Bibliomysteries, in which books play a part in the story, are an interesting branch of crime writing. Otto Penzler has produced a slim volume which catalogues some of them. I've dabbled myself, given that Marc Amos and his books play a part (in some stories a significant part) in the Lake District Mysteries. And now I've read a much sought-after novel, first published in 1956, called Death of a Bookseller by Bernard J. Farmer.
I know it's sought-after because some good judges have been hunting down a copy for years. I came across a nice first edition in a dust jacket at York Book Fair at the start of this year. The only snag was that it was priced at £400 - yikes! I was not tempted to invest, but I have now read the story and it's rather enjoyable.
The author, Bernard J. Farmer was born in 1902 but I don't know when he died. He was at one time a policeman, but again I'm not sure for how long. However, it is clear that he was a keen book collector, and in 1950 he published a book about the subject. This novel, which was his third, and features his series character Sergeant Wigan, himself very keen on books, appeared six years later. Barzun and Taylor say that the prose style is flat, and there is at least a morsel of truth in this. But there is also some gentle humour and wry observation of human nature. They also say that Farmer wrote as Owen Fox, but I'm not sure this is correct. If anyone out there knows, I'd be interested to hear from them.
What I like about this story is that it's a compassionately told tale (with lots of bookselling lore) about a compassionate man, Wigan, trying to solve the murder of a friend. It's also a clock race story, as Wigan battles to find the truth before a man he believes to be innocent is hanged. The man in the condemned cell is rather well characterised - he's not at all likeable but the cop realises that doesn't mean the man is guilty. Wigan is concerned with justice as well as with books. This is a well-made traditional mystery of that kind in which George Bellairs specialised, and I was glad to read it. I'd also be glad to learn more about its author.