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Meet The Owner of York's Newest Crime Bookshop, Criminally Good Books

Meet The Owner of York's Newest Crime Bookshop, Criminally Good Books Criminally Good Books on X
May 2024
Reading time 3 Minutes

Living North catches up with Isla Coole, owner of York's coolest new crime bookshop, Criminally Good Books

Make some room for the newest bookshop in York, Criminally Good Books - a one-stop shop for all things crime, whether you like low-stakes cosy crime fiction, terrifying true crime or prefer the golden oldies like Agatha Christie and Edgar Allen Poe.

Owned by York resident and self-confessed bookworm Isla Coole, the journey to opening Criminally Good Books has been a labour of love, with Isla originally coming from the charity sector. ‘I spent about 20 years in the charity sector in London working my way up to director of fundraising, and then my husband and I moved to York about three years ago. I was still commuting into London and it just wasn’t working,’ Isla explains. ‘My husband asked what it was that I really wanted to do. I love fundraising and I love raising money for charities but really my biggest passion is books and reading.

‘My dad has now passed away but he used to work for HarperCollins, one of the big publishing houses, and when my sister and I were kids he used to come home every week with bags and bags of books. So our whole lives have been about reading and books.’

Once Isla had made her mind up there was no stopping her, and plenty of work went into getting Criminally Good Books ready. When we speak, she’s in the final stage of getting ready to open. ‘I worked at a Waterstones in York last year just to get my hand back in. I quit my job in London and I’d been looking for a venue for six months and we finally found one that we loved on Colliergate,’ she says. ‘We’re very lucky because the building was structurally sound, so we’ve been putting in new carpet, new flooring and we’ve put in bespoke bookshelves. We’re having a mural downstairs and upstairs and it will be of the golden age of crime writing, so expect front covers of really famous crime novels running from the ground floor to the first floor, and we’ll have some Agatha Christie quotes on the walls too. 

Isla Coole

For the outside, we did a poll on Instagram and dark blue with gold leaf was what people really liked. Our sign writer is out there right now with gold leaf which is fascinating and she’s putting loads of gold leaf in the window – so it’s got that kind of classic look.’

The bookshop stocks everything from classic detective tales and thrillers to the latest in true crime and crime reference books – but Isla has an even larger vision for the role of her bookshop in the community. ‘So the idea is that it will be a community hub and somewhere that people can come in, feel cosy and have a browse,’ she says. ‘The event space is a work in progress and we have been taking advice from people on what they want from our space. It’s a small area, but we’re going to give it out free of charge to charities during the day and we’re going to rent it out for bookclubs, and we’ll have our own bookclub eventually. We’ve also been contacted by people who want to run creative writing groups – anything to do with literature, they’re welcome.’ There are also a range of events planned, with at least one author-led event every month from March to July so far.

There are also crime-related events for fans to look forward to that go beyond the books. ‘We’re partnering with The Crime Lab – it’s run by ex-Scotland Yard Detective Steve Gaskin and it offers disarmament classes, and he also does Inside The Mind of a Murderer and various other things. He’s going to be coming to York this year.

Flora Carr signing her book, The Tower at Criminally Good Books

‘In May we’ve got a really big event with former DCI Colin Sutton. You might have seen him on television and Martin Clunes plays him in The Real Manhunter – he was the police officer that was in charge of catching the serial killer who killed Milly Dowler and he’s really talking about how the team managed to catch him, changes in policing he put in place to enable him to be found, and changes in the law that have happened since then.’

As a seasoned connoisseur of the genre, Isla appreciates how contentious the topic of crime (especially true crime) can be, and feels strongly about it. ‘On one of our floors we’ve got lots of true crime books talking about the victims, perpetrators and changes to the law so it’s really important that we weren’t being voyeuristic in any way,’ she explains. ‘We’re going to be supporting IDAS [Independent Domestic Abuse Services] and they work with male and female victims of domestic and sexual violence and abuse. They’re also a refuge so they can help relocate people who are fleeing domestic violence and it’s really important for me to partner up with a charity that does something in that field.’

After consulting with other bookshops, Isla is opting for a low-key opening day. ‘We’ve taken a lot of advice from other bookshops and they’ve said to open with no fanfare midweek, so that’s what we’re doing, opening with no fanfare on a Wednesday, like a soft opening,’ she says. ‘I think what we’ll do is wait a month and then do a press and local business event and invite everyone to have a look around, especially all of the local businesses that have helped us. They’ve been so good to us about giving advice.’ Sign us up!

Criminally Good Books is open now. Go to for more.

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