I do enjoy mysteries and, of course, books so when the two are combined, I usually enjoy the read. John Dunning is a Denver-based antiquarian book dealer, who owned The Old Algonquin Bookstore before closing it to become a by-appointment-only dealer. He knows his books and he knows how to write an engrossing mystery. There are five books (so far) in the Cliff Janeway series and I read the first two this past week.
Booked to Die
When the first book begins, Cliff Janeway is a homocide detective in Denver, on the trail of what appears to be a serial killer with a horrible temper - the murderer appears to kill for the sheer pleasure of it. The victims are all homeless men and when the latest victim turns out to be, not only NOT homeless, but a bookscout known by many bookdealers in Denver, the mystery broadens.
Janeway's first suspect is Jackie Newton, a creep with a way with money and a violent temper. Janeway is sure Newton was responsible for the other murders, even bringing him to trial on one. But Newton always manages to threaten his way out of tight spots. When Janeway finally snaps, Newton ends up free and Janeway unemployed, and also free - free to follow his dream of opening his own used and antiquarian book store.
Other suspects appear, including the lovely and reclusive book dealer Rita McKinnley, and Janeway, ever the cop, tries (but not too hard) to stay out of it. When the next murders, however, hit a little too close too home, he can't remain aloof. Eventually, he solves the mystery and indirectly gets revenge.
I enjoyed the story (not always the "tough cop/guy" language, but I don't know how cops talk to each other). The identity of the murderer was unexpected, but logical, once the reasons were explained.
I give it 3.5 out of 5
The Bookman's Wake
Once a cop, always a cop - even when you're finding and selling books. This time Cliff Janeway is asked by another ex-cop/private investigator, to pick up a young woman who has jumped bail in New Mexico after stealing a rare book. The bail jumper with the unlikely name of Eleanor Rigby (yes, it's her given name) has been spotted near her home outside Seattle and doesn't appear to be ready to go any further.
Right up Janeway's alley and easy money - a quick couple of grand plus expenses and the chance to hit the bookstores of Seattle. But, all is not as it seems. The book may or may not be the rumored final publication of Grayson Press, a limited run, fine art press located outside Seattle - a one-of-a-kind edition of Poe's The Raven.
Janeway heads for Seattle and finds the young woman only to have grave doubts about the tale he was told in Denver. People have been killed and more are being killed, all because of the book-that-may-not-be. The Grayson Press closed when the Grayson brothers died in a mysterious fire 20 years before. Now collectors are paying exorbitant prices for anything connected with the press and the brothers. And that can get dangerous for anyone with connections to the brothers and their books.
Dunning exhibits a knowledge of printing and fine presses, as would be expected. As with Booked to Die, the murderer was a surprise, one of many surprises, which kept my interest. But I'm not fond of mysteries where the only way to explain the ending is to explain the ending. I remember my sons' third grade teacher's lessons on "show, don't tell" as a writing method. Dunning could use a few of those lessons. While the story itself kept my interest, I was disappointed that it was necessary to explain what happened and why at the end. The ending made sense. I understood why everything happened, but, somehow, would rather have discovered it rather than been told it.
I give it a 2.5 out of 5. It would have been higher if the ending worked better for me.