First, it was Booked to Die, then The Bookman's Wake. Now John Dunning fans, old and new, will rejoice in The Bookman's Promise, a richly nuanced new Janeway novel that juxtaposes past and present as Denver ex-cop and bookman Cliff Janeway searches for a book and a killer.
The quest begins when an old woman, Josephine Gallant, learns that Janeway has recently bought at auction a signed first edition by the legendary nineteenth-century explorer Richard Francis Burton. The book is a true classic, telling of Burton's journey (disguised as a Muslim) to the forbidden holy cities of Mecca and Medina. The Boston auction house was a distinguished and trustworthy firm, but provenance is sometimes murky and Josephine says the book is rightfully hers.
She believes that her grandfather, who was living in Baltimore more than eighty years ago, had a fabulous collection of Burton material, including a handwritten journal allegedly detailing Burton's undercover trip deep into the troubled American South in 1860. Josephine remembers the books from her childhood, but everything mysteriously disappeared shortly after her grandfather's death.
With little time left in her own life, Josephine begs for Janeway's promise: he must find her grandfather's collection. It's a virtually impossible task, Janeway suspects, as the books will no doubt have been sold and separated over the years, but how can he say no to a dying woman?
It seems that her grandfather, Charlie Warren, traveled south with Burton in the spring of 1860, just before the Civil War began. Was Burton a spy for Britain? What happened during the three months in Burton's travels for which there are no records? How did Charlie acquire his unique collection of Burton books? What will the journal, if it exists, reveal?
When a friend is murdered, possibly because of a Burton book, Janeway knows he must find the answers. Someone today is willing to kill to keep the secrets of the past, and Janeway's search will lead him east: To Baltimore, to a Pulitzer Prize-winning author with a very stuffed shirt, and to a pair of unorthodox booksellers. It reaches a fiery conclusion at Fort Sumter off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina.
What's more, a young lawyer, Erin d'Angelo, and ex-librarian Koko Bujak, have their own reasons for wanting to find the journal. But can Janeway trust them?
Rich with the insider's information on rare and collectible books that has made John Dunning famous, and with meticulously researched detail about a mesmerizing figure who may have played an unrecognized role in our Civil War, The Bookman's Promise is riveting entertainment from an extraordinarily gifted author who is as unique and special as the books he so clearly loves.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The man said, "Welcome to Book Beat, Mr. Janeway" and this was how it began.
We were sitting in a Boston studio before the entire invisible listening audience of National Public Radio. I was here against my better judgment, and my first words into the microphone, "Just don't call me an expert on anything," staked out the conditions under which I had become such an unlikely guest. Saying it now into the microphone had a calming effect, but the man's polite laugh again left me exposed on both flanks. Not only was I an expert, his laugh implied, I was a modest one. His opening remarks deepened my discomfort.
"Tonight we are departing from our usual talk about current books. As many of you know, our guest was to have been Allen Gleason, author of the surprising literary bestseller, Roses for Adessa. Unfortunately, Mr. Gleason suffered a heart attack last week in New York, and I know all of you join me in wishing him a speedy recovery.
"In his absence we are lucky to have Mr. Cliff Janeway, who came to Boston just this week to buy a very special book. And I should add that this is a show, despite its spontaneous scheduling, that I have long wanted to do. As fascinating as the world of new books can often be, the world of older books, of valuable first editions and treasures recently out of print, has a growing charm for many of our listeners. Mr. Janeway, I wonder if you would answer a basic question before we dive deeper into this world. What makes a valuable book valuable?"
This was how it began: with a simple, innocent question and a few quick answers. We talked for a while about things I love best, and the man was so good that we soon seemed like two old bookscouts hunkered down together after a friendly hunt. I talked of supply and demand, of classics and genres and modern first editions: why certain first editions by Edgar Rice Burroughs are worth more than most Mark Twains, and how crazy the hunt can get. I told him about the world I now lived in, and it was easy to avoid the world I'd come from. This was a book show, not a police lineup, and I was an antiquarian bookseller, not a cop.
"I understand you live in Denver, Colorado."
"When I'm hiding out from the law, that's where I hide."
Again the polite laugh. "You say you're no expert, but you were featured this week in a very bookish article in The Boston Globe."
"That guy had nothing better to do. He's a book freak and the paper was having what they call a slow news day."
"The two of you met at a book auction, I believe. Tell us about that."
"I had come here to buy a book. We got to talking and the next thing I knew, I was being interviewed."
"What book did you come to buy?"
"Pilgrimage to Medina and Mecca by Richard Burton."
"The explorer, not the actor."
We shared a knowing laugh, then he said, "What is it about this book that made you fly all the way from Denver to buy it? And to pay how much was it? if you don't mind my asking..."
Auction prices were public knowledge, so there was no use being coy. I said, "Twenty-nine thousand five hundred," and gave up whatever modesty I might have had. Only an expert pays that much money for a book. Or a fool.
I might have told him that there were probably dozens of dealers in the United States whose knowledge of Burton ran deeper than mine. I could have said yes, I had studied Burton intensely for two months, but two months in the book trade or in any scholarly pursuit is no time at all. I should have explained that I had bought the book with Indian money, but then I'd need to explain that concept and the rest of the hour would have been shot talking about me.
Instead I talked about Burton, master linguist, soldier, towering figure of nineteenth-century letters and adventure. I watched the clock as I talked and I gave him the shortest-possible version of Burton's incredible life. I couldn't begin to touch even the high spots in the time we had left.
"You've brought this book with you tonight."
We let the audience imagine it as I noisily unwrapped the three volumes in front of the microphone. My host got up from his side of the table and came around to look while I gave the audience a brief description of the books, with emphasis on the original blue cloth binding lettered in brilliant gilt and their unbelievably pristine condition.
The man said, "They look almost new."
"Yeah," I said lovingly.
"I understand there's something special about them, other than their unusual freshness."
I opened volume one and he sighed. "Aaahh, it's signed by the author. Would you read that for us, please?"
"'To Charles Warren,'" I read: "'A grand companion and the best kind of friend. Our worlds are far apart and we may never see each other again, but the time we shared will be treasured forever. Richard F. Burton.' It's dated January 15, 1861."
"Any idea who this Warren fellow was?"
"Not a clue. He's not mentioned in any of the Burton biographies."
"You would agree, though, that that's an unusually intimate inscription."
I did agree, but I was no expert. The man said, "So we have a mystery here as well as a valuable book," and it all began then. Its roots went back to another time, when Richard Francis Burton met his greatest admirer and then set off on a secret journey, deep into the troubled American South. Because of that trip a friend of mine died. An old woman found peace, a good man lost everything, and I rediscovered myself on my continuing journey across the timeless, infinite world of books.
Copyright © 2004 by John Dunning
Table of Contents
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Third book in the series takes us to Charleston with a bunch of nasty booksellers/thugs from Baltimore in tow.
BOTTOM-LINE: Good mystery, but a lot of exposition and slow ending . PLOT OR PREMISE: Janeway decides to use his finder's fee from the Grayson affair (book #2) to buy one amazing book, paying almost $30K for it at auction. The mystery is about the origins of the book itself, but more about the author himself, an explorer named Richard Burton (not the actor). . WHAT I LIKED: After buying the book, Janeway is contacted by an old woman who claims the book was hers once upon a time and subsequently stolen. Janeway believes her, and involves some other people in the story, one of whom ends up dead. There's a killer chasing the book and it leads all the way to the same places the explorer visited in the American South before the US Civil War. Seedy bookdealers, a biographer with a familiar monkey on his back, a family friend with a similar but slightly different monkey. Everyone wants the book, the history, the story, and to own a piece of history. . WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: There is a lot of exposition in the story. Some of it comes from a woman who did research using hypnosis and tape recordings to recover lost memories, and while it works as a plot device, it could have just as easily been done earlier in the woman's life and without as much page time. In addition, there is a flashback to the people in the Burton story (just before the US Civil War), which happens about the 40% mark and runs about 10-15% of the novel. It's engaging in the first person, but makes for another really long exposition. Finally, the action scene at the end seems more like out of a cheap action movie, and it takes a LONG time to get to the actual action. . DISCLOSURE: I received no compensation, not even a free copy, in exchange for this review. I am not personal friends with the author, nor do I follow him on social media.