The Woman in the Library
- Author: Sulari Gentill
- Genre: Mystery
- Publication Date: June 7, 2022
- Publisher: Sourcebooks
Thank you to NetGalley and Sourcebooks for providing me with an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
CONTENT WARNING: murder, violence, blood, mention of child abuse, mention of sexual assault, stalking
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.
This sounded so intriguing that I couldn’t resist requesting it. And naturally, I’m always down for a good, unique mystery. However, this book wasn’t quite what I expected it to be, and I don’t mean that in a bad way.
This is technically a book within a book. It begins with a letter from Leo, a man in America, who is corresponding via email with Hannah, an Australian author friend of his about her manuscript. So it quickly becomes obvious that the chapters are literally chapters from her manuscript, with him offering feedback as a beta reader. And while I found myself getting caught up within the chapters themselves, I also found myself getting caught up in the interaction between Leo and Hannah, despite the lack of responding letters from Hannah.
This is one of those books that was incredibly easy to read, and I read the majority of it within a single sitting. It flows smoothly and kept me hooked on not just one story unfolding, but two. The characters in the central mystery, four strangers who happened to be sitting at the same table in a library where a murder occurs, kept me reading to find out who they really were and what they were hiding. Because each of them was hiding something. However, the book glosses over a problematic point—one of the characters was actively stalking another, and it’s just brushed off because it’s a female doing the stalking. It made me uncomfortable, and over the course of weeks when this story is taking place, none of the people who knew about it ever confronted her about it. It comes across as being viewed as less dangerous or harmful because it’s a woman doing the stalking.
I found the feedback from the beta reader to be quite interesting, even as I grew to like his character less and less over the course of the book. He brings up important points, or at least, what he views as important points. I’ve read quite a few new books in the last two years that don’t include the effects that the pandemic has on society, so it quickly becomes clear that although the book is set in the present day, the author of the chapters has made it a point to avoid discussing it. And I appreciate that—books are such a good way to escape from the stresses and changes in our lives, and I rarely think to myself, “Hey, let me read a book about the pandemic while I’m actively living through it.” While i’m sure that there have been more, only one really comes to mind that included the pandemic.
The beta reader also brings up a concern about the race of the characters, which isn’t clarified at any point in the book. Is it important to the story itself and how it unfolds? The character arcs? The beta reader seems to think so, but to be honest, I didn’t really think about it until that point came up. The characters are ambiguous enough to let the reader draw their own conclusions, and perhaps if I was more familiar with Boston, I might have picked up on the fact that one character seems to live in an area where more Black people live. But then he offers his suggestions to improve, which honestly weren’t very good. And to be honest, the lack of description allows readers to connect with the characters, no matter what they look like. Although I do understand the importance of being able to see yourself on pages, I also see the value of facilitating connections regardless of what a person looks like, and leaving us to connect with the characters on who they are instead.
This was a fast-moving story, with no pacing issues. It held my attention from the start, and it took me by surprise quite a few times. The plot twists came fast and furious at the end, and despite trying to figure out which of them was behind the murder, I didn’t quite figure it out. It’s a quick read, and the two different storylines worked really well.
People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn’t an upper limit.
Gasp Factor: 9
Categories: Book Review