By Jason Shiga
Bookhunter is a library police investigation caper featuring badass Special Agent Bay and his crack team of book archival and library technology specialists. The story is set in 1973, of all years, so don’t be surprised when they mention 75 baud modems in passing!
The case is the theft and forgery of a 17th century English bible, originally kept at the Oakland Public Library and on loan from the Library of Congress. While the book’s private underground market, or “grey market,” value is never mentioned, you realize pretty quickly that rare book theft is serious business and worthy of jumping off multi-story buildings. Though based on an actual case, liberties were clearly taken.
Agent Bay carries out his missions with a full squad of gun-bearing special agents. His own trigger finger is lighter than a feather, and as a ruthless and passionate defender of book justice, he’ll stop at nothing to make sure the books are returned to public possession.
The librarian jargon is unforgiving, but it is dispensed with police procedural efficiency and lots of authenticity and verve. If you’re a librarian or in the biz, you might be laughing your ass off through these portions, but I found myself squirming a little. The only thing you could grab onto is the mood and direction of the case, which is all that’s needed at this point. The plot is not important since even the blurb on the back of the book is obscured by a library checkout sticker, but it is worth it to take in as much as possible for what follows.
Shiga’s hardbound and realistic approach to telling such a heist case, normally treated in blockbuster movies with formfitting leotards perfect for contortions through sensitive alarm systems, could only have worked through a visual format such as the comic book. All except for the bulletproof vested brawn occasionally crashing through doors, Agent Bay and most of the other characters and suspects look round, pudgy, myopic, and totally believable. For the most part.
As the plot progresses, the action picks up and the jargon clears up to be replaced by feats of ridiculous daring. While careening through the streets in none other than bookmobile, Bay is forced by the time constraints to crawl out the windows of his moving vehicle in order to enter the back of the bookmobile and access his “database”—a large shelve of books. There are a string of similar, not-to-be-believed sequences that reach operatic and ingenious proportions.
You may have read the comic online, but it’s worth getting a hard copy of it. The art and words are bigger, and the entire experience of reading it in book form is more than just appropriate in this case—this was the stinkiest book in my APE stash, not unlike an old library book.