If you are a crime fiction fan, you will be aware of the wonderful series published by the British Library of out of print crime classics that they have reintroduced for public consumption. The breadth of work covered is mesmerising and some have once again become best sellers.
I have just finished reading Death of a Bookseller in two sittings over coffee and cake at my favourite pub, the Royal Oak in Kirby Muxloe. It is a place highly conducive for reading crime fiction. All the usual suspects drink there!
I usually prefer the Golden Age of Crime, but this novel was written in 1956, the author unknown to me and the echoes of the period are clear even now.
We are introduced to policeman Sergeant Jack Wigan who befriends bookseller Michael Fisk. Early in the novel the bookseller is murdered and the crime blamed on the unfortunate Fred Hampton, an unpleasant man without a friend in the world. Wigan believes him to be innocent of the crime, even when he is convicted and sentenced to death.
He fights to clear his name and his journey is faithfully recorded here, as along with new-found friends Charlie North and Searle Connington he endeavours to do this, despite Hampton being the most unsympathetic and ignorant of clients.
The story delves into the murky 1950s world of book selling where a slash of the razor is as regular as under-the-counter payments. We meet unscrupulous book sellers the Ferrow brothers and the sleazy Corky Edwards, the glamorous Ruth Brent and American multi-millionare Dithan Dand as well as a less than endearing Detective Inspector Saggs. There are so many characters who are described so eloquently that we struggle to discover the culprit until all is revealed.
Books are stolen and resold, enmities cultivated and entrenched, the merest slight never forgotten. One cannot envisage the Waterstones Bookseller to behave in this manner but who knows? The denouement is blood-curdlingly fulfilling as Wigan fights to the very end to clear Hamptons name. You will enjoy this romp through the bookshops of London and might even be inclined to become a book collector yourself as the leading lights in the novel do. A gem.
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