Book Review: Death of a Bookseller by Alice Slater

FIFTY+SA Arts Reviewer, Dave Bradley, reviews the dark and unsettling debut novel, Death of a Bookseller, from Alice Slater.

The London-based Slater’s first novel is a dark, psychodramatic study drawn, in part, from the six years she spent as a bookseller. And let’s hope that her experiences weren’t as creepy as her book!

Laura Bunting has been assigned to the Walthamstow branch of Spines bookstores in an effort to liven the ailing place up a bit, and she quickly runs afoul of co-worker Brogan Roach (a.k.a. just ‘Roach’, like a bug). Roach is a serial-killer-obsessed type introduced queuing up for a live performance of her beloved Murder Girls podcast, and when she hears all about Laura’s biggest secret, she’s ghoulishly obsessed.

Laura, however, is repulsed, and the more she avoids Roach, the more Roach tries to get in her face and into her life, to the point that she’s behaving like a stalker – or a serial killer – herself. There doesn’t appear to be a carnal component to this (Roach is pretty much heterosexual, and enjoys a late-on relationship with a grungy dickhead named Sam), but there is plenty of increasingly disturbing behaviour, as the narrator keeps changing from one of these women to the other, and we wonder who exactly is in the greatest danger.

Slater’s characters are rich and real, with another co-worker named Eli lurking around and, you just know it, sure to get too close to Laura as her life spins out of control. And diehard book lovers should be pleased too, because there’s so much talk of famous novels and authors here that you’ll feel guilty that you haven’t read them all.

Perhaps, it must be said, a little overwritten (like the recent novels of The Grandmaster Of Wordiness, Stephen King, this could also well do with having 50 pages carefully edited out), Slater’s tome is a fine, scary read anyway, and should leave you titillatingly unsure quite what to think by the end.

And is there room for a sequel of some sort? Perhaps titled Death Of A Bookseller: Bookselling With A Vengeance?

Hachette Australia: Hodder & Stoughton, RRP $32.99

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