Published by Berkeley Prime Crime,
10 October 2019.
The story is told in the first-person viewpoint of Hayley Burke, the new curator of the late Lady Georgianna Fowling’s First Edition Library, based in Middlebank House in Bath. The library specialises in Golden Age detection novels and Hayley is in a difficult position because she bluffed her way into the job and has no knowledge of Golden Age crime fiction. The library’s secretary, Mrs Woolgar, is very knowledgeable about the subject and is aware that Hayley is not qualified for her job. Mrs Woolgar had been Lady Fowling’s personal assistant and is dedicated to keeping her memory and her library exactly the same as it had been in her lifetime.
Hayley’s personal life is as out of control as her career as a curator. She is in her forties, divorced and in a tenuous long-distance relationship with a man more interested in setting up his business venture than in spending time with her. She has a student daughter that she spoils, providing money whenever it is asked for and facilitating her daughter’s selfishness and lack of independence, in an attempt to make up to her for her parents’ divorce. Hayley’s most positive relationship is with her elderly mother, who is frail in body but has an incisive mind. Hayley spends every weekend with her, and she encourages Hayley to do the obvious thing to solve her work problem, which is to become acquainted with the Golden Age authors.
One of Hayley’s innovations is to allow a group of fan fiction writers to use the library for their meetings. Mrs Woolgar whole-heartedly disapproves of this decision, and this influences her reception of Hayley’s other ideas, such as hosting a series of literary receptions. Fortunately, Hayley has one of the Board of Governors on her side and when there is a possibility of collaboration with Bath University, Hayley’s plans seem more feasible. Added to which, Hayley meets university lecturer Val Moffat, and a warm friendship follows. Hayley is already regretting allowing the quarrelsome fan fiction group access to the library and is considering rescinding her agreement when disaster strikes, and a member of the group is found murdered in the Middlebank House library.
As well as having to deal with the horrified reactions of Mrs Woolgar and most of the Board of Governors, Hayley has her first unpleasant encounter with Charles Henry Dill, Lady Fowling’s nearest living relative, who is still trying to find a way to overthrow the conditions of her will and take over Middlebank House. It is soon evident that Dill has researched Hayley’s background and is going to blackmail her to resign, not just because of the murder but because her ignorance of the Golden Age makes her unfit to hold her job as curator. Hayley does the only thing she can. She starts reading Golden Age books, beginning with Agatha Christie’s The Body in the Library. Soon Hayley is attempting to solve the murder, using an amateurish attempt to emulate the methods of Miss Marple, until she accidentally draws too close to the killer and places her own life is in danger.
The Bodies in the Library works well as a stand-alone novel, but all the indications are that it is intended to be the first in a series. It is based on an amusing concept; the plot is interesting, and the characters are likeable. I especially enjoyed the way that Hayley’s relationships with several of the other protagonists developed, especially when the rather prickly Mrs Woolgar showed her kinder side. The story is set in England and the narrating protagonist is English, but the book is an American publication and contains some American spellings.
The Bodies in the Library is a gently paced, cosy crime novel and an enjoyable read.-------
Reviewer: Carol Westron
Marty Wingate is a Seattle-based author and speaker about gardens and travel. She is the author of The Garden Plot, first in the Potting Shed mystery series. There are now 7 books in the series. Marty’s garden articles appear in a variety of publications, including Fine Gardening, American Gardener, Country Gardens, and Gardening How-to. You can hear her on the podcast A Dry Rain, available free from iTunes. She leads garden tours to European and North American. The Bodies in the Library, published 9 October 2019 is the first in her new series.
To read a review of Carol latest book Strangers and Angels click on the title.