In every person’s story, there is something to hide…
The ornate reading room at the Boston Public Library is quiet, until the tranquility is shattered by a woman’s terrified scream. Security guards take charge immediately, instructing everyone inside to stay put until the threat is identified and contained.
While they wait for the all-clear, four strangers, who’d happened to sit at the same table, pass the time in conversation and friendships are struck. Each has his or her own reasons for being in the reading room that morning—it just happens that one is a murderer.
Award-winning author Sulari Gentill’s latest novel, The Woman in the Library, offers readers at least two novels for the price of one, combining a vibrant and witty mystery about four strangers who meet in Boston Public Library with a taut cat-and-mouse exchange between Hannah Tigone – bestselling author of said mystery – and her biggest fan, aspirational novelist Leo.
In the first narrative Australian writer Freddie, the recipient of a prestigious literary scholarship, seeks solace in Boston Public Library in an effort to write her next book. She finds herself sat next to Freud Girl (Marigold), Heroic Chin (Whit), and Handsome Man (Cain) and is busy transmuting them into characters when the silence of the reading room is broken by an ear-splitting scream. Although quickly dismissed as a prank, the scream enables the four to get chatting and, before long, they’re having coffee together at the Map Room Cafe and well on the way to becoming firm friends. And then, a body is found in the library…
Australian author Hannah Tigone, meanwhile, is eagerly sharing each chapter of her latest novel with fan and aspirational novelist Leo Johnson. Based in Boston, Leo is an invaluable resource for Hannah, giving her tips and hints to help make her depiction of the city come alive on the page. But Leo knows about more than just Boston’s hottest diners and the correct American slang. In fact, he seems to know a worrying amount about criminal methodology and, as the story progresses, he starts to become a little too invested in Hannah’s new novel.
I thoroughly enjoyed this engaging and intriguing murder mystery (or should that be murder mysteries?), which combines some thoroughly devious plotting with clever and unpredictable twists to make a page-turning and pleasurable reading experience.
The characters felt immediately alive and engaging and, unlike some ‘books within books’, I didn’t find myself preferring one plotline over another. Indeed, whilst I was constantly intrigued by what Freddie and ‘the gang’ were up to, I also found myself wondering how Hannah and Leo would discuss this chapter in the narrative when it came to their turn. The novel also contains lots of fun in-jokes that both book lovers and writers are sure to appreciate, as well as some knowing nods to writers and their habits and fixations. For those who like to indulge in a little literary analysis as they read (I can’t help it, it’s the PhD student in me), there’s also some nice meta-fictional discussions about the nature of literature, the meaning of character, and the craft of fiction.
Readers expecting a cosy ‘murder-in-the-library’ may find themselves side-swiped by The Woman in the Library‘s more metafictional and literary elements, as well as by some of its knowing wit and humour. That’s no to say that there isn’t a good old-fashioned murder mystery in here. There is. And it does, indeed, take place in a library. But what Sulari Gentill has crafted is wry, tricksy tale that plays with the duplicity inherent within fiction itself. Who is telling the story – and whose story it is – matters, and the novel delights in embroiling the reader within it cunningly folded layers of narrative.
I had a huge amount of fun reading The Woman in the Library. Although it does have some literary elements, there’s still a page-turning mystery at the heart of the novel and, with its vibrant characters and lively sense of humour, it made for a quick and thoroughly enjoyable read. I was delighted to learn that Sulari has authored several other novels – including a well-reviewed historical series – and I look forward to working my way through her back catalogue and discovering more of this author’s work.
If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green Bookshop, Sam Read Booksellers, Book-ish, Scarthin Books, and Berts Books.
My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review and to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 28 September 2022 so please do check out the other stops for more reviews and content!
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