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Booked to Die ()

First of all, this is just a good old-fashioned, hard-boiled detective story.  Cliff Janeway starts out as a Denver homicide detective, but Dunning wisely contrives to get him out on his own.  Even when he's with the police though, he's none to powerful.  He does not have an amoral partner backing him up.  He's unlucky at love and he's not an epicure.  He's tough, but he has sense enough to be scared of the folks who are truly dangerous.  In short, Janeway is a throwback to the lone wolf investigators of yore.

But then there's the unique twist that makes what could have been merely a good series into a fascinating one : Cliff Janeway is a bookman.  He collects first editions of American Literature, with a particular interest in Faulkner, and in recent years has given increasing thought to becoming a book dealer himself.  Ultimately, when circumstances force him to leave the police department, he does indeed open his own store, Twice Told Books.

Without taking anything away from the book as a mystery, it really derives it's energy from the world of book collecting.  The book is set in 1986, so the prices cited must be hopelessly outdated, but when he talks about first editions of Stephen King's novel Salem's Lot going from $10 to $100 in the space of just ten years, that's an attention grabber.  It's especially interesting that the books of horror authors like King and popular authors, like Anne Tyler, have already increased so much in value.  I recognize that normal people don't spend the amount of time that I do looking for good, cheap books, but I guarantee that as you read about the details of book collecting, you'll be glancing up at your own bookshelves to see if your's are first editions (with the dust jacket, and not Book of the Month Club editions.)

Thanks to this unique angle and the character filled bookman's subculture in which it's set, this is one of the better mysteries series of recent years.


Grade: (A)


See also:

Book-related and General Links:
    -John Dunning Page (Preview Port)
    -INTERVIEW :  As part of a special series profiling mystery writers, CBS News Correspondent Anthony Mason interviews John Dunning. (CBS News)
    -John Dunning (Stop You're Killing Me)
    -REVIEW : of Booked to Die by John Dunning (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Booked to Die (Linda Kinkead,,  December 8, 1998)
    -REVIEW : of Booked to Die (JP, Mystery Guide)
    -REVIEW : of Booked to Die (Mohan Kumar, Dec '97)
    -REVIEW : of The Bookman's Wake by John Dunning (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Two O'Clock, Eastern Wartime (Tom and Enid Schantz, Denver Post)

    -ABE Books : world's largest source of out-of-print books
    -Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of America
    -An Introduction to Book Collecting (Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of America)
    -LINKS : Book Collecting with  Rebecca Hanneman : Your Guide to One of Over  700 Sites (
    -Modern First Editions