It's not often I actually address real life reading on this blog... I'm not sure why. Unlike some book collectors, I really do read! I even read the books I collect. Actually, that's how I often decide what book to find in the nicest 1st I can afford is by reading a pip. Especially in the category of Bibliomysteries.
What is a bibliomystery? I generally agree with the definition used by the Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLIS) at Simmons College, in Boston--- the one active institutional collection of which I'm aware. They say:
"Bibliomysteries are mysteries in which books, manuscripts, libraries of any kind, archives, publishing houses, or bookstores occupy a central role, or mysteries in which librarians, archivists, booksellers, etc. are protagonists or antagonists (and preferably the location or occupation is important to the plot or theme). Our collection does not include academic mysteries or mysteries which happen to be about journalists, authors, or literary figures unless libraries, books, manuscripts, archives, and so on, are important to the plot."
I've started a bibliomystery group over on LibraryThing, and the discussion has been interesting. Some folks do include things like Jane Austen mysteries, which has Austen as the sleuth, but otherwise no other biblio-element. I don't count those.
So, a new (to me) book has me trolling the fixed-price-venue sites: The Bay Psalm Book Murder. Harris has only written this one bibliomystery, but he won an Edgar for it in 1983. The Edgar is the top prize for mysteries of any genre, so I felt this was a pretty safe bet. Some books in this genre are stinkers, or entirely too "cozy" for me.
Bay Psalm was enjoyable, though not aging terribly well. It read like a novel written in the mid '70s, not the mid-'80s. The treatment of minority characters is a bit dated, but not implausible. Cops are not given the usual mystery novel treatment, which was refreshing. They are actually portrayed as overworked but competent professionals! The bibliofactors of the story/ plot were good, and one of the most enjoyable elements of the story, which unfortunately isn't always true in bibliomysteries. There was one technical issue with how Harriss described foxing (which was perhaps accurate for the time...), but the book does explore printing, typography, binding, paper, and of course, some of the earliest American printing in a way that doesn't bog the reader. These elements are also not blended in as filler.
If you enjoyed John Dunning's Bookman mysteries (like I generally did), this is a natural fit for you. Harris is a decent writer, the style is good but very California (which I don't love). The setting doesn't feel false; Harris knows these places. The protagonists in Dunning's books and Bay Psalm Book Murder are both named Cliff, even.
If you want to find other Bibliomysteries, check out the Bibliomystery group on LibraryThing, or check out the bibliomystery collection I set up for my library on LibraryThing!