Saturday, February 5, 2011
All Booked Up: Review
I am a self-professed mystery lover. If for some weird reason I ever had to choose only one type of book to read for the rest of my life, I'd go with mysteries. Within the genre, I have a strong preference for vintage mysteries (primarily pre-1960 and generally earlier than that), followed by historical mysteries and academic mysteries. For my purposes, an academic mystery must have one of the following and may have more: a professor or teacher acting as amateur detective; a professor or teacher as victim or culprit or absolutely essential main character; and/or a school or university setting. My love for academic mysteries has loaded my shelves with all sorts of unlikely-looking specimens. Sometimes I wind up with a gem and sometimes I shake my head over what I have bought just because the back cover mentions Professor So-and-So or Whatsit University.
All Booked Up by Terrie Curran is another of my random finds. I'd never heard of Terrie Curran before I spied this on the shelves of our library's used/donated/discarded bookstore. This particular academic mystery stars not one, but two professors (married) who find themselves mixed up in the odd goings-on at the Smedley Library. Precisely five weeks ago before the opening events, Professor Basil Killingsley and his wife, Professor Hortense Killingsley, had visited the Smedley Library to pursue their separate researches. And precisely five weeks ago Basil had held in his very own hands a rare edition of Ranulf Higden's Polychronicon. Upon their return trip, Basil is dismayed to find that the edition is gone. It has disappeared from the shelves, the records, and from everyone's memory. But consultations with the curator of the rare books section soon reveals that several antique editons have gone missing and in some cases have been replaced with obvious fakes and even odd books of poetry.
Then the murders begin. The first victim is the library's auditor. But the man kept appalling records, so the motive could hardly have anything to do with the missing books. Or could it? After further discoveries of suspicious activities which include the director of the library himself, that self-same director falls victim to the murderer. Who could be responsible and are there future victims to be culled from the stacks? The nervous curator of rare books? The oddly dressed assistant director? The much-too-friendly Texan with a sudden interest in helping the library's rare book collection? The man with the baggy pants that always seem to be filled with books? Or perhaps it is the assistant auditor whom no one seems to have set eyes on?
This is a fairly decent little book. The characterizations are hit-and-miss. Professors Basil and Hortense are delightful. Excellent examples of specialists who will set up a lecture at the drop of a hat and talk your ear off about their particular hobby-horse. They come right up to the edge of too much without boring the reader silly. (Professors in real life aren't always so thoughtful.) The assistant director is also well-drawn. I like her no-nonsense, practical approach and her contrast to the truly dreadful director. (How does such a man get to be in charge of rare books and a research library?) The Texan is straight-up stereotype. Big, friendly oil man with money burning holes in his pockets. We also have a fairly stereotypical Frenchman who serves on the library's board and whose mania for precision and order reminds me of a certain Belgian detective.
The mystery isn't all that difficult, but there are fun bits of dialogue and the book is a quick read. There are also some interesting insights into rare books and how to spot a fake. Recommended for a lazy afternoon when one might want a bit of a puzzle that won't tax the brain too much--especially if one has a soft spot for academic mysteries as I do. Three stars for a solid read.