The woman in the library

While we were in the Kimberley, I read a book – The woman in the library by Sulari Gentill.

Like a lot of my recreational reading it’s a murder mystery, but this one got under my skin a bit.

Most mysteries go a little like this – a body is discovered in circumstances that suggest something untoward has happened. The competent authorities are incompetent or otherwise disinterested.

However, the lead protagonist feels there is more to the case and starts to ask questions, only to be given the brush off. They keep digging and find a greater mystery – illegal logging, an ice lab in a school, a corruption cover up.

The real trick is to set the story in an exotic location – 1980’s Moscow, nineteenth century rural Wales, a broken Aboriginal community scarred by drug abuse out in the desert, or among the hippy towns of northern NSW.

Done well these stories tell you something of the realities of life in these communities and the issues facing them.

I heard Sulari Gentill speak about her book at WinterWords, our local literary festival a few months ago, and while she was an entertaining speaker I got the feeling that even she didn’t quite get the appeal of her book.

On paper, if you simply go on the plot synopsis, it doesn’t stand out.

Like most classic mysteries, Sulari Gentill’s novel starts with the discovery of a body, or rather this time it doesn’t, it starts with a scream.

Four strangers are flung together and a fairly classic locked room mystery plays out among the middle classes of Boston. (One of the protagonists is a visiting Australian author incongruously named Winifred – personally I don’t believe that anyone in Australia has been called Winifred since Bob Menzies was in short pants)

The mystery plays out with all the various twists and turns you would expect – was Winifred’s lover the murderer, or was it a stranger, and what did the homeless man found dead by the lake know?

It’s a good story and well written, and if it had simply been a locked room mystery I would still have read it and enjoyed it, but I wouldn’t be writing about it – what makes it different from most is a second story told in a series of emails interleaved in the book about how the author is being stalked by someone allegedly helping her gather source material and how the relationship becomes more threatening.

Anyway, enough. Read it yourself – you’ll enjoy it

About dgm

Former IT professional, previously a digital archiving and repository person, ex research psychologist, blogger, twitterer, and amateur classical medieval and nineteenth century historian ...
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