Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan (2012): A Review

Billed as a “literary adventure story,” Penumbra’s was a delightful read. Set during The Great Recession in the US, we find Clay Jannon, the protagonist and narrator up to his eyebrows in mystery thanks to his new night-shift bookstore job.

There are many strange things about the bookstore, first the fact that it’s open 24 hours, second that there are “customers” who come in during the overnight hours. The customers are strange themselves, hurried, older, “driven” and they do not buy many books, but instead hold cards that allow them to “check out” books from the “wayback” stacks. When he finally peeks into one of the massive tomes, these requested books, Clay finds out they are all written in some kind of code.

Who better at breaking a code than the attractive “computer-geek girl” who becomes more than a friend to Clay and his wealthy junior high geeky friend who finances and participates in the wacky adventure the three undertake to solve the 21st century mystery.

Even stranger than the bookstore is the its namesake, himself, Mr. Penumbra. A true “character” has been created here, a likable, peculiar, eccentric old man who reveals not only his respect for Clay and his computers but his “connections” with a medieval, possibly dangerous cult/sect.

This book has everything: things to make you laugh, things to make you sigh, as you travel all over the country to solve all things Penumbra. A great read!