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December 15th, 2008

_Booked to Die_, John Dunning

The first in a series (Introducing Cliff Janeway), this murder mystery from the early 1990s is set in Denver. Our Hero starts the book as a Denver PD Detective who collects books on the side -- modern lit firsts. Peppered throughout the story of the murder of first one book scout, then another and a young woman are details of book collecting as a hobby (vocation?) and a profession, from scrubby guys surfing the local Goodwill to multi-millionaires who collect books as a way to distract themselves from the pointlessness of their existence. And spend summers with Greenpeace, but never mind that now.

Our Hero thinks His Nemesis, a serial murderer from another town who deals in real estate in Denver, is responsible for the first book scout's death. He gets a bit distracted by the nubile young thing who is the Bad Guy's current girlfriend/vic. His attempts to save her are largely unsuccessful until she decides to try to commit suicide and renders Bad Guy helpless instead (oops -- that would be one of those spoilers, and getting considerably ahead of myself in the plotline as well), but in the process, the Bad Guy scares Our Hero enough to break up with his current (cop) girlfriend to keep her from getting sucked into the mess that is sure to follow. There are fisticuffs by the river, a scandal and Our Hero retires to become a full-time bookdealer.

But the cold case follows him when another book scout and his lovely young assistant are murdered in his shop when he's out flirting with a high roller and attractive book collector on her mountaintop near Denver. He has to track down the source of the mysteriously perfect modern lit firsts that keep popping up somewhere, but which are listed as Book Club editions in the New Hot and Appropriately Aged Thing in his life's appraisal (and yes, I meant that ambiguity). The book concludes with the budding relationship rendered fragile by Janeway's lack of trust and her insistence on it, the mystery solved and Janeway ensconced in a book lover's dream house (shelving for 10K books, already installed) and a neighbor with similar passions. He even has a new assistant at the shop.

Janeway is mildly annoying, in that early 1990s sort of way: raised by some seriously messed up people, thus messed up himself, angsty, the kind of person who in another age would have been a bully but in this one figures his only legit target is a bad-guy-bully. Unable to accept comfort in human relationships (except with older men who don't try to push him around), he finds solace and rapture in books. The edition I read had some odd typos (on for no in one case, peal when peel was clearly meant).

This was a book group read, which has been delayed a week (bummer). I haven't decided whether to read more, which says it was better than I expected because ordinarily I would not have picked this up to read on my own.