Brooklyn's future in-laws are traveling from England to meet her, and if that's not enough to set her on edge, rumors abound that the charming Courtyard Shops across the street may be replaced by high-rise apartments. Their trendy neighborhood will be ruined unless Brooklyn and her fiancé, Derek Stone, can persuade the shopkeepers not to sell.
But with a rare edition of Alice in Wonderland causing bad blood at the Brothers Bookshop and a string of petty vandalism making everyone nervous, Brooklyn and Derek feel overwhelmed. Then the owner of the Rabbit Hole juice bar is felled by his own heavy shelves, and the local cobbler lies dead beside him. Things get curiouser and curiouser when a second priceless copy of Alice is discovered.
As the Brits descend, Brooklyn learns they're not so stuffy after all. Derek's dad is won over with chocolate cream pie, and his psychic mum would kill to help Brooklyn solve this murderbefore another victim takes a tumble.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Lately, I have resorted to stalking. Not a person, but a book.
For weeks now I'd been visiting the book almost daily. It was a little embarrassing to continually beg the bookstore owner to let me hold it, page through it, study it. I just wanted to touch it, stroke it, and once, when he wasn't looking, sniff it. But he didn't seem to mind my fixation. He's as big a book nerd as I am.
The owner kept the book inside a clear, locked glass case displayed on the shop's front counter, so it was pretty obvious he didn't want people touching it. And who could blame him? The book was exquisitely bound in vibrant red morocco leather. Rich gilding swirled along the spine, spelling out the title, author's name, and year of publication in fancy gold script. More gilding outlined the thick raised cords that lent gravitas to the already weighty tome.
In the center of the front cover was a brightly gilded rabbit wearing a topcoat. The well-dressed creature glanced down at a watch he held at the end of a chain, and he appeared nervous, as though he might be running late for some important event.
The fact that a gilded illustration could convey real emotion was pretty awesome, above and beyond the binding work. The first time I saw it, I checked the inside cover for the bookbinder and was thrilled to find the name George Bayntun of London. Favored by the late Queen Mary, Bayntun's bindery in Bath, England, was world renowned and was still operating to this day. I'd visited once and had come away starstruck.
On the back cover of the book was another elaborately raised figure in gold, an odd-looking woman wearing a crown and carrying a scepter. The red queen. She appeared headstrong and irate, as though she might order someone's head lopped off at any moment.
The book was Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, of course. This copy was a fairly hard-to-find version in excellent condition, with dark green-and-red-marbled endpapers and virtually no foxing on its clean white pages. It contained dozens of classic illustrations by the famous artist John Tenniel. The binding was tight and even. And I wanted it.
My name is Brooklyn Wainwright, and I'm a bookbinder specializing in rare-book restoration. I love books of all kinds, and I love my job. It was exciting to know that I could give tired, torn, droopy, bug-bitten books a brand-new life that would allow them to continue to bring enjoyment for hundreds of years to come. It might have sounded boring to some, but in my career so far I had saved dozens of treasured childhood favorites from being thrown away, rescued any number of priceless museum-quality books from being carted off to the used-book store, and even solved a murder or two-or ten-while I was at it. Just in case you thought bookbinding sounded like a yawn-fest, trust me, my life was rarely dull.
This particular copy of Alice didn't need restoring, though. It was pristine. I wanted it because I had a fascination-okay, call it an obsession-with the iconic Alice and her creator, Lewis Carroll.
I gazed longingly at the book on display near the front counter of Brothers Bookshop. The store was a book nerd's dream: a cozy, tome-filled haven for people like me who were content to while away an entire day browsing the shelves in hopes of discovering the perfect little gem of a book to sink into.
The shop carried both new and used books along with all sorts of charming gifts and cards and paper goods. There were comfy chairs in every corner of the store, and a small section along one side was devoted to antiquarian books.
A magazine section was located at the back of the shop. At the front, a wall of windows looked out onto the neighborhood, and from there I could see my vintage apartment building on the other side of the street.
Derek Stone and I had decided to walk over here to do a little book browsing on our way next door to shop for vegetables for dinner.
The bookshop was part of a group of small stores located in a charming three-story Victorian-era building across the street from us. The building, known as the Courtyard, formed a large square, with four shops on each side. Above each shop were two floors with one spacious apartment on each floor. In the interior of the square was a delightful little courtyard overflowing with flowers and trees and several groupings of chairs and small tables. It was the perfect place to enjoy a caffe latte and read a book.
"Hi, Eddie," I said to the bookshop owner as I inched closer to the display.
"Hey, Brooklyn," Eddie Cox said without glancing up from his perch at the front counter. He knew it was me. Probably had seen me hovering nearby for the last few minutes. "I suppose you want to get another look at the book."
"I do," I said. "How did you know?"
He chuckled. "Just a lucky guess. Might have something to do with the fact that you show up here every other day and beg to see it."
All too true. But at least so far I hadn't drooled on the glass case. "And here I thought I was being so subtle."
"Subtle. Right." Still chuckling, he opened the drawer beneath the cash register and pulled out a small set of keys. I had known Eddie Cox and his brother-in-law, Terrence Payton, for almost four years, ever since I'd moved in across the street from Brothers Bookshop. The two men owned the charming shop together, and yes, I was there almost every other day because, you know, books.
Eddie carefully handed me the Alice, and it was all I could do not to clutch it to my chest in excitement. Instead, I put it down on the counter and ran my finger across the smooth leather cover.
Eddie raised an eyebrow. "I don't do this for everyone, you know."
"I know you don't, and I really appreciate you doing it for me. I'll be careful."
"I know you will." He winked at me. "Otherwise, I wouldn't allow it anywhere near your greedy little hands."
With a quick laugh, I scanned the store and spied Derek at the end of the middle aisle, where the latest mysteries and thrillers were displayed. He appeared to be involved in one particular book, so I knew I had a few minutes to enjoy the Alice. I opened it slowly, turning as always to the title page, where the publication date was posted: 1866.
This copy was considered a first edition, but actually it wasn't. The original version of the book had been published the year before, in 1865, but those books had been taken off the market by Lewis Carroll when his illustrator, John Tenniel, stated that the quality of his drawings had been poorly reproduced.
That earlier, 1865 version was known as the "Suppressed Alice" or the "Sixty-five Alice." All of those books were returned to the publisher except for fifty author copies that Lewis Carroll had kept for himself.
Eventually, most of those author copies had ended up in others' hands. Very few remained on the market today, and any that did were considered beyond rare. One had been auctioned off recently for almost two million dollars.
I would probably never get my hands on such a rare treasure as that, but I was perfectly happy with the one I currently held in my hands. This book was as fine as any I'd ever seen.
I turned and saw Eddie's brother-in-law standing nearby. "Terrence. Hello."
"Is he going to sell you the book this time?" Terrence asked with a twinkle in his eye.
"I don't know." Glancing at Eddie, I bit back a smile. I knew he wouldn't sell it to me, since I'd tried to buy it a few hundred times before. But no harm in trying again. "What about it, Eddie? Will you sell me this book?"
"Never," Eddie insisted, as always. Then he added, "It was a gift from a very special friend."
"Wow." He'd never mentioned that before. I gazed at the book in my hand. "Must be a nice friend."
"I had a book just like that," Terrence grumbled. "But someone stole it."
"Are you kidding?" Did I look as confused as I felt? "You had a copy of this same book?"
Eddie barely suppressed an eye roll. "Terrence always claims that, but where's the proof?"
"I said it was stolen." Terrence's eyes narrowed in on Eddie, and I suddenly wondered if he suspected his own brother-in-law had taken the book from him.
Eddie shrugged. "That's why I keep mine locked inside this shatterproof case, right here in plain sight where everyone can see it, which means no one can steal it. I'm no fool."
"I'm not a fool, either." Terrence huffed, clearly insulted. He turned to me. "I'll have you know, my copy was locked inside the safe in my closet upstairs. Fat lot of good that did me," he added, muttering.
"You're just not as lucky as I am," Eddie said with a crooked grin as he flexed his biceps. "Or as manly."
I laughed, but Terrence was not amused. He continued to glower, shaking his head. "You're the fool. I'm as lucky as anyone else. Except when it comes to in-laws."
They were both ignoring me now. Over the last few years, I'd realized that the two men butted heads more often than not. Family was never easy, but still . . . If you didn't get along with your brother-in-law, why go into business with him?
The two men were in their forties and fairly nice-looking in different ways. Eddie had a classic runner's physique, tall and slim, with silver hair and a rakish goatee, which suited him. Terrence was a few inches shorter and bulkier, but most of his girth was muscle. He looked as though he might've been a boxer in his youth.
The two men had married sisters who divorced them within weeks of each other and moved to Florida together. I got the feeling that Eddie and Terrence didn't miss their ex-wives too much. They were both book fanatics who spent all of their time in the bookshop. I'd never known them to take a day off.
Handing the book back to Eddie, I tried to veer our conversation around to the original subject. "Not that you both don't deserve the very finest things, but who in their right mind would give up such a beautiful book?"
Eddie wiggled his eyebrows and grinned slyly. "A generous person who recognizes greatness, I suppose."
It was Terrence's turn to roll his eyes. I started to grin, but something bumped into my ankle and I jolted. Glancing down, I saw Furbie, the bookshop cat, staring up at me with his teeth clenching a stuffed mouse. Stuffed with catnip was my guess, if Furbie's lazy gaze meant anything.
"Hello, Furbie," I murmured, and reached down to scratch the soft gray fur around his ears. "Aren't you a pretty kitty?"
In response to the flattery, he dropped the toy at my feet. I picked it up and tossed it a few yards down the nearest aisle, expecting the frisky cat to pounce after it. Instead, he gave me a censorious look, tossed his head imperiously, and sidled awkwardly after the mouse.
"I think Furbie's drunk," I said.
"It's Terrence's fault," Eddie claimed. "He's an enabler."
"You're just jealous," Terrence retorted, "because Furbie likes me best."
"Of course he does, because you feed him catnip and empower his bad behavior." Eddie turned to me. "I'm the disciplinarian."
"You're just a meanie," Terrence muttered, and they were off on another squabble-fest, this time over the cat. These two would tangle over anything!
After letting them go off for a few more seconds, I tried to steer them back to the topic of Terrence's missing book.
"When did you lose your copy of Alice?" I asked Terrence as Eddie unlocked the glass case and gingerly slipped his Alice back inside.
"I didn't lose it."
"Sorry. When was it stolen?"
Terrence thought for a moment. "I guess it's been about six months."
In the grand scheme of tragedies, I knew this would come in low on the list. But as a book person, I really felt bad for him. "I'm sorry, Terrence."
"Yes," he said pointedly, still glaring at Eddie, "so am I."
Eddie put the key to the case back in the drawer and turned to Terrence. "You should be more careful."
"Oh, shut up."
Eddie grinned at me, a silent acknowledgment that he had just won this little argument. Their bickering was usually more good-natured, but this time Terrence looked truly offended, which worried me a little. It seemed like they might have quarreled over the stolen book before.
Derek approached and placed a short stack of books on the front counter.
"What have you got there?" I asked.
"I found a few spy novels I thought my father might enjoy."
"Oh. That's nice." But my stomach gave a little twist at the mention of his father. Derek's parents were going to be visiting from England for the first time the following week, and I still wasn't ready to meet them.
Derek and I had been together three years, and the one time I'd traveled to England with him, his parents had been away on an anniversary cruise around the Mediterranean. Now that he and I were getting married, it seemed ridiculous that I'd never met them. But as Derek arranged for their whirlwind trip to San Francisco, I found myself growing more and more uneasy about our first encounter.
Would they like me? It sounded so neurotic to worry, but these were my future in-laws! Of course I was worried. But still, I was sure they were wonderful, and I knew we would all love one another. They had to be the nicest people in the world because Derek was simply a delightful man. But they were English. I had lived in London for a short while years ago, and I truly loved the people, but there was a reserve to some of them that I didn't always understand. I had been raised in a thoroughly American peace-and-love commune founded by fans of the Grateful Dead, and I still wore Birkenstocks to prove it. My family was boisterous and fun loving. I simply couldn't imagine what Derek's parents would think of me. And Derek, while awesome, could be intimidating to others when he wanted to be. At times it was one of his best attributes. But it made me wonder if his parents might be intimidating as well.