Two veteran authors and bookmen – the esteemed Robert Reginald and Gary Lovisi – have penned a pair of book-themed murder mysteries that have been packaged as Wildside Mystery Double #5 (format is: flip the book over to read the other novel, just like the old Ace Doubles, remember those?).
Some mild plot spoilers follow, but given that these are mystery novels, I promise not to write anything that would risk ruining your enjoyment of either novel.
THE PAPERBACK SHOW MURDERS by Robert Reginald:
Not surprisingly, this is a murder mystery set at a vintage paperback show. First, a female bookseller with a valuable copy of a vintage paperback lesbian pulp/gothic novel is found murdered in her hotel room. The book in question is, of course, missing. And there are lots of suspects – namely, pretty much everyone at the convention. Our viewpoint character, a male book dealer has a female partner who almost immediately becomes suspect #1 because of her past with the book’s author. Then a drunken horror writer with a new wife is found dead. Further intrigue and shenanigans until another bookseller is murdered. Whodunit? I certainly won’t spoiler you on that, but suffice it to say that this is a light-hearted, fast-paced mystery that will retain your attention.
Not knowing many book dealers or what the behind-the-scenes interactions are like at book shows, I have no idea how well the novel captures the relationships between dealers, but I suspect that many of the archetypical personalities at these shows are being parodied. The foibles, and in some cases, odious personality traits, of all the characters are highlighted front and center. You may not want to hang out with these characters, but they’re certainly a lot of fun to watch as they interact (and kill each other off).
I should also mention that each chapter – and these are quick-moving, short chapters – is opened with a page or so “excerpt” from a pulp novel of the 1950s-early 1970s that serves as a lampoon (or homage) to a particular kind of hack novel from the period. They are hilarious and well worth the price of admission alone.
MURDER OF A BOOKMAN: A Bentley Hollow Collectibles Mystery Novel, by Gary Lovisi:
By the sub-title, I presume that Lovisi intends this to be the start to a new series. This first story centers, unsurprisingly, on book collectors (presumably later stories will focus on collectors of other kinds). These aren’t your run-of-the-mill bibliophiles, these are rabid book sellers and collectors, at least one of whom is ready and willing to kill. The mystery here revolves around the brutal stabbing of a wealthy bookseller. His book listing the values of each book in his extremely large, valuable collection is nowhere to be found. There are tons of suspects: the dead man’s business partner, his wife, the wife’s boyfriend (their pool boy), and his ex-wife, among others. Detective Bentley Little is assigned the case, along with a new partner. Little’s new partner is obnoxious and the pair immediately clash, creating further problems for Little. He’s a bit of a nebbish and still wrestling with the aftermath of what appears to be a pretty messy divorce. As with THE PAPERBACK SHOW MURDERS, the real strength of MURDER OF A BOOKMAN is its characters. Each is just a bit larger-than-life and lots of fun. Lovisi’s knowledge of the used book business and culture really shine through here. The story works very well as a mystery, with a tight premise, cast of characters, and logical investigation, even when Bentley Little’s detective work reveals that – of course – all is not what it appears to be and the murder is just the tip of the iceberg. All too often in mystery novels, the police investigations fall short, but Lovisi has crafted the investigation to be one that won’t have you scratching your head or setting aside because of gaping plot holes.
The book-themed cozy murder mystery genre is one of my favorites, so both novels were right up my alley. They are both terrific and fun short novels. If you are a bibliophile and mystery fan, as I am, I highly recommend this pairing of two very fun short mystery novels.
Review copyright 2012 J. Andrew Byers