Denver cop-turned-bookdealer Cliff Janeway is lured by an enterprising fellow ex-policeman into going to Seattle to bring back a fugitive wanted for assault, burglary, and the possible theft of a priceless edition of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven." The bail jumper turns out to be a vulnerable young woman calling herself Eleanor Rigby, who is also a gifted book finder. Janeway is intrigued by the woman -- and by the deadly history surrounding the rare volume. Hunted by people willing to kill for the antique tome, a terrified Eleanor escapes and disappears. To find her -- and save her -- Janeway must unravel the secrets of the book's past and its mysterious maker, for only then can he stop the hand of death from turning another page....
So highly-prized and priced, so sought after and obsessively-hunted, is one small publishing house with a master book designer – The Grayson Press - that someone is killing off all identified owners of these precious works; in particular the pressing, twenty years previous, of The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe. Initially unbeknownst to Janeway, he becomes enmeshed in this torrid tale when, against his better judgement, he is contracted, for a tidy sum, by a former police colleague to collect bond-skip, Eleanor Rigby, from rain-soaked Seattle; the girl charged around the alleged theft of one of these book. Primarily interested due to the book angle, Janeway’s cop-radar is elevated to extreme danger when Eleanor is kidnapped out from under him and her trail continually uncovers a plethora of dead bodies, demonstrably linked to Grayson Press. And as Cliff Janeway attempts to liberate Eleanor from what he perceives as a life-threatening situation, he is drawn inexorably into the tangled web of the Grayson brothers and their ignominious legacy.
This really was an absorbing story in so many ways. Against the suitably miserable climate of sodden Seattle Janeway is allowed to slowly and shrewdly unveil the dismal truths behind this altogether sad and sorry tale. Reading more as an intelligent analysis of the foibles of the bibliophile-addict rather than a mere crime novel, in this book John Dunning cleverly captures the essence of any book aficionado’s delight, with a distinctive appreciation and elucidation of this world. But the noticeable pleasure materialises fully within an essence purposely-built into the story-line; opinions, as such, concerning the many layers of book appreciation, an utter delight: “Why is a book the only gift that the giver feels free and often compelled to deface before giving?"
And interspersed with absolute wit: ”You see anything?” Eleanor asked from the far corner.
“Four computer books, two copies of The Joy of Sex, and five million Stephen King derivatives.”
She sighed. “Put ‘em all together and what’ve you got?”
“Desk-top breeding by vampires.”
Altogether this book worked for me on numerous levels. Again, I learnt so much. The ‘whodunit’ was dense enough to retain interest; the why and the wherefore, at times, mesmerising. But, to my mind, it is to the true book-enthusiast that the author connects effortlessly with. There is an adherence, a belief, behind this tale, seamlessly in accord with the actions of Janeway’s well-crafted character, which resonates impeccably with the thoughts of like-minded readers. On balance, you can take the detective out of the police force, but you can’t take the detective, or the bibliophile, out of Cliff Janeway. Nor would you want to. It’s a rather complementary, and very entertaining, correlation after all!
(July 15, 2009)
However Dunning makes up for some of this by peppering the story with all kinds of "print history" and tid-bits about printing presses, old folios, fine press collecting, etc. It was fun to learn about all that.
This is a good book if you like Poe and all the mystery that surrounded his life and writings and if you like reading about printing, in general.
An excellent mystery, with a little too much backstory in places.
PLOT OR PREMISE:
Cliff gets offered a bounty-hunter job by a low-life ex-cop PI-wannabe and he is all prepared to say no -- except the skip's name is Eleanor Rigby and she is running out on a burglary charge, after breaking and entering to steal a rare book. Cliff is hooked.
WHAT I LIKED:
The story takes awhile to get going, and the opening prologue refers to a 20-year-old killing spree so you know there's a story buried somewhere, all tied to the rare book. The book covers the history of a slightly-mad printer/publisher who created Grayson Press, a creator of fabulous beautiful books in limited runs up until he died in a fire that destroyed the company. And some books that he may or may not have published before the fire. Truly rare birds. Add in some characters like the sleazy PI, Eleanor herself, a biographer with a monkey on his back, and a reporter with the same monkey, and Janeway has some fun. There are two scenes where the life of the book scout comes alive, one spending a day in Seattle's book biz looking for books and one where some biographical info of Grayson's turns up. You feel almost breathless, just as Janeway does. And somewhere in the midst of all of it is a serial murderer.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE:
The story lags in a few places, including complicated personal stories around the Grayson biographical info, and an extra action scene or two that are unwarranted simply because they do nothing to advance the story. The final wrap-up is a bit too formulaic in delivering some action, but it gets the job done.
I received no compensation, not even a free copy, in exchange for this review. I am not personal friends with the author, nor do I follow him on social media.
John Dunning was an antiquarian book dealer in Denver for many years. His knowledge of the collectible book business is evident as is his knowledge of how a small press making limited editions works. Unfortunately those two things cause the greatest flaws with the book, he goes into excruciating detail that isn't really necessary to the plot and tires, even bores the most interested reader. I liked the complex mystery and the characters are well done as is the setting. And yes, I really do like the collectible book business angle, I would just like stronger editing.