Killer Librarian by Mary Lou Kirwin is the first book in a new cozy mystery series (available November 27, 2012).
Minnesota librarian Karen Nash decides to go on her London vacation after her boyfriend jilts her the day they were set to leave. Then she sees him at the airport boarding the same plane as she, only with another woman. Karen’s thoughts turn murderous and later spill over in what she assumes is an idle pub conversation with a sympathetic stranger. Only later does she realize this man might have taken her at her word when she angrily said she wanted her ex dead. Meanwhile as Karen gets better acquainted with Caldwell Perkins, the owner of the charming B&B where she is staying, she discovers they have a lot in common—he might well love books as much as she does.
Things are starting to look up when all of a sudden a dead body turns up in Caldwell’s B&B sitting room—and several of the guests seem to be suspicious. Karen can’t help but play detective, and clues begin to fall into place as she visits museums, used bookstores, and the Chelsea garden show. With that mystery solved, Karen realizes it’s time to put her hurt and anger behind her. But is it too late?
I’m not the biggest fan of cozies, but how could I turn away from one titled Killer Librarian? It’s the first in a new series of cozy mysteries by Mary Lou Kirwin, featuring smalltown librarian Karen Nash on her first trip to England, the home of so many of her favorite authors and the setting of many of her favorite books. The way she talks about her reading will be familiar to anyone who loves books. Naturally, Karen encounters a mysterious death while there, which she investigates; this is a mystery, after all.
The mystery plot was, in my opinion, subordinated throughout, and played for humor. Instead, the book focused on introducing Karen herself, her love of books, and her search for a romantic partner. This resulted in a sort of cozy mystery/chicklit amalgam, with books being the objects of desire instead of designer shoes.
I was an efficient and organized packer. Of course I’d made a list of all I’d need, but the most important thing was figuring out what books to bring. I had been planning this trip for six months, saving books as they came along: Josephine Tey, Dorothy Sayers, even some Agatha Christie. Then came the winnowing them down to six, one for every two days of the trip. I knew they had books in England, but I just didn’t want to be caught out.
Overall, this felt less like a mystery and more of a book about how Karen is awakened to a wider world. She’s shown as not necessarily naïve, but as someone who nevertheless has experienced more things through books than through going to new places and meeting new people. Even in her travels, the things she initially chooses to do are all planned based on things she’s read about in books. Though she meets an array of strangers in the course of the book, she makes her only strong connection with the person who is the most dedicated reader.
“Is he cute?”
I thought about Caldwell. “Yes, I’d say he’s cute. But better than that, he has a lot of books. If I had known, I wouldn’t have had to bring any.”
…perused Caldwell’s library. I had always felt that you could learn so much about a man by what he read. I should have been forewarned when I had seen a puny pile of Dean Koontzes and Robert Ludlums next to Dave’s toilet. Caldwell, on the other hand, had exquisite taste: from Philip Larkin to Gerard Manley Hopkins, from Jane Austen to Henry James. But he was not a total literary snot. Tucked in its proper place was a small stash of Dick Francises and the complete oeuvre of John le Carré.
The other issue that made the mystery secondary is that Karen’s experience with literature is the sole source of her knowledge about detecting.
I was the champion of the mystery section. I loved the psychology of people pushed to the ultimate act of desperation and passion. I adored the classic hard-boiled guys—Raymond Chandler, Ross MacDonald, and Dashiell Hammett—but some of my favorite writers were the latest crop of British women—Frances Fyfield, Minette Walters, and our own Elizabeth George. The mysteries that asked the question why? were the ones I had always cherished. Having read literally thousands of them, I was sure I knew every which way of killing someone. I never thought a time would come when I would make use of it.
I was a little disappointed that Karen doesn’t use very much of her knowledge of the mystery genre in the course of the story. The mystery plot is much less compelling to Karen than trying to solve the mystery of what she’s going to do with her life after she returns home to her library. I think this book would appeal most to those readers of cozies who prefer an emphasis on the character’s journey rather than an emphasis on unraveling complex puzzles.
Victoria Janssen is the author of three novels and numerous short stories. Her World War I-set Spice Brief, “Under Her Uniform”, is a tie-in to her novel The Moonlight Mistress. Follow her on Twitter: @victoriajanssen or find out more at victoriajanssen.com.
Read all posts by Victoria Janssen for Criminal Element.