Mild-mannered Australian bookstore owner gets vamped...and worse.
Jack Susko makes his first entrance clinging to a cliff’s edge with his hands cuffed and a gun pointed at him. A flashback shows unsuspecting Jack delivering a handful of books to the remote estate of wealthy Hammond Kasprowicz, who uses the opportunity to request more volumes by the same obscure poet, Edward Kass. Jack finds himself attracted to Kasprowicz’s daughter Annabelle. Back at quiet Susko Books, with a bit too much time on his hands, he begins to poke into the life of the iconoclastic Kasprowicz and to fantasize about Annabelle. His quest for more Kass tomes leads through a rogue’s gallery of characters who savor of Hammett seasoned with Down Under outrageousness: Chester Sinclair, a tattooed book dealer who likes imitating Marlon Brando in The Godfather; lachrymose and demure Celia Mitten, who tries to stop Jack from selling books to Kasprowicz; and voluptuous, sensual Sabine, familiar enough with Annabelle to kiss her on the lips and vaguely employed by her father. Jack’s hapless foray into high-stakes family dysfunction leads at length to crime and that literal cliffhanger.
The scruffy, dialogue-heavy narrative has great charm, though the story is low on incident and suspense. Poet Bartulin’s debut is quirky and inventive enough to attract a niche audience of readers who fantasize about owning a bookstore and embarking on colorful adventures.