few dollars so you can buy a book).
If you have a suggestion for something to do some evening, let us know about it and we'll see if we can get some of our friends to join you. Contact Dan Majors at email@example.com or 412-263-1456. This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To log in or subscribe, go to: http://press.post-gazette.com/