The Bookwoman's Last Fling (Cliff Janeway Series #5)by John Dunning
Denver bookman Cliff/b>/i>
As a young man, New York Times bestselling author John Dunning earned his living for several years working behind the scenes on the racetrack circuit. Now he brings his memories of the horse world and his expertise in collectible books to this mesmerizing new Bookman novel rich with the lore of both books and horses. . . .
Denver bookman Cliff Janeway would have liked Candice Geiger. She loved books with a true bookwoman's passion. Her collection of first-edition children's books is the best that Janeway ever hopes to see. Sadly, Janeway and Candice Geiger will never meet. She died much too young. Now, twenty years later, her books remain a testament to an extraordinary woman's remarkable vision.
Janeway first learns about the juvenilia collection when Candice's elderly husband, H. R. Geiger, passes away and Janeway travels to their Idaho home to assess the collection. The estate can't be distributed until the books are valued, so there's pressure on Janeway to do the job quickly. But one look at the books tells Janeway something's wrong. Valuable titles are missing, replaced by cheap reprints. Other hugely valuable pieces remain. Why would a thief take one priceless book and leave an equally valuable volume on the shelf?
The answer may lie in Candice's story. The daughter of a wealthy industrialist, she married horse owner and trainer H. R. Geiger at a young age. They traveled the racetrack circuit with some success, as evidenced by winner's-circle photographs -- in which Candice is always a mysterious background figure dressed in white.
Two decades after Candice's strange death, Janeway finds himself deep in a book mystery that may turn out to be much more than a cataloging exercise. It may even involve murder. Candice's daughter, Sharon, may be one of the few people who can help Janeway discover the truth. Sharon has her own Idaho ranch where she takes in sick and injured horses. Janeway worries that her house contains something that could make her very vulnerable: half of her mother's fabulous book collection.
The trail of Candice's shadowy past leads Janeway to California's Golden Gate and Santa Anita racetracks, where he signs on as a racehorse hot walker. A novice at racetrack life, he tries to remain inconspicuous while listening to the chatter among the hands. He doesn't like what he hears. And when he goes to the house where Candice died to look for answers, he finds more than he bargained for.
With its rich mix of books and horses, The Bookwoman's Last Fling is a classic entry in John Dunning's acclaimed Bookman series of suspense novels, sure to bring this superbly talented author even more accolades.
The New York Times
"Terrific dialogue and some very nice writing.... A mystery that races to the beat of horses' hooves." Rocky Mountain News
"An exhilarating adventure that makes book-collecting seem as exciting as horseracing." The New York Times
Read an Excerpt
The morning was angry but I was cool. The rain rolled in from the west like a harbinger of some vast evil brewing but I had the man's money in my bank account, it was mine, he couldn't get it back unless I went nuts and decided to give it to him, and that made me cool. I had followed his orders almost to the letter, varying them just enough to satisfy my own persnickety nature. Long before the first faint light broke through the black clouds, I got up, dressed, got out of my motel room, and drove out toward the edge of town.
I found the all-night diner without a hitch; parked at the side and sat in my cold car with the motor idling. I was early. I had been told to come at five o'clock, no more or less, but I tend to ignore advice like that, especially when it comes with an attitude. I waited ten minutes and the appointed hour came and went. I could sense his presence off to my left beyond the parking lot: If I looked hard at that patch of darkness I could make out the vaguest shape of a car or truck, a vehicle of some kind in a small grove of trees. At five-oh-five by the clock in my car I got out and went inside. The waiter took my order, a slam-bang something with eggs and pancakes: enough cholesterol to power the whole state of Idaho. I consoled myself. I seldom eat like that anymore unless I am on the road, and apparently I am one of the lucky ones: I have great genes and my so-called good cholesterol readings are always sensational. No matter how much fat I eat, my system burns it. To my knowledge, no one in my family tree has ever died of a heart attack, which only means that I have a fine opportunity to be the first one.
The waiter tried to make the cook understand what I wanted through a serious language barrier. The cook looked illegal as hell: he spoke a kind of Spanglish through the window and the waiter struggled with that. I sat through two cups of coffee and no one came out of the lot beyond parking. My breakfast was surprisingly tasty and hot; I ate it slowly and looked up occasionally for some sign of life in the parking lot. When I looked at my watch again, it was five-thirty. The man was half an hour late.
I stretched out my legs and waited some more. If he didn't come at all it was truly his loss. I had five thousand of his American big ones and that usually guaranteed good faith. I could buy a fairly nice book with that. It was my rock-bottom minimum these days, the least it took for a stranger like him to get me off my dead ass in Denver and on the road to some distant locale. I got the money up front for just such contingencies as this one: a client with guff to match my own. That's one thing people had said about Harold Ray Geiger in all the newspaper accounts I had read of his life and death. He was abrupt, and so was the guy who had called me.
Geiger's man was also mysterious, enigmatic to a fault. He had sent me a cashier's check, so I still didn't know his full name. "My name is Willis," he had said on the phone. "I am Mr. Geiger's representative in Idaho." Normally I wouldn't touch a job like this: I certainly wouldn't leave home and make such a drive without knowing certain salient details. What had sold me on the case were the books. Geiger had died last month with a vast library of great first editions, the estate had a problem with them, and that was partly what I did now. I seldom did appraisal work: I found that boring and there were others who could do it faster and at least as well. There can be huge differences between honest appraisers and I tend to be too condition-conscious for people who, for reasons of their own, want their appraisals high. But I would help recover stolen books, I would try to unravel a delicate book mystery, I would do things, and not always for money, that got me out in the sunshine, away from my bookstore in Denver and into another man's world. It all depended on the man, and the voice on the phone seemed to belong to a five-grand kind of guy.
Six o'clock came and went. I rolled with it, prepared to sit here half the morning. The man deserved no less than that for five thousand dollars.
At some point I saw the truck move out of the shadows and bump its way into the parking lot. It was one of those big bastards with wheels half the size of Rhode Island. The sky was still quite dark and the rain drummed relentlessly on the roof of the truck. I could see his knuckles gripping the wheel -- nothing of his face yet, just that white-knuckle grip beyond the glass. I knew he had a clear look at me through the windshield, and at one point I smiled at him and tried to look pleasant. But I had a come-if-you-want-to, don't-if-you-don't attitude of my own. The ball was in his court.
Eventually he must have realized this, for I saw the unmistakable signs of life. A light went on in the truck and a man in a hat and dark glasses materialized. He climbed down and came inside.
I recognized his voice from that cryptic phone call a week ago. I said, "Yep. And you would perhaps be representing the estate of Mr. Harold Ray Geiger?"
"I'm Willis. I was Mr. Geiger's right-hand man for more than thirty years."
He sat in the booth and sent up a signal for coffee. He didn't offer his hand and I didn't try to take it. There was another moment when I might have taken it by force, but then he had moved both hands into his lap and I figured groping around between his legs might cast us both in a bad light. From the kitchen the Mexican cook was watching us.
The mystery man sat sipping his coffee.
"Do you have a first name, Mr. Willis?"
"Yes, I have a first name." He said this with dripping sarcasm, a tone you use with a moron if you are that kind of guy. Already I didn't like him; we were off to a bad start.
"Should I try to guess it? You look like somebody named Clyde, or maybe Junior."
I said this in a spirit of lighthearted banter, I hoped, but he bristled. "My first name doesn't matter. I am the man who will either take you out to Mr. Geiger's ranch or leave you to wonder for the rest of your life what this might have been."
Now it was my turn to stifle a laugh.
"Are you making light of this?" I sensed a blink behind his dark shades. "Are you trying to annoy me?"
"Actually, Mr. Willis, I was starting to think it was the other way around."
"You've got a helluva nerve, coming out here with an attitude."
"I wasn't aware I had one."
"Keep it up and you can just climb right back in that car and get the hell out of here."
I stared at him for a long moment. I was suddenly glad I had been paid by cashier's check: his money was now firmly in my bank.
"I want it established right from the start," he said: "You are working for me. You will appraise Mr. Geiger's books and do it ASAP. If it turns out that books are missing and lost forever, I want you to give me a document to that effect, something that will satisfy God, the executor of Mr. Geiger's will, and any other interested party who happens to ask. Is that clear enough?"
"I wasn't told I had to satisfy God as well as all those other people."
"I am not paying you for that kind of wiseass commentary. I was told you are a reliable professional and that's what I want from you. That's all I want."
"Well, let's see if I understand it so far. You want me to look at some books. Supposedly there are some missing titles. I'm to give you a written appraisal and do it on the quickstep. I'm to tell you what's missing based on your assertion that these missing books were ever there in the first place. I'm to do all this in a cheerless environment; I'm not allowed to ever crack a joke or even smile once in a while for comic relief. Twice a day you send a gnome up with bread and water and he hands it to me through the bars. I get to go pee occasionally, as long as I don't abuse this privilege; otherwise it's pucker-up-and-hold-it time. Is that about it?"
"I don't like your attitude."
"We've already established that." I slipped into my Popeye voice. "But I yam what I yam, Mr. Willis. That's what you get for your money, which by the way isn't all that great. And it's looking less great the more we talk."
"Then leave," he said in an I dare you tone.
I slid out of the booth, picked up the check, and started toward the counter. I sensed his disbelief as I paid the tab and sidled back to the booth to leave the waiter a tip.
"Thanks for the call. Give my regards to Idaho Falls."
I was halfway across the parking lot when I heard the door open. He said my name, just "Janeway," and I stopped and turned politely.
"What are you, crazy? You haven't even heard what this is about."
"Believe me, I would still love to be told."
"Then stop acting so goddam superior."
"It's not an act, Clyde. I don't have any act. This may surprise you, but I have lived all these years without any of Mr. Geiger's money. I've gotten wherever I am with no help at all from you guys, and I'm willing to bet I can go the rest of the way on my own as well. I do appreciate the business, however."
"Wait a minute."
We looked at each other.
"What do you think, I brought you out here just for the hell of it?"
"I have no idea why you do what you do. If you want to talk, let's go. Your five grand has already bought you that privilege."
He stood there for another moment as if, with enough time, he could reclaim some of the high ground he had lost. "You're a slick piece of change, aren't you?"
"Yes, sir, I am. I may not be much of many things, but I am slick. Two things before we go. First take off those glasses, please. I like to see who I'm talking to."
He took them off slowly, and in that act the authority passed all the way from him to me. His eyes were gray, like a timber wolf or a very old man.
"Thank you. Now tell me, please, who you are. Is Willis your first name or last?"
"What's your first?"
He stared at me for a long moment. Then he said, "Junior." I swear he did, and that confession made the whole trip worthwhile. Copyright ©2006 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 OldAlgonquin.com.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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I was so excited to read the latest John Dunning book -- but was so disappointed. BORING pretty much sums it up. I actually read to page 300 and couldn't go any further. I just can't believe this was John Dunning -- all his other Cliff Janeway books were so good. I have them all on my shelf! :'
I have read all the books in the Cliff Janeway series and enjoyed them all. For some reason, this didn't grab me quite like the previous installments. I think that Janeway leaving home and hearth 'and business and relationship' for an indefinite period to work in the stables without any leads strained the credability of the story and I also had issues with the resolution and wrap-up. Fortunately, Dunning is talented enough to still make it a good read.
Last fling is appropriate here. This book is a story of Janeway working at the track and mucking around (no pun intended) for an endless amount of pages. We throw in a killer, a mention of a rare book here or there, and on on on. This book is BORING and not worth your time. It will takes lots of patience to finish it. Save your money.....
being a horse owner at one time I found this book compelling and accurate, thanks for a page turner. can't wait for the next in the series
Cliff Janeway had me guessing until the end. Loved all the information on book collecting and horse racing. Can't wait until his new book comes out. Didn't want to put the book down.
John Dunning¿s The Bookwoman¿s Last Fling is a much better novel than last year¿s The Sign of the Book. Cliff Janeway is a sleuth who reminds you of Lew Archer. He is hired to appraise a book collection and finds the case grows to include horse racing and murders old and new. Cliff takes a job in the racing world to find out more about some of the suspects and almost loses his life. Dunning writes about the racing world in the style of Dick Francis and throws in info about the world of book collectors.
Former homicide police detective Cliff Janeway, now a bookstore owner is always on the lookout for a rare and precious book. Junior Willis asks Cliff to authenticate and appraise the book collection of the late Harold Ray Geiger Cliff leaps at the chance because he wants to see first hand the collection. When he does he notices that later editions were substituted for rare books and that his client has only half the collection as Geiger¿s daughter Sharon owns the rest. Cliff is in heaven when he gets to see what she possesses.------------- Sharon hires Cliff to find the missing books and to learn if her mother¿s death, though years ago, caused by an allergic reaction to eating peanuts, was suicide, accident or murder. He follows clues that return him to Geiger¿s house and ultimately the horse racing world. Someone observes Cliff¿s efforts and decides the bookworm is getting too close to the truth so tries to close the book on him by killing him. Wary but not deterred, Cliff keeps investigating as he now knows a homicide perhaps two occurred and he has a suspect but lacks evidence.---------------- Bibliophiles and racing fans will be euphoric with Cliff Janeway¿s latest caper. Dick Francis fans will thoroughly enjoy THE BOOKWOMAN¿S LAST FLING especially for the behind the scenes look at what goes on at a horse racing track. Cliff is at his best evaluating books, but by the tale¿s end the audience will know he misses police work as he gleefully follows the clues in the case even when his life is at risk and upsets his significant other who already is disturbed that he is a ¿murder magnet¿.----------- Harriet Klausner