Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Genre: mystery
Format read: audiobook
Positive Rep: POC (multiple)
Rating: planchet-5

Our main character in this one, Clay, made a mistake I am all too familiar with: getting an art degree during an economic downturn.

After the startup he worked for goes bust, Clay is left wandering the streets of San Francisco, trying to find a new job. More of out curiosity than anything else, he wanders into Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore with it’s help wanted sign in the window, and discovers a charming but dusty shop run by a thin old man. Though it’s not as prestigious as what he’d been hoping for, Clay sees potential in the bookstore, and accepts the job offer.

It’s clear from the first night that there’s something strange about this bookstore. For starters, there are almost no customers. The inventory is sporadic, and the computer is as old as he is.

But what customers do show up are more than a little strange. They hardly seem aware of the world around them, and most of them have special membership cards that allow them to take books as they please and then return them–as though they came from a lending library, and not a bookstore!

But it’s not until Clay opens one of the mysterious books from the back of the store that he realizes just how strange Mr. Penumbra’s is: All of the books his mysterious clients ask for night after night are in code.

The discovery of the code sends Clay on a mission to not only crack it, but to find the secret of the book store. Together with a computer expert, a prop  designer, and his wealthy best friend, he assembles a team that uncovers a secret society dating back hundreds of years.

I thought this book would be something quiet and relaxing to listen to on a night I was plagued by insomnia.

Boy, was I wrong.

While it starts off a little quieter, Robin Sloan weaves an exciting mystery with a surprisingly simple resolution (don’t worry, I won’t spoil it for you). A quick read, I blew through the audio in about two days, and was utterly hooked almost from chapter one. Even when I wasn’t able to listen, I was thinking about the book and trying to put together the pieces of the puzzle.

If you are a fan of books, or of ways books and technology work together, than this is definitely a book you should read.

In fact, you should just read it full stop.