Roger Seagraves keeps a collection of mementos from all the people he’s killed, first as a government assassin and now as a self-directed ‘troubleshooter’. Before his sudden death, Jonathan DeHaven collected rare books - including one so rare he shouldn’t have been able to possess it. Annabelle Conroy has wound up a collector of lost chances, but there’s one she’s not going to let get away, not even if it means staying in the States after pulling off the con of a lifetime. And the Camel Club seems to collect trouble. It’s Caleb Shaw who finds Jonathan’s body in the Library of Congress and soon all four are in full conspiracy-theory mode, tracking down connections to a murdered politician and a shifty defence contractor. Meanwhile Annabelle and her crew are about to swindle millions out of a casino king with the potential to make Roger Seagraves look positively pleasant in comparison.
This is the sequel to The Camel Club and obviously the second in a trilogy. Fortunately it’s only one thread that’s not tied up at the end, making it much less frustrating than First Among Sequels; you want to know what happens next, but you didn’t feel like the story’s been chopped in half. The members of the Club were as enjoyable as ever, all ageing and eccentric but still a match for whatever villains Washington can offer. Said villains are obvious from the start, but the reader is still kept guessing as there’s no clear reason for the choice of victims, as well as the puzzle of how Annabelle fits in and what a copy of one of the world’s rarest books was doing in Jonathan’s vault. Books and their guardians are central to the case, including the Library of Congress’s Rare Books Room, which sounds like a place where I could happily lose myself for months on end.
There is a downside, however: The dreaded infodump. And in dialogue, no less, making the characters sound like they’ve swallowed the product manual. But it’s confined to the first third of the book, and it’s worth persisting to see more of the central characters. They’re all outcasts and misfits who would probably be quite lonely if not for each other, and one of the things I like most about the series is the way in which they gradually accumulate new friends. In the first book it was Alex Ford; here it’s Annabelle. She might be a career criminal but she’s got a good heart (and really, no-one could argue but that Jerry Bagger deserves to be taken down).