cover image The H.L. Mencken Murder Case: A Literary Thriller

The H.L. Mencken Murder Case: A Literary Thriller

Don Swaim. St. Martin's Press, $0 (174pp) ISBN 978-0-312-02217-4

Radio audiences know Swaim as the reporter on Book Beat , with views of the literary scene. Making his debut as an author himself, he tells a funny and unusual story featuring the many second-hand bookstores long vanished from Fourth Avenue in downtown Manhattan. In 1948, Howard (no one knows his last name) inherits his father's store, where ``Pop's old pal, Harry'' continues to visit from Baltimore, although he misses his friend, who enjoyed intellectual arguments with the scourge of the ``booboisie.'' Along with the other store owners, Howard mostly ignores the aging but still vitriolic H. L., but Mencken becomes important when Howard's life is threatened. The cause is an 18th century manuscript that Howard's part-time helper, Lenny, persuades him to buy, declaring that they can sell it to Ronald Newberry's snooty uptown gallery for a fortune. It is a prize that someone tries and fails to steal after killing Lenny, thus leaving Howard in possession and at risk of the same fate. Howard realizes that ``Harry'' holds the clues, and events then speed to a surprising finale of an adventure that can't miss. The colorful cast, quotes from Mencken, evocations of the bookstores and other treasures lost to progress add nostalgic appeal to Swaim's dandy mystery. (Nov.)