By John Dunning



353pp/$25.00/Marchy 2005

The Bookwoman's Last Fling
Cover by Pleasure/
Kevin Brainard

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

The Bookwoman's Last Fling is also the Bookman's last fling, the fifth and final outing for John Dunning's cop-turned-used-book-dealer Cliff Janeway. Janeway, whose exploits over the previous novels have gained him a reputation as the "book cop" has been called to Idaho to examine a vast collection of children's books. The collector, Candice Geiger, died several years earlier and now that her husband has also died, the estate's executor wants to catalog the books and is concerned that over the years some of the books have been stolen. He wants Janeway to determine which books may be missing and, perhaps, appraise the worth of the collection as a whole.

Janeway isn't particularly interested in the job. He doesn't feel he is an expert in the children's books that Candice collected and he immediately gets off on the wrong foot with his potential employer, Junior Willis. Willis, asks him to meet with Candice's daughter, Sharon, however, and when Sharon hints that her mother's death from a peanut allergy may have been murder instead of the accident it was written off as, Janeway is hooked, electing to work for her rather than Willis. Sharon introduces him to an old friend, Sandy Standish, who hires Janeway to work on his horse racing support crew to allow Janeway to have access to various tracks in pursuit of people who might be able to shed light on Candice's death. Along the way, he also makes the acquaintance of Sharon's half-brothers, Cameron, Baxter, and Damon, any of whom could have been involved and none of whom have any reason to light Janeway or his investigations.

In The Sign of the Book, Janeway claimed to make his living playing the horses. Although it appeared to be just a throwaway claim in that novel, in The Bookwoman's Last Fling, that brief claim comes home to roost as Janeway finds himself involved in a mystery centering on the Golden Gate Fields track in Berkeley, California. Although Janeway is pulled into the case to discover whether books are missing from a massive collection of children's books, the book aspect of the case often takes a back seat, or even disappears completely, as Janeway and Dunning focus on the horse racing aspects of the case. While earlier novels had a thread which focused on aspects of the used book trade, that thread is lacking from The Bookwoman's Last Fling. The strong focus on horse racing, makes the reader wonder if Dunning has tired of the concept of a bookseller as his character.

For much of the novel, Janeway seems more intent on the work he is doing at the racetrack rather than focusing on the question of Candice's death and the books seem to be one of the furthest things from his mind. Several potential suspects come and go and Janeway doesn't appear to be making progress on the case. Furthermore, he seems to be a more rough and tumble Janeway that in the previous novels. While Janeway was never an urbane bookseller, his more violent nature seems to be on display, whether it comes from facing down thieves or sumply being argumentative with a variety of employers and potential employers throughout the novel. It is rarely clear why any of the people who Janeway interacts with would choose to have him around and many of them appear to have the option.

In the end, the books provide the impetus for the solution, but is isn't entirely satisfactory. The reader isn't the only one who has noticed the lack of interest in books and Erin D'Angelo, whose appearances in the book are relatiely fleeting and often via long distance, questions Cliff's dedication to the book trade. Although she doesn't want him to return to being a cop, her close call with death at the end of The Sign of the Book has made her reconsider things, she also understands that at heart Cliff will always remain a cop, although whether he can get back into that world following the events that caused him to leave the Denver police force is an open question, one that will apparently not be answered until Dunning eventually elects to return to Janeway's world.

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