STARRED REVIEW
April 26, 2016

Librarian tracks a killer

By Con Lehane
Review by

Crime, books and libraries make for a heady combination in Murder at the 42nd Street Library, the first in a new series by Con Lehane that mixes mystery with some of America’s most famous institutions of higher reading.

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Crime, books and libraries make for a heady combination in Murder at the 42nd Street Library, the first in a new series by Con Lehane that mixes mystery with some of America’s most famous institutions of higher reading.

The librarian/sleuth of this tale is Ray Ambler, who curates the crime fiction collection at the lion-guarded flagship building of the New York Public Library in midtown Manhattan. In addition to its many literary allusions, the book is bursting with Big Apple sights, sounds and liveliness, with many neighborhoods, ballparks and landmarks sure to strike a chord with Manhattan aficionados.

Not one, but two people are murdered early on, one in a library office close to Ambler's, the other in Bryant Park near the library. The dead man in the park is a famous crime author whose papers have just been donated to the library’s crime fiction collection. Unable to help himself, Ambler begins to investigate. Not only is he an expert on every conceivable aspect and perpetrator of fictional crime, he also has the acquaintance of real-time NYPD homicide detective Mike Cosgrove, and the two hook up to look into the backstory of these oddly coincidental crimes. Working their sometimes separate, sometimes diverging trajectories, they begin the task of smoking out a murderer.

Murder at the 42nd Street Library operates on a kind of slow burn, increasing in tension—and complications—as the pages progress. In fact, at times the characters can get downright confusing. Readers may need a cheat sheet in order to keep track of Max, Nelson, Kay, Laura Lee, Lisa, Jim, Dominic, Adele, Bennie, Arthur and Harry against a convoluted backstory that involves plenty of odd marriages, extramarital dalliances, sex with minors, intrigues and betrayals. Just about everyone’s lying about something.

There’s a cool youngster named Johnny who brings a welcome air of innocence to this often-tawdry tale of adults who just can’t seem to keep their dalliances and power trips under control. Our hopes lie with Johnny and those who support and protect him.

Ambler the librarian has a disarming, low-key aura that wins us over, along with his well-calibrated iron fist/velvet glove shtick. And wait for it, there’s a honey of an unexpected ending.

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Murder at the 42nd Street Library

Murder at the 42nd Street Library

By Con Lehane
Minotaur
ISBN 9781250009968

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