Book Review: Deadly Editions by Paige Shelton
By Janet WebbMay 11, 2021
A messenger dressed all in black, his ensemble topped off with a “pillbox-like cap,” delivers a message to Delaney Nichols at the Cracked Spine, the bookstore where she works.
Ms. Delaney Nichols,
Your presence is requested this afternoon at 2:00 at Deacon Brodie’s Tavern to discuss Ms. Shelagh O’Conner’s vast collection of rare and valuable books. Please don’t be tardy.
Sincerely and with gratitude,
Ms. O’Conner’s representative,
Mr. Louis Chantrell.
Delaney is tempted to go—a vast collection of rare books is catnip to a bibliophile, but it’s such short notice. Could she question Mr. Chantrell in advance? Rosie, her grandmotherly co-worker, is dubious.
Rosie shrugged. “I doubt it. It all seems purposefully mysterious and delivered with little time tae spare.”
Briefly I listened for a bookish voice. My intuition sometimes spoke to me, lent some guidance, using the voices of characters from books I’d read. But all was silent; there wasn’t even enough information for my intuition to have an opinion.
“Yes, mysterious. Weird,” I said.
“A wee bit. Are ye going?
“I’m interested in any book collection, of course, but something about it feels manipulative.”
Minor quibbles aren’t going to keep Delaney from satisfying her curiosity. Off she goes to Deacon Brodie’s Tavern. Everyone’s waiting—Louis Chantrell, Shelagh’s longtime adviser, Shelagh O’Conner herself, whose gold dress gives her a regal appearance, Delaney’s good friend Birk Blackburn, Tricia Lawson, a local librarian, and Jacques Underwood, who has just arrived from Paris. Shelagh describes Jacques as her “closest possible relation” and then gets right to the point.
“Here’s what’s going to happen. You will all search for a treasure. The person who finds the treasure will be the winner and will receive my entire library, upon my death.”
Shelagh adds, “once the book is found, you each will receive a large sum of money.” Everyone will get the same substantial amount of money.
Deadly Editions has it all: a foreign, yet not too foreign location and a mysterious bookish treasure hunt funded by a wealthy patroness. The winner will receive a first edition of Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, penned by Robert Louis Stevenson, a famous Edinburgh writer. There are subtle references to Stevenson’s novella throughout Deadly Editions, so here’s a quick refresher.
Dr. Jekyll is a kind, well-respected and intelligent scientist who meddles with the darker side of science, as he wants to bring out his ‘second’ nature. He does this through transforming himself into Mr Hyde – his evil alter ego who doesn’t repent or accept responsibility for his evil crimes and ways.
A first edition that is in tolerable condition sells for around $1,500 on AbeBooks so one can only imagine the value of a first edition that is in stellar condition: “Ms. O’Conner had multiple shelves filled with copies of the short horror novel from the late 1800s, many of her copies considered priceless.”
Shelagh gives Delaney the first clue.
I unfolded it and read aloud:
“‘Pierce my hart and blood will flow. Not red nor black, but aye, read all o’.’” I looked at Shelagh. “Clue number one?”
“A riddle of sorts.”
“Maybe.” Shelagh shrugged.
“I’m not from Edinburgh, Shelagh. I’m still kind of a tourist. I’m not sure I’ll be able to figure out one clue, let alone a trail of them.”
“I disagree. Based upon what I have learned about you, you are very smart.”
After her meeting with Shelagh ends, Delaney heads to her husband Tom’s pub, “The Smallest Pub in Scotland,” to mull things over. N.B. Tom’s pub is the only pub in the story that isn’t real, but given the name, it may be a fictional stand-in for The Wee Pub. The news captures her attention: out of the blue, Edinburgh is experiencing a rash of late-night robberies. According to CCTV, the thief is a man wearing a shabby coat and a big hat. A patron shushes the bar talk, saying, “There’s been a murder!” The newscaster continues.
“It seems that the burglar is now under suspicion of murder as well. The victim is an Edinburgh recently known to tend bar at our world-famous Deacon Brodie Tavern. Ritchie John was last seen alive at the pub yesterday afternoon, though it’s unclear if he was there as an employee or patron. CCTV caught the burglar making his way into Mr. John’s flat. A couple hours ago, police went to the flat to investigate and found Mr. John’s body.
This is not Delaney’s first investigation and she’s not a believer in coincidences—Ritchie John poured her a shot of whiskey just a few days earlier, during the meeting at Deacon Brodie Tavern. Is his death connected to the contest? Speaking of which, Delaney shares the first clue with her husband who notices that the word “hart” is part of the name of The White Hart Inn, another famous old watering hole. They hurry off to the pub and find fellow contestant Birk Blackburn waiting: “There you are! I’ve switched to coffee so I could manage my way home. Why did it take you so long?”
Delaney has more questions when Shelagh O’Conner disappears—has she been kidnapped or is this a stunt? A fun treasure hunt through Edinburgh where all the clues are inside pubs has shifted to a search for a villain terrorizing the city.
But this is what Delaney embraced years ago. She remembers, “The Cracked Spine, the Edinburgh bookshop had called to her from over the sea—Leave your safe Kansas world and come live an adventure.” Since this is the sixth Scottish Bookstore Mystery, it’s past time to say that Delaney Nichols is not in Kansas anyone.