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Book Review: The Woman in the Library

By Robert McCool

The cast is small, but the mystery is large.

While police check out why a woman let out a blood curdling scream in the Boston Public Library Reading Room, four people seated at a table together get to know each other and their writings. These are the primary characters in a book under construction by a woman named Hannah, whom we do not know, although we do hear from an unasked-for critic who gives her advice by email.

The action in that manuscript includes a woman nicknamed Freddie, another girl named Marigold, and two men, one named Cain, and the other Whit Metters. We are told right at the beginning that one of this group is the killer of the “Woman in the Library.”

This new book (published by Poisoned Pen Press,  LCCN: 202102365) by Sulari Gentill is a multi-fold account of the four central characters in a story being written by Freddie. With Freddie, an Australian, as the narrator of the action and suspense, the story builds to a mystifying conclusion. Who is the killer? We can’t guess.

Those of you who follow my reviews already know that I am a sucker for books about libraries, and this one is no exception. Although it starts in the library, most of the novel takes place in Boston proper. We only revisit the Reading Room later in the plot, as part of the search for the killer.

This technique is a novel way to follow the group through the city and go to invented restaurants and bars we can’t actually visit, but which sound like fascinating places to meet up with the members of the group. Still, we cannot guess who the killer is.

Cain becomes Freddie’s love interest and she sticks by him, even when the facts make him the major suspect of the original death. Cain wants to explain away the facts when Whit is stabbed and declares that Cain did it.

Marigold, a teenager, digs ever deeper into the others’ pasts, finding shocking events that make the suspects seem even more guilty. Even Freddie, the narrator of the novel, is a suspect. When Cain gets stabbed we can’t figure out the mystery.

Other people show up in the story, too. Justine is the police detective who works with Freddie to explore the possible theories in the search for the now multiple killer. Jean Metters is Whit’s mother, who is a lawyer. Shaun Jacobs, is a homeless drug addict who doesn’t last long in the tale after stabbing Whit. Leo is Freddie’s helpful upstairs neighbor. All of them add to the plot and make the narrative even more twisted as it directs you into the confounding, visceral mystery.

The novel ends with a mystery that tangles the story even more.

I liked this novel for its suspense, confusing plot and its four main characters whose lives we visit as the story builds.

This could be a book club selection or a guiltless beach read.