Booked to Die – John Dunning

This is one of the half dozen or so books I picked up from the Poisoned Pen in Arizona, and if the rest are half as good then I was well advised in my purchases. This was terrific!

First, this is not a new book; it’s a 1992 production, and apparently the first successful novel by Dunning that allowed him to become a bestselling author. (Hand up, I had never heard of him.) Dunning was running a second hand bookstore, and his detective creation – Cliff Janeway – has a solid connection to that world. Indeed, much of the book’s charm, not to say spirit, is the background of the book world.

Second, the book is set in a pre-internet world, and it gives a sharp reminder of how much our lives have changed in such a relatively short time.

Third, the book is a further throwback, having strong Chandleresque tones. It’s worth noting that these are restrained, and that Dunning is actually very good at doing that hard-boiled type of detective stuff. He is a gifted writer. The characterizations are often thin, but there are enough material actors alongside Cliff Janeway, to make this a very realistic, dark, atmospheric tale.

Fourth, the book is also a wonderful example of how to write a crime mystery. There is a puzzle, and it’s a beauty – especially for book lovers. The unraveling of the secrets is skillful, tender, and well paced, so that the tension is well maintained.

Finally, I should also mention that there is more than one plot line, and I was very impressed by the way these interacted. The main chase is to find the killer of a book scout (a hunter for book bargains) and the subsidiary plot involves Janeway’s initial suspect. Enough said, lest I give away too much of the plot. Essentially, I thought the book was well constructed, in addition to being well written; a winning combination.

Highly recommended. Now I am going to have to hunt down his other books.