Booked to Die (Cliff Janeway Series #1)

Booked to Die (Cliff Janeway Series #1)

3.8 14
by John Dunning

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Denver homicide detective Cliff Janeway may not always play by the book, but he's an avid collector of rare and first editions. After a local bookscout is killed on his turf, Janeway would like nothing better than to rearrange the suspect's spine. But the suspect, sleazeball Jackie Newton, is a master at eluding murder convictions. Unfortunately for Janeway, his


Denver homicide detective Cliff Janeway may not always play by the book, but he's an avid collector of rare and first editions. After a local bookscout is killed on his turf, Janeway would like nothing better than to rearrange the suspect's spine. But the suspect, sleazeball Jackie Newton, is a master at eluding murder convictions. Unfortunately for Janeway, his swift form of off-duty justice costs him his badge.

Turning to his lifelong passion, Janeway opens a bookshop — all the while searching for evidence to put Newton away. But when prized volumes in a highly sought-after collection begin to appear, so do dead bodies. Now Janeway's life is about to change in profound and shocking ways as he attempts to find out who's dealing death along with vintage Chandlers and Twains.

Editorial Reviews

Philadelphia Inquirer
A standout piece of crime fiction....Compelling page-turning stuff.
Cleveland Plain Dealer
Irresistible....An outstanding novel.
Denver Post
A of the most enjoyable books we've read in a long time.
NY Times Book Review
A joy to read....[A] whodunit in the classic mode.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Denver cop and rare book collector Cliff Janeway is introduced in this engrossing whodunit from two-time Edgar nominee Dunning. A sensitive and introspective sort, Janeway chafes in the hard-edged role of law enforcer so often demanded of him. When a down-on-his-luck book scout named Bobby Westfall is murdered, Cliff at first suspects local thug and personal nemesis Jackie Newton. Newton's girlfriend, a victim of physical abuse, makes Cliff more determined than ever to nail Newton. Sensitivity notwithstanding, he goes after his quarry with both fists cocked and both barrels aimed, neglecting any semblance of correct police procedure. This ironic twist shapes the plot as Janeway delves further into his city's antiquarian book trade, whose practitioners display an expertise exceeded only by their greed. Crisp, direct prose and nearly pitch-perfect dialogue enhance this meticulously detailed page-turner. Mystery Guild alternate; paperback rights to Avon. (Jan.)
Library Journal
John Dunning's Booked To Die (Scribner. 1992. ISBN 0-684-19383-3. $19.95; pap. Pocket Star. ISBN 0-7434-1065-3. $7.99) is an engrossing but rather nontraditional police procedural starring Denver cop and avid rare books collector Cliff Janeway. Dunning himself owns a Denver bookstore, and his expertise is reflected in the authentic details peppering this story of Janeway's search for the murderer of book scout Bobby Westfall. Janeway combines his police skills with his knowledge of the antiquarian book trade to solve the mystery. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Dunning, twice nominated for the Edgar (a pair of paperbacks), deserves to win one for this Denver cop-turned-bookman tale—a lively, seductive primer on how to open a bookstore, spot a first edition, warehouse it, price it, and enjoy it for its own sake. Cliff Janeway quits the force when he is suspended pending the outcome of brutality charges brought by his nemesis, Jackie Newton. Long a collector and frequenter of Denver's Book Row, Janeway rents space, hires the charmingly efficient Miss Pride as his assistant, and opens Twice Told Books. And, on his own time, works on a case that the Denver force has no leads on: the murder of book scout Bobby Westfall. As Janeway goes deeper and deeper into the book business, he manages to pinpoint Bobby's last day—the book dealers he sold to, the collector he bought from, and the big score he was double-crossed out of. Then a book-scout friend of Bobby's and the estimable Miss Pride are executed at Twice Told Books, and Janeway ups his investigative pace, which involves meetings (and romance) with a highly secretive rare-book dealer; scrutiny of a collection appraisal; and schmoozing with the owners along Book Row, until an alibi, like some book spines, cracks. Janeway, who can be tough, sensitive, and passionate, is a credible hero, both as cop and as book-lover. Moreover, the mystery holds its own with the atmospherics. Happily for fans, Dunning, a rare-book dealer himself, plans further Janeway books.

From the Publisher
New York Times Book Review A joy to read...[A] whodunit in the classic mode.

The Denver Post A knockout....One of the most enjoyable books I've read in a long time.

The Philadephia Inquirer A standout piece of crime fiction...Compelling page-turning stuff.

The Plain Dealer (Cleveland) Irresistible....An outstanding novel.

Boston Sunday Globe I unabashed admirer of John Dunning's Booked to Die. No one...can fail to be delighted by the sort of folkloric advice Janeway carries with him.

San Francisco Chronicle Fascinating...Assured and muscular prose...Very cannily and creepily, Dunning shows how quiet men with civilized tastes can turn into killers...The payoff, in pleasure, is for the reader.

United Press International Very credible...An involved tale that satisfies the mystery reader's wants.

Mystery Scene Memorable...Compellng...Vivdly realistic...Fascinating and utterly convincing...A suspenseful, well-crafted mystery that should keep readers guessing right up to the closing paragraph. This novel, friends, is a keeper.

St. Petersburg Times (FL) A perfect mystery. It's intelligently written; the action is bafflingly logical; the reader learns something, and it's got a sucker punch of a finale.

Publishers Weekly (starred review) Crisp, direct prose and nearly pitch-perfect dialogue enhance this meticulously detailed page-turner.

Product Details

Ulverscroft Large Print Books, Ltd.
Publication date:
Cliff Janeway Series , #1
Edition description:
Complete and Unabridged Large Print
Product dimensions:
6.18(w) x 9.32(h) x 1.23(d)

Read an Excerpt

BOBBY THE BOOKSCOUT was killed at midnight on June 13, 1986. This was the first strange fact, leading to the question, What was he doing out that late at night? To Bobby, midnight was the witching hour and Friday the thirteenth was a day to be spent in bed. He was found in an alley under one of those pulldown iron ladders that give access to a fire escape—another odd thing. In life, Bobby would never walk under a ladder, so it would seem ironic to some people in the Denver book trade when they heard in the morning that he had died there.

You should know something about bookscouts and the world they go around in. This is an age when almost everyone scouts for books. Doctors and lawyers with six-figure incomes prowl the thrift stores and garage sales, hoping to pick up a treasure for pennies on the dollar. But the real bookscout, the pro, has changed very little in the last thirty years. He's a guy who can't make it in the real world. He operates out of the trunk of a car, if he's lucky enough to have a car, out of a knapsack or a bike bag if he isn't. He's an outcast, a fighter, or a man who's been driven out of every other line of work. He can be quiet and humble or aggressive and intimidating. Some are renegades and, yes, there are a few psychos. The one thing the best of them have in common is an eye for books. It's almost spooky, a pessimistic book dealer once said—the nearest thing you can think of to prove the existence of God. How these guys, largely uneducated, many unread, gravitate toward books and inevitably choose the good ones is a prime mystery of human nature.

They get their stock in any dusty corner where books are sold cheap, ten cents to a buck. Ifthey're lucky they'll find $100 worth on any given day, for which an honest book dealer will pay them $30 or $40. They stand their own expenses and may come out of the day $30 to the good. They live for the prospect of the One Good Book, something that'll bring $200 or more. This happens very seldom, but it happens. It happened to Bobby Westfall more often than to all the others put together.

In one seventy-two-hour period, the story goes, Bobby turned up the following startling inventory: Mr. President, the story of the Truman administration, normally a $6 book unless it's signed by Truman, which this was, under an interesting page-long inscription, also in Truman's hand—call it $800 easy; The Recognitions, the great cornerstone of modern fiction (or the great unreadable novel, take your pick) by William Gaddis, also inscribed, $400 retail; The Magus, John Fowles's strange and irresistible book of wonder, first British edition in a flawless jacket, $300; and Terry's Texas Rangers, a thin little book of ninety-odd pages that happens to be a mighty big piece of Texas history, $750. Total retail for the weekend, $2,000 to $2,500; Bobby's wholesale cut, $900, a once-in-a lifetime series of strikes that people in the Denver book trade still talk about.

If it was that easy, everybody'd be doing it. Usually Bobby Westfall led a bleak, lonely life. He took in cats, never could stand to pass up a homeless kitty. Sometimes he slept in unwashed clothes, and on days when pickings weren't so good, he didn't eat. He spent his $900 quickly and was soon back to basics. He had a ragged appearance and a chronic cough. There were days when he hurt inside: his eyes would go wide and he'd clutch himself, a sudden pain streaking across his insides like a comet tearing up the summer sky. He was thirty four years old, already an old man at an age when life should just begin.

He didn't drive. He packed his books from place to place on his back, looking for a score and a dealer who'd treat him right. Some of the stores were miles apart, and often you'd see Bobby trudging up East Colfax Avenue, his knees buckling under the weight. His turf was the Goodwill store on Colfax and Havana, the DAV thrift shop on Montview Boulevard, and the dim-lit antique stores along South Broadway, where people think they know books. Heaven to Bobby the Book scout was finding a sucker who thought he knew more than he knew, a furniture peddler or a dealer in glass who also thought he knew books. On South Broadway, in that particular mind-set, the equation goes like this: old + bulk = value. An antique dealer would slap $50 on a worthless etiquette book from the 1880s and let a true $150 collectible like Anne Tyler's Celestial Navigation go for a quarter. When that happened, Bobby Westfall would be there with his quarter in hand, with a poker face and a high heart. He'd eat very well tonight. Like all bookscouts, Bobby could be a pain in the ass. He was a born-again Christian: he'd tell you about Christ all day long if you'd stand still and listen. There was gossip that he'd been into dope years ago, that he'd done some hard time. People said that's where he found the Lord, doing five-to-ten at Canon City. None of that mattered now. He was a piece of the Denver book world, part of the landscape, and the trade was a little poorer for his death.

He had been bludgeoned, battered into the bookscout's hereafter by a heavy metal object. According to the coroner, Bobby had felt no pain: he never knew what hit him. The body was found facedown in the alley, about three blocks from the old Denver Post. A cat was curled up at his feet, as if waiting for Bobby to wake up and take her home.

This is the story of a dead man, how he got that way, and what happened to some other people because of his death.

He was a gentle man, quiet, a human mystery.

He had no relatives, no next of kin to notify. He had no close friends, but no enemies either.

His cats would miss him.

No one could think of a reason why anyone would kill Bobby. Who would murder a harmless man like that?

I'll tell you why. Then I'll tell you who.

Copyright ) 1992 by John Dunning

Meet the Author

John Dunning has revealed some of book collecting’s most shocking secrets in his bestselling series of crime novels featuring Cliff Janeway: Booked to Die, which won the prestigious Nero Wolfe award; The Bookman’s Wake, a New York Times Notable Book; and the New York Times bestsellers The Bookman’s Promise, The Sign of the Book, and The Bookwoman’s Last Fling. He is also the author of the Edgar Award-nominated Deadline, The Holland Suggestions, and Two O’Clock, Eastern Wartime. An expert on rare and collectible books, he owned the Old Algonquin Bookstore in Denver for many years. He lives in Denver, Colorado. Visit

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Booked to Die (Cliff Janeway Series #1) 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
Janus More than 1 year ago
First of all, it is important to point out that the actual mystery part of this book is not terribly original or thrilling. You don't read it for that though. You read this book for its shameless indulgence of bibliomania and book collecting. I actually learned quite a bit from this book about book collecting. If you fancy yourself a bit of a bibliophile, then I can certainly suggest Booked to Die.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I had read this series in trade paperback a year or so ago. I felt at that time that John Dunning was so jaded a/o cynical that he'd never allow them to become e-books. Wasn't I surprized. In Cliff Janeway, Dunning gets a voice that I believe is how he might feel about life in general. When I read them before, I kept feeling that he was kind of channeling Raymond Chandler or Dashell Hammit, and that in another life, Cliff Janeway would sound like Humphry Bogart as Sam Spade. A burnt-out cop takes the law into his own hands to save someone. Why not, he's ready to change careers. The fallout sends him into the workd of used books. The characters he meets are as crazy as the ones he's met as a cop, with more nooks and crannies than they had ever had. All for the love of books, or maybe the mysteries that surround them. Duning has a wonderful character in Cliff Janeway. In no way is this book claasified as a "cosy mystery" but books/series like this were the bellewether for that genre. I just wish they were so cynical
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Spellbinding look into the oft insane world of book collecting with a great ending. Dunning packs a punch like O. Henry!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I recommend this book to all who love books and a good mystery!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am pretty good at figuring out mystery novels. However, this one really caught me.Right up until the last page, I was stumped. What a good book! Constantly twisting and turning. I hope Dunning writes many, many more of Cliff Janeway novels.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
slow beginning, gets much better,give it a 3 star rating out of 5.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Some parts are good reading, but others are superfluous, totally unnecessary.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Max is so awesome!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Or my bookstore new or used. We buy a book to read and all else could be a commandment e g. Not covet. While i recycle all s c and h c books would hesitate just where to drop this off county jail senior center boys and girls club church community room books share with my friend used book shop for credit fortunately the nearest just had a tent sale of 30 000 books buska