John Dunning is a name that may not be known to that many folks in today’s books-of-the-week world, but finding his five-book series buried deep in a corner of the local library was for me like finding five pieces of pure gold. Unfortunately, there is an element of sadness involved in this discovery.
Dunning, the owner of a bookstore in Denver, Colorado, was an award-winning author, but had not been published in ten years when he began the series featuring the character, Cliff Janeway, a Denver police detective turned bookstore owner specializing in rare and collectable books. People who know more about genres than do I use the word bibliomystery to describe the books in the series.
Each of the five books contains a whodunit story line that will satisfy the most devoted plot hounds. At the same time, they give readers a view of the world of rare and signed books that may surprise those who are as ignorant as I found myself about the trade.
The series was an instant success. The initial printing (6,500 copies) for BOOKED TO DIE (1992), sold out over night. Winner of the Nero Wolfe Award for the year, the book went through four more hardback and nineteen paperback printings over the next eight years.
The next four books, THE BOOKMAN’S WAKE (1995), THE BOOKMAN’S PROMISE (2004), THE SIGN OF THE BOOK (2005), and THE BOOKWOMAN’S LAST FLING (2006), continued the series’ success.
The sad part of the story is that the author has not been able to continue the series since undergoing surgery for the partial removal of a large benign brain tumor in 2006. He and his wife Helen have closed Old Algonquin Books in Denver as a storefront business, but continue to operate it as an as an Internet venture dealing in rare books. http://www.oldalgonquin.com
First printings of the hardbacks in the series have become collectable editions. The asking price on Internet sites for a signed, first edition of BOOKED TO DIE is in the neighborhood of $2,500, depending on condition. However, the good news for the average reader is that it appears all five books are still available in paperback and in audio format.