reviewed by Gail Byrd
A totally unique approach to a mystery novel, The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill is really a book within a book. At the outset, the reader is introduced to Freddie, an author who has won the opportunity to live in Boston and write a new novel.
As the book opens, Freddie goes to the Boston Public Library where she meets Marigold, Whit, and Cain and begins writing her book using these four people as inspiration for her novel’s characters.
At the end of the chapter, there is an email from Leo which reveals that Freddie is actually a character who is part of a mystery novel being written by Hannah, an Australian writing the book from abroad since the pandemic prevents her from traveling to the United States to perform any research. Leo’s emails are made up of bits and pieces of information regarding specifics about Boston or about American colloquialisms which are designed to help Hannah write in a more accurate way regarding location and conversation. These emails also help remind the reader that the primary mystery has a fictional character named Freddie who is identified as the story’s author, while in reality the entire story is being written by Hannah, an author who is living in Australia.
Moving forward, the mystery being penned by Freddie becomes more involved and the four people who met in the library become involved in trying to solve the murder. As their investigation continues, questions regarding each one’s innocence become more apparent as Freddie tries to decide if one of them is the actual murderer. There are attacks on first one then another of the characters, and Freddie’s attention is drawn from one to another of these characters as she tries to determine the murderer’s identity.
As Freddie becomes more involved with the other character’s lives, events become more serious with the addition of another murder and suspicion that seems to attach itself first to one, then another of the characters. Meanwhile, Leo’s emails are posted at the end of each chapter and, in addition to providing information to Freddie regarding American terms for locations, clothing, etc. become more demanding.
As Leo’s emails become more insistent and, in some cases, more sinister, the possibility of a second mystery begins to blossom in the reader’s mind. Is he genuine in his assistance or does he have a hidden agenda. Hannah receives a letter from the FBI warning her of a “Leo” who is sending her emails and may be stalking her. Are they referring to the same Leo who’s emails have been an integral part of the first book? Or is that Leo a fictional character like Freddie and the other murder suspects?
The pacing of the book is steady and at an excellent speed to keep the reader engaged in continuing through the book. Gentill has created characters with good depth who are distinctly drawn and easy for the reader to keep separate. The approach is so unique, and the story so engaging, the reader may easily find themselves reading “just one more chapter” long past when they have made a commitment to put the book down for the night. The end of the book, while satisfying, may leave the reader thinking about it even after they have put the book away, perhaps hoping there will be a sequel so questions regarding the future of some or all of the characters can be answered.
My thanks to Poisoned Pen Press and NetGalley for providing me with an advanced reader copy for review. The opinions stated here are entirely my own.