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Death by the Book (A Jack Susko Mystery) by Lenny Bartulin
Review by Gayle Surrette
Minotaur Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780312559724
Date: 19 January 2010 List Price $24.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Interview with Lenny Bartulin / Show Official Info /

Jack Susko owns his own business, a second-hand bookstore. It's an ideal job except for having to deal with customers and worrying about making enough to cover expenses. So, when Hammond Kasprowicz calls and says he'll pay good money for each copy of a book by Edward Kass, it seems like a good deal -- a very good deal. But isn't that always just when the other book drops and things go wrong; very, very wrong?

"It was perfectly clear to him now, dangling in the wet tussock cleavage of a broad hill that slid towards the headland cliffs. Nothing like fresh air and imminent death to clarify things. Jack could see exactly when his life had begun to go downhill: it was that Wednesday afternoon a couple of weeks ago when he stepped off the bus in Double Bay. He had gone two stops past where he should have. A man susceptible to omens might have understood it as a warning. But Jack Susko thought it was his lucky day. Not having seen one for some time, it was an easy mistake to make."

From the first paragraph, you're hooked, or at least I was. The scene is set, the main character has a bit of humor, and there's the delicious expectation of a wild ride to come as we learn just how Jack managed to get on this hill in danger of imminent death.

Lenny Bartulin's writing harkens back to that of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. Actually more towards Hammett in my opinion. I kept thinking as I read that Jack Susko reminded me a bit of Sam Spade ... if Spade had run a second hand bookstore and lived with a cat named Lois. But Jack has that same smart mouth that just can't seem to sense when it's best to remain silent. And his mouth does get him in trouble, the kind that leaves you with scars and/or hospital bills.

Jack also has that inner moral core that keeps him living up to his own code. It's this inner moral core that causes him to get into some pretty sticky situations. He has a code and he lives by it no matter what. This definitely doesn't make him a boy scout or a goody-two-shoes but it does mean that there are lines he won't cross. And even more importantly, he has little tolerance or respect for those who cross those lines for their personal gain.

There are characters with interesting quirks and hidden agendas aplenty. Some may be a bit two-dimensional but they serve their purpose and move the plot along and keep the pages turning. Death by the Book presents an interesting main character, writing that shines with originality and insightful and sharp observations, as well as being a ripping good story with all the twists and counter-twists a reader could hope for. I'm already looking forward to the next Jack Susko mystery, Black Russian..

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