Tuesday, September 20, 2022

The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill

Title: The Woman in the Library
Author: Sulari Gentill
Publication: Poisoned Pen Press/Sourcebooks, paperback, 2022
Genre: Mystery
Setting: Boston
Description: Writer Hannah Tigone is sitting at a table in the Boston Public Library’s ornate Reading Room when a woman screams.  Soon the police find a dead body. Hannah had been eyeing the three people adjacent to her as a possible source of inspiration and the mysterious scream startles them into a conversation, then a spontaneous and enthusiastic friendship. But one of the four is a murderer. This is a story within a story: Hannah is Australian, writing suspense set in Boston from far away during the pandemic, corresponding with Leo, a fan who is based there and provides fact-checking on the chapters she sends him as well as commentary on his own attempts to become a published author. It is a variation of the locked room mystery where it seems improbable that a crime could have been committed.

My Impression: I had heard about this book before seeing it at Barnes & Noble and decided it would be a good change for my book group due to its Boston setting and strong reviews. All but one of us really enjoyed it because, overall, this book is very well done and is quite unusual. My friends particularly appreciated the glimpse of the writing process as Hannah contemplates and develops her characters, the many red herrings the author scatters to confuse her readers, mentions of the pandemic (must it be included? was it more inescapable in Boston than in Australia? After all, our book group was meeting inside for the first time since February 2020 and we would have sat in the restaurant’s courtyard if rain weren’t expected) and the seemingly unexpected comments on race by Hannah’s correspondent Leo. We wondered why we had assumed all the characters were white and discussed whether they were or not and if, as readers, we wanted the author to make it clear. We did not care but agreed we should not assume.
The Boston Public Library Reading Room
The reader needs some suspension of disbelief to accept that these four individuals would enter into such a close friendship so quickly but at least on Hannah’s side that could be explained by the fact that she is far from home and knows few people. Leo is a wonderfully creepy character who makes helpful suggestions to Hannah about specific things she should correct or include in her manuscript to make the story more authentic (he missed a few things: there is no Walmart in Boston and no diner in the very upscale Copley Place mall, for example). Also, a teenager on trial for murder in North Carolina would not have a lawyer in Boston, but more likely a public defender in his own state. Such things can and should be explained away by the author with a careful editor who points them out. Still, it was a clever and entertaining story which I recommend.

Source: Personal copy.  This
 is my seventeenth book for Carol's 2022 Cloak and Dagger Reading Challenge.
Off the Blog: I wrote most of this review while watching the Queen's funeral which was sad but beautifully orchestrated and made me wish I were still in London.


Cath said...

I've seen this all over the net with good and sometimes not so good reviews. I think of you every time I see it and keep meaning to mention it... fun that you used it for your book group.

The funeral was amazing. We watched from nine in the morning to past five in the afternoon. I don't think it could have gone off better. I felt quite flat this morning and tired so heaven only knows how the family must be feeling. Utterly exhausted I would imagine.

Carol said...

I've read all the author's Rowland Sinclair mysteries & really liked them, except for the last one that was published - I thought she included certain situations just to drag out the series.
I'd probably be interested in this one & will check if my library has it.

Gretchen said...

I enjoyed this as well. It would be great to read in a book group. There is lots for discussion.

Katrina said...

I was absolutely glued to the TV the whole day of the funeral, and of course to everything that went on in Edinburgh previously. Thankfully King Charles is back in Balmoral, he looked exhausted, I don't blame him.

carol said...

I didn't love this one, but I can see where it could lead to some good discussion.