Bibliomysteries, edited by Otto Penzler, is a specially commissioned anthology featuring original stories by the mystery genre’s most distinguished authors: John Connolly, Ken Bruen, Loren D. Estleman, Nelson DeMille, Anne Perry, Jeffery Deaver, C. J. Box, Thomas H. Cook, Laura Lippman, and more!
I always know that when I’ve got a book with Otto Penzler’s name on it, I’m in for a treat, and Bibliomysteries is no exception. Besides, mysteries? With books at their center? I’m in!
This volume contains 15 stories by some of my favorite authors, including John Connolly and Nelson DeMille. It also included a few that I’ve never read before, which served as fantastic introductions to their work. These are meaty tales with a literary bent, and there’s something for everyone, bibliophiles and casual readers alike. I’ll highlight a few of my favorites here, but you’ll want to thoroughly explore the entire collection.
I admit I started in the back of the book with Connolly’s Edgar Award-winning “The Caxton Library & Book Depository.” Shame on me for not having read this one yet, although it was on my radar because of the Edgar win, an award it certainly deserves.
In it, the quiet and shy Mr. Berger discovers—upon his mother’s death—that he’s inherited a sizable amount of money and decides to retire to the small English town of Glossum. He’s a keen lover of books and recognizes that his preference for the company of books to the company of people may have led to him still being single in his late thirties. Even so, he’s happy, and he spends his retirement reading and taking long walks.
One day, he observes something very, very strange next to the railroad tracks during one of these walks: a woman getting dangerously close to the tracks, enough to alarm him. To his shock, she appears to throw herself in the path of the oncoming train. But there’s no body. And the police find no sign of the woman that he’s sure he saw.
His interest is sufficiently piqued, and as the days go by, he becomes convinced that she’s familiar to him. Oh, she’s familiar alright—in fact, she’s right out of Tolstoy’s imagination. Intrigued? You should be. When Berger finally discovers the truth about the woman’s origins, it opens up a whole new world to him, one of wonder and discovery and even love. This is an enchanting story about the power of books and imagination, but I would expect nothing less from the hugely talented Connolly.
Next up for me was the always awesome Nelson DeMille’s “The Book Case.” If you haven’t experienced his smart-arse NYPD detective John Corey, get thee to a copy of Plum Island. “The Book Case” is a perfect intro to the character, as Corey is called to the scene of the murder by falling shelf of the owner of the Dead End Bookstore and realizes the perpetrator may be closer than he thinks. Here’s the setup:
I walked to the staircase that had a sign saying Private and began the corkscrew climb. On the way, I tried to recall the two or three times I’d interacted with Mr. Otis Parker here in his store. He was a bearded guy in his early 60’s, but could have looked younger if he’d bought a bottle of Grecian Formula. He dressed well, and I remember thinking—the way cops do—that he must have had another source of income. Maybe this store was a front for something. Or maybe I read too many crime novels.
I also recalled that Mr. Parker was a bit churlish-though I’d heard him once talking enthusiastically to a customer about collectors’ edition which he sold in the back of the store. I’d sized him up as a man who liked his books more than he liked the people who bought them. In short, a typical bookstore owner.
Then Corey comes across the scene of the crime.
I snagged a pair of latex gloves from a paramedic, then I surveyed the scene of the crime or the accident: It was a nice office, and there was an oriental rug on the floor, strewn with lots of leather bound books around a big mahogany writing desk. The legs of the desk had collapsed under the weight of the falling bookcase behind it, as had the legs and arms of the desk chair and side chair. The tipsy bookcase in question had been uprighted and leaned back against the wall revealing Mr. Otis Parker whose sprawled, splayed, and flattened body lay half on the collapsed desk and half on the floor. The desk items-telephone, Rolodex, pencil holder and so forth-had miraculously remained on the desk as had the blotter which was soaking up some fresh blood on and around the deceased’s head and face. Fortunately, Mr. Parker’s brains remained where they belonged. I don’t like to see brains.
This a zippy, clever little story, and I wanted it to be longer. Maybe it particularly appealed to me because I’m pretty sure that’s how I’ll die, crushed under the weight of one of my bookshelves. But I digress…
Another fairly zippy offering is Jeffrey Deaver’s “An Acceptable Sacrifice,” about two hired guns—one American and one Mexican—out to catch an alleged cartel head who has a thing for rare books, using his weakness as a way in.
Anne Perry’s creepy “The Scroll” is about Monty Danforth, an antiquarian book dealer who takes a delivery of an ancient scroll written in Aramaic that could change the face of religion forever. He’s visited by multiple people who know about the scroll, and they all want a chance to buy it or take it from him. It seems that some of them will stop at nothing to get it. In fact, he’s visited by a bishop, who offers a pretty straightforward warning:
“Not threats, Mr. Danforth,” the bishop said in barely more than a whisper. “A warning. You are dealing with powers so ancient you cannot conceive their beginning, and in your most hideous nightmare you cannot think of their end. You are not a fool. Do not, in your ignorance and hubris, behave like one.” Then without adding any more, or explaining himself, he turned and went out the door. His feet made no sound whatsoever on the floorboards beyond, nor did the street door click shut behind him.
If that wasn’t bad enough, Monty starts to see some very strange things.
He glanced up at a field of crops, and saw beyond it a sight that made his heart lurch. The rich, dark earth was littered with human skulls—thousands of them, as if a great army had been slaughtered and their corpses left in the open to rot as a perpetual reminder of death.
Creepy, huh? It’s a chilling little gem, for sure.
Thomas H. Cook’s “What’s in a Name,” Reed Farrel Coleman’s “The Book of Ghosts,” and Peter Blauner’s “The Final Testament” all involve Nazism and the horror of the Holocaust in some fashion. David Bell’s superb “Rides a Stranger” explores death and grief with a book-lover's eye, along with a compelling mystery to boot.
“The Book Thing” by Laura Lippman is lighter in tone, breaking up the rather dark themes of many of the other stories. It’s about a man that steals books for a very peculiar, almost transcendent reason and a very real place, The Book Thing. Lippman’s reporter-turned-PI Tess Monaghan investigates with her adorable little girl, Carla Scout, in tow, and it is a love letter to the joy of reading, particularly the tactile facets of it.
These are just my favorites, but each story has its merits. If you pick this one up, carve out some time, because you’ll want to read just one more…
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