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2016 Story 31

Today's story comes from the anthology Christmas at The Mysterious Bookshop, edited by Otto Penzler.

31. AS DARK AS CHRISTMAS GETS by Lawrence Block.  Block wrote only two short stories featuring Chip Harrison and his employer Leo Haig. This one was written originally as part of the limited chapbook series of Christmas stories set in NYC's The Mysterious Bookshop, although it is now available as a stand-alone ebook. Haig (who fancies himself a poor man's Nero Wolfe) and Harrison (his Archie Goodwin) are hired by the owner of a NYC bookstore to investigate the theft of an unfinished, unpublished, handwritten Cornell Woolrich manuscript. The story, as with Block's other Harrison short story, is breezy, light, and full of winks and nods at the mystery genre. This time, there's no murder to be solved, but there are a plethora of industry types for Haig to deal with in his brief investigation of the theft. There's the bookstore owner, who can't remember a key two hours of the previous night; a book-collecting famous violinist; a Woolrich-loving daytime drama actress and her hard-boiled fiction-loving husband; a party caterer the bookstore owner has a romantic interest in; a small press publisher; and a former mystery author turned Hollywood hack and his literary agent. Each behaves much as you'd expect such a character would behave if this were a private detective television show, and Block is clearly having fun again poking fun at friends and peers. One of those seven characters walked away from a Christmas party at the store with the one-of-a-kind manuscript, and Haig solves the case by having the suspects walk him through what they were doing during the party. Block doles out the details of the evening with a heavy dose of character and author self-awareness. Harrison makes several comments about writing this case up as a short story rather than a novel, and several characters remark upon the "hack writer" who completed Woolrich's unfinished novel Into The Night (that author was Lawrence Block himself).  It's a fun story for fans of the mystery genre in specific, and for book lovers (collectors or otherwise) in general, with a very satisfactory resolution to the mystery.

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