Review

The Sign of the Book

by John Dunning



In the world of mystery novels it may be one classic example of
life imitating art. In 1991, mystery readers met Cliff Janeway in
his maiden crime exploit, BOOKED TO DIE. The novel introduced
Janeway, a Denver police officer and part-time book collector, to
the world of mystery fiction. In addition to his crime-solving
work, Janeway, created by author John Dunning, would impart to the
reader important information on the art of contemporary first
edition book collection. The Dunning-Janeway team became successful
enough that the former Denver police officer appears now in his
fourth adventure, THE SIGN OF THE BOOK. Along the way, BOOKED TO
DIE in its first printing became something of a classic collectible
among mystery aficionados and book collectors. Today, copies of the
first edition may fetch upwards of $500. Cliff Janeway would be
honored and excited to recount the saga of how the book became a
collector's item.

The years have passed since Janeway's retirement from the Denver
Police Department. He now owns a bookstore on East Colfax Avenue
and earns his living in his beloved profession of buying and
selling books. As THE SIGN OF THE BOOK opens, Janeway the
proprietor is having a good day. A signed and dated copy of CRUSADE
IN EUROPE by Dwight Eisenhower has been purchased from his shop for
$1,500. His week has been made. Vignettes such as this are part of
the attraction of John Dunning. Book collectors always find
pleasure in reading about valuable volumes, even the ones sold in
Janeway's imaginary world.

In addition to his bookstore, Janeway also has acquired a business
partner and love interest, Denver attorney Erin D'Angelo. She first
appeared in Dunning's third Janeway mystery, THE BOOKMAN'S PROMISE,
and her love for books and for Janeway resulted in a relationship
that promises many future adventures. As an attorney who dabbles in
criminal law, D'Angelo has many opportunities to need the services
of a private investigator. Who better for that purpose than a
retired cop who has the freedom that comes from owning his own
bookstore?

The first case for the D'Angelo-Janeway tandem comes not from a
strange client but a friend from Erin's past. Laura Marshall has
been charged with killing her husband. The web tangles even further
because Bobby Marshall, the deceased, was once Erin's romantic
interest. From her jail cell Laura seeks D'Angelo's service, but
Janeway is requested to meet with the defendant to determine if the
case has merit. His reluctance fades when he learns that Marshall
was a book collector and his potentially valuable collection may
help pay legal fees in the case. It is clearly a tale crafted by
Dunning that affords the author the opportunity to kill two
literary birds with one plot.

Janeway travels to the tiny community of Paradise, Colorado to meet
the client and peruse the book collection. The characters
encountered in Paradise are what the reader might expect --- a
small-town attorney in over his head, desperately in need of
D'Angelo's help and a local deputy in need of a few lessons in
proper law enforcement practice. As the investigation unfolds, both
the open-and-shut murder case and the book collection turn out to
be something less than they originally appeared.

John Dunning has written another wonderful mystery. His stories are
distinctive and enjoyable because they are more than mysteries.
Book collectors will revel in the information they may obtain about
contemporary first editions. Another Janeway novel will appear in a
few years and I can hardly wait. In the meantime I think I will
spend the waiting time searching for a copy of LAURA by Vera
Caspary. Read THE SIGN OF THE BOOK to find out why. You'll be
searching and reading along with me.

Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on January 23, 2011

The Sign of the Book
by John Dunning

  • Publication Date: March 28, 2006
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Pocket
  • ISBN-10: 0743482476
  • ISBN-13: 9780743482479