Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Library Fuzz Megapack by James Holding

The Book Cop Files
Hal Johnson is a former homicide detective who has voluntarily left the police force to pursue a kinder, gentler career with the public library. His new job involves tracking down overdue library books and collecting fines from delinquent borrowers. You wouldn’t think such work would require a firearm, but for some unexplained reason Johnson is allowed to carry one. It’s a good thing, too, because in the course of his daily work as a book cop, he turns up an astonishing number of murder, theft, and kidnapping cases. Johnson is the creation of mystery writer James Holding, whose first short story in this series, entitled “Library Fuzz,” appeared in 1972. Further tales of Johnson’s cases appeared throughout the 1970s and early ‘80s in publications like Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, and Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine. The Library Fuzz Megapack, published by Wildside Press in 2015, collects 20 short stories from the series.

In keeping with the era in which they were written, these stories often have a feel similar to The Rockford Files. Johnson is always running into sexy dames to flirt with, though he saves his true love for library coworker Ellen Corby. He has a friend in the local police, Lieutenant Randall, who supplies gruff banter and investigative assistance. Too few of the stories actually have anything to do with books. “More Than a Mere Storybook,” which deals with the theft of a rare volume, is one of a few exceptions. Usually, however, the stories revolve around a slip of paper used as a bookmark, upon which someone has written incriminating information. To his credit, Holding demonstrates a decent working knowledge of library operations, but Johnson is always too willing to hand over confidential patron information to the police. That may have flown in the 1970s, but librarians today would consider that a serious ethical no-no.

Most of these stories are pretty short, amounting to about 20 minutes of reading, yet they feel long and drawn out, like Holding was padding the narrative with unnecessary filler in order to reach an assigned word count. However, the best entry in the volume is its longest, “The Savonarola Syndrome,” the only selection that aspires to novella length. Because it is given the time to actually develop suspense, it is far more effective than the shorter stories, which add up to little more than Encyclopedia Brown tales for grown-ups, but without the deductive reasoning. These aren’t the kind of mysteries where the reader is given the clues to the puzzle and then has the opportunity to solve the case himself. Instead, they’re more like police procedurals where you follow along as Johnson and Randall tail and question suspects or search crime scenes. All too often clues just seem to miraculous fall into their laps, or they reap the benefits of unrealistically fortuitous coincidences. The crucial clues in each case are often hidden from the reader, only to be revealed at the end as the suspect is apprehended.

Some of these stories can be quite fun, but after a while the plots start to get repetitive, and even Holding seems to realize he’s running out of ideas. Hal Johnson isn’t even present in the last five stories of the collection, which feature police detective Lieutenant Randall in run-of-the-mill cop cases that have nothing to do with the library. Twenty stories may just be too much library fuzz for one reader to take. The idea of a library cop who solves book-related mysteries is an attractive premise, but the resulting stories, for the most part, are lackluster and merely adequate.

Stories in this collection
Library Fuzz
More Than a Mere Storybook 
The Bookmark 
The Elusive Mrs. Stout 
Hero with a Headache 
Still a Cop 
The Mutilated Scholar 
The Savonarola Syndrome 
The Henchman Case 
The Young Runners 
The Honeycomb of Silence

The Jack O’Neal Affair 

The Reward 

The Search for Tamerlane 


The Book Clue 

The Vapor Clue 

The Misopedist 

Cause for Alarm 

Hell in a Basket 

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