My rating: 3 of 5 stars
“Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore” has a great premise, which the title gives away. There’s a weird bookstore that never closes. Okay by itself, but then you throw in some very strange customers and the fact that you, as the clerk, need to keep a logbook describing the customers in painstaking detail, and it suddenly becomes very interesting indeed.
The basic run down of the plot is that the Great Recession has left Clay, the nerdy and highly likable main character, jobless and without much hope. He quickly needs to make some sort of money and stumbles across the odd but endearing 24-hour bookstore. He soon learns that he’s walked into something that is much bigger and stranger than just one little bookstore. Mystery, adventure, and romance ensues.
There is a constant current underlying the book of a tug of war between old and new, classic versus futuristic, books versus computers and the internet. It’s an interesting and very topical debate – one in which I can see points on both sides.
My only complaint is that, quite often, things just felt too neat/easy. Clay needs money to fund something he’s doing and oh, he just happens to have a best friend from primary school who is an entrepreneur with decent amounts of cash to spend on things like this. Or, oh, he needs help doing this incredibly esoteric task, and he knows another person who a) is knowledgeable in the area, and b) happy to help him. It almost suggests to me that the book should have been split into two books – stretching out the story, making it a little more realistic in terms of the inevitable struggles and lulls in discoveries and brainwaves with a mysterious adventure plot like this.
Read it if you classify yourself as a nerd, particularly a book nerd. Read it if you enjoy intrigue and want to try and figure it out for yourself.
Also. I can’t review this book without mentioning this. It has a glow.in.the.dark.cover. Yes, that’s right! Even if the story had been crap, I would have felt okay because of the awesome cover! Seriously though, it was such a cool thing to realise – I’d been reading in bed, put the book down, and when I rolled over I saw the book glowing. I went to sleep with a smile on my face.
P.S. There’s also a kind of prequel to the story – Ajax Penumbra 1969 – which seems to explore the story behind how the bookstore came to be Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour bookstore.