Murder in the Manuscript Room by Con Lehane is the second book in the 42nd Street Library mystery series—a smart, compelling mystery in which the characters themselves are at least as interesting as the striking sleuthing (available November 21, 2017).
Mystery and secrecy wind their way back through the stacks of the New York City 42nd Street Library, intertwining a murder of the past with the present in Murder in the Manuscript Room by Con Lehane. This marks the second installment in the author’s new crime series following the relentless sleuth and librarian, Raymond Ambler.
The comfortable notion of a library as a safe haven is shifted as a room of crime novels becomes the scene of the crime itself. When there is a murder at the library, Ambler becomes intricately involved, not only as a suspect but as a self-appointed freelance investigator as well.
Painting a portrait of the New York streets, law enforcement, and cultural paradigms, Lehane entraps an unlikely group of characters in the search for a murderer. The connection—romantic and otherwise—of two of these characters, Ambler and Adele, is consistent throughout the novel and makes itself as much of a suspense as the crime at hand.
Lehane establishes this connection between the two characters as brief moments, glances, and touches—however, it is not something that is ever outright explained to the reader. The characters fumble through jump-start, stalling conversations with each other throughout the book in an effort to define what the chemistry between them is.
“He’d like it if he saw more of you. We both would.”
Adele stopped as she wrapped a plate of leftovers for him to take home. “I’m busy, Raymond. I’m behind at work. I don’ have as much time as I used to.” She didn’t mention Gobi. But he might as well be sitting on the table in front of them. She came closer. “Johnny’s your responsibility, legally and in every way, not mine, so it’s hard for me sometimes.” Her voice wavered. “At one time, you led me to believe—.” She abruptly turned from him and went to the small living room to sit with Johnny for a few minutes before he left.
The relationship, or lack thereof, between Ambler and Adele is one of the threads that holds the novel together as they work together to find the murderer but also find out what they mean to each other.
Despite leaning into the romantic edge of this, there is another facet that caught my attention. The worlds of crime and literature are weaved together seamlessly throughout the book—from the depictions of the stoic NYC library archives to the literary references, Ambler reveals himself as a Librarian-Sherlock amalgam. The references are subtle and may almost go unnoticed. This is most notably seen in the reference to Brown Penny by William Yeats:
Pretty much since they’d known each other, she’d thought of herself as in the driver’s seat in terms of what went on between them. Now, it was his doing that they were searching through files that were not only restricted by the person who donated them, but had been impounded by the police. “Looped in the loops of her hair,” he said to himself.
While this pulled on my literary heartstrings, these references developed the main character as more than an amateur detective. Lehane also comes full circle in this sense, tying Ambler to both the library and the investigation.
All in all, Murder in the Manuscript Room was an easy to follow, good-hearted mystery novel. The depictions of winter in New York—with freezing, snow-coated streets and warm, welcoming neighborhood bars—were both accurate and relatable. The characters were distinct, and the plot was intricate. What Lehane does well is combine all of these and then top it off with homicide on 42nd Street.
Read an excerpt from Murder in the Manuscript Room while sipping a “Bourbon in the Manuscript Room” cocktail inspired by the book!
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Michelle Carpenter is a crime fiction enthusiast working in the world of NYC advertising.