Booked to Die by John Dunning: C-

bookedtodieFrom the back cover:
Denver homicide detective Cliff Janeway may not always play by the book, but he’s an avid collector of rare and first editions. After a local bookscout is killed on his turf, Janeway would like nothing better than to rearrange the suspect’s spine. But the suspect, sleazeball Jackie Newton, is a master at eluding murder convictions. Unfortunately for Janeway, his swift form of off-duty justice costs him his badge.

Denver Detective Cliff Janeway has a grudge against one particular thug named Jackie Newton. Newton has managed to elude prosecution for the various crimes that Janeway is sure he has committed and Janeway has developed an obsession with pinning something on him, so much so that when a bookscout is found dead with a method of death similar to other crimes attributed to Jackie, Janeway immediately leaps to the conclusion that Jackie must be responsible and spends the first half of the book almost exclusively pursuing Jackie Newton rather than considering any other leads. He flagrantly breaks established rules of policework time and again and eventually loses his badge over it.

And we are supposed to like this guy?! I can’t shake the idea that author John Dunning worried that readers might find a sleuth who collects books to be too wimpy, so he took steps to make sure he’s seen as a macho tough guy. All of the posturing to that end gets exceedingly boring, and there was one section, featuring an unsympathetic doormat who’s essentially determined to do nothing to stop Jackie’s abuse and harrassment, during which I realized I hated every single character in the book, with the possible exception of Janeway’s long-suffering partner.

Thankfully, once Janeway gives up being a cop and opens an antiquarian bookstore instead, things improve a great deal. His contact with Jackie is reduced—aside from the lawsuit Jackie files after Janeway hauls him off into the middle of nowhere and beats the crap out of him—and there’s a good deal of interesting detail about setting up his shop and hunting for treasures. After a three month interval, however, Janeway begins to get embroiled in the now-cold case of the bookscout’s murder and once again uses whatever methods he damn well pleases to get to the bottom of it.

While the second half of the book is definitely better than the first, I can’t say that I really am much impressed with the mystery itself. It involves too many indistinct characters for one thing, and for another is just plain boring and predictable. Janeway continues to make a lot of assumptions about things, and seemingly has no compunction with carting away boxes of evidence (rare and valuable books) rather than leave it for police to find. I have to wonder whether anything he uncovered would ever be admissable in court. During the investigation, he also strikes up a relationship with a lady (I fight the compulsion to call her a dame, in the tradition of hard-boiled mysteries of yore) and, in Dunning’s attempt to depict how gritty and visceral their attraction is, keeps his gun in his hand throughout their first moment of intimacy. The lady is apparently fine with this, since she has a thing for violent dudes.

Ultimately, Booked to Die is a big disappointment. The idea of a mystery series with a bookseller as amateur sleuth has definite appeal, but there are so many things I dislike about the actual execution that I don’t think even the lure of booky goodness could entice me to continue with the series.

Additional reviews of Booked to Die can be found at Triple Take.

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