Friday, July 01, 2011

Who Murdered the Used Book Business? -- Vincent McCaffrey's 2nd Book, A SLEPYING HOUND TO WAKE

You know the old expression, "Let sleeping dogs lie"? I hadn't realized there was a precursor, from Geoffrey Chaucer: "It is nought good a slepyng hound to wake."

Usually I take that to mean, "Don't encourage trouble, when you might be able to slip past it instead." But Vincent McCaffrey twists it to fresh meaning as he opens his second bibliomystery featuring Henry Sullivan, book scout -- or, as McCaffrey phrases it, "bookhound." Yes, Henry is the hound, sniffing out potential value in stacks, rooms, even houses full of old books, looking for the profitable resale.

Henry's first appearance in print, in Hound (Small Beer Press, 2009; coming out in softcover later this month), took the book scout into the library of collectors Heber and Morgan Johnson -- Heber had been an agent -- and death followed him in. To solve the escalating violence around him, Henry delved into the relationships people have with the books they own, as well as the ones they long for.

While McCaffery's "first book" status showed, painfully at times, in Hound, the book was still a must-read for those who own, cherish, or are fascinated by used book shops. And of course, if you collect bibliomysteries, the title is a necessary addition to the shelf, especially since the author owned the Avenue Victor Hugo Bookshop on Newbury Street in Boston for 29 years (and continues to own its new form, relocated to Abington, Mass.).

The second in the series, A SLEPYNG HOUND TO WAKE, is a delicious reward for those who decided to be patient with the author's accumulating skills. With almost none of the whiplash skip-that-scene moments that marked the first book, instead it's a lively probe into the rapidly changing book market.

Henry's dragged into an investigation of possible plagiarism, thanks to a messy situation involving his good friend and long-past lover Barbara Krouse, whose bookshop he'd helped to develop. But violence is already on his track, somehow lured by a book purchase he made, and it intensifies as he tries to sort out what's right and wrong for Barbara, for her friend Sharon, and for the continued presence in his heart of Morgan Johnson, who oddly seems connected to what's going on. Nor does the line of women end here: Henry's upstairs neighbor could be courting him when she gives him a nude photo of herself; his landlady appears interested in him beyond normal bounds; and his on-again-off-again girlfriend Della keeps sliding into his business, as well as his rented rooms. Henry's good friend Albert, who hauls "refuse," is willing to help out a bit on solving the crimes, but can't save Henry from two conclusions: that he's going to have to pick one woman or lose them all, and that the rapidly changing book business is bringing pain, anguish, loss, and grief to his book-centered friends.

Will there even be booksales for Henry to scout, in another year or so?

This is an impressive bibliomystery, wrestling with much more than the plot twists, and anyone who loves books in the physical shape of the past few centuries will wrestle with their possible demise, as Henry does. Is he really going to solve the crime of "the death of the book" or the "demise of the bookstore"?

Read on.

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