Wed 28 Apr 2010
by Bill Pronzini:
JON L. BREEN – The Gathering Place. Walker, hardcover, 1984; paperback, September 1986.
Well known for a number of years as a critic, short-story writer, and parodist, Jon L. Breen turned to the writing of novels in 1983 with Listen for the Click, an affectionate parody/pastiche of the classic country-house mystery.
The Gathering Place, his second novel, is quite different — a bookshop mystery that combines the traditional fair-play whodunit with ghosts and other elements of the paranormal.
When Oscar Vermilion dies of heart failure, his used book store on Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles, a fixture since 1935 and a gathering place for such literary lights as Nathaniel West and William Faulkner, is in danger of closing for good.
But Vermilion’s niece, Rachel Hennings, inherits the property, and she has both experience of her own in running a bookshop and a desire to maintain her uncle’s legacy.
That desire may not be easy to fulfill, however: Not long after her arrival from Arizona, Vermilion’s is broken into (although nothing is taken); ghostly manifestations begin to occur in the shop’s dusty confines (something guides her hand to write F. Scott Fitzgerald’s name in a copy of The Great Gatsby, a signature that turns out to be authentic); and she is presented with evidence that The Atlantis Courier, an early novel by leading Hollywood writer Arlen Kitchener, was actually ghostwritten by a man who was found murdered shortly after Oscar Vermilion’s death.
Breen neatly meshes these diverse elements, and a budding romance between Rachel and newspaperman Stu Wellman, into a suspenseful tale that keeps the reader guessing on several fronts.
Some may find the supernatural segments of the plot a strain on their credulity; this reviewer and general skeptic had no trouble with them, and in fact found that they add considerable depth and mystery to the story line. Another plus is the bookish lore and information the author weaves throughout the narrative.
One other recommended title by Jon Breen is Hair of the Sleuthhound (1982), a collection of some of the best of his short spoofs of distinguished crime writers and their works.
Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007. Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.
Note: This book was previously reviewed on this blog by Marv Lachman.