The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill is a somewhat cozy, closed circle, inverted locked room murder mystery set in the Boston public Library. The Woman in the Library will be published on July 7th 2022!
Thanks to the author and NetGalley for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
There is quiet in an ornate reading room within the Boston Public Library, that is until the tranquility is shattered by a woman’s terrified scream. Security guards take charge immediately, instructing everyone to stay put until the threat is identified and contained. While they wait, 4 strangers sitting at the same table, pass the time in conversation and friendships are struck. Each has his or her own reason for being in the reading room at that time—it just so happens that one of them is a murderer.
Things I liked
- Interesting Format
- Decent Characters
- Insight in the process of author
Things I didn’t like
- Advertised as a closed circle murder mystery, which it isn’t really
- Separate story line that wasn’t nearly as interesting
Expectations vs Reality
Going into the story after only reading the synopsis, I expected a closed circle murder mystery taking place in a library. The closed circle murder mystery trope is 1 of my favourites and will immediately get me to pick up a book. On top of that I thought this would be set within a library which made me even more excited. Sadly, it seems that the synopsis wasn’t entirely accurate.
Yes, part of the story takes place in a library, a very small part. And yes, technically this is a closed circle murder mystery, not in the typical sense of there not being any other possible suspects, but because the author very early on (and in the synopsis) tells you that the murderer is sitting at this table and is 1 of 4 characters. Within the actual story there really is no reason to suspect anyone at the table, and there are plenty of side characters that are suspicious. You can just disregard them however, since they’re not the killer anyway.
So I wasn’t too happy when I realized the story wasn’t staying within the library, and we weren’t getting some Hercule Poirot level sleuthing to find out who killed the woman. Instead everyone get’s to leave and the 4 strangers decide to get some food together and very quickly become friends.
The format of this book is very interesting. Bear with me because this might get confusing. This is a story within a story within a story. We are first introduced to Winifred, an Australian writer living in Boston on a writers scholarship. She is working on her manuscript in the Boston public library, at a table with 3 strangers. The silence is shattered by a scream, and the 4 strangers start talking to each other. That’s the first story.
The second story is the one Winifred is writing. The characters in it are inspired by the strangers she met, and loosely by the events that happened in the library.
Now there is a third story line. After each chapter we see a letter from Leo to Hannah. Hannah is an Australian mystery author and Leo is a big fan and beta reader. Hannah is currently writing the story we’re reading about Winifred and the 3 strangers. It’s interesting to see a letter from a beta reader about the manuscript after each chapter and to see that relationship slowly devolve into something more sinister.
This book really is an author (Sulari Gentill) writing about an author (Hannah Tigone) writing about an author (Winifred Kincaid) writing a book. Definitely something I’ve never seen done before. While it was a bit confusing at first, once I figured it out I really liked the format. It’s unique and I value that.
Unfortunately the thing with multiple story lines it that you run the risk of 1 of those story lines not being as interesting as the others. While at first I was intrigued by all of them, the beta reader letters quickly grew boring. Even when that particular story line started developing a bit more, I still wasn’t nearly as interested in it as the main story line. I think in the end it actually took away from my overall enjoyment of the book.
Final Thoughts & Rating
While the formatting was certainly unique, the mystery really wasn’t. I am not going to spoil anything here but the twist and eventual reveal did not surprise me whatsoever which is unfortunate. My biggest issue with the book is that it’s a very forced closed circle murder mystery. If the author didn’t explicitly tell you, you would never know.
I ended up rating this book a 6.5 out of 10. With this being 1 of my most anticipated releases of Q2 2022 I was hoping for a higher rating and am left a bit disappointing. Overall it was fun but I doubt it will be very memorable.