Death of a Bookseller by Alice Slater: A trip down memory lane

Cover image for Death of a Bookseller by Alice Slater Despite its billing as a thriller, it was impossible for me to resist ex-bookseller Alice Slater’s debut. Set during the run up to Christmas, her hugely enjoyable novel follows Roach, who’s worked in the dingy Walthamstow branch of Spines for nine years, and Laura, one of three seasoned booksellers parachuted in with the aim of saving it from closure.

She will understand that we are not so different after all. We each have our story to tell.  

Roach runs the true crime section and is obsessed by it. She attends performances by podcasters, buys the merchandise, searches the web for serial killers and reads nothing but the genre. Laura is the opposite. She lives alone in a flat carefully decked out in prettiness, rather like herself, and knows how to send customers out of the shop laden with purchases and happy. She, Sharona and Eli are old friends, experienced in helping to rescue failing branches together. Unlike Roach, she loathes true crime, writing poetry which seeks to honour murdered women not their murderers. Both women grew up in Walthamstow while the Stow Strangler was on the loose but while Roach seeks a connection, Laura will have nothing to do with this woman who seems the antithesis of herself. After Laura gives a poetry reading which the shop team attend, Roach becomes convinced she’s hiding something. Over the next three months, Roach’s stalking becomes ever more obsessive, and Laura begins to unravel.

I hate that her name will forever be associated with the man who killed her, and I hate that the world only remembers her as a chapter in the story of his life.  

Slater alternates Roach’s and Laura’s narratives, Roach’s obsessive behaviour providing much of the tension as Laura’s careful control begins to crumble. Both are damaged in very different ways: Roach deals with her negligent upbringing and her desperate neediness with a snarky contempt for ‘normies’ while Laura’s carefully curated wardrobe, small treats and sunny exterior is a strategy for controlling the sharp pain of grief. It’s all very smartly done, and I loved its clever ending, but there’s a serious message underpinning Slater’s immersive novel with its concern about our obsession with crime, both true and fiction, and in particular violence against women. Impossible for me to be objective about this book, steeped in bookselling as it is. Despite having left that world quite some time ago, Slater made me feel as if it was only yesterday. Such an enjoyably nostalgic read, although I should point out nothing nefarious happened in my branch of Waterstones, at least while I worked there.

Hodder & Stoughton: London ‎ 9781529385328 384 pages Hardback (Read via NetGalley)

22 thoughts on “Death of a Bookseller by Alice Slater: A trip down memory lane”

  1. Ah, so this is the one with the title similar to the Bernard Farmer book. What a very different story though, but sounds intriguing all the same.

  2. Glad you enjoyed this Susan. I had mixed feelings about putting a hold on it because of the mixed reviews on GR. But after reading your review, I added my name to the waitlist.
    The Bernard Farmer has just been released here & the library notified me that it’s on the way. Excited to read that one too. It’s predicted to be a rainy 4 days here so there will be lots of time for reading, too bad either book isn’t ready for pick up just yet.

    1. I do hope you enjoy them both. I loved the bookselling aspects of the Slater so much that might have swayed my opinion. I know Mallika was very keen on the Farmer. Keep dry, and I hope you find something else to get stuck into in the meantime!

  3. I like the sound of this… and the fact it has a “message”. I’ve stopped read crime books featuring dead / missing women because it’s time to change the story.

      1. If there’s a wider message (as per commentary on misogyny, domestic violence etc) then I’ll waive my “ban” but if it’s simply using dead women as a plot device / entertainment I won’t read.

  4. Sounds interesting! As an avid crime reader, I often wonder how healthy it is for our society to be so obsessed by crime. Especially true crime, and especially when it’s true crime from the recent past where close relatives of victims are still alive. Though recently some true crime has been about putting the victims back into the centre rather than focusing so much on the perpetrators. An odd obsession for so many of us, though!

    1. I think it’s because most of us live in such a safe society despite what the tabloids might have us believe. While I don’t read crime I watch a great deal of it, mainly through Walter Presents, partly because there’s so little else on offer. I agree with your point about recent true crime, much beloved by podcasts.

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