I start at Maynard & Bradley on Silver Street in the city centre. A charming shop and an affable owner, but I come away empty handed. A smattering of charity shops – same result. Tin Drum Books on Narborough Road looks more promising. It's the classic secondhand bookshop. Tall bookcases, full shelves. Pleasing level of order despite tattiness and frayed edges. An elderly gentleman sitting behind the counter quietly getting on with whatever the proprietors of secondhand bookshops get on with. I inspect the shelves, checking non-fiction first, saving up fiction like the icing on a cake. I start at the end of the alphabet and pick out Man Descending by Guy Vanderhaeghe. He sounds Belgian but is Canadian; the fact his book is a short story collection published by Sceptre is good enough for me. My heart beats a little faster when I spot the tattered spine of William Trevor's The Children of Dynmouth. I have a copy in Penguin, but this is a King Penguin, so the chances are it could have a James Marsh cover. I tease it out and see the eyes floating in the sky, the lighthouse nose and the bird for a mouth. The book is in poor condition, but I love these covers. I love them like I love those of Griselda Holderness for Emma Tennant in Picador and Tom Adams' covers for Fontana's Agatha Christie series. (In fact, don't tell Griselda or Tom, but I probably love the James Marsh covers more.)
I assemble a smallish pile of books (a Charles Nicholl and a Justin Cartwright in Picador, Louis Aragon's Paris Peasant, which I already have in Picador, but this is a Picador Classic, so, since I also collect the black spines of Picador Classics – confusingly that list was recently started up again with white spines – I have to have it, and an Anita Desai in King Penguin) that come to £11.50. I head to the counter, wishing I felt able to say to the man that £2 seems a bit steep for the William Trevor, given the state it's in. He counts them up and says, 'Let's call it £10, a nice round number.' I decide I like this man.
The next shop on my list is Treasure Trove on Mayfield Road, which I find out later I could have reached by going up New Walk, the most beautiful street in Leicester. I pass the Church of St James the Greater on London Road, where in 2014 I attended Graham's memorial service. It's a cliché, of course, but Graham was one of those larger-than-life, passionate, funny and generous characters you simply can't quite accept are no longer around once they've gone. Dying far too young at 59, he was as committed to defending the goal-mouth for the England Writers football team as he was to defending disadvantaged groups generally.
The Mayfield Road address for Treasure Trove turns out to be a private residence. What can you do except take a step back and stare up at the property somewhat resentfully? Maybe you assess how recently the change of use took place? Can you still smell books in the air? In this case, 21 Mayfield Road doesn't look as if it has ever been a secondhand bookshop. You start to doubt the reliability of Google. You wonder if Donald Trump is to blame. Or the Russians. But it doesn't do to dwell. Much better for the blood pressure just to walk on, in this case south into increasingly leafy neighbourhoods, eventually stumbling upon the charming villagey centre of Clarendon Park, with its twin bookshops either side of Queen's Road run by Age UK and Loros (a local hospice charity). In the former, where ladies of a certain age gather for lattès at the tables in the window, I find an Edmund White collection in Picador that I have never seen before, Skinned Alive. You see some White titles a lot – A Boy's Own Story, The Beautiful Room is Empty, even Nocturnes For the King of Naples and Caracole – but Skinned Alive is a new one on me. Also a King Penguin edition of JM Coetzee's Waiting For the Barbarians, with, tucked in between pages 98 and 99, an inclusion: a letter from Coetzee to the Times Higher Education Supplement dated 7 October 1988 in which he, as a professor at the University of Cape Town, writes in support of the cultural and academic boycott of South Africa.
Over the road in Loros I buy a copy of Graham Joyce's thirteenth and penultimate novel Some Kind of Fairy Tale. I ask the shopkeeper if he knew Graham. He didn't, but when in conversation I mention that Graham had been a fan of Coventry City, the man opens up. He's a Derby fan himself. He says he doesn't watch Match of the Day because he can't bear it when men talk about football. Neither of us comments on the irony as we proceed to have a friendly and apparently mutually enjoyable chat – about football.
I have a sense that Clarendon Books, around the corner on Clarendon Park Road, will be the highlight of my afternoon and, indeed, when I get there the signs are good. In one of the boxes outside is a copy, albeit in poor condition, of Christopher Kenworthy's short story collection Will You Hold Me? I've known Chris as long as I knew Graham, since the late 1980s. He has lived in Australia for many years now. His collection contains some of my favourite short stories. They are as affecting as they are odd. Odd, in my opinion, or in this context anyway, is an entirely positive descriptor.
As I push open the door of Clarendon Books, the carpet beneath it rucks up. I poke my head around a pile of books and apologise to the proprietor. 'It's been happening all day,' he tells me. Clarendon Books is similar to Tin Drum Books, although with even more books crammed into a smaller space. The choice is wider, the space between the shelves narrower. I find a Picador by John Cowper Powys that I don't have – Weymouth Sands. When I get it home it will join five others of his books and the six of them will account for an impressive nine inches of shelf space. Cowper Powys, a writer of long books, died the year I was born, our lives overlapping for only three months. It says on the back of Weymouth Sands, '… the stones of Chesil Beach are as much characters as the human beings.' Some might say that of a more recent novel by another author.
My pulse quickens as I reach for an early Picador – Peter Wahloo's The Lorry. Gingerly I open it to the flyleaf, expecting its scarcity to be reflected in the price, but it's actually cheaper than the other books I've selected. I take four books to the till and remove a £10 note from my wallet that I hope will cover the cost. 'Let's call it £8,' says the man. 'Thank you very much,' I say, as a feeling of warmth similar to the one I had in Tin Drum Books starts to suffuse my entire being. I leave the shop and, as I walk back to Queen's Road, I tot up what the books should have come to – £8.05.
I spend a very special evening with Graham's family and later head back to my hotel along New Walk, which must be the most beautiful street not only in Leicester but in the whole of the East Midlands. And the West Midlands, come to that. It feels enchanted, like a street in some kind of fairy tale. I doubt there are many streets as beautiful anywhere in the country.