Sergeant Wigan is on his regular beat one night when he escorts a drunken man to his house. While seeing him safely home, Wigan notices his large, impressive collection of books. The two strike up a friendship with Mike, who gives him a tutorial on the second-hand trade. Between his police shifts, Wigan begins to enjoy the thrill of searching dusty shelves or going to auctions with the possibility of finding an unknown treasure.

The great Joel himself opened the door, a blue-chinned, black-haired man in the prime of life with the build of a prizefighter and the air of a buccaneer which clung to him from the days when he raided the auction-rooms and flogged his bargains in a sack. ~Loc. 1762

Just when it seems Mike is going to make a big sale, he turns up murdered. Further complicating the situation, Wigan is convinced that the wrong man has been convicted of the crime. Now the time is ticking for an innocent man on death row as well as Wigan trying to find the true killer of his friend.

1898 – Clarke and Stuart store at 28 Cordova Street, Vancouver, Canada

The public, Mr. Wigan, think book-collecting a nice harmless pastime indulged in by old dodderers. So it can be, but not always. It can be ruthless. ~Loc.1636

This novel taps into a specific time and speciality. Set in England after WWII, life is still trying to return to normal. There are vestiges of late Victorian day-to-day life still hanging on. The analog nature of the book trade among sellers and clients has changed very little. With the exception of telegrams or the occasional phone call, it still requires intense knowledge, a good eye, and lots of miles on foot. This is juxtaposed with a new, emerging modernity in mid-century England.

The author, Bernard J. Farmer, was a Metropolitan police officer himself and had a penchant for book collecting, so the hero of this novel reflects the author quite a bit. Indeed, the strength of the story lies in the telling, rather than the overall plot. The mystery is secondary to the adventure within a world most of us had no idea existed.

This is the first time the book has been in print since its publishing in 1956, and it’s the 100th in the British Library Crime Classics series.

Thanks to Poisoned Pen Press for the review copy. Read via NetGalley.

Publisher: ‎Poisoned Pen Press (March 7, 2023)
Language: ‎English
Paperback: ‎288 pages
ISBN-10: ‎1728267722