The Bookmans Promise: A Cliff Janeway Novel

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This is the story of a dead man, how he got that way, and what happened to some other people because of his death. He was a gentle man, quiet, a human mystery. He had no relatives, no next of kin to notify. He had no close friends, but no enemies either. His cats would miss him. No one could think of a reason why anyone would kill Bobby. Who would murder a harmless man like that? John Dunning qualifies as a Goodreads discovery, as I never heard of him befor This is the story of a dead man, how he got that way, and what happened to some other people because of his death.

John Dunning qualifies as a Goodreads discovery, as I never heard of him before joining here, and he turns out to be right up my alley with his slick combination of classic noir tropes and bookworm enthusiasm.

The Bookman's Promise; A Cliff Janeway Novel | John Dunning | First edition thus

The protagonist of this crime mystery is Cliff Janeway, a tough cop in the Denver Police Department who grew up on the mean streets swinging his fists with the best of the underworld, but who later in life developed a passion for books. Surprisingly, most of his extensive personal library is not for reading : he collects first editions and rare books and derives more pleasure from ownership than from the stories within.

It's a strange world we are introduced to : a very competitive business of small shop owners usually on the brink of faliment 'The good, the bad, the ugly' , bookscouts that are only one step ahead of homeless bums, living in poverty and forever hunting for a lucky gold strike in a garage sale or Goodwill pile of old books, buyers who pay top price without delving too deeply into provenance. The victim that starts the police investigation is one such bookscout, found with his head bashed in in a dark alley. No suspect, no clues, nothing but a personal vendetta Cliff Janeway is having with Jackie Newton - a bad apple known to have engaged in random killings in the past.

The book has two distinct sections : one the hard-boiled duel of wills between Cliff and Newton, with the obligatory female interest thrown in, and a second one dealing mostly with the book trade and a new set of killings that are apparently related to the first one. I enjoyed both of them, but I consider the book angle as the one that gives particular flavour to what would have been otherwise a standard criminal whodunit.

We had been around the world together many times, without ever leaving this block, if you know what I mean. I picked up quite a few titles to add to my wishlist from here, and I look forward to track them, maybe in a second hand bookstore like the ones described in the text. Cliff Janeway as a first person narrator is a great voice, passionate and witty in an effortless, casual way, really making me believe it is possible to be both a tough cookie and a bookworm. I sat at the phone with a Yellow Pages and began to work. This is what police work is all about: your trigger finger always gets more action on the telephone than in any gunplay.

At the end of this case I feel confident he is a strong enough character to carry the series forward to new installment, equally thrilling. So, why not go all in and give it five stars? Well, the plot is so clever that it actually strains credibility, and one of my favorite characters draws the short straw. Secondly, there's a love interest introduced about halfway through that got Cliff to fall head over hills too abruptly, more like a teenager than a middle-aged hardman.

And thirdly, the whole mystery swings on one witness withholding information, even as the bodycount grows: Stan's neighbor knew about the book swap between the cheap and the collectible libraries. View all 7 comments.


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Nov 16, Larissa rated it really liked it Shelves: english-usa , crime-fiction , , detective , series , library. I came across this book as part of an assignment for my "Rare Books and Special Collections Librarianship" class. The idea was that we should just read something that would give us an idea of the 'tone' of the field--we could read anything that had to do with special collections, rare books, or the antiquarian book trade. Nonfiction, memoir, and Bibliomystery, you say?

A fast-paced and entirely pleasu I came across this book as part of an assignment for my "Rare Books and Special Collections Librarianship" class. A fast-paced and entirely pleasurable read, Booked to Die introduces Clifford Janeway, a hard-nosed, workaholic ex-boxer cop, who feels that he missed his real calling as a rare book store owner. Janeway gets the chance to wear the mantle of "Bookman" after the violent death of a luckless bookscout and escalating tensions with a sadistic thug lose our hero his badge.

Dunning a former bookman himself keeps its plot moving, while still taking a bit of time to introduce readers to the world of rare books and the people who dedicate their lives to it. While Dunning's proficiency with noir tropes--the femme fatale, the cheesey one-liners, the vigilante's search for justice--is great fun, Booked to Die also emphasizes something that my professor has been valiantly trying to emphasize to myself and my classmates for two courses now: the profundity of books themselves as beautiful, valuable, and collectable objects.

Janeway spends a great deal of time ogling dust jackets and marginalia notably a Steinbeck doodle of a man with a huge penis inside Travels with Charley , entitled "Tom Joad on the Road ". The novel takes very seriously the idea that there is still something inherently sacred about the tangible object of a book, something that people could potentially be driven to even kill for.

Great fun for all you crime-novel-loving-librarians. There's even an ex-librarian in the mix: a sexy, whale-saving, Greenpeace-volunteering, isolationist, now-book-dealer librarian. Oct 14, Harry rated it it was amazing Shelves: detective-mystery , favorites , literary-thriller.


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When I think of Dunning an inevitable comparison takes place in my little grey cells: if you like Dick Francis you will love John Dunning. Why the comparison? What I often find delightful in fiction is not just the story itself; what delights is the acquisition of knowledge on a particular subject. Dick Francis in addition to handing his readers a well crafted mystery delights his readers with his thorough examination of the horse racing world. There is no doubt that when one thinks of horse racing, one thinks of Dick Francis.

John Dunning accomplishes the same by delivering to his readers a thorough insider's knowledge of the art of collecting books. When one thinks of antiquarian books; when one thinks of book scouts; when one thinks of avid book collectors, book scams, and book shops across this great nation: one thinks of John Dunning. When one stumbles across a writer who not only delivers a great story but also infuses one with knowledge than this writer has the power to influence one's life personally. For example: it was due to Ayn Rand's novels that my philosophical perspective on the world and my life in it changed.

In the case of John Dunning I became engrossed in book collecting: how can one forget an author when my glass encased book cases, filled with signed first editions of my favorite authors, are filled to the brim as a direct result of reading Booked To Die. John Dunning is not a man of the computer age. His is a world of typewriters.

He says: "Unlike a computer, a great old manual typewriter was an honest machine. You did your work, it did its work. No room for mistakes. Syntax, clauses, and style fuse together in a Dunning book with absolute clarity. Dunning is a writer that appeals to the intellect while simultaneously attracting mystery lovers with his behind-the-scenes look at the world of books: the moral and ethical circumstances that drive any great mystery, including death. Cliff Janeway, our hero, is in many ways a reflection of the writer. Here the comparison with Dick Francis continues.

Where Francis writes about the Queen's sport horse racing as a result of having spent a good deal of his life as a jockey himself, Dunning writes about books as a result of having owned his own book store in Denver.

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Where Francis writes about the racing world in England where he spent his jockey years, Dunning's protagonist Cliff Janeway, a former cop, owns a book store in Denver as well. The adage that one write "about what one knows" is never more true with these two writers. Francis's heroes are a reflection of the writer himself: in the case of Francis we empathize with a thoroughly honorable, ethical and objective human being and in the case of Dunning we face our own conflicts through a conflicted hero not averse to violence but compelled by a proper moral ethic that guides the hero through his various delimmas.

As with Dunning who struggled with ADD, being a poor student, and taking the hard road to his own calling, so does Janeway struggle with authority, with finding his true calling as one reads about a cop turned book collector in the Cliff Janeway novels. And finally I have to wonder about the formula in play here. Did Dunning stumble upon the perfect subject inadvertently or did it come about as a reflection of his own life?

And in the case of Dunning, our satisfaction is doubled because what we are reading about is the very thing from which we draw our pleasure: the world of books. As with all my series reviews, if you've read this review of the Cliff Janeway series, you've read 'em all.

View all 6 comments. Quotes from the opening pages: "Bobby the Bookscout was killed at midnight This is an age when almost everyone scouts for books. Doctors and lawyers with six-figure incomes prowl the thrift stores and garage sales, hoping to pick up a treasure for pennies on the dollar. But the real bookscout, the pro, has changed very little in the last thirty years.

He's a guy who can't make it in the real world. He operates out of Quotes from the opening pages: "Bobby the Bookscout was killed at midnight He operates out of the trunk of a car, if he's lucky enough to have a car, out of a knapsack or a bike bag if he isn't. He's an outcast, a fighter, or a man who's been driven out of every other line of work. He can be quiet and humble or aggressive and intimidating. Some are renegades and, yes, there are a few psychos.

The one thing the best of them have in common is an eye for books. It's almost spooky, a pessimistic book dealer once said--the nearest thing you can think of to prove the existence of God. How these guys, largely uneducated, many unread, gravitate toward books and inevitably choose the good ones is a prime mystery of human nature. This happens very seldom, but it happens. It happended to Bobby Westfall more often than to all the others put together.

Usually Bobby Westfall led a bleak, lonely life. He took in cats, never could stand to pass up a homeless kitty. Sometimes he slept in unwashed clothes, and on days when pickings weren't so good, he didn't eat. He had a ragged appearance and a chronic cough. There were days when he hurt inside: his eyes would go wide and he'd clutch himself, a sudden pain streaking across his insides like a comet tearing up the summer sky.

He was thirty-four years old, already an old man at an age when life should just begin.

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He packed his books from place to place on his back, looking for a score and a dealer who'd treat hime right When that happened, Bobby Westfall would be there with his quarter in hand, with a poker face and a high heart. He'd eat very well tonight. None of that mattered now. He was a piece of the Denver book world, part of the landscape, and the trade was a little poorer for his death.

A cat was curled up at his feet, as if waiting for Bobby to wake up and take her home. Then I'll tell you who. I am his age and quite like the following quote, one which provokes many old memories. Typing class taught likely the most significant skill I acquired in high school. In my library years, I preferred the pre-computer days in many ways, though typing catalog cards wasn't a favorite activity.

The Promise

There was no sneaky nonsense, no hidden screens that popped up and wouldn't go away, and at no time in my 35 years as a writer did I ever 'lose' anything because I hit a certain key, failed to hold my mouth right, or sneezed at the wrong moment.