A clever and entertaining hard-boiled detective story set in the dangerous world of new and used books


Eddy Johnson, Book Dealer

John Wiley

Boyle & Dalton

Paperback and Ebook, ISBN 978-1-63337-569-7, 204 Pages

February 24, 2022


Diehard fans of detective fiction often snarl at anyone who dares to write a funny sendup of their favorite genre. Readers less strict about literary boundaries, however, can find plenty to enjoy in John Wiley’s clever new private-eye spoof, Eddy Johnson, Book Dealer.

Eddy is much more than a book dealer. He’s also a tough-guy private investigator (with a gun) who takes on cases involving missing or stolen rare books. In 1987, a fictional Austin book market has become dominated by two Mafia-like families with Italian names. Instead of drugs, loan-sharking, or illegal gambling, the two families have gained control of the local sale and resale of new, used, and collectible fiction and nonfiction.

The book’s wry concept is ripe for over-the-top writing. But Wiley keeps his prose close to the borders of noir. Like the real sleuths of serious gumshoe fiction, Eddy Johnson investigates his way into the darkest corners of the local booksellers’ world and gets into situations well over his head.

In the case that kicks off the action, Eddy is hired (for a startlingly low fee) to recover a missing rare book. The book and the compromising materials left between some of its pages have serious implications for one prominent politician running to be Austin’s next mayor. Eddy gets some leads on who may have the book, goes to find it, and gets into a brief gunfight. When he tracks down his wounded assailant, he interrogates him after a fight.

“Who are you working for?” I say to the big guy.

“The Capalettis.”

Hearing that name, Eddy realizes he’s in big jeopardy and tells himself:

“I’m going around town shooting guys who are connected to the Capalettis? Nobody messes with them. They run a wholesale operation—Capaletti and Son Books—out of a warehouse near South 17th and Oltorf. They’ve got a deal with the Romanos. The Capalettis keep south of the river, the Romanos north. And everyone else keeps out of the way.

Indeed, the book market in Wiley’s fictional Austin is a hotbed of crime and scandal. Thugs slash the dust jackets of rare, collectible books if you don’t meet their demands. Big trucks full of major publishers’ latest printings are hijacked. Someone thinking they have scored a rare work of Texana worth thousands may open the wrapping paper and discover they’ve gotten a $5 used P.G. Wodehouse hardback. A pallet of new books can even be used as a murder weapon. And book dealers routinely place illegal Las Vegas bets on which books will make the bestseller lists next.

A typical example of Eddy’s toughness (and Wiley’s humor) is revealed when he needs to replace his pickup truck, recently blown up by a bomb. He rebuffs a car dealer’s suggestion to get something new and sporty. Eddy retorts: “I can’t have a fancy car. I’m a book dealer. If I drive a car like this, everyone’s going to think I have money. I need to look like I can’t make ends meet.” He really can’t. His book business focuses on “literary” works, and he’s overshadowed by dealers who sell military and Texana volumes.

Wiley’s novel hits the major markers in the writing style associated with American detective novels since the 1920s. His sentences usually are terse, with a minimum of adjectives. The chapters are short, sometimes spanning just two pages, but steadily move the plot forward. And the hero is just an ordinary person who does his detective work alone.

Eddy Johnson, Book Dealer is a refreshing and fun take on dark-toned private investigator fiction.

JOHN WILEY spends most of his time writing and farming. He and his wife Marie live in central Ohio, on a one-hundred acre farm that is somewhat isolated but happens to be at the center of the universe. They have, in addition to cattle, Ridgebacks and Tennessee Walkers and indoor/outdoor cats, snapping turtles in the pond, turkey buzzards circling overhead, groundhogs tunneling, coyotes calling to each other in the night.

His first novel, An Inconvenient Herd, came out in 2018. His second novel, Eddy Johnson, Book Dealer, was published in 2022.