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Unprintable
By Julie Kaewert

Bantam, 1998 $5.99

Reviewed by Therese Greenwood

One of my first jobs was assistant editor of a magazine for the printing industry and I quickly learned that printers have an inexhaustible appetite for information about their trade. One of the first trades to unionize -- partly because they were, by the nature of their work, literate -- they have a fervent and robust interest in the history and art of their craft.

The daily operations of the novel's Plumtree Press, a small but respectable publishing house specializing in quality books, will appeal to printers and book lovers alike. The extensive descriptions of typefaces and the old-fashioned printing process -- largely gone by the wayside in the electronic days of "cold type" -- are lovingly crafted and carefully researched.

Small publisher Alex Plumtree is asked by his father's friend, the Labour Prime Minister of Britain (not, we are told, "Tony Flair"), to publish a potentially racist book in hope that the public backlash will stir up sentiment for the left-leaning governing party. Alex resolves that if he is going to print the thing, he will do an elegant job of it with creamy paper stock, graceful typesetting, and luxurious leather bindings.

American author Julie Kaewert sprinkles interesting printing information liberally throughout the text. Unfortunately, she must do the same with bits of British politics to bring her plot to fruition. While the setting is essentially that of a "cosy" -- it's even got a vicar -- the plot centers around espionage and the impending European Union and requires lengthy plot explanation. For example:
"Something had happened to the stoic people of England since they'd begun to perceive a threat to their independence with the advent of the EU. Not only did they want to prevent Economic and Monetary Union; they wanted out of the whole entangling alliance. What had begun as the common market had somehow evolved into the European Union, without people realizing what had happened. The European courts in Strasbourg now overrode Parliament and the decisions of the English courts. The EU was now demanding allegiance for defense purposes, and Britain's NATO membership was about to go out the window. In response to this sudden perception of trickery on the part of the government, the people of England had begun to display almost pathological patriotism."

Another plot flaw is that publisher Plumtree, sworn to secrecy by the most senior levels of government, must immediately start divulging the secret to all his trusted friends until a goodly number of the characters know what it is. If the trusted friends can be trusted as far as Plumtree himself, it's not very much of a secret.

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