The ornate reading room at the Boston Public Library is quiet—until a woman’s terrified scream shatters the tranquility. 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 sitting at the same table pass the time in conversation, and friendships are struck. Each has their own reasons for being in the reading room that morning—it just happens that one is a murderer.
The Woman in the Library (Amazon US) (Amazon UK) (Audible) (AbeBooks)
This book has a long hold list at my local library, both print and digital copy. Much to my surprise, both the digital and physical copies became available to me at the same time. I couldn’t remember why I wanted to read The Woman in the Library, other than it was supposed to be set in a library. I was surprised to see that the book only had a 3.5 average rating on Goodreads given the popularity of the book. I decided to give the book a chance, anyway. After all, there are plenty of books that get rave reviews and I found them just okay.
The Woman in the Library is a locked room mystery at its heart, along with a bit of metafiction thrown in, which was a fun twist for me since I couldn’t remember why I requested the book from the library. There are only a few suspects, and for the majority of the book, the clues lead to one suspect. Well, I thought, that’s not much fun for the reader, and concluded that it was just a red herring. I was right.
I liked Freddie, but like her pen pal, Leo, I really couldn’t get a physical description of her, which irked me a little. She’s Australian, and I pictured her with fair skin and long, curly blonde hair. Later in the story, Leo asks if one of the suspects is black, because that affects how one reads the story and interprets his interactions with the police. And it’s true, I just assumed everyone was white, but change the characters to black and the whole vibe changes. And Freddie’s mystery is being written during the early days of the pandemic, but it’s not mentioned in her story, which Leo doesn’t like. He wants that reality to seep into Freddie’s work even more. As the story goes on, Leo gets more and more critical of the author’s writing, although he’s fascinated with the murder.
I do have to say that I did not see the twist in the story coming, which made the metafiction part more interesting during the brief interludes, but then found the rest of the mystery lagging. I was still invested in the story to want to go on, but it became kind of a slog to get to the interesting parts. Ultimately, I think the story-within-the-story aspect didn’t work as well as it could have once I got about 60% through the book.
Very little of the mystery takes place in the Boston Public Library, so I felt a bit cheated by the title. That’s only where the story starts. I still liked this mystery, though, and would recommend it to anyone who likes a locked room mystery with a few twists.
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