Murder in the Manuscript Room (A 42nd Street Library Mystery #2), by Con Lehane

Six stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Con Lehane, St. Martin’s Press, and Minotaur Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Returning to the majestic building of the 42 Street Library in New York City, Con Lehane continues the adventures of Crime Fiction librarian Raymond Ambler. In this story, Ambler finds himself in the middle of quite the conundrum. Tasked with preparing a display of crime fiction over the past century and a half, Ambler must come up with a collection that taps into all aspects of crime. In waltzes a former cop and aspiring author, Paul Higgins, who wishes to donate his private papers to the cause, but seeks a promise that they will not be shared with anyone. Ambler holds them in trust, but it is only then that the real trouble starts. Working alongside Adele Morgan has helped foster a close friendship, which may have more to it. However, when a murder occurs within Ambler’s own office, Adele’s closeness to the victim proves more an impediment than help. Leila Stone seems to have been working at the library under an assumed name and on a mission. As NYPD Homicide begin their investigation into the Stone murder, they are shoved aside when the Intelligence Division takes control of the case and quickly snatches up a suspect. Adele’s ongoing interest in this man, an Islamic scholar, leaves Ambler concerned that she might be shielding the truth out of a sense of romantic desire. Meanwhile, Ambler is trying to process having his grandson living with him while in a custody battle with the boy’s maternal grandmother. Seeking to uncover the rationale for this murder and if it might have ties to a case three decades in the past takes a back burner, as Ambler attempts to keep his personal life from falling apart. There seems to be more to every story in his life, but Ambler can find neither index nor cliff notes in an attempt to set it straight. Lehane offers some interesting sleuthing insight in this piece that meanders as much as this summary review. Possibly of interest to those who like a little mystery with the protagonist’s angst-filled journey.

I must congratulate Con Lehane for putting together the foundation of what looks to be a highly intriguing and captivating novel. This is the second in the series and I enjoyed the debut novel, though this piece seemed to lack a strong connection to the core essentials. The characters develop well, for the most part, particularly Raymond Ambler and Adele Morgan, though outside of their emotional tug-of-war, I found a number of the other characters out of sync with the story arc. Their personalities were present, the backstories seemed to fit, but the delivery seemed less than what I might have hoped to see. It was as though Lehane let his characters scurry around like ants and used the narrative to zoom in and offer some commentary before panning out and looking elsewhere. The story had the potential to be strong and well grounded, but meandered too much to really connect for me. Surely the present and past murders that are developed throughout have something that ties them, for that is the flavour that the narrative offers. However, nothing seemed to bring it all together smoothly for me. While some might say it is petty, I felt that Lehane did not use gaps in time effectively. Where some authors might use a set of asterisks or symbols to denote a delay in the narrative or even an empty line or two, Lehane seems to steamroll ahead two days between sentences. Yet, he does use the aforementioned ‘gap symbols’ on other occasions as well. This inconsistency left me wondering if the draft of the book was posted to the galley site before proofreaders or editors had done the job for which they are paid. I cannot be sure whether Lehane should be shamed on those who received payment for shoddy work. Either way, there is a glimmer of possibility here and I may return if a third novel surfaces, though I cannot promise to add it to my watchlist.

Kudos, Mr. Lehane for a valiant effort. The pieces may not have worked too well as a cohesive unit, but they were far from jagged and destructive.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: