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In Praise of Second-hand Bookshops

This post about my love of second-hand bookshops was originally written for my publisher, Boldwood Books, to mark the publication of my latest novel, the eighth Sophie Sayers Cozy Mystery, Murder in the Highlands.

As an avid reader who reads across a wide range of genres, and especially fond of books from the mid-century or earlier, I cannot resist second-hand bookshops.

They provide a completely different customer experience from shops for new books, because the contents are unpredictable, and each shop offers unique stock. You never know what you might find, and that element of the unexpected adds a sense of adventure.

As well as selling cheap editions of modern bestsellers and timeless classics, they offer curiosities long out of print and old favourites in quaint editions. I always keep an eye open for books printed during paper rationing during the Second World War, for example, and am building up a good collection of vintage Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries by Dorothy L Sayers.

cover of A Book about Books
One of my collection of books printed during paper rationing during the Second World War – what a comfort read this must have been during those difficult times.

I often buy vintage hardbacks for their dustjacket designs that I know will look beautiful on my bookshelves, whether or not I plan to read them.

Whenever I visit a second-hand bookshop, I keep an open mind. Rather than looking for books on my to-read list, I wander about waiting for something to call out to me. Often it’s a book I’d otherwise never have discovered, or a stunning edition of an old favourite I’ve never seen. One of my favourite finds is a collection of Sherlock Holmes stories entirely in Pitman’s Shorthand.

Cover of shorthand edition of Sherlock Holmes book
A quirky addition to my  Sherlock Holmes collection
opening page of The Return of Sherlock Holmes in shorthand
I think the code-loving Holmes would approve

I can’t read shorthand, but it was such a conversation piece that I had to have it.

It’s uncanny how often a book presents itself that’s relevant to a current interest. I also love any with intriguing inscriptions suggesting a fascinating back story, like the book of Gaelic poetry that Hector gifts to Sophie’s mum in Murder in the Highlands.

When I first heard about Leakey’s Bookshop in Inverness, I couldn’t wait to visit. Housed in a deconsecrated church near the banks of the River Ness, it’s one of the biggest second-hand bookshops in Scotland, shoehorning books into every possible space, including a gorgeous mezzanine gallery. The wood-burning stove blazing on the ground floor encourages customers to linger, and it would be easy to spend all day browsing its vast stock.

Although it hasn’t been a place of worship for half a century, there’s still a reverential hush as book lovers tread softly among the shelves. Each visit feels like a pilgrimage.

photo of Leakey's bookshop
The fabulous Leakey’s bookshop is one of my favourite places in Inverness, and Murder in the Highlands includes a fictionalised version, which of course Hector adores

I’ve invented a fictionalised equivalent of Leakey’s for Murder in the Highlands, to help Sophie lure Hector to Inverness to inspire him for his own planned second-hand department at Hector’s House. Little do they realise that the book of Gaelic poetry is also going to play a significant part in their Highland mystery… my latest novel, the eighth Sophie Sayers Cozy Mystery, Murder in the Highlands.

Photo of Urquhart Castle on the banks of Loch Ness
In Murder in the Highlands, I send Sophie and Hector to some of my favourite places in the Scotland, including Loch Ness – although a crisis prevents them from reaching Urquhart Castle

It’s available on Amazon as an ebook, paperback, hardback and audiobook, with the ebook currently on special offer at just 99p. (If you’re a member of Amazon Prime, you can even read it for free!)

To order your copy via Amazon, click the image below . You can also order the ebook and audiobook from all the usual digital stores online, and the print editions from any of your favourite places to buy books, including traditional bookshops.

Meanwhile, Back in the Cotswolds…

I’m now writing the ninth Sophie Sayers Cozy Mystery, set in the Cotswolds once more, and centring around Hector’s bookshop in the village of Wendlebury Barrow. Hector’s trusty Land Rover, pictured below, will play a crucial part in Driven to Murder! More news on that story soon…

line drawing of Hector's House copyright T E Shepherd
This illustration of the Hector’s House bookshop by Thomas Shepherd is in the same style as Sophie’s ficitious cottage (Copyright Thomas Shepherd


English author of warm, witty cosy mystery novels including the popular Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries and the Gemma Lamb/St Bride's School series. Novels published by Boldwood Books, all other books by Hawkesbury Press. Represented by Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agents. Founder and director of the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival. Course tutor for Jericho Writers. UK Ambassador for the Alliance of Independent Authors. Lives and writes in her Victorian cottage in the heart of the beautiful Cotswold countryside.

One thought on “In Praise of Second-hand Bookshops

  1. Love your blog Debbie – am impressed by the way Second hand bookshops can come up with titles to order –

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