Monday, January 15, 2007

REVIEW: Love, Death and the Toyman
by Robert S. Napier
Five Star Books, 2007. $25.95

When someone I know writes a book, it makes me happy. I go out, buy the book, and promise myself that I'll read it sometimes soon. When someone I know - someone who's never published book-length fiction before - writes a really good book, I'm overjoyed. Such was the case when I learned about Cap'n Bob Napier's new book, when I bought it, when I admired the sexy cover, and when I cracked it open and began reading.

Don't get me wrong, Love, Death and the Toyman is not Charles Dickens. Nor is it in the same league as say a Michael Connelly novel. But from start to finish, it was a joy to read.

The Toyman of the title is Jack Lorentz, former investigative reporter with some combat training in his background. Jack is now a collectible toy dealer working out of an antique co-op in Tacoma, Washington.

When Mrs. Amanda Howard shows up at his office, he's not sure what to expect at first. Is this some lady wanting to unload an attic full of old dolls, lunchboxes, or toy soldiers? But one look at the woman's face brings back a decade and a half of angst. Mrs. Howard is no other than Mandy, the girlfriend who got away fifteen years earlier; not just got away, but disappeared from his life without explanation and married a billionaire.

Human remains have been found on one of the Howard family properties, and the family wishes to hire Jack to learn who the bones belong to, and to make sure they don't create a scandal that would hurt Michael Howard's (Mandy's husband) political ambitions.

Plot, and to a certain extent style, owe much to the Lew Archer novels of Ross Macdonald, and to a lesser and looser extent (although I can't say why without spoiling the plot) to Mark Twain. The stymied romance is handled well, as is the treatment of the Howard family (Mandy's ambitious and resentful brother--in-law, her pedigree-fixated sister-in-law, her ne'er do well nephew, and her insane niece reminiscent of Carmen Sternwood from Chandler's The Big Sleep).

Love, Death and the Toyman was a fun, fast-paced read. Plot, characters, and setting held up very well. (One plot-element that was left hanging - I assume I must have sneezed or reached for my coffee and missed it - was the Poontang Patty subplot). [UPDATE - 2/10/07 - Okay, I was definitely asleep at the wheel. Re-reading this section the identity and nature of Poontang Patty is clear. I can't say more without spoiling surprises]. Reading Cap'n Bob's first book was a pleasant reminder of why I became a mystery fan in the first place. And speaking of fans. . .

Robert ("Cap'n Bob") Napier is a long-time and well-known mystery fan. For 19 years (and 200 issues) he published Mystery & Detective Monthly (MDM), a newsletter composed largely of correspondences from mystery fans, collectors, and authors. In 1997 Bob was named Fan Guest of Honor at the Monterey Bouchercon. Over the years, Bob has also been named the world's (or possible "the word's") most lovable curmudgeon. Included in the cast of characaters is Beth Fedyn, Jack Lorentz' close friend and the receptionist/clerk at Olden Daze Collectibles. Beth is named for another famous fan, the Wisconsin-based fan, reviewer, MDM contributor, and DAPA-EM member.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Found Things.

As a collector of old books, I sometimes find curiosities that have been left behind by past readers. Two such items came to light while I was cataloging books into LibraryThing.

ITEM #1.
I was comparing my two copies of Jacques Futrelle's final book, My Lady's Garter (published in 1912, shortly after the author perished in the sinking of the Titanic), when I noticed that my A.L. Burt edition had been stamped on multiple pages by a previous owner of the book.

In 1922, Edward A Froehling inscribed his name inside the front cover of the book, and sometime thereabouts embellished the book with this cute little rubber stamp impression:



I am a book reviewer for several magazines, and receive a fair number of review copies. These review books usually come with a press sheet folded up inside the book, telling me about the book, about the author, and details such as publication date, price, and contact information. Tucked inside my hardcover copy of Dwight V. Babcock's The Gorgeous Ghoul I found this little item: