Recommended Reads: ‘Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore’ fun, humorous mystery


penumbraMr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloan

If you’re looking for a fun and humorous read with a mystery to solve, this is it. This is a modern day quest for the fountain of youth. It is the junction where Google crosses with ancient tomes, puzzles, codes, and fellowships, with just a dash of fantasy and science fiction thrown in.

Clay Jannon is a victim of the recession, losing his job as a web designer.  He searches the Silicon Valley and San Francisco for work, stumbling into a night shift job at the 24-hour tall, skinny bookstore right next door to the strip club. It doesn’t take long before Clay becomes curious about the mystery surrounding the bookstore. Impressions begin to add up including a man walking fast down a dark lonely street. He hears quick steps and hard breathing, full of wonder and need.  The tinkle of a bell above a door signals the need for a clerk. With a ladder he climbs the three-stories high book shelves in the “way back”.  And then: the right book exactly, at exactly the right time.

Well, one way Clay can try to solve this mystery is to painstakingly record clues and observations in daily log books, and then tediously review and analyze his writings over time. Or another option is to seek the help of a lovely new friend, Kat Potente, who works at Google and can leverage Google company capabilities to do some high-tech analysis. But this quest becomes too big even for Google alone. It will also require creative thinking and some good old-fashioned leg work with new friends and with old friends.

Clay has a wonderful assortment of friends who all bring helpful talents to the quest. Neel is the 6th grade geek who is now a self- made millionaire. How did he make his millions? Oliver Grone has the day shift at the bookstore. Clay shares an apartment with Mat and Ashley who are constructing the “Matropolis” within their apartment. New friend Edgar Deckle guards the Reading Room that you’ll want to explore. And the clues lead them into an exciting adventure and unforeseen opportunities. “Neel takes a sharp breath and I know exactly what it means.  It means: I have waited my whole life to walk through a secret passage built into a bookshelf.”

And at the center of this storm is store owner Mr. Penumbra, who is very interested to know, “what do you seek in these shelves?”  What secrets is he hiding, and to what purpose?  And when the unexpected happens, can Clay and his friends help him, or expose him?

Do solved puzzles, translated codes, and readings from ancient tomes lead to the fountain of youth that so many fervently seek?   And what becomes of the secret fellowship?  Does it live up to its oxymoronic name “Festina Lente”?  Find out what it is that truly provides a person with immortality.

Thereby hangs a tale . . .

wendy kendall– By Wendy Kendall

Wendy Kendall is a writer, project manager, wedding officiant and volunteer at the Edmonds Library.



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