Book Review: The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill

About the Book:

‘And then there is a scream. Ragged and terrified. A beat of silence even after it stops, until we all seem to realise that the Reading Room Rules no longer apply.’

Hannah Tigone, bestselling Australian crime author, is crafting a new novel that begins in the Boston Public Library: four strangers; Winifred, Cain, Marigold and Whit are sitting at the same table when a bloodcurdling scream breaks the silence. A woman has been murdered. They are all suspects, and, as it turns out, each character has their own secrets and motivations – and one of them is a murderer.

While crafting this new thriller, Hannah shares each chapter with her biggest fan and aspirational novelist, Leo. But Leo seems to know a lot about violence, motive, and how exactly to kill someone. Perhaps he is not all that he seems…

The Woman in the Library is an unexpectedly twisty literary adventure that examines the complicated nature of friendship – and shows that words can be the most treacherous weapons of all.

Published by Ultimo Press

Released June 2022

My Thoughts:

My review copy of The Woman in the Library contained a guessing game from the publicist, whereby at a certain point in the novel, I was to pause, have an educated guess based on the story as far as to who I thought the guilty party was. I was provided with a picture card for each of the four main characters and an envelope to put my card (which was my guess) into. I guessed wrong, which is not unusual for me as I am notoriously bad at guessing ‘whodunit’ in any crime situation. Lucky, I didn’t become a detective! I did, however, enjoy this novel immensely, and I also enjoyed this added guessing game bonus provided to me through my copy, so thanks again to Ultimo Press for their efforts.

This is my first novel by Sulari Gentill, despite her lengthy backlist. I’ll primarily attribute this to not being a reader of series much and she is of course the author of the extraordinarily successful Rowland Sinclair WWII Mystery series. Anyway, this was my first experience of her writing, and I was solidly impressed. The Woman in the Library is stunningly clever in its structure and execution, and it’s this that I’ll talk about more than the actual murder mystery itself.

The Woman in the Library is a book within a book style of a novel. Hannah Tigone is writing a crime mystery and is sharing each chapter with her biggest fan, who is also beta reading for her and offering, initially, much needed input, as Hannah is an Australian author writing from a pandemic locked down Australia and her novel is set in Boston, America. What we are reading, as the novel, is actually the novel that Hannah is writing. Hannah herself doesn’t appear within the novel except for at the end of each chapter, and even then, it’s only in the emails addressed to her, written by Leo, superfan/beta reader. Later in the novel, there are a couple of other forms of correspondence addressed to Hannah that we become privy to, but we never read anything from Hannah herself, apart from her novel chapters, which, as we go along, say quite a lot if you read between the lines of the emails being sent to her by Leo, particularly as we become more and more aware that all is not what is seems with him. The tone of his emails takes a dark and frankly weird turn as the novel progresses. I would have been petrified to open my inbox each day if I were Hannah and someone like him was emailing me.

I hope this doesn’t make the novel appear confusing because it really isn’t. It’s clever and absorbing, and I love it when an author does something innovative with their narrative like this. Sulari has been able to address many things by writing her novel in this way: the pandemic, without making it a pandemic novel; race issues within the US, which as we can all recall exploded at the same time as the world being in a pandemic lockdown, but again, she addresses these issues without making it a novel about race. And alongside this, the novel offers an exploration of friendships: how we make them, how we keep them, and who we rely on when things get stretched thin. There’s a lot in here about shared experiences and friendships that are forged from them. I also loved all the writerly parts, the bits about muses and inspiration and needing another writer to springboard off as well as plotting styles and what not. Really, there was so much to like about this novel, and none of this even relates to the actual murder mystery that the plot of Hannah’s novel revolves around, which fundamentally drives the narrative.

Fans of Sulari Gentill will no doubt be thrilled with this new novel, but those who have never read her before, like me, should be equally as thrilled to discover such an amazing literary talent. This is also a novel that is suitable for any sort of reader, so it would make a brilliant gift and an excellent book club pick. Highly recommended.

Thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

4 thoughts on “Book Review: The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill

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