Books & Literature

Book Review: The Woman in the Library, by Sulari Gentill

PSYCHOLOGICAL THRILLER: Four strangers. A quiet library. The perfect place for murder.

Enormously enjoyable, twisty, and fun.

Winifred (Freddie) is an emerging author who has won a writing scholarship to Boston. She is researching one afternoon in the Boston Public Library, procrastinating while she observes the other three people around her, when a woman’s terrified scream is suddenly heard from a room nearby. Sometime later, this woman is found under a table in the library, clearly murdered. And the four random strangers who sat together have formed a friendship group.

But this story is actually being written by successful author Hannah Tigone, who is mailing chapters of her manuscript to a fellow writer and fan, Leo. While Hannah writes in Australia, Leo in Boston corrects her bad Americanisms, gives her the names of local restaurants, and helps her with the layout of the city and its library.

Sulari Gentill’s The Woman in the Library is an ambitious attempt at a story-within-a-story. And as is the nature of that structure, the two stories start to work in and around each other as the narrative proceeds.

The substantive story, the murder in the library, is rather like one of Hitchcock’s “MacGuffins”: not really important in itself, but useful as a framework for some clever twists and turns. The reader follows the development of the randomly initiated friendship (or is it?) between the four main characters: Freddie, Marigold, Whit, and Cain. When one of them becomes a suspect in the murder, the race is on to prove their innocence. Afterall, they were in plain view of three other people when the victim screamed. A phone goes missing and then creepy text messages are sent from it, friendship turns to love for a couple of the characters, and a couple of other people get killed or at least stabbed. It is certainly an action-packed story.

The main characters are all interesting enough to keep us reading, but Freddie herself, like so many young female protagonists in this genre, comes across as almost having no personality. The most interesting and clever sections of the The Woman in the Library are the emails between Hannah and her American interlocutor, Leo. Gentill’s skill as a writer shines brightest as Leo’s character is gradually revealed to us in both what he writes, and what he doesn’t write. But he also serves an interesting role in his meta-observations, which give Hannah pause for thought, and thus also us as readers. More could have been made of this very clever and engaging device.

The Woman in the Library is enormously enjoyable: clever, twisty, sharp, and great fun. Although as a simple murder-mystery it leaves a bit to be desired, as a psychological thriller it delivers, and keeps the suspense going on multiple levels.

Reviewed by Tracey Korsten
Twitter: @TraceyKorsten

This review is the opinion of the reviewer and not Glam Adelaide.

Distributed by: Ultimo Press
Released: June 2022
RRP: $32.99

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