In another enthralling bestseller by "master yarn spinner" (Chicago Sun-Times) John Dunning, rare book dealer and relentless private eye Cliff Janeway unravels a deadly plot marked by stolen classics and stable secrets. When wealthy horse trainer H. R. Geiger dies, Denver bookman Cliff Janeway encounters the legacy of the man's wife, Candice, a true bookwoman who left behind an assortment of rare first-edition children's books. Sent to assess the collection, Janeway soon finds that several titles are missing, replaced by cheap reprints -- while other hugely expensive pieces remain. Why would a thief take one priceless book and leave an equally valuable volume on the shelf? Suspecting foul play, Janeway follows the trail of Candice's shadowy past to California's Golden Gate and Santa Anita racetracks, where he signs on as a racehorse hot walker. Eavesdropping on the chatter among the hands, he doesn't like what he hears. And when he goes to the house where Candice died to look for answers, Janeway finds much more than he bargained for.
The Bookwoman's Last Fling finds Janeway called out to a horse farm in Idaho to assess a library. Patriarch H. R. Geiger has recently died and Junior Willis--for three decades Geiger's right hand man, horse trainer, and now executor of his will--has been tasked with tracking down several volumes from the late Candice Geiger's library which have gone missing over recent years. Candice has been dead for thirty years, but despite the missing tomes her library stands as one of the finest collections of classic children's literature to be found. Janeway learns, as well, that there is some mystery surrounding Candice's death, although it had been ruled an accident--she died of an allergic reaction to peanuts--at the time. Some called it suicide; after all, she knew what foods to avoid too well to have eaten any of them accidentally, and she kept an emergency kit at hand at all times, as well. Some whispered about murder, although who would have wanted to murder this lovely, bookish, horse-loving woman none could say.
To investigate the missing books Janeway immerses himself in the world of horse racing. He goes out on the circuit, getting himself hired on to walk hot horses, and in the process gets to know the people who knew the people who surrounded Candice Geiger, putting himself in danger more than once as he gets closer to the truth.
In addition to his deep knowledge of books and the book world, Dunning has first-hand knowledge of the world of horse racing, and writes of it with loving and fascinating detail. He tosses around horse and racing jargon (and thankfully defines it), and beautifully portrays the camaraderie of the shedrow, an insular world of horse lovers which is lavishly salted with misfits and eccentrics of all sorts. And he writes a damned good mystery in the process.
Centered around horse racing and book collecting.
The culprit was introduced early enough in the story that it was plausible, and there were enough red herrings that could have been the person of interest.
The one disagreement I have is actually the quote on the front of this edition, from the New York Times, "An exhilarating adventure that makes book-collecting seem as exciting as horseracing" This is obviously false as book-collecting is much more exciting.
It was filled with starts and stops, where things would get good and interesting, even exciting, then... .... several chapters where nothing happens... It also got a bit repetitive, which may be a better reflection of what real detective work is like, but it makes for dull reading. One other criticism, he could have streamlined his cast a bit. There are several (minor) characters who only add bulk, instead of move the story along, or are used in any real way.
Cliff Janeway is a former policeman who is now a book collector—with the instincts of a cop. He is invited to Idaho by a wealthy horse trainer to examine a collection of 1st edition children's classics which had been collected many years ago by his late wife. When his host is murdered Janeway decides to hire on with the crew who works with the horses to investigate not only this mystery but the possibility that the wife, also, had been murdered many years ago.
We found the story interesting, the characters well drawn and unique and, of course, the narration was excellent. This is the first mystery by Dunning we have tried and for most of the book we were very entertained and intrigued. However, for an avid mystery junkie the contrived ending was disappointing for me and even my husband was a little irritated by the ploy used to solve the mystery.
Setting: present-day Idaho and northern California
Cliff Janeway, a former Denver homicide detective, has found a second career
as an antiquarian bookseller, but he hasn't quite lost his taste for police
work. Janeway receives an invitation from wealthy horse trainer, H.R.
Geiger, to come to Idaho to appraise his book collection, but by the time
Janeway arrives, his host is dead. He winds up tracking down some rare
volumes that have vanished from the collection and probing the decades-old
death of Geiger's wife, a wealthy heiress who collected valuable juvenile
fiction. When a fresh body turns up and Janeway himself almost falls victim
to a killer, he finds that his decision to pursue the truth puts him at odds
with his significant other, Erin.
Once again, Dunning is adept at plotting and pacing, as well as his
characterization. For those who are not enthused about horse racing, there's
no need to despair--there's not an overabundance of equine detail.
The series features Cliff Janeway, a former homicide detective turned book dealer. He tends to stumble on murders while doing estate valuations.
This one includes a twenty year old suspicious death. Did Candice die by accident, suicide or murder? The answer may lie in the details of her life on the horse racing circuit, or perhaps with her strange family.
Sharon inherited her mother fortune and half of her amazing book collection twenty years earlier when Candice died in what was at the time ruled an accidental death. Sharon is not so sure her mother’s death was accidental and, when she learns Janeway is a former cop, she persuades him to leave Junior Willis’s employ and work for her to find out the truth about her mother’s death. That investigation leads Janeway to the race-track scene in California.
Cliff Janeway is one of my favorite mystery characters, a tough hero with a soft side – a booklover who still retains the instincts of a cop. And John Dunning knows how to write strong female characters, too. The Bookwoman’s Last Fling is a solid novel peopled with interesting and flawed characters and lean writing. What’s not to like?
The Bookwoman’s Last Fling, published in 2006, is the last of John Dunning’s books featuring Cliff Janeway, the only one I hadn’t read until now. The author, a former brick-and-mortar bookstore owner, who has an on-line rare-book business, has been dealing since then with a serious illness. I’m still hoping he has at least one more Cliff Janeway novel in him.
Cliff Janeway has gone to Utah to appraise a collection of books, mostly first edition children classics. When he gets to the ranch where the books are stored he is told by the ranch manager that some of the books appear to be missing and second rate books put in their place. The collection was put together by Candice Geiger, wife of famed horse trainer H. R. Geiger. Candice died twenty years previously perhaps by accident when she ate some peanuts to which she was allergic. H. R. has died recently leaving a considerable estate to four children, three males from a first marriage and Sharon, Candice's daughter. H. R. was on the outs with all his children before he died and none of them really get along with each other. When Cliff talks to Sharon she tells him that she has always wondered if her mother was killed. Since the collection was put together by Candice he speculates that perhaps the person who has been stealing books also killed her. On this slim premise he sets out to California to try to uncover what he can about Candice's death by moving in the same horse racing circles that she and H. R. moved in during their marriage. While snooping around their California ranch Cliff is bonked on the head, stuffed in a car trunk and left to burn when the car is set alight. Of course he manages to escape. His lady, Erin, comes to be with him and she gets in on the action as well. Eventually, Cliff finds the book thief and solves the murder (because of course Candice was murdered). There is some interesting stuff about horse racing and a little bit of book lore but it all felt too contrived to me. Maybe someone else will enjoy it more so I'll release it soon.
Much can be forgiven if the characterization is workable, but Dunning rarely is rarely able to use language sufficiently to distinguish his characters. The broken down drunk, the ivy league lawyer and the ex-cop all speak the same, using the same vocabulary. The language he does use, though, is easy going down, and I have always found these books a pleasant experience. I just wish the later ones were more book-y.
I like this character Dunning created: a tough-guy with a soft-spot for books. Janeway shows very little class with his smart mouth and his head-on way of solving problems (like smacking someone in the mouth). However, he is always taking up for the people that have better manners than he does. His cracks and one-liners during while he interviews his suspects is enough to entertain me. I learned quite a few good wisecracks from reading this series. I also like the information on the world of book collectors and horseracing that this book provides. I know many people weren't crazy about this book, but I thought it was just fine. But, it seems obvious that this is probably the last Janeway book we will read. Even Cliff Janeway is burnt out on the book collector/ private detective business.
Janeway leaves Denver in this book for Idaho, where he has a rather vague assignment dealing with the rare books which are part of an estate. The dead man left four children from two marriages, generally at odds with each other. Some books are missing from the collection (which had really been collected by the second wife, long dead) and probate can't be completed until this is cleared up. The investigation will lead Janeway to more horse barns than bookrooms, and if I have one problem with the book, it's how far out in left field the villain comes from. If you like a truly ingenious surprise ending, this book is for you. For me, it was a little unbelievable, yet it was a good solid few hours of entertainment. Recommended with reservations.
In a plot that mixes book collecting with horse racing, Cliff Janeway struggles to find the person who has pillaged a dead woman’s extraordinary collection of children’s books. He’s also struggling with whether he wants to be a book seller or a cop, and I think the character’s struggle may parallel the author’s struggle with what direction the series takes. Dunning is still able to craft a pretty good plot, but there are a lot of red herrings and the book just doesn’t capture the love of books and mystery that the earlier works did.
Slow book, too much about horses and not enough detecting.
PLOT OR PREMISE:
Janeway is hired to appraise part of an estate, a collection of first-edition children's books amassed by a woman who died 20 years before. Now the husband has died, and his children want to distribute the money, but first, everything has to be totalled up.
WHAT I LIKED:
Early on, the case has some interesting bits including discovery that someone has been slowly replacing some of the books with cheap duplicates, but not in any strategic way. Someone who knows something about value, but skipping some obvious choice books. It doesn't take much for a daughter who also loves books to want Janeway to figure out if the mother was killed, and if so, by who. A bunch of brothers run around, and they're all a little bit crazy, but who is the craziest? The dead husband was a horseman, and Janeway works for one of the brothers as a stable boy / horse walker to get in with the horse crowd. Reads a lot like a vintage Dick Francis book.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE:
As with most Janeway novels, there are two mysteries interwoven -- the death of the young wife 20 years before and the theft of the children's books. Unfortunately, the story spends a LONG time with the horse crowd with not much happening. It read more like a personal diary than a mystery novel. Huge stretches of time with NOTHING RELEVANT to the mystery. Equally, neither of the mysteries are unraveled in an interesting way, just plodding in one case and almost happenstance in another. And so obvious for one ending, yet it takes forever to get there.
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.