Title: The Woman in the Library
Author: Sulari Gentill
Publication: Poisoned Pen Press, paperback, 2022
Description: Writer Hannah Tigone is sitting at a table in the Boston Public Library’s ornate Reading Room when a woman screams. She 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 a novel 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. We enjoyed it because this book is very well done and 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, and mentions of the pandemic. There were seemingly unexpected comments on race by Hannah’s correspondent Leo. We wondered if we had assumed all the characters were white and discussed whether they were or not and whether, as readers, we wanted the author to make it clear. We agreed we should not assume. This element definitely added dimension to our discussion.
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 can 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 poor teenager on trial for murder in North Carolina would not have a lawyer in Boston but more likely have a public defender from 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, especially to those who love our Copley Library and who enjoy a local setting.