Murder Off the Page (42nd Street Library Mystery #3) by Con Lehane

Seven 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.

In the latest novel of this series, Con Lehane spins another tale of a dedicated librarian who seems always to be in the line of fire when murder strikes. Raymond Ambler has been working hard within the 42 St branch of New York City’s Library. He remembers a patron coming in and spending hours reviewing a recently donated collection of writings and correspondence of a popular author. He also notices that she has made an appearance at the watering hole of library employees. Shannon Darling is completely different when plied with alcohol, turning into quite the seductress. Brian McNulty is not only a friend of Ambler’s, but also the bartender of this establishment and takes it upon himself to help get Darling back to her hotel room safely. When, a few days later, Ambler learns that his friend has disappeared, he cannot help but worry. McNulty soon reaches out and promises that he is safe, but needs to handle a few things. When the body of a man turns up dead in a hotel room, Darling’s face shows up on the security camera. McNulty admits that he was with her, but refuses to come out of hiding. Ambler begins trying to see if he can determine what’s going on and if the correspondence Darling was reading could have something to do with what is going on. Darling turns up dead and McNulty is the prime suspect, but this is only the beginning. Ambler must try to protect his friend from a likely murder charge while determining what truths he can uncover. Meanwhile, Ambler must juggle issues with his grandson that have come to the surface, as if he did not have enough to keep in order. A murderer is out there and these letters donated to the library could hold all the answers. Lehane does well to keep the series going, even if things got a little busy throughout. Recommended to those who enjoy Con Lehane’s work, particularly this series of library sleuthing.

I remember stumbling on this series when perusing NetGalley a few years ago. The premise was intriguing and the narrative kept me wanting to know a little more. Ray Ambler proves to be an interesting protagonist, keen to work hard at his job and always the unwitting amateur sleuth on a murder investigation. Ambler must worry, as his friend is in the crosshairs of the police for a set of murders that are wrapped in an elusive seat of journals. He must also work hard to balance work and home life, both of which seem to be on shaky ground. Other characters work diligently to complement Ambler throughout the piece, serving their roles effectively as the narrative gains momentum. The story was slightly hokey, but one can expect that when a bumbling librarian is placed in the middle of a murder investigation, much like a Jessica Fletcher character in the 1980s mystery programme. Lehane keeps the story moving effectively and entertains the reader while keeping the characters developing throughout. I’ll surely tune in for the next book, though admit that it is lighter fare in the mystery department.

Kudos, Mr. Lehane, for a decent third novel. I am eager to see where you take things, as you left a number of crumbs that could be followed.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

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: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons