Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloan [2012]

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

R. Tim Morris’ Rating: 7/10
A blistering start, followed by an perplexing mystery and surrounded by gaggle of interesting characters, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is a worthwhile novel that met a lot of my common criteria when finding a new book to read:
1) I’d not heard of the author before; nothing better than discovering a fresh new voice
2) The concept sounded great. As the dust jacket reads: “A gleeful, exhilarating tale of global conspiracy, code-breaking, high-tech data visualization, young love, rollicking adventure, and the secret to eternal life – mostly set in a hole-in-the-wall San Francisco bookstore.” Okay, let’s do this.
3) A catchy title and simplistic, stylized cover; I don’t care what the old adage is, I ALWAYS judge a book by it’s cover. Especially if it’s a BAD cover.
Our main character, Clay Jannon, is an unemployed web designer who finds work at a creepy old bookstore. He’s got a great voice and a complicated enough personal life that he’s believable, in the realm of fictional characters. The trouble for me was in remembering who our main character actually was. What I mean is that aside from a great intro, Clay quickly fades into what feels more like a 3rd-person narrator. Or maybe more like the guy you control who’s holding the gun in a first-person shooter: we experience his journey but we don’t really get to know him.
The mystery that unfolds is captivating, though at times confusing in the actual details of it all, and we get to experience such fantastic locales as a secret underground library in New York, an archival warehouse in Nevada and even the Google headquarters in California.
Author Robin Sloan had me right away, with his slick writing and snappy humor. The biggest detractor for me in deciding whether to add this to my “favorites” shelf was that the humor wasn’t sustained. There were still sparks at times but not on the level of the first 75-80 pages.
There’s also a few too many “well, THAT’S convenient” moments in the novel, but not nearly enough to detract me from adding Penumbra to a recommended reading list. I’d be happy to hear more thoughts on this one.

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