If you’re a fan of secret societies, intrigue, and good old fashioned hidden cryptic puzzles, then Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore might be for you. It’s a quick, fun read, and is relatively brainless so you don’t need to worry about getting caught up in an insurmountable jumble of confusion. If you’re like me and you do a lot of reading before bed and you’re apt to forget half the stuff you read the previous night then you’re in luck.
I won’t give plot details away, but suffice to say the journey to solve the puzzle was a lot of fun. Unfortunately the payoff at the end is a little anti-climatic. I was expecting so much more. However like my friend said, it’s about the journey. He’s also the friend who suggested the book to me. Even though I’m a little disappointed with how it turned out, he’s right.
Author Robin Sloan tries to flesh out some of his characters but doesn’t get very far and most stay pretty one-dimensional. The title character, Mr. Penumbra, isn’t truly the main character which is fine but of everyone he is the one I wish Sloan was able to give me more details about. There are plenty of hints throughout the story, including one major chance at the end to delve into arguably the most interesting character, but he never does. If the characters existed in real life they’d be the kind of one-dimensional people you’d end up hating because their so shallow. But in the interest of a fun read, just look past it.
The part of the story I found most annoying was it’s basically a 280-page advertisement for Google. So much of the story’s plot is tied to characters working at the company or using their technology to help solve the story’s main puzzle. In addition the extensive use of current social media platforms and other modern website jargon may keep readers unfamiliar with today’s technology a little on the outside. So the book is definitely intended for those riding the internet waves these days. Lastly, Sloan’s writing is a little childish and he tries to make the first-person narrator funny, but sometimes it’s just awkward.
In the end, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is fun puzzle story with an interesting twist. It didn’t deliver amazing closure for me but it may for you. Despite the gripes posted above I’d still recommend giving it a go. You’ll fly through it so fast it won’t have wasted much of your time if you end up hating it. But you won’t.
I gave Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore 3/5 stars on GoodReads.
Next up is Carl Sagan’s Contact. I’ve never read it and of course love the movie. I’ve always been a little disappointed I was too young to truly appreciate Sagan before his death. As a science teacher and a science lover – especially of all things Universe related, he’s kind of been an idol for me. I was able to find a first edition hardcover from 1985, in excellent condition, at our used bookstore in Knoxville – with the dust jacket intact. I paid 25¢ for it. How friggin’ awesome is that. I’ve had it sitting on my shelf for the better part of a year but had a few other books in line ahead of it to read. I’m excited.