When unemployed graphic designer Clay takes a job working nights at Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour bookstore, all he wants is a job. But it soon becomes clear that the bookstore, and its enigmatic owner, are more than they seem.
As well as the traditional books you’d expect to find in a bookshop, there’s also a second set of books – written in code and hidden away from the eyes of prying customers. Throughout the quiet night shift, an assortment of people occasionally hurry in to borrow one of these books, whilst returning another. Clay’s role is to note down what book is borrowed with a description of the borrower, but not to ask questions.
Inevitably, Clay starts to wonder about what this strange collection of people are up to. Finding the codes unintelligible, he and his friends instead draw on their technological skills to help track the pattern of borrowing in a way that they can understand. Unwittingly, he soon uncovers a clandestine literary society working to decode the mysteries around a centuries’ old secret.
It’s hard to say more without revealing too much of the plot, but this is actually one of my favourite recent reads. There’s not much not to like – hidden quests, secret societies and books, books and more books, all brought together through the power of Google and modern technology. It’s basically like a more literary version of a Dan Brown novel that’s been written just for book enthusiasts.
It perfectly contrasts the old and the new. There are people who believe that by bypassing years of work in a few computer strokes, Clay has ‘cheated’ and shouldn’t be allowed to share his knowledge – that this knowledge is only valuable if you’ve really worked for it and that Clay and his friends are devaluing the books themselves. In contrast, there are others who embrace a new way of tackling an old problem and see technology as enabler that will help them to achieve their overall goals.
It’s all about combining the old and the new in a way that works for all – something that strikes a chord in our modern world of e-readers, blogs and Amazon.