As of yet, The British Library is still undergoing a massive reset over their recent cyberattack. Their services have been breached and the data stolen. It is as of yet, unresolved and continues to leave an uncertain future about the culture surrounding hacktavism. However, thankfully the books have been left untouched and therefore, my avid reading of The British Library Crime Classics and its horrific sister The British Library Tales of the Weird can continue. The British Library Crime Classics publication of this relatively unknown piece of British Crime Golden Again literature comes as a surprise as I have neither heard of the book nor the author.
This is thus nothing like the works of E.R.C Lorac and J.D Carr, to which I know the patterns and therefore know I will enjoy the book. It is a strange publication which is referred to as a bibliomystery - a little bookshop of horrors. And so, as we delve into the plot, we see an almost Ninth Gate outlook as a bookshop and its strange book serve as the centre of this clever deception.
The note reads:
“Will the gentleman who took by mistake a copy of Bunyan’s Life and Death of Mr. Badman, return it as soon as possible, as the book is in demand.”
Athelstan is away visiting his nephew and agrees to look after the bookshop there whilst the hosts are away. On his first day on the job, many different people arrive in the bookshop which honestly made my heart grow as people nowadays don't seem to know that much about their local bookshop. These people included a vicar and also some drifter from out of town. The only thing that made it weird is that every single person who came to the bookshop was asking about the very same book. Each one of them wanted a book called The Life and Death of Mr. Badman by John Bunyan.
A copy arrives in the bookshop in the coming days and then is mysteriously stolen quite quickly. Athelstan and his nephew, Jim become embroiled in a case that keeps shifting about as they try to find out who stole the book and why it is so significant. As they keep investigating what they believe is simply a snatching of an antiquarian book, they eventually come to a murder and its suspects. The case shifts and moves faster than most other crime novels I have read from the era - but everything has its pros and cons just as this book did.
One of the main advantages was the way it was written, including its pace. The pace was often quite fast and there was a lot to learn in a short space of time. In order not to miss anything, I wanted to make sure I knew what was going on every step of the way and so, I would highlight things on my Kindle I thought were significant. The pacing was great because it still retained atmosphere. I still felt like I was being whisked away to quite but tense Yorkshire whilst experiencing a mystery unfold in quick stages. In this sort of story if pacing is not done correctly, you could too quickly weave in the quite atmosphere with the idea of being boring. The juxtaposition in pace and place are welcomed by the reader.
The one thing I was a bit on the fence about was the characterisation. I did not feel like I really knew them inside out. This could be done on purpose by the author to keep everyone including those investigating the mystery a suspect, but if we don't have someone to hang on to then we lose track of the story a bit too easily. I understand that Athelstan Digby is supposed to be our main man but he felt a little distant to me, like I didn't really get inside his being. Instead of following him around, I felt like I was standing outside of the bookshop in the cold, waiting for him to let me in, looking through a window with a discontented look on my face. Athelstan Digby to me, felt a little bit cold - like he didn't want me to get to know him.
I understand that this kind of characterisation is meant to build suspense about each character and I get the argument for it, but I'm knocking a mark off for it just simply not being the kind of character writing for me. All in all, it is a good book but I would've appreciated more character-centric paragraphs as well, a balance is always good - this just didn't meet that balance.