on November 11, 2015
If bibliophilia is an illness, then Henry Sullivan is terminal! Books are his work, his life and his love. A book Hound, Henry is a former bookstore employee who now buys and then resells books over the Internet from his home.
A single man in his mid-thirties, Henry’s days are marked by estate sales, library book sales and other quests for sellable books. He enjoys a regular pint and a game of chess with his friend and confidant Albert. He makes the trek across the city of Boston to visit his father whom he seems never to have actually connected with. He shares a passing word with his landlady whom he respects and admires.
His heretofore predictable, mundane life is upturned when his landlady dies. He learns he will soon be losing his rent controlled apartment when her house is sold. This development, though troubling, absolutely pales to insignificance when Morgan Johnson, an old flame, calls him to value her husband’s books. One wonders if he is thinking of rekindling the flame when he learns of Morgan’s death the day after his visit with her. She was an important part of his life in the past and he is profoundly disturbed by her passing. Her collection was very valuable but would someone kill her for it?
In attempting to discover how Morgan died Henry becomes enmeshed in her family’s secrets. She was the second wife of a prominent publisher and traveled extensively. Her family and extended family hid troubles, resentments and deceptions beneath a thin veneer of respectability that their wealth and renown afforded them. Was murder kept in the family as well?
Somewhat reminiscent of John Dunning’s Bookman novels, this is a mystery novel that is more novel than mystery. Literary in both style and subject, Hound is a novel for those who enjoy a more sedately paced story. If you are looking for action you won’t find it here. Filled with anecdotes and asides on bookselling and the love of reading, Vincent McCaffrey’s love for books absolutely drips from the pages. If you share that obsession, then you will be touched and moved by his words.
Vincent McCaffrey is obviously a man so well read that he seems to have gleaned a deep understanding of human nature from his studies. His characters are appealing and sympathetic and his story well plotted.
I look forward to his next novel after what was a most enjoyable debut.
Henry Sullivan is a book hound. He buys books at estate and library sales, most often selling them to other dealers and bookstore owners. Morgan Johnson, once his lover now recently widowed, ask Henry to appraise the library of her late husband with plans to donate the collection. When Morgan is found strangled, Henry becomes the initial suspect. Although the police release him from that role, Henry does want to know who killed Morgan.
This is a real book lover's book. McCaffrey, the author, is the owner of Avenue Victor Hugo Bookshop, located for 30 years on Newbury Street in Boston but now an online bookstore. The greatest pleasure, in reading this book, comes from his insights on book lovers--"...The ones who really loved the books liked to browse, dip into a page here and there, and feel the cloth and smell the paper."--readers, collectors, non-readers--"Maybe some rainy day, they'll read one of these book and it will change their lives or at least make them want to read another. It's possible."--Reader's Digest editions and a very frank look at the publishing industry.
As a mystery, it's not particularly strong. The characters are not fully developed. I finished the book not really know who Henry is as a person, but identifying with him as a book lover. The other characters were interesting, but remained enigmatic.
The sense of place is strong when the setting is a room containing books, but although the book is set in Boston--a city I lived in and love--there was no real sense of the city. The mystery is there and interesting but, as befitting the character, not very suspenseful. However, I did very much like the ending.
This is one of those books I find hard to rate. As a mystery on its own, it was only good at best. As homage to those of us who love the written word and the vessels in which they are contained, it was excellent. For me, if McCaffrey writes a second mystery, I shall definitely read it.
HOUND (Ama. Sleuth-Henry Sullivan-Boston-Cont) - VG
McCaffrey, Vincent - 1st mystery
Small Beer Press, 2009, US Hardcover - ISBN: 9781931520591