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Sunday, February 17, 2013

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore: A Review

It has been a long time (just over 7 years, in fact) since I stayed up all night to read the last 280 pages of a novel. The other night Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan broke that drought. I realize that the title doesn’t roll easily off the tongue, but do not let that deter you from picking up this marvel of a novel.

In brief, the book tells the story of Clay Jannon who, after losing his position as a San Francisco web-developer (for a bagel company), stumbles upon a job as a night clerk in one of the strangest bookstores he, or we, ever encountered. Since the store’s shelves reach so high you can’t see the top, he is hired mainly on his ability to climb a ladder like a monkey. But in a recession a job is a job.

After a while, however, Clay discovers that there is more to this store than a strange name, strange (and few) regular customers, and an even stranger owner. There’s a secret contained within these walls…a very old secret…and Clay enlists his friends to help him solve the mystery. And once the chase is on, it never lets up.

It sounds like your basic literary mystery, but is much, much more. The supporting characters are all so well written any one of them could have just as easily been the narrator as Clay. The collision of old-world knowledge and modern-day technology is handled with respect for both, and Sloan’s depiction of life at Google’s headquarters is all the more hilarious because it’s probably all true.

Most mysteries leave you feeling either satisfied or cheated; Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore leaves you satisfied and thinking. Sloan has created a world that’s just like ours, yet not like ours. It’s a world that, like the bookstore itself, you will want to explore long after the book is finished.

Looking back over this I realize that it barely scratches the surface of even the first 100 pages of the plot, and even that is only the bones, not the soul...and as Zafon taught us, every book has a soul. Suffice it to say that while the ending is a good one, with this book, as with life, the journey itself is really the best part.

One last thing…don’t wait for the paperback to come out. Buy the hardcover…it actually glows in the dark. Try pulling that off with an e-book.

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