By Thomas Shawver
Available now from Alibi (Penguin Random House)
THE DIRTY BOOK MURDER is an interesting blend of cozy mystery and something more hard hitting. The murders are mercifully briefly described, but there is sex and drugs and sexualized torture. It's set in a close-knit part of Kansas City, with an unlikely detective: the local used and antiquarian bookstore owner. Of course, he's also a former Marine and lawyer with past alcohol and drug problems who still likes going out to the pub and getting a bit rowdy. It's an unusual mix that I suspect will greatly appeal to readers who have been looking for something like it.
The plot kicks off when Michael Bevan goes to an auction that advertised some rare erotica. It soon turns into a heated battle between him, two known dealers, and a strange man clearly there on behalf of someone else. While the lot goes for tens of thousands of dollars, one of the dealers steals two of the most valuable books. He's dead by the next day, and Michael is the most likely suspect. He sets off to clear his name and finds that there is much more at stake than two rare books.
This is a fairly short mystery, only a little over 200 pages, so things happen fast in THE DIRTY BOOK MURDER. There is still a lot of character setup, putting people into place (such as former and future loves) for the inevitable sequels. I think some of the character work went too quickly, leading to some of Michael's most important relationships coming off very shallowly and strange. And, well, I found most of the characters unlikeable. I really found the way that Michael intrudes on his daughter's personal life to be uncomfortable, even if she is dating a much older man. It didn't help the other descriptions of women that make Michael come off as pretty sexist.
I don't, however, need the characters to be likeable in a murder mystery. Most of the characters are people capable of murder, after all. But it was definitely a point away from the "cozy" side of the equation.
THE DIRTY BOOK MURDER does draw quite a bit from debut author Thomas Shawver's life experience, and it shows. I particularly liked the scenes about valuing books and running the shops. It's an intriguing look into the ongoing life of books. (And there's a mention of the Ransom Center at my alma mater, guaranteed to make me smile.) Michael's career is more than just set dressing, and the book is better for it.
If you're looking for a fast-paced mystery that's darker than it seems at first, you might pick up THE DIRTY BOOK MURDER. Thanks to TLC Book Tours and the publisher, there is a giveaway with multiple prizes. Just fill out the Rafflecopter below.
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