Thursday, November 08, 2012
MR.PENUMBRA'S 24 HOUR BOOKSTORE by Robin Sloan
I had high hopes for this one. So much so that I purchased a copy as soon as I heard it was coming out. It seemed to have all the ingredients that I look for in a book. Characters who love books and mysteries, an odd bookstore that may or may not hide a secret, eccentric characters....the list goes on.
After young Clay Jannon loses his job in the midst of the Recession, he takes a position in a very odd 24-hour bookstore. Clay works the night shift and figures that his job will be pretty quiet with the exception of the goings-on at the strip club next door. Clay quickly realizes, however, that there is more to Mr. Penumbra's bookstore than meets the eye. A group of eccentric customers appear on a regular basis requesting books from the book of the store that Clay refers to as the "backlist." When Clay finally brings himself to look at one of these books, he sees that they are written in some kind of code. Why are these books here? And, more importantly, what are the mysterious customers doing with them? As the days go by, Clay becomes more curious about the mystery and employs his girlfriend at Google as well as other technologically-inclined friends to help him break the code. All of these individuals meet at the intersection of technology and books in order to solve a centuries-old mystery.
While the idea of this book is charming and interesting, it fell flat for me. With the exception of Mr. Penumbra himself, I didn't find any of the characters particularly engaging. I loved the fact that Sloan mixed up Luddites and technology buffs and created a mystery that could only be solved using both kinds of people. The mystery itself with its secret brotherhood and emphasis on books was quite charming. I think, though, that the book was just too short. If Sloan had fleshed out the story and characters a bit more, say 500-600 pages instead of 300, we could have had a really great story. As it was, the whole thing felt rushed and the ending tidied everything up a little too much. Print-book readers definitely win with this one in that it has an absolutely charming cover. It made me happy each evening to turn out the light and watch the cover glowing in the dark on my bedside table!
BOTTOM LINE: Not recommended. I think Sloan had some terrific ideas but the book just wasn't long or detailed enough to really have an impact. I would have liked to know more about the story and characters instead of being rushed through it.