Review: “The Book Hunters of Katpadi”

Katpadi.jpgPick up The Book Hunters of Katpadi (2017), Pradeep Sebastian’s first novel, and you will be instantly struck by its beauty--a dazzling dust jacket, charming illustrations, and a black ribbon book marker. It’s the kind of treatment not often given to mysteries, but this one is obviously special because it is a bibliomystery, a term defined by Otto Penzler as a “mystery story that involves the world of books: a bookshop, a rare volume, a library, a collector, or a bookseller.” Bingo!

Now that you’ve been lured in, there’s more good news: Sebastian spins an exciting yarn about the discovery of a long-lost and highly coveted manuscript written by British explorer (and Kama Sutra translator) Sir Richard Francis Burton. Set in and around an antiquarian bookshop called Biblio in Chennai, India, The Book Hunters of Katpadi has a cast of characters that will be familiar to bibliophiles, including clever booksellers, fervent collectors, and ambitious auctioneers. The fact that these characters have conversations about Richard Heber and Thomas Frognall Dibdin as a matter of course will not be lost on book collectors. The shady fringes of the antiquarian book market also emerge, providing the adventure and intrigue that such a mystery requires.

Sebastian, a collector himself, writes a column about books for The Hindu. Nick Basbanes called his 2010 collection of essays, The Groaning Shelf, “impressive” and “erudite.” Now Sebastian has applied his talents to fiction and crafted an engrossing tale of rarities lost--and found--in his native India. Sebastian shows a subtle hand, elegantly evoking sights, sounds, and tastes in his narrative and reaching well beyond a typical gumshoe plot.  

Since the book was published in India, getting your hands on a physical copy here in the states will require ordering via Biblio or Abebooks (but it will be well worth it!). Or, you can download the Kindle version from Amazon UK.   

Auction Guide