BIBLIOMYSTERIES: STORIES OF CRIME IN THE WORLD OF BOOKS AND BOOKSTORES
By Otto Penzler
Pegasus, $26.95, 544 pages
In the wonderful world of bibliomystery you may find Adolf Hitler in Wyoming or a haunted scroll dating back to biblical times.
Best of all and most enchanting is to step inside the Caxton Private Lending Library and Book Dispensary where literary characters die to live. Founded in 1492 it is a home for those too precious to abandon their existence.
It is really the simple story of a character named Mr. Berger whose humble career was being a closed accounts registrar in a minor English town. As its author John Connolly notes, even Mr. Berger found his job difficult to explain. He loved books and he loved writing, yet he concluded after a less than distinguished retirement that he wasn’t even going to be a great writer and so he settled down happily enough in the little English town of Glossop.
That was before he saw Anna Karenina throwing herself under the train. That moment changed his life. He rushed to the police of course only to have it suggested that he never really saw the tragedy.
Yet he never got over it. And a while later he discovered the immortal library housed in a red brick building outside Glossop. He also found “a gent” called Mr. Gideon who was the librarian of the ancient Caxton structure that has its own financial underpinnings and an unbelievably valuable collection of first editions.
Not only that but it had an unbelievable population of people like Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Charles Dickens’ Fagin, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote and even Bram Stoker. Mr. Berger is cautioned against becoming too friendly with Stoker who is of course accompanied by his Count Dracula.
Mr. Gideon notes that Stoker says he’s given up all the vampire stuff but adds that he wouldn’t trust him as far as he could throw him. Mr. Berger is especially happy to get to know Anna Karenina who only kills herself occasionally with him, and he clearly falls in love.
Nothing lasts forever of course and Mr. Berger eventually succeeds Mr. Gideon as the Caxton librarian mostly because the library is getting tired. Then the library goes on of course, in a quieter location but with its same list of immortal characters and successive librarians.
“Bibliomysteries,” a bibliomystery collection edited by Otto Penzler is a rare prize, and if you can wrench yourself away from the Caxton library, you can find the strangest story of all in the account of how pronghorn antelope were taken from Wyoming to Berlin. As evidence there is a photograph of someone who could be, might be, Adolf Hitler who liked antelope. You can read all about it in “Pronghorns of the Third Reich” by C.J. Box. The collection also includes stories by Loren Estleman, Anne Perry and Nelson DeMille, among others.
Lurking beyond this literary treasure trove is Mr. Penzler, the proprietor of the Mysterious Bookshop in New York City who puts it all together. He drew upon a remarkable collection of haunted and haunting writings laced with dark humor as well as violent death. And for more than 500 pages the reader may immerse himself or herself in the kind of literary imagination that is very difficult to find.
You may find yourself wondering how to find the Caxton library and within it all of the wonderful characters who have never died, and will never die. If you can find it, that is, and it would be worth it.
Muriel Dobbin is a former White House and national political reporter for McClatchy newspapers and the Baltimore Sun.
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