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ALC Review: The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill


Release Date: 7 June 2022

Rating: 3.5/5

Narrator: Katherine Littrell

Book Boxes: Unplugged Book Box Adult July 2022

Synopsis: 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 delivers a sharply thrilling read with The Woman in the Library, an unexpectedly twisty literary adventure that examines the complicated nature of friendship and shows us that words can be the most treacherous weapons of all. 

 

Review


My first traditionally published (but indie!) mystery/thriller since A Flicker in the Dark didn’t fare any better for me this time around. The Woman in the Library’s cover and plot give off nominal vibes from last year’s The Devil Makes Three, but there are no fantasy elements, and there is quite a bit of commentary. The narrative unfolds in a multi-layered, partially epistolary novel involving the methods of crime writing and the effects said writing has on the writer and those around her. I mainly avoid contemporary, realistic stories and stick to fantasy to escape political and social commentary of any kind because I hear so much of it on the news, and I like my leisure reading to be devoid of it. That was not the case here. I know others have different tastes on that account, and many don’t read fantasy, so I’ll get right to reviewing the book and leave out my own commentary about the commentary.


For starters, meta perfectly describes this narrative. It has three layers: the first, an author named Hannah and her beta reader, Leo, correspond over a new novel that she’s writing about four friends (5, actually) investigating the after effects of a woman’s scream and subsequent murder in the Boston Public Library; the second, within the beta-read story are five friends (Winifred, Cain, Marigold, Whit, and Leo) who spend the narrative solving the mystery of the screaming woman; and the third, Winifred’s ongoing story-writing process within the second story layer inspired by the events of the woman’s scream in the the BPL.


All this meta narrative may seem very attractive, but I found that in this case, it made the story incredibly busy. I did not find the plot hard to follow, but I did find that the story itself, the solving of who murdered the woman in the Boston Public Library, lost its shine because of all the background noise of the layers. I feel Hannah’s and Leo’s story fell by the wayside and became overtaken by the events of the friends in the book with their mystery. The commentary lined up with the story and showed the interesting process through which writers go to get a novel written and polished, but the interaction and mystery of that layer didn’t feel organic to the story. It was out of place and felt intrusive to the reading experience instead.


The characters in the second layer of story are pretty interesting. They do not develop in a vacuum, as they change as the beta reading comments come through, but for the most part, none of them really added to the mystery. I find I cannot suspend my disbelief so much while reading crime novels when there is little to no or only tangential involvement of the police in the story. Some of the less believable details stand out like sore thumbs, like when characters sneak out of buildings the police are watching and do not get caught when they meet up with murder suspects—multiple times. Additionally, unless there is a warrant, obtained by a quite complicated process through a judge’s authority, police cannot just confiscate cell phones. The fact that the characters in the second layer just hand theirs over and la-dee-da over to the Walmart and get more of them made the story completely derail for me.


On a brighter note, the audio narration by Katherine Littrell provided a superb listening experience. I did not have a hard time staying focused on the story, the character voices sounded different (and very well done), and I could speed the book up significantly because of the excellent enunciation. Not a bad experience at all. In fact, if one can listen to the book instead of read visually, I highly recommend doing so. What a performance.


I can’t say I ultimately did not enjoy the book—it was entertaining enough—but I just don’t think it was believable enough for me. With all the details and layers, as a reader, a ton of stuff went on that jumbled the story way too much. The proverbial forest was impossible to see for the trees. In the end, the motive for the murder was pretty thin and felt like a wet blanket of a reveal. The concept was fantastic, but the execution fizzled. I may have to wait another year before I read another crime read. Unless someone can recommend a good one to me. One that can live up to something brilliant, like The Alienist.


My thanks to Sourcebooks via Libro.fm for the ALC, for which I willingly give my own opinion.



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