Earlier this year I raved about Ready Player One, one of my favorite books of 2012. Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore struck me in a similar way. The description of the novel - "A gleeful and exhilarating tale of global conspiracy, complex code-breaking, high-tech data visualization, young love, rollicking adventure, and the secret to eternal life—mostly set in a hole-in-the-wall San Francisco bookstore..." - immediately interested me, although it took me a few weeks to pick it up. I'm glad I finally did.
Mr. Penumbra follows Clay Jannon, who lost his job in web design due to the recession. He ends up landing a job at an odd little bookstore, located next to a strip club. The store is oddly vertical, with three story high shelves. Clay is hired for the night shift - from 10 pm to 6 am every day - and spends his time mostly playing on his computer and assisting the occasional customer. He is told to never look at the books in what he refers to as the Wayback List, odd titles that he has never heard of. The sporadic customers usually request books from that list. It isn't long before Clay and one of his friends are temped to look at the books, which are written in odd, unreadable glyphs. The customers never buy books; they simply bring one back and take another one.
Clay uses his technical talents to create a digital model of the bookstore where he starts to notice a pattern regarding the customers and the Wayback List. When he presents this to Mr. Penumbra, he is let in on the secret of the odd books - a secret that goes far beyond the little bookstore. Clay uses his talents and calls on those of his friends (including his girlfriend, a programmer for Google) for their assistance. The story goes from San Francisco to New York and back again, while the plot mashes up literature and technology in a fascinating way as Clay uses modern tools in an attempt to crack a literary mystery that a secret society has been working on for 500 years. I didn't want the book to end and stretched out reading it for a while. There was an epilogue at the end that ties everything together neatly - maybe a little too neatly - but I enjoyed reading what happened to all the characters, from Neel, Clay's best friend to Kat, his girlfriend. There was even a great moment where Clay visited a warehouse similar to the one at the end of Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (thanks, dad, for catching my erroneous movie title). There were also references to a nerdy sounding fantasy series that reminded me of the Dragonlance books.
The tone and feel of the book was very similar to Ready Player One, although without the pop culture references of that book. There are a lot of mentions of current technology - Google, kindles, etc, so the book might not have longevity, but for a 21st century fairy tale/adventure, this was quite a fun read. Definitely worth picking up!