John Dunning and Karen Kijewski, Two Authors Worth Reading

John Dunning lives in Denver and was himself a bookstore owner. He still participates in selling first editions through his website. His series character, Cliff Janeway, is a veteran Denver cop. He has been chasing a killer for two years when we meet him in Booked to Die. After following the rules for most of his career, Janeway steps outside the legal bounds and then quits the police force to pursue his other great love-books. He opens a bookshop, and when someone close to the business is killed, he tracks down the murderer. His suspicious nature prevents him from trusting and reeks havoc with his love life.

By the second book Janeway admittedly misses the excitement of being a cop and agrees to help another ex-cop bring back a young woman, who has skipped bail. She is connected to a small publisher, whose works are valued as exquisite limited editions. Even if you don’t like hard-boiled detective stories, you need to read The Bookman’s Wake. I’ve read it twice and even the second time, I thought it one of the best mysteries I have read. It didn’t hurt that my background was in printing.

Dunning educates readers in collecting first editions and so loves books that it is difficult as readers not to share in his enthusiasm. His stories contain compassionate, three-dimensional characters and complex plots. Janeway comes up with great one-liners reminiscent of John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee. For example, when comparing bestsellers and good writers, he states “Showbiz is often mistaken for talent.” But as one female character explains, “Fiction’s the only way you can really tell the truth.”

Dunning is perhaps better known for his other love, old-time radio programming. He has written a couple of encyclopedic references on the topic. For those who enjoy historical mysteries, he wrote an entertaining stand-alone fiction book about early radio called Two O’Clock Eastern Wartime. His earlier fiction writing, prior to 1992, is not as good as the Janeway series.

While you are in your favorite mystery bookstore or at the library look up Karen Kijewski’s Kat Colorado series. Here is another hard-boiled female private investigator, this time based in Sacramento, California. Kat is an ex-bartender, as is the author. She has strong family ties and deep loyalties for the underdogs in life. My sister turned me on to this mystery series, and the books are as good as Laura Lippman’s Tess Monaghan series in my opinion. Kijewski won the Shamus and Anthony awards for her first book in the series, Katwalk, which came out in 1988.

It’s easy to get hooked on the characters in a series, but difficult when the series is discontinued. Perhaps we should be thankful. I don’t know that I could keep up with all the writers that I like, if some of them didn’t stop their series or become complacent in their writing of them (i.e. jumped the shark). It is a mixed blessing in that saying good-by to one, allows you the opportunity of filling that hole with another cast of compelling characters.