A murder that takes place at the 42nd Street Public Library in Manhattan is an unusual venue for a mystery concept. However, this is exactly what Con Lehane has created in his new and very effective novel, MURDER AT THE 42ND STREET LIBRARY. One afternoon, Dr. James Donnelly enters the office of Harry Larkin, the Director of Special Collections at the library and is shot dead. Larkin, a medieval historian and former Jesuit priest becomes very defensive about the murder he has witnessed when questioned by his friend Raymond Ambler, the curator in the collection of crime fiction, and a Tai Chi aficionado. Ambler, who dabbles in solving real crimes is friends with Mike Cosgrove, the NYPD detective who is in charge of the new investigation. It seems that the elderly author, Nelson Yates, who suffers from dementia, has donated his papers to the library and a number of characters cross paths over the new collection. There is Donnelley’s ex-wife, Kay; biographer, Maximilian Wagner; Wagner’s wife, Laura Lee McGlynn; Adele Morgan, a colleague of Amblers at the library; Benny Barone, a library researcher; Yates’ young wife Mary, the elderly Yates, and Dominic Salerno, a mob type. All of these people are key to the web Lehane creates as he spins his tale, particularly when feelings are ruffled when Yates decided to give his collection to the library as opposed to other bidders.
Yates is very concerned about his collection because there are letters he has written to his estranged daughter Emily who left home at fifteen. Yates fears that if Wagner, who is writing a new biography of him gets hold of the letters it will destroy any hope of a reconciliation with his daughter, as well as his literary reputation. The library staff has not followed library protocol and has allowed Wagner access to Yates’ papers before they were catalogued. The papers, the intermingling of a number of characters, and their personal secrets form the basis of an extremely well-conceived and entertaining plot, particularly when Yates is murdered outside the library.
It is extremely interesting as Lehane lays out the different characters and how their pasts intersect. It seems that at one time Yates was a visiting professor at Hudson Highlands University in Rockledge, at the same time Max Wagner was an assistant professor of English, as was James Donnelley. Further, Kay Donnelly was an English graduate student along with Laura Lee McGlynn who was married to an English professor whose death is linked to Yates’ daughter Emily. Just this brief snapshot in time raises some interesting questions about the two murders that have taken place and what these past relationships expose. By this juncture Lehane’s plot should captivate the reader and lead to a very satisfying murder mystery experience.
Lehane writes in a very smooth prose and has not created the overly sarcastic main characters that other mystery writers rely on. Ray Ambler is a sensitive and somewhat intellectual type, and Mike Cosgrove is career NYPD who is trying to get his private life in order. As the novel progresses Lehane has the ability to drop a number of bombshells in a very subtle manner that the reader would never expect, and this approach adds to the story. My only criticism of the novel is that the final ending is somewhat farfetched but it does lend itself to another installment of Ambler and Cosgrove’s approach to crime, which I look forward to.