Books of a Feather (Bibliophile Mystery #10) - Kate Carlisle
The air inside the old bookshop was thick with the heady scents of aged vellum and rich old leathers. Heaven. I breathed in the lovely pulpy odors as I climbed the precarious rolling ladder up to the crowded top shelf to start cataloging books.
The aisles of the shop were narrow, barely three feet wide, which meant I could reach out and touch the volumes on both sides of the aisle—if I was willing to let go of the wobbly handrail, which I wasn’t.
I had spent the last week helping my friend Genevieve Taylor conduct an inventory of the thousands of books that had been crammed onto these shelves over the last forty years. It was a dirty, back-straining, mind-numbing job, yet I didn’t mind too much. It was fun to visit with Genevieve, a fellow book nerd; plus I was surrounded by old books. How could that be bad?
My name is Brooklyn Wainwright and I’m a bookbinder specializing in rare-book restoration. I hadn’t been back to visit Taylor’s Fine Books since Genevieve’s father was murdered there almost a year ago. I hated to think of that moment when I found his body, tucked in a corner behind one of the brocade wingback chairs in the antiquarian book room. His throat had been slashed with a type of knife used in papermaking and bookbinding. Naturally, there was blood. A horrifying amount of blood. I’m a pathetic wimp when it comes to blood and tend to faint dead away at the slightest hint of a paper cut. For Genevieve’s dad, though, I managed to keep it together, but it was a close call. Not something I was proud of.
Recalling that image, I had to clutch the ladder rail, feeling woozy all over again at the picture of all that blood seeping into the faded Oriental carpet beneath poor Joe Taylor’s body. With all the dead bodies I’d come across since then, you would think I’d matured enough to at least maintain consciousness at the sight of blood oozing from an unfortunate victim. But it was still touch-and-go for me.
“I just found another first edition,” Genevieve announced from the next aisle over.
I was grateful for the distraction. “What is it?”
“Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Printed in 1897. Boards are slightly soiled, but the hinges are intact. Slight foxing. Spine’s a little faded.”
She said the words as though she were reading from a bookseller’s brochure.
“A faded spine’s to be expected,” I said philosophically. “If it’s in good condition otherwise, it’s still probably worth ten thousand.”
“Oh, wait,” she said. “The pages are untrimmed.”
“And the price just shot up to fifteen thousand.”
She laughed. “That’s what I like to hear.”
I glanced down at the short stack of books on the floor. “So that makes what?” I wondered aloud. “At least a dozen first editions we’ve found just today.”
“Fourteen by my count,” she said, but seconds later I could hear her “tsk-tsking” in dismay. “I’m excited to find them all, but I’m also a little flipped out that they were just sitting here on the shelves. I love my dad, but he had a real humdinger of a filing system. I just wish I could figure out what it was.”
I smiled. “At least he kept the books in alphabetical order. Sort of.”
“Sort of,” she muttered. “I found the Dracula crammed in with a bunch of paperback Charles Dickens novels.”
“Well, they all start with D. Sort of.”
She laughed, but I detected a bittersweet tone and I couldn’t blame her. It had to be difficult going to work every day in the same shop where her father had died. But Genevieve was determined to carry on her dad’s legacy as the premier antiquarian and rare-book seller in San Francisco. And given the dearth of good neighborhood bookstores out there, I wanted to support her in any way I could.
Besides the obvious disarray on the shelves, the shop had suffered at least three burglaries over the past few months. The thieves hadn’t stolen money from the cash register; they had stolen books. Genevieve knew what had been taken, but she couldn’t find a record of the books in her father’s hopelessly antiquated filing system, which meant she couldn’t file an insurance claim. That was when she decided it was time to do a major inventory.
All day long customers came and went while we kept working. They usually took their time, perusing the shelves and picking out a book or two. Some quietly minded their own business while others chatted away with Genevieve or