Thursday, September 17, 2009
No Small Beer Here
Hound, by Vincent McCaffrey
Two things attracted my attention to McCaffrey's debut mystery: the publisher, a new (to me, anyway) Massachusetts house called Small Beer Press; and the fact that the author ran the Avenue Victor Hugo Bookshop on Newbury Street in Boston -- scene of much browsing and buying pleasure on my part.
When Victor Hugo went out of business in 2004, McCaffrey took it online -- what a good idea. He also began work on Hound, which is about a bookhound named Henry Sullivan, who buys and sells books he finds at estate auctions and library sales around Boston and often from the relatives of the recently deceased. He's in his late thirties, single, and comfortably set in his ways. But when a woman from his past, Morgan Johnson, calls to ask him to look at her late husband's books, he is drawn into the dark machinations of a family whose mixed loyalties and secret history will have fatal results.
Throughout the novel are people whose lives revolve around books: the readers, writers, bookstore people, and agents -- as well as Henry, the bookhound, always searching for the great find, but usually just getting by, happy enough to be in the pursuit. "Vincent McCaffrey's debut mystery is crammed with stories, with likable, eccentric characters, much like his marvelous Avenue Victor Hugo Bookshop -- of all the bookstores in the world, the one I still miss most of all. Like all good mysteries, Hound concerns more than murder: it's rich in detail and knowledgeable asides about bookselling, the world of publishing, and life lived in the pubs, shabby apartments, penthouses, and strange corners of the city of Boston," says Kelly Link, author of Pretty Monsters.
And Paul Tremblay, who wrote the fine mystery The Little Sleep, sums up the book's unusual qualities best: "McCaffrey's bookseller, Henry Sullivan, is as endearing, frustrating, and compelling a character I've come across in some time. Hound is more than Henry's show, however. It's a slow burn murder mystery, a sharp character study, a detailed exploration of Boston, and a mediation on the secrets of history -- both personal and universal."