Death of a Bookseller by Alice Slater

Death of a Bookseller is a thriller set in a branch of a chain bookshop, as two very different women are brought together by a true crime case. Roach—real name Brogan—has worked at Spines for years and has her niche: she’s the weird one who loves true crime and hates “normie” things like popular bestsellers. When some new booksellers arrive to try and revitalise the shop, Roach immediately dislikes Laura, who seems to stand for everything Roach hates, and also is nice to everyone except her. However, when Roach learns more about Laura, she thinks they have a lot in common, but Laura doesn’t see it this way.

I’d heard a lot about this book, including seeing it compared to other books which deal with true crime elements, and I wasn’t disappointed. Slater takes two unlikeable narrators, flawed characters who see each other as cartoonish stereotypes, and plays around with a narrative about obsession, perspective, and the nuances of true crime. By telling the story from both perspectives, you get a great contrast and also see the reflections of one in the other, even down to their respective issues with alcohol, love lives, and connections with other people. Both of their narrative voices can be difficult to read at times—Roach with her utter disdain for “normies” that puts you on edge and Laura’s facade covering up her clear need for help as she spirals—and this makes the book more than a thriller about obsession, something that also delves into metanarrative about if people should seem ‘nice’ to be sympathised with. 

There’s also a lot of bookshop content—surely there’s also a metanarrative about whether booksellers will need to push this book to customers—and this brings a lot of the satirical side, alongside the exaggerated lives of Roach and Laura, which means I could understand comparisons with something like Boy Parts. The book is full of modern bookish culture and presents two extreme views of true crime which does reflect the polarity at the heart of a lot of debates about books (something I’m sure this book won’t be immune to). It’s a tense story, but probably particularly aimed at people who understand this context of some of the modern kinds of readers and book discourse.

From the title, I expected a murder mystery, and that’s clearly intentional, but Death of a Bookseller is not one. It’s a twisted thriller exploring extremes of character, different perspectives, and modern corporate book culture.