Wednesday, July 23, 2008

If You're Ever in Daytona Beach...

My wife and I just took a mini-vacation to the Daytona Beach area. While shopping some of the antique stores, I ran across Mandala Books. The plate-glass window was decorated with a series of multi-colored circular paintings that had “New Age” written all over them. Anyone who knows me knows that New Age is anathema to me, but they also know that bookstores pull me in like a moth to a flame.

We walked into a huge six-room store that was cram-packed with more than a hundred thousand books. They were well-catalogued and I immediately walked to the “Florida” section and found a First Edition of the classic Lake Okechobee: Wellspring of the Everglades by Alfred Jackson Hanna and Kathryn Abbey Hanna. Although it was an ex-library copy, it was in my price-range and I picked it up and put it on the counter for the clerk to keep.

After browsing a while, my wife found the true crime section and hailed me over. There I found a 1927 American edition of Twentieth Century Crimes by Frederick A. MacKenzie. After another hour of browsing, I bought both books for less than fifteen bucks and went away rejoicing. While my wife shopped at a nearby sea-shell store for a souvenir of our trip, I sat in the car and read the entire story of the Ashley Gang that terrorized south Florida in the early 1900s. The Hannas called them the Jesse James gang of the southeast and indeed they were. They murdered Indians and cops and many others while robbing banks and bootlegging. In the end, four of the gang died in a supposed gunfight with law officers. (Many claim it wasn’t a gunfight, but a revenge massacre.) Whatever the case, like Jesse and most of his gang, they died violent deaths.

When I got back to our hotel room I picked up the MacKenzie book and was drawn to “The Stockholm Dynamite Murder” in which two ne’er-do-wells blew up a taxi-cab in an attempt to collect insurance on their business partner. I’d never heard the story before and was mesmerized by the clear writing of the author and the arrogance of the two killers.

I later found the following review of MacKenzie’s book published in Time Magazine in 1927 (if you’re offended by the so-called racist terminology of the day, please skip this review): “Non-murderers, eager to identify themselves with victim or assassin, eager to hear in their own minds the angry drumming of strange terrors or desires, will read eminent Reporter-Criminologist Mackenzie's recountals with a creepy wonder. Having read them they will comprehend the greedy, grimy twists of whim or hatred that caused ‘Gyp the Blood,’ ‘Lefty’ Louie, ‘Whitey’ Lewis and ‘Dago’ Frank to kill a gambler called Rosenthal. They will be able to wriggle upon the same tenter-hooks that pricked Loeb and Leopold, to share the sarcastic denials of Landru, the French bluebeard; most intensely of all they will feel the play of fear and fury that killed Rasputin, Russian minister monk, and the wind of horror and despair that howled around the Czar of Russia in a shambles at Ekaterinburg.”

If you’re ever in the Daytona Beach area, I’d suggest you stop into Mandala Books, no matter what interests you. You’ll find modern paperbacks mixed in with turn-of-the-century classics and an occasional autographed book can be found here and there. Whole sections are packed with books about trains, musical instruments, literature, theater, art, poetry, fiction, and, of course, mystical religions and eastern philosophy. And these are just the ones I can remember. Go there, you’ll love it.

Here’s how to contact the bookstore:

Mandala Books
Used and Rare Books
127 W. International Speedway Boulevard
Daytona Beach, Florida 32114
Local: 386-255-6728
Toll Free: 1-888-318-9696

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