Tuesday, February 17, 2009

February's Book

The Bookman's Wake by John Dunning

I had read Dunning's first book about Denver policeman turned bookseller Cliff Janeway some time ago and enjoyed it but never thought too much about it afterward. I was surprised to find that Dunning has actually written a few more books with Janeway so I took the second book out of the library on Thursday and had finished it by Monday night.

Not that I mean to imply that the book isn't worthy of reading but rather that I was swept along with the plot and had to know what would happen next. I don't experience that sort of feeling very often in reading so it was a pleasant surprise.

This mystery begins with Janeway working away in his small book shop when he is visited by an old, and not particularly fond, acquaintance from his police days. Despite his better judgement, Janeway accepts an assignment to pick up a woman who ran off on a Breaking & Entering and Burglery charge to Seattle and bring her back for trial. When Janeway finds the girl, it becomes more than just a job when she turns out to be an excellent bookscout who may have stolen an elusive rare book done by a small press publisher which has skyrocketed in value. What happens after is a whirlwind of books, limited press publishing and murder.

Throughout the book, Dunning had me flush with excitement. His style is short and crisp and, in more than a few spots, evoked feelings of the tough, private-eye style of Spillane or Hammett. The style works for me but I can see where it might be at odds with someone who expected a gentler type of story based on rare book finding and selling. The plot revolves around the famous Grayson Press which Dunning describes with such detail and accuracy that I became half convinced that it had been a real press and I should Google it! Dunning's own personal experience in the rare book trade does him good stead here as it enables him to create not only the aura of the press but the mania of those who collect it.

If I were to find fault with this novel it would mostly be with the difficulty in keeping all of the details and relationships straight. This is compounded by the fact that many of these things happened to people who had been dead for several decades by the time the book takes place and who only appear through stories told by other characters. I found it hard remembering who one woman was as opposed to others mentioned which was not a good thing as that woman turned out to be a crucial part of the solution of the murders.

It is the disparity between the worlds of the policeman and the bookseller that makes Dunning's novels work. The seeming polar opposite lifestyles is immediately intriguing to the reader particularly as Janeway never seems able to leave his cop world behind. Book lovers will enjoy this novel for the intimate recreation of the life of a bookhound including the thrill of the sudden, amazing discovery of unknown material. Action fans will enjoy the thrills as Janeway tries to keep the young runaway from becoming another murder victim.

A solid read and one that makes me wonder why this hasn't become some sort of TV series yet?

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