Bibliomysteries: Stories of Crime in the World of Books and Bookstores

First things first. Otto Penzler, the editor of the book under review BIBLIOMYSTERIES, is a god. He is a master of the mystery genre, former editor and publisher of the much, much missed magazine THE ARMCHAIR DETECTIVE (for which I used to write reviews), he is the owner of The Mysterious Bookshop in New York City (the oldest mystery specialist store in the world which has contributed mightily to the health of the mystery genre), publisher (formerly under The Mysterious Press, now under various imprints and e-publishing), a two-time Edgar award-winning author, and the editor of over 50 crime anthologies.

In short, he is to be paid attention to and so I opened with much anticipation the cover of BIBLIOMYSTERIES.

Penzler has commissioned 15 pieces of short mystery fiction from authors on the theme of books and/or book collecting. And it’s a bit underwhelming. To be fair, there aren’t really any clunkers in the book, and all the tales are passably well told. You would expect that when you see some of the authors on offer here: names like C.J. Box, Mickey Spillane (in a story finished by Max Allan Collins) and Anne Perry.

But not all stories rely on the specificities of a book (something else could readily be substituted), and few authors really explore the concept of the book (or book collecting as well). Tough to do in a short story, admittedly, but most of these stories just didn’t have the punch that I expected.

One that did was Reed Farrel Coleman’s “The Book of Ghosts” which is a mature, sophisticated tale about the lies that we tell ourselves, and others, and how they can mushroom out of control. Laura Lippman’s “The Book Thing” is also a standout with a thoughtful mystery about books, ownership, usage, and the intrinsic value of books all wrapped into a detective story about shoplifting and all, at the same time, promoting a Baltimore book charity. Well done.

Some of the stories have sweet little twist endings like the Mickey Spillane story mentioned before (“It’s In The Book”) and Andrew Taylor’s “The Long Sonata of the Dead.” Thomas H. Cook’s “What’s in a Name?” also falls along these lines, but while the twist is entirely predictable, it’s interesting to see how he works it out in the story. Kudos also to William Link’s “Death Leaves a Bookmark” which, while not such a great detective story, does feature the faithful mannerisms and dialogue of Detective Columbo, as played by Peter Falk.

The final three stories in the book are the best. David Bell’s “Rides a Stranger” features the wild and woolly world of vintage paperback collecting, a field in which I’m very much involved, and it has a nice human element to the tale. John Connolly’s “The Caxton Library & Book Depository,” which won an Edgar for Best Short Story, is beautifully refreshing, funny, and the very definition of wry. To tell you anything else about the story is to ruin the fun. And finally, Nelson DeMille’s “The Book Case” features the best spot of pure detective work in the entire volume.

It’s not really a mixed bag, because as I said, even the lesser stories are still worth reading. The gems stand out because those stories really rely on the book or book collecting as the central theme, and no other object would suffice to tell the same tale. No anthology can be great from beginning to end, but this one will definitely provide some moments that will please any mystery reader who loves the world of books. —Mark Rose

Get it at Amazon.

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