John Dunning Analysis


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

John Dunning has shone a bright light on the arcane world of book collecting, unintentionally making the job of the used book dealer much harder. Booked to Die (1992), the first title in the Janeway series, was an instant success largely achieved through word of mouth via the vast underground network of bibliophiles. The novel dealt with collecting books and searching for rare books and the collectors themselves, and it cross-bred the hard-boiled tradition with the BiblioMystery. Dunning found a literate, largely untapped audience; a series hero who appealed equally to men and women; and a reason to keep writing novels when he was on the brink of giving up.

Dunning found early success in the mystery genre with two titles, Looking for Ginger North (1980) and Deadline (1981), both nominated for Edgar Awards. However, it was eleven long years between Deadline and Booked to Die, which won a Nero Wolfe Award. During those years, Dunning operated a bookstore in Denver and has said he would have been content to remain on the selling side of the book business.

Before the Janeway series, Dunning had written five titles, three of them mysteries. He had met with limited success, but his circle of Denver literary acquaintances urged him to keep writing. Warwick Downing, a friend and fellow Denver author, suggested that he write a book about a dealer in rare books. Booked to Die is dedicated to Downing. Dunning’s Janeway series foreshadowed a recent trend and no doubt influenced the publication of popular and more recent titles focused on the world of rare books, including Arturo Perez-Reverte’s El club Dumas (1993; The Club Dumas, 1996) and Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason’s The Rule of Four (2004).


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Dickinson, Jane. “Keeping a Promise After Ten Years, Dunning Delivers Sequel.” Denver Rocky Mountain News, March 12, 2004, p. 24D. Written on the occasion of The Bookman’s Promise, the article discusses the nine-year gap since the previous series title.

Dunning, John. “The Bookman’s Eye.” Interview by Charles L. P. Silet. The Armchair Detective 28, no. 2 (1995): 124-133. This is a far-ranging interview done just before the release of The Bookman’s Wake, the second title in the Janeway series.

Dunning, John. “The Bookman’s Progress.” Interview by Charles L. P. Silet. Mystery Scene 84 (March 1, 2004): 26-29. This interview discusses Dunning’s historical mystery novel Two O’Clock Eastern Wartime, his nonfictional reference works on radio history, and the background research done for The Bookman’s Promise.

Lambert, Pam. “The Thrill of the Hunt.” People Weekly 23, no. 43 (June 12, 1995): 27. Written soon after the release of Booked to Die, the article discusses book collecting and Dunning’s background as a dealer in rare books.

Old Algonquin Books. The Web site for the online store run by Dunning and his wife, Helen, contains a good deal of biographical information about Dunning and publication information on each of his titles.

Scaggs, John. Crime Fiction. New York: Routledge, 2005. Contains chapters on hard-boiled mysteries and historical crime fiction that shed light on Dunning’s work.