THE FIRST PART OF THE PAPYRUS TRILOGY
A series of mysterious deaths in the Papyrus Bookstore brings literature-loving police inspector Dejan Lukic to investigate. Here he meets the attractive owner, Vera Gavrilovic, and learns that the only thing the victims have in common is that in the moments before their deaths they were reading an elusive and unidentified volume — The Last Book.
As the plot thickens and the seemingly causeless deaths multiply, the National Security Agency, a secret apocalyptic sect and an exotic teashop become involved, while Dejan and Vera’s growing attachment is threatened by nightmares and ever-encroaching danger. Is a literary madman on the loose, murdering readers according to the method laid down in The Name of the Rose?
In a final race against time, Inspector Lukic must discover the secret of The Last Book and the reason why he feels as though he has already read everything that is happening to him in a novel. The extraordinary denouement reveals hidden truths about the clash of realities and the awesome power of the creative imagination.
- Novosti (Serbian, 2007)
- Izvori (Croatian, 2008)
- PS Publishing (English, UK, 2008)
- Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag (German, 2008)
- Eyes and Heart Press (South Korean, 2009)
- Zavod (Serbian and English, 2009, as a part of the Romani / Novels omnibus)
- TEA (Italian, 2010)
- The Flying Dutchman (Dutch, 2010)
- Blodnjak (Slovenian, 2010)
- Zavod (Serbian, 2010)
- Cavalo de Ferro (Portuguese, Portugal, 2011)
- Editora Octavo Ltda (Portuguese, Brazil, 2012)
- TEA (Italian, 2015)
- Cadmus Press (English, Japan, 2016, as a part of The Papyrus Trilogy)
- Cadmus Press (English, Japan, 2017)
An excerpt, translated from the Serbian by Alice Copple-Tosic:
Nothing about the death seemed violent, so there was no reason for an investigation. But the owner of the Papyrus Bookstore panicked. No one had yet lost their life in her store. She called the police as well as an ambulance.
I got there at the same time as the ambulance. While the doctor went about his work, I stood to one side and looked around the bookstore. I hadn’t been there before. You could tell by the details that the place had character. The potted plants were well cared for, the decorations on the mantelpiece above the small fireplace were nicely arranged and there was no sign of the dust that inevitably goes along with books.
“There’s nothing for you here, Inspector Lukic,” said the doctor, taking off his plastic gloves. “It was a natural death. Heart failure most likely. We’ll know more after the autopsy. Whatever it was, it probably happened in his sleep. All you can do is envy him.” He chuckled softly. “He’ll never even know he died.”
“What was the time of death?”
“Sometime between five and six. The old man had been sitting here dead for at least two hours and no one even noticed. It’s a heartless world we live in.”
“So it seems,” I said and moved aside to let the orderlies pass with a stretcher carrying the body under a green sheet.
The doctor nodded. “I’ll see you next time, Inspector, when the circumstances are more exciting.”
Once we were alone in the bookstore, I approached the owner. She was a willowy woman with long red hair and a freckled face. There was a youthful air about her, but she was probably close to thirty-five. She was dressed in a dark blue tweed suit with a matching blouse of a lighter shade. Narrow reading glasses hung from a ribbon around her neck. Standing in front of the cash register counter, she didn’t know what to do with her hands, which is often the case with people who can’t hide their anxiety.
I held out my hand to take her mind off the dilemma if only for a moment.
“Inspector Dejan Lukic. Good evening.”
“I’ve had better evenings. Vera Gavrilovic, owner of the Papyrus.” She paused and then added almost reluctantly, “Miss.”
“Would you like to sit down?” I asked.
“No, thank you. I’m fine like this.”
“Have you ever seen a dead person before?”
She looked at me for a few moments in silence, then shook her head briefly.
“It’s always a shock the first time. Particularly if the deceased is not a stranger. Did you know him?”
“I don’t remember seeing him before. But lots of people come here. I can’t remember them all.”
“If it’s any consolation, it doesn’t get any easier even when you’re used to seeing the dead.”
“I don’t suppose I’ll have to get used to it.”
“I think that’s a safe bet. A bookstore is the last place one would expect to find a dead body. This is the first case I’ve heard of.”
“Let’s hope so.”
“Would you mind telling me what happened?”
Miss Gavrilovic sighed deeply before she began.
“Just like I do every night, a little bit before eight I announced that the store was about to close. Some people headed for the cash register with the books they wanted to buy and the rest went out the door. It wasn’t until the last customer left that I realized I wasn’t alone.”
She turned to the right towards an armchair upholstered in worn-out dark-green plush. Three more like it were placed in the other corners of the bookstore.
“The old man’s head was bowed over the book in his lap. He seemed to be reading, but I had a notion he was asleep. There’s nothing unusual about that. Some people come here in winter, mostly to get warm. They take a book, settle into an armchair and stay there until closing time. Most of them actually do read, but some, particularly the elderly, soon nod off. I don’t mind as long as they don’t snore.”
She shrugged her shoulders as though exonerating herself.
“I went up to the armchair and told him that we were closing, but he didn’t move. I said it again in a louder voice, then put my hand on his shoulder to shake him a little. His body just tilted to the side…”
I nodded my head. “Disagreeable, I know. But the worst is over.”
I looked at her questioningly. “What do you mean?”
“If the word gets out, our customers might start to give us a wide berth. Death isn’t the best recommendation for a bookstore.”
“There’s no reason for this to get out. It was a natural death, not a crime. It could have happened to the poor old man anywhere. It happens almost every day. No one will take any notice.” I smiled, then repeated the words I’d heard not long before. “It’s a heartless world we live in.”
The bookstore owner sighed once again.
I took a look around.
“You have a nice bookstore. I would have preferred not to come on business.”
“I’m afraid we don’t have many books that would interest a police inspector. The books we sell are mostly serious literature.”
“Then you sell what interests this police inspector.”
“My degree is in literature.”
“And you went to work for the police?”
“I went to work where there was a job. Being well-versed in literature wasn’t a handicap. On the contrary, it’s often helped me.”
“Detective novels? But they aren’t really serious literature.”
“Would you call Crime and Punishment or The Name of the Rose light literature?”
“No, of course not. But I wouldn’t categorize them with detective stories either.”
“Nevertheless, they can be read like one.”
“I suppose so. Let’s not go into the complex issues of literature right now, it’s not the right time. I’ll be more than happy to exchange thoughts with you on such topics if you come another time. Unofficially.”
“With pleasure.” My eyes swept over the tall shelves filled with books once again. “Good bye, Miss Gavrilovic.”
“Good bye, Inspector.”