Mr Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, Paperback Book
4 out of 5 (1 rating)


Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon out of his life as a Web-design drone and serendipity coupled with sheer curiosity has landed him a new job working the night shift at Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore. And it doesn't take long for Clay to realize that the quiet, dusty book emporium is even more curious than the name suggests.

There are only a few fanatically committed customers, but they never seem to actually buy anything, instead they simply borrow impossibly obscure volumes perched on dangerously high shelves, all according to some elaborate arrangement with the eccentric proprietor.

The store must be a front for something larger, Clay concludes, and soon he has plugged in his laptop, roped in his friends (and a cute girl who works for Google) and embarked on a high-tech analysis of the customers' behaviour.

What they discover is an ancient secret that can only be solved by modern means, and a global-conspiracy guarded by Mr. Penumbra himself... who has mysteriously disappeared.


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I wasn't sure what to expect from this book but it proved to be a very serendipitous discovery. Finding myself in Waterstone's at Trafalgar Square with an unexpected book token burning a hole in my pocket (another serendipitous acquisition) I found myself being talked into buying this novel by Rachel, my favourite book barista par excellence.She clearly knows her stuff, or at least knows her customers, as I found this book utterly engaging. Think of a melding of Carlos Ruiz Zafon's The Shadow of the Wind and Douglas Coupland's Microserfs with a hint of the more tolerable end of Dan Brown and a soupcon of Bored of the Rings thrown in.Clay Jannon, occasional website designer, finds himself out of work and desperate to find a job, any job, that will enable him to carry on living in San Francisco. He finds himself working the night shift in Mr Penumbra's small, 24 hour bookstore situated next to a dubious strip joint. Despite being open twenty-four hours each day, the bookstore seems to sell very few books, though Clay becomes aware of a parallel service with strange customers coming in peruse a room at the back of the store. It transpires that these customers are borrowing from a mysterious set of books, which Mr Penumbra warns Clay not to read. Predictably enough, he does soon sneak a look at one of these books but finds himself none the wiser - they appear to have been written in a strange code. Meanwhile Clay has been trying to drum up more trade for the store by niche advertising through Google. This turns up trumps when Kat, an aspiring programmer and data visualiser who happens to work for Google is passing by the store and receives a coupon on her phone. Falling for her immediately, Clay explains the nature of the secret lending society, and they resolve to investigate further, using access to the limitless resources that Google can offer. They find themselves on a quest to solve the riddle of the Fellowhood of the Unbroken Spine, a secret society of latter-day literary Templars. This may all sound rather whimsical but the blending of hi-tech and bibliophilia is totally enchanting, and very amusing