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Booked to Die – My First Collectible Book Purchase

I didn’t read books unless I had to for school assignments, until I met Steve.  Not long after we started dating, Steve encouraged me to read a few books that he enjoyed and opened me up to a whole new world.

Then not long after we married, he took book appreciation to a new level.  He started learning all about first editions and what makes a book collectible. His collection grew slowly for a number of years.  Every now and then Steve would take me to a book fair where he would wade through stacks and rows of books, looking for a gem.  This was before the Internet which has made book scouting so much easier and sadly, has taken away some of the thrill of the hunt. I will never know as much as Steve when it comes to book collecting, but I remember one book fair where I made my first of only a few collectible book purchases.

I was always overwhelmed at the book fairs. There were so many books I didn’t know where to start.  Often when I did focus on one of interest, I didn’t have enough confidence in my knowledge to commit.  But shortly before “my first purchase” book fair, Steve had recommended a book for me to read.

It was “Booked to Die” written by John Dunning in 1992.  I loved the book!  It’s the first book of 5 following Cliff Janeway, a Denver cop who retires and becomes the owner of a rare book store. It is a murder mystery deeply entrenched in the world of book scouting. Not only is it a good page-turner, but it is also great for learning about book collecting and has some really nice quotable lines about the value of books, rare or otherwise.  I learned a lot from “Booked to Die” which I’m sure contributed to my wanting to try out my new-found courage in scouting for a collectible book.

2 weeks after reading the book, I spotted a first edition of “Booked to Die” at a book fair in Atlanta. Since it was my first “first” find, I was nervous haggling with the bookseller, but we finally agreed on a price.  Proud of my purchase, I decided to write the author to tell him how much his book inspired me and to ask his opinion of my transaction.  To my amazement, John Dunning wrote back! His response was thoughtfully worded and typed on an old manual typewriter, what he calls “an honest machine”.

He also included a book mark from his now-closed The Old Algonquin Bookstore. On the back of it, he handwrote Cliff Janeway references, crude drawings of a face and boll weevil, and his signature.   I cherish these mementos which I keep with my copy of “Booked to Die”.

I’m very grateful that Mr. Dunning took time out from his busy writing schedule to share some of his knowledge with me.  The last I heard, he still maintains his on-line bookstore (

John Dunning has written other noteworthy books, one of which is another favorite of mine.  I still highly recommend the Cliff Janeway books, but if you get a chance, take a look at “Two O’Clock, Eastern Wartime”. It’s a thriller intertwined with a wonderful history of radio in the 1940’s.