Death of a Bookseller by Bernard J. Farmer (1956)

At the end of a long shift,Sergeant Wigan escorts a drunk man home. Mike Fisk, a trader in rare books, invites Wigan in to see his collection rare books. A friendship develops between the two, leading Wigan into beginning his own book collection. But then Mike is found murdered, and one of his extremely rare books is missing. Because of his knowledge of the book trade Wigan is seconded to C.I.D. to assist in the investigation into Fisk’s death. Wigan finds himself delving deep into the rare book trade “where avid agents will gladly cut you for a first edition and then offer you a lift home afterwards.” The evidence he finds points to another collector, one not well liked in the trade. Detective Inspector J. Saggs is convinced they have found their murderer and succeeds in getting a conviction. But Wigan has his doubts.

“Wigan, are you counsel for the defence?” 

“No, sir, I’m only interested in justice being done.” 

“It will be done. It’s my duty to screw the chap down and I will screw him down.”

Farmer’s plot is an unusual mashup of police procedural, thriller, and gothic horror story. What starts out by following Wigan and the murder investigation, turns into a race to save a man from being falsely convicted and hung, the takes a long diversion into the occult. Wigan, is a very likable character. A hard-working beat policeman with a strong sense of justice, kindhearted and honest to a fault. He’s also very down-to earth. Farmer spends a large part of the plot focusing not only on the collecting of rare occult books, but discussion on raising demons as well. It’s a thread that runs throughout the remainder of the story, and is a bit jarring at points. Wigan, a likable hard-working beat policeman with a strong sense of justice, is also very down-to earth. His prosaic sentiments did not mesh at all with the occult theme. At times it also became difficult to tease the police and the supernatural investigations apart. It all just resulted in a rather odd narrative

Farmer’s writing style was also a bit off, in that it felt extremely simplistic, and at times flat in tone. This made it a bit difficult at the beginning to actually get into the story. I found myself stopping and putting the book aside many times times. But I did pick it back up and ultimately I’m glad that I persevered. 

Death of a Bookseller is not the best thing I’ve read from the BLCC. To be perfectly honest this is definitely not a great mystery novel in terms of plotting or writing. But it does have an appealing character in the form of Wigan. And the peek into the world of the rare book trade made for an interesting diversion.


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