Ed. by Otto Penzler
As a veteran editor of crime fiction as well as the owner of the famous Mysterious Bookshop in New York City, Otto Penzler was uniquely situated to bring this anthology about. Over the last decade he has commissioned a who’s who of mystery writers, including names like Anne Perry, Jeffery Deaver, and Nelson DeMille, to pen a series of one-off tales that he then presented as Christmas gifts to loyal bookstore customers. The only guideline given the authors was that the stories involve books in some way. Thus was born the genre of bibliomystery, and this delightful collection.
The ground rules allow for a lot of variety. The settings are bookstores, public libraries, and personal collections — the best of them filled with “that peculiar musty smell distinctive to rooms in which books are aging like fine wines.”
The cast includes police detectives, private investigators, and of course lots of book lovers. Though in some cases “love” may be too tame a word for obsessions that lead to murder.
And then there are the books. Books for children and adults. New and used. Some can be used as weapons – to hide a bomb in, for example, or beat someone to death to with. And some even possess magical powers.
An anthology like this could have been just a curiosity, a bit of fun for bibliophiles, but the authors rise above the occasion with a selection of excellent stories that are great reads in their own right. It’s obvious everyone was enjoying themselves, and the results are just as much a treat for the rest of us.
There’s even something bittersweet to it as well. Behind the mystery and suspense there is the fading romance of books. Books are more and more associated with a world that is disappearing, and the book people we meet are almost all eccentrics and loners, aware of the fact that they are living in the past and that bookstores and libraries have something archaeological about them today.
But is the twilight of the book something to feel sad about? Not really. For connoisseurs they’re only aging like fine wines.
Review first published in the Toronto Star August 18, 2017.