Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore was one of the most enjoyable books I read last year. Clichéd as it may sound it made me laugh, it made me cry and kept me thoroughly entertained while doing so. I’d been told there might be a spin-off but had forgotten all about it until a neat little hardback turned up, billed as the prequel. I’m not going to tell you that I was as delighted by it as I was by the original – it’s far too short for that – but it has the same entertaining mix of humour and adventure, albeit in a bookish kind of way.
Essentially a short story, the book reveals how Mr Penumbra started on the path that lead him to run the 24-hour bookstore. As Junior Acquisitions Officer for the Galvanic college library, Ajax is on the hunt for Techne Tycheon, thought to be an occult text which confers great fortune, or misfortune, on its owner. It’s challenging stuff but he’s not to be defeated. After all a previous incumbent had managed to track down a book made entirely of knotted string untangled and knitted into sweaters compared to which a trail gone cold in 1657 is a mere nothing. A breakthrough takes him to San Francisco at the tail end of the summer of love where he stumbles upon the 24-hour bookstore and a clue to the whereabouts of the elusive William Gray. The ensuing adventure results in a change of career as, intrigued by the real business of the bookstore – and if you’ve read last year’s novel, you’ll know what that is – Ajax anticipates many more ascensions of the bookshelves which stretch up further than the eye can see.
For readers of Mr Penumbra, this is undoubtedly a tasty little titbit but it left me hungry for another full-length novel, and if you haven’t read that yet, please do: it’s an absolute delight. As for prequels, what do you think about them? Enjoyable or something of a let down?