Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 29
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
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It’s New to Us by Jean Stratton

FOUL PLAY? “We have really become a destination place. The customers have become friends, and it’s wonderful to have so many friends! We’ll discuss books and authors and whatever else comes up.” Gerald Lenaz, co-owner with his wife Aline, of the Cloak & Dagger, is happy to share information about “foul play” with the customers in their cozy mystery book shop.

Mystery, Murder, Mayhem and Madness Are on the Agenda at the Cloak & Dagger

Intrigue, murder, suspense …. put a little mischief into your daily routine!

There’s nothing like a good mystery — even if it keeps you up at night, causes you to miss your bus stop, or makes you late for a date.

That is certainly the premise of the Cloak & Dagger, the mystery book shop at 349 Nassau Street, which offers books, DVDs, videos, audios, games, puzzles, gifts, and collectibles.

Owners (and husband and wife) Gerald and Aline Lenaz opened the shop in 2001, and it was truly a dream-come-true, particularly for Mrs. Lenaz.

“Aline always had her nose in a book, especially mysteries,” says Mr. Lenaz. “Agatha Christie, Margery Allingham, Dorothy Sayers — they were all favorites. Aline would say, ‘Some day, I’d like to have a mystery book store.’”

Before that dream was realized, Mrs. Lenaz worked as a planner/architect for 20 years at Princeton University, and Mr. Lenaz is also an architect with his own business.

Unique Shop

“Aline took early retirement, and we looked at a lot of places for a store,” reports Mr. Lenaz. “None worked as well as this location. We completely renovated it and designed the setting. She had the image of a living room with an easy chair and fireplace — a wonderful spot to sit and read.”

Specializing in all types of mystery books, the unique shop offers mostly paperbacks, including cozies, hard-boiled, police procedurals, historical, Sherlockian, amateur sleuths, and many other categories.

“We stock primarily new paperbacks, trade paperbacks, including children and young adult editions, in an impressive inventory of both well-known and emerging mystery writers,” says Mr. Lenaz. “We also buy out-of-print, used mystery books, welcome special orders, and ship to any location.”

Interacting with the customers and sharing information to discover just the right case of “foul play” is a pleasure, he adds. “We help people out if they are looking for books by a new author they haven’t read. We’ll give them a comparison as to what other writer they may be similar to.

“Customers can always count on personal service here,” he continues. “We have a computer program set up with information on what books they have purchased before. Sometimes, they’ll come in with lists, and sometimes, they’ll ask, ‘Did I read such and such?’ We can check the computer to see if they had requested it.

“Other times customers will come in and say ‘I just want to read a great mystery. Can you suggest something?’ Or they might say, ‘I’d like to read something that’s like such and such an author.’ This is fun for us to help them find the right match.”

Clever Cats

Some people enjoy reading books in certain settings. They love to be in the atmosphere of foreign cities and places. Others like specific categories, including Victorian or other historical situations. Also popular are books featuring animals, such as Lillian Jackson Braun’s clever cats, Koko and Yum Yum, or sports. For example, Dick Francis’ mysteries about race horses continue to be in demand.

Popular authors include writers in all categories. “Agatha Christie is still the number one best seller,” points out Mr. Lenaz. “Younger people are discovering her now. Also, Sherlock Holmes is always a favorite.”

Not only are the original Arthur Conan Doyle stories in demand, but those of Laurie King about Sherlock and his companion Mary Russell are testimony to his continuing popularity.

Elizabeth George, Peter Lovesey, Patricia Highsmith, Anne Perry, and David Balducci are all current favorites, as is Donna Leon, who creates the very popular Venice mysteries, with Commissario Guido Brunetti.

Also favored is novelist Jacqueline Winspear, who writes about the adventures of detective/psychologist Maisie Dobbs in post World War I London.

Other authors who feature strong women characters are Elizabeth Peters whose late 19th Century archaeologist Amelia Peabody always adds a touch of humor while solving the latest mystery in Egypt, and Alexander McCall Smith, with his series about “Precious” Ramotswe and her No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency in Botswana.

“Judge Dee”

Lee Child and his character Jack Reacher are very popular now. Jan Willem Van de Wetering is a Dutch author in demand, and Qui Xiaolong writes about mysteries in today’s Shanghai, such as in “A Loyal Character Dancer”. Sue Grafton, Janet Evanovich (with her Trenton settings), and Lisa Scottoline continue to have their fans.

There is really a mystery for everyone, adds Mr. Lenaz, and the shop includes a selection of the popular “Judge Dee” novels of ancient China by Robert Van Gulik.

The books of old favorites, such as Dashiell Hammet, Erle Stanley Gardner, and Rex Stout still have an audience, and “Younger folks are discovering this Golden Age of mystery writers,” reports Mr. Lenaz.

The Cloak & Dagger also offers a children’s section, featuring a variety of authors. Kids still love the Nancy Drew stories, as well as those by Peg MacIntosh, Cam Jansen, also the Box Car series, the Lemony Snickett books, and of course, Harry Potter. “It has been found that reading mysteries helps kids increase their deductive reasoning,” says Mr. Lenaz.

Customers are indeed all ages and come from the Greater Princeton area, he adds. “Some are tourists who come to see Princeton and find us. Others are Princeton residents, or come from Montgomery, Middlesex, and even Burlington County.”

Elsie Allen is a Princeton resident who has been a loyal Cloak & Dagger customer since it opened, and she usually leaves with an armful of books. “I love mysteries,” she explains, “and I love the ambiance and welcoming atmosphere here.”

Two at Once

The shop also offers readings and signings with authors four times a year, which have been very popular. “We often have two authors together, and people like this,” says Mr. Lenaz. “They get to have two at once, and one author may be new to them.”

Mr. and Mrs. Lenaz also attend conferences and panel discussions to keep up with the latest mystery news.

In addition to the great book selection, the shop is filled with an intriguing assortment of recorded books, DVDs, videos, mystery games and puzzles, and fun items, such as Sherlock playing cards, and figurines depicting famous mystery characters.

Also available are mystery-related magazines and newspapers, such as “The Strand” and “Mystery Scene”.

“Our books range from $8 to $15,” says Mr. Lenaz, “and for that, you can have an entertaining evening or few days. The shop has been a dream-come-true for Aline. It’s really an affirmation about all your thoughts and ideas of what a mystery is and then you can see them all reflected in the store.”

It’s never dull either, he adds. “What a surprise it can be when you think a book will never sell, and then someone comes in, wants it, and it takes off. It shows that the customers tell us what the store should stock.”

The Cloak & Dagger offers gift certificates and free gift wrapping. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday noon to 5. (609) 688-9840. Website:

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