Murder at the 42nd Street Library
A Raymond Ambler Mystery by Con Lehane
Review: When a daring assault on a researcher that results in his death takes place at the 42nd Street Library in New York City, crime fiction librarian Raymond Ambler sets out to identify the killer, in Murder at the 42nd Street Library, the first mystery in this series by Con Lehane.
The dead man is James Donnelly, a researcher, who was interested in writing a biography of prominent novelist Nelson Yates, the personal papers of which the library had recently acquired. The terms under which the library received the documents was cloaked in secrecy, which only added to Ambler's interest in finding out if the two events, the murder of Donnelly and the Yates collection, were related. Ambler quickly learns that Yates had an estranged daughter, who he hadn't seen in years, and she seems to hold the key to Donnelly's death. When Yates himself is shot just a few days later, Ambler knows that something in the noted author's past has caught up with him … but what exactly it might be is a mystery.
Murder at the 42nd Street Library seems to take on more than it is capable of delivering. Aside from Raymond Ambler and his paramour (and amateur sleuth partner) Adele Morgan, there really aren't that many characters in the book, and even fewer suspects to investigate. The problem is that each of the suspects has a number of interpersonal and interconnected relationships with the others (and over lengthy and varying periods of time) so that keeping them straight is a bit of a challenge. It is clear early on that Yates's daughter, Emily, is key to understanding everything, and yet it takes a long time for Ambler, and the detective investigating the murders, to catch on to this. Even so, the story moves along at a good clip and there's rarely any down time.
Other issues for readers include probably the most important question to be asked, Why now? Why, after all these years, is someone targeting these men? That question is never really answered. Then there is the rather odd relationship between Ambler and his detective friend, Mike Cosgrove. It's understandable why Cosgrove wouldn't (and shouldn't) share investigative details with Ambler, but it's less clear why Ambler is so reluctant to share what he knows (or discovers) with Cosgrove. Ambler clearly wants to step into the shoes of the fictional detectives he manages for the library, and produce the aha moment that solves the crime, but it doesn't always ring true here. And when it comes to identifying whodunit, that, too, is a bit of a mess. Ambler and Cosgrove come to different conclusions, and it's more than a little messy while the two of them sort out who is responsible for which death. The final twist, if one can call it that, comes way out of left field and sews up a number of loose plot threads way too neatly (and way too conveniently) while frustratingly leaving a big one left undone.
Readers familiar with the author's other series character, bartender Brian McNulty, will be pleased to see he makes an appearance here in a supporting role. Still, there are more than a few times when one might wish him to move to center stage, put people in their places, and take charge of solving the crimes himself. He's more than capable of doing so.
On balance, Murder at the 42nd Street Library is an intriguing start to this series, not necessary a particularly strong one, but strong enough that it will be worth taking a look at the next crime that Raymond Ambler finds himself involved in.
Acknowledgment: Minotaur Books provided an eARC of Murder at the 42nd Street Library for this review.
Review Copyright © 2016 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Selected reviews of other mysteries by this author …
Death at the Old Hotel
Minotaur Books (Hardcover), June 2007
ISBN-13: 9780312323004; ISBN-10: 031232300X
Location(s) referenced in Murder at the 42nd Street Library: New York City
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Murder at the 42nd Street Library by Con Lehane — A Raymond Ambler Mystery
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: April 2016
List Price: $25.95
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Page Author: Lance Wright
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