#Book Review #Murder off the page: a 42nd Street Library Mystery by Con Lehane

From Goodreads synopsis:

A note from bartender Brian McNulty, Raymond Ambler’s friend, confidant, and sometimes adviser, sets the librarian sleuth off on a murder investigation, one that he pursues reluctantly until a second murder upends the world as he knows it. The second victim is a lady friend of McNulty’s—and the prime suspect is McNulty himself.

As Ambler pursues his investigation, he discovers that the murdered woman had a double life. Her intermittent visits to the city—a whirlwind of reckless drinking and illicit liaisons with men she met in the cocktail lounges—had their counterpart in suburban Fairfield County Connecticut where, as Dr. Sandra Dean, she practiced dermatology and lived in a gated community with a doting husband and a young daughter.

While Ambler looks into the past of Dr. Sandra Dean to understand the murder of Shannon Darling in the present, NYPD homicide detective Mike Cosgrove investigates the men in Shannon Darling’s life. She might have been murdered because she frustrated the wrong man. It could have been a jealous wife. In fact, any number of people might have murdered Shannon Darling. Or, as Ambler suspects, did someone murder Dr. Sandra Dean?

Yet, no matter which way he turns, McNulty emerges as a suspect. Ambler’s dilemma seems insurmountable: Should he keep searching for the truth behind the murders if the deeper he probes, the more evidence he finds that points to the morally rumpled bartender as a murderer?


My thoughts:

This is the third book in the series set in New York Public Library crime fiction collection, featuring Raymond Ambler, the collection curator and a few other characters that seem to make up the permanent cast: Adele, another librarian and Raymond’s love interest, Johnny,Raymond’s grandson, and Brian McNulty, a bartender and Raymond’s friend.

Shannon Darling is working on her first research which seems to be centered around a crime writer’s old letters. Raymond and Adele also keep seeing her in their local bar where Shannon completely changes her behaviour under the influence of just a few drinks. She starts saying things that make her an easy target of unwanted male attention. A few days later she appears to be involved in a murder that happened in a hotel room. Was the murder victim one of the men who took advantage of her vulnerability? and where did Brian McNulty, the bartender who looked at Shannon with tenderness and admiration and even tried to protect Shannon in her moment of weakness, disappear? Could he have known her from before?

When Raymond finds out that both Shannon and Brian are on the run, he knows there must be more to this smart and seductive woman than meets the casual eye. Raymond and Adele need to unravel the mystery which is somehow connected to the crime writer’s letters Shannon had been researching, and therefore, to the library collection. Raymond decides to pay a visit to the author and cannot shake the feeling that the old lady has met the mysterious library researcher and knows her real identity, but prefers to keep it secret. Then, a second body is found, and there is little doubt it is Shannon Darling, Raymond’s friend Brian McNulty becomes the prime suspect and is in a dire need of help from the few people in his life he can trust.

I haven’t read the previous books in the series, but there is enough in the book to fill the gaps. There is a subplot of a custody battle over Raymond’s grandson Johnny and serious disagreements between Raymond and the boy’s maternal grandmother who comes from a very affluend and influential family. Raymond is also trying to arrange an appeal for his son John who is serving a long prison sentence, although the crime he committed was in self-defence.

The story was fast-paced and kept me engaged in the way only a good old whodunnit can. There was something old-fashioned about the whole story, something that brought back memories of black and white films with private investigators and amateur sleuths. Of course, that’s what Raymond is, he is the guy who asks questions, gets data (he keeps quoting Sherlock Holmes- ‘Give me data, I cannot make bricks without clay!’) and digs deep into the victim’s murky past.

It was a quick read, and although the victim and the perpetrator were slightly exaggerated, in my opinion, I think fans of Con Lehane are going to enjoy this latest instalment in the series.

Thank you to Edelweiss and Minotaur Books for the ARC provided in exchange for an honest opinion.

  • Have you read any books by Con Lehane? If yes, what did you think?
  • What are your favourite stories set in a library?

Join the Conversation


  1. Terrific review! It kinda gives off a noir feel to it or maybe its because theres a bartender in it that makes me think that. Either way it sounds like a good one to pick up.I also really like how the fountain on the cover glows a beautiful golden color.

    Liked by 1 person

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