Immediately thrust into the world of rare book collecting, I was intrigued by the story of a book shop owner who chased down a rare book thief from the first page. Bartlett has an easy writing style that is methodically descriptive while maintaining a strong momentum. She warmly described the collectible books with care, and I almost felt as if I were cruising the book stalls alongside her. The qualities that make a book rare or collectible were described early on in an enjoyable manner so that the reader quickly and easily understood why a book printed only a few times, or with an original cover would be coveted by a collector.
Ken Sanders, a book collector who fell into the role of security chair for the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association, had been trying to prevent book theft for some time. It was frustrating to hear Sanders tell tales of having books stolen and calling the police, who often didn’t care about the theft and rarely helped apprehend the thief. But when Sanders noticed a pattern of thefts and pursed Gilkey, the authorities finally noticed.
Barlett’s interest in both book collecting and how Sanders managed to take down John Charles Gilkey created a contrasting plot that provided a full overview on the subject. Bartlett’s quest for information about the hundreds of books stolen by Gilkey led her to prison, where Gilkey was serving time for credit card theft. From behind the plexi-glass, emerged a normal looking man who explained he stole books because he loved them and he wanted to have a giant book collection. He loved books so much, he just wanted them! Despite his affair with the written word, he is no more than a common criminal who felt it wasn’t fair that he should be deprived of these magnificent rare books, nevermind that he never worked a real job and was in and out of prison for most of his life.
The book grew repetitive about half way in, as so many of Gilkey’s thefts were similar. I was also anticipating a book about a book heist from a museum, not a man who engaged in credit card fraud and tricked small business owners. Overall, the book tackled a unique subject that was a pleasure to read. I would recommend the book to anyone who, like Sanders, believes they “were born with a book in hand.”