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AUTHOR: Paige Shelton

PUBLISHER: Minotaur Books

ISBN: 978-1250057488 Hardcover

ISBN: 978-181466861213 E-book

ISBN: 978-1515950660 Unabridged Audio CD from Tantor Audio

The book starts by quoting this help-wanted ad:

Wanted: A bold adventurer who would love to travel the world from a comfortable and safe spot behind a desk that has seen the likes of kings and queens, paupers and princes. A humble book and rare manuscript shop seeks a keenly intelligent investigator to assist us in our search for things thought lost, and in our quest to return lost items to their rightful owners. This multitasked position will take you places you can’t even imagine. Apply only if you’re ready for everything to change. Please note: the position is located in Edinburgh, Scotland.

When Delaney Nichols, a 29-year-old, newly downsized museum worker in Wichita, Kansas, reads this, she can’t help but email a reply. In minutes, the shop’s proprietor with his Scottish accent and unfamiliar Scottish vocabulary calls her. After an hour and half on the phone, she is hired.

Thus begins an adventure that literally lives up to the promise of the advertisement. A day into her tenure at The Cracked Spine, a hole-in-the-wall bookshop in old Edinburgh, Delaney is drawn into a murder in the shop owner’s family. It’s a whirlwind introduction to life and culture in Scotland as well as the world of antiquarian booksellers.

With that general outline, let me tell you about my experience with this book. I started it during a period of unwelcome wakefulness at 2 a.m. As I read, the first few chapters drew me into the adventure with a charm and sense of slight otherworldliness I haven’t felt since starting the first Harry Potter book years ago. I knew I was in the hands of a master storyteller leading me into a tale of wonder with unexpected, delightful events and people along with a frisson of vaguely ominous overtones. (Would the book exert the same thrall if started while riding the bus or waiting at the dentist’s office? Probably.)

I’d been wondering what propelled Paige Shelton’s 12th mystery novel, the first in her fourth series, into hardcover for her first time. Now I know; this story is a cut above the others, good as they are. People will hear about this book and ask for it at the library. Thus, hardcover. I am not the only one thinking this is a special book.

My first two sessions with the book maintained that special master-storyteller feel. Then, about the time the murder was discovered, some of the mystical charm slipped away, and we got back to a well-told, fascinating mystery story in the gritty, real-life yet still charming city of Edinburgh.

As Delaney begins her job in the bookshop, we learn all sorts of exciting and curiosity-raising bits of information. The shop owner has a “warehouse” (actually just a big well-locked room) full of wonderful historical items he’s collected over his lifetime, including, for example, an old desk where Delaney will work. It once belonged to King William II in the late sixteen hundreds. It’s an example of the treasures there, but we get only a glimpse of the rest of it. At this point, the murder occurs and the focus turns to Delaney’s efforts to help solve the murder.

As always, in any amateur sleuth story, one wonders why she would do that. The reasons seem natural and nearly convincing--certainly as convincing as in most cozy mysteries.

The compact cast of characters includes the shop owner, Edwin McAllister, and his two other employees, who quickly become family to Delaney. There are also the cab driver and his wife, Elias and Aggie, who become Delaney’s landlords. Elias’s protective instincts take over during the initial cab ride to the bookshop from the airport; by the second day, the couple is ready to adopt Delaney. Then there’s the occasionally kilt-wearing handsome pub owner down the street. A mutual attraction that sets off sparks visible to anyone in the vicinity bodes well for future books in the series. If you’re looking for the obligatory cat that seems present in all bookstore mysteries, you’re out of luck (to my everlasting delight). Rosie, one of the employees, has a tiny Scottish dog that fills that role admirably. Edwin’s wealthy but secretive friends serve as unwilling sources of information and—at times—suspects. There’s even a mildly attractive police inspector, though we see no sparks with him.

The characters work well together; we love some, distrust others, and find plenty to interest us in their quirks and foibles. Their Scottish accents are ever-present in the book. It’s not “to,” but “tae.” They don’t know, they ken, and so on. That can be distracting, but in this book it works well; it seems natural. We never forget where we are.

I am anxious to spend more time with these people in upcoming books. In fact, I want the next book right now! I want to explore the warehouse, to become familiar with the stock of old books, to see Delaney help find literary treasures for customers, to get to know the bookshop people and Edwin’s friends, and to see what happens with Tom, the dishy pub owner. I want to explore more of Edinburgh. I have been well and thoroughly teased with the prospect of the wonders to come in Delaney’s ongoing story. While I enjoy Ms. Shelton’s other book series, I hope we don’t have to wait for her to add a new book to all three series before we are brought back to Edinburgh!