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The Paper Pirate

As if the looming deadline to pay off a balloon mortgage isn’t enough to worry about, the five partners who own the small town book store The Paper Pirate find themselves menaced by a stealthy crook who systematically searches first the shop, then each of their homes. Because he takes nothing and barely leaves traces of his presence, the police can’t be of much help, and simply promise to keep an eye on Charlie Santorelli, Lavinia “Vinnie” Holcomb, Al Rockleigh, Felicia Cocolo and Lenora Stern. It’s a mystery to them but the reader knows that Rick Foster, a shady rare-books dealer and his sidekick Nina Bartov are on the hunt for a particular old volume that sits unnoticed on a shelf in The Paper Pirate’s used book section. It’s an obscure early work of the not-terribly-successful author Benjamin Conway, and it’s badly defaced—but a very wealthy man is willing to pay Rick a half a million dollars for it. Seems an ancestor of his eluded the henchmen of a nineteenth-century dictator by escaping to New York, and eventually took refuge in the northeastern Pennsylvania countryside. Before he was captured and killed, he’d scribbled as much evidence of the tyrant’s sins as he could fit into the blank spaces of a copy of The Stargazer at Dawn and hid it where he hoped his comrades would find it. They never did.

The five friends also are members of a writers’ group, and each of them has a secret. One is penning an erotic novel on the sly, another hides a painful estrangement with an only child, and a deadly teenaged mistake causes a third to sabotage her every chance at happiness in the present. A partner who claims to be unpublished actually is a one-hit-wonder with a thirty-year-old best-selling novel followed by a crippling literary failure, and the last has a family with criminal connections—he’s spent half a lifetime avoiding them.