Bill Farley, who opened the store in 1990, lived the mystery-lover’s dream: He filled a shop with whodunits, hobnobbed with authors and acted as “consulting detective” to countless readers who needed clues to finding the right book.

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Lit Life

Seattle is a great literary town, but it’s not like someone waved a wand and made it so. Dozens of individuals who pursued their love of books and authors made it into what it is today.

Bill Farley, who died on June 28, was one of those people.

His particular love was mysteries — books by Lawrence Block, Loren D. Estleman, and Margaret Millar were on his A list. Rex Stout, the creator of the Nero Wolfe mysteries, was his all-time favorite.

Most of us mystery lovers confine our addiction to heaping them on our nightstand, but Bill wanted more — to open a mystery bookshop. A native of Battle Creek, Mich., he and his wife, B Jo Bauer, both had day jobs, but they “took a chance” and bought a tiny mystery bookshop in Kalamazoo, Mich. Eventually his wife returned to her career in encephalography, but Bill kept selling books.

The couple moved to Philadelphia, where Bill worked at the Philadelphia bookshop Whodunnit? One day in 1989 the mystery writer Aaron Elkins, an Olympic Peninsula resident, was in the shop and mentioned that Seattle needed its own mystery bookshop.

The Farleys moved across the country and opened the Seattle Mystery Bookshop in the summer of 1990. Farley eventually sold the shop to his manager, but he kept working at the shop well into the 21st century.

I visited this shop on Cherry Street, just off First Avenue in Pioneer Square, soon after it opened in 1990, and it remains one of my favorites. If you are looking for a particular mystery, they either have it or can get it.

If you don’t know what you want, they’ll help (I recently tried to stump them with “mysteries by authors from North England” — I ended up in the Shetland Islands, but it was worth the trip).

Nationally and internationally known mystery authors regularly drop by for signings — in a remembrance of Farley, Bellevue crime-fiction author J.A. Jance wrote that “literally thousands of authors have passed through the welcoming doors of the Seattle Mystery Bookshop under Bill’s auspices — new authors and well-established ones alike. All of us benefited from his presence in the store — from his kindness as well as his knowledgeability.”

I often think that I am one of those lucky people who gets to work at something they love. It makes the hard parts bearable, and it makes the good parts very, very good. I’m guessing that Bill Farley was one such person — he brought his passion for good mysteries to the Pacific Northwest, and how lucky Seattle is to have lured people like him, one of dozens of literature addicts who have turned Seattle into what it is today.

B Jo Farley died in 2007, and Bill Farley died three days short of Seattle Mystery’s 25th birthday. For a fuller recap of his life, from which this post is taken, written by Seattle Mystery’s JB Dickey, go to And if you can’t live without crime fiction, make a visit to this house of mysteries in the heart of Seattle’s oldest neighborhood.

Hugo House season announced: Hugo House, Seattle’s center for writers, has announced its 2015-16 season. It’s so extensive that I’m going to name a few highlights here but send you to the website for more:

The season is divided into three series. The “Word Works” series features writing-centric craft talks. It will feature several notable writers, including Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket), dystopian-fiction author Benjamin Percy and local National Book Award finalist Domingo Martinez.

Hugo House’s literary series features three writers and one artist, who each are commissioned to produce a new work around a particular theme. Featured authors will include novelist of the African diaspora Dinaw Mengestu, poet D.A. Powell and novelists Leslie Jamison and Jenny Offill.

Last but not least are a series of “one-off” programs, featuring a wide range of authors and themes, including novelist Jonathan Lethem in conversation with Seattle author David Shields and acclaimed nonfiction author Susan Orlean (having seen Orlean in action talking about writing, I’m way enthused about that one).