Book Review: Silence in the Library by Katharine Schellman
By Angie BarryJuly 15, 2021
Making a courtesy call upon the newly married Sir Charles Wyatt on behalf of her infuriating father, clever widow Lily Adler finds herself unexpectedly drawn into the family’s affairs when a servant is accused of a theft.
“Your footman is innocent. I am afraid it was your nephew who stole the money.”
“Percy?” Sir Charles shook his head. “Surely not. I provide him a generous allowance.”
“Which I expect he exceeds greatly, like all young gentlemen.” Lily shook her head. “Just one of those waistcoats must have cost at least thirty pounds. And he hasn’t even the money on hand to keep food in his lodgings.”
Sir Charles was interrupted as the door banged open to reveal a grinning Jack hauling Percy in with a hand around the back of the younger man’s neck. “Look at who I found trying to hurry out the door,” he said, as cheerfully as if he were inviting them to fireworks at Vauxhall Gardens. In his other hand he held Percy’s writing portfolio.
“Take your hands off me!” Percy’s cheeks and neck were red with embarrassment and anger as he struggled to free himself. “And return my things to me at once—you have no business… Those are my personal letters…”
Ignoring his continuing protests, Lily took the portfolio that Jack handed her. She admired the workmanship for a moment, then opened the case. A slow smile spread across her face. “Tell me, Sir Charles, how much did you have in that drawer?”
“What a strange coincidence.” Lily offered Sir Charles the portfolio. “That is exactly the amount Mr. Wyatt has here.”
The matter seems neatly resolved—but when Lily and her friend Jack return to the Wyatts’ home the following day for a riding excursion, they are met with some very shocking news.
Sir Charles has been found dead in his library, the apparent victim of an unfortunate fall.
Or, that’s how the rest of the family wishes to spin the event. Mr. Page of the Bow Street Runners, however, is less than convinced it was a mere accident. And when he pulls Lily and Jack—now trusted acquaintances thanks to their help with a previous peculiar death—into his confidences, the truth behind Sir Charles’ demise quickly becomes apparent.
“…Mrs. Adler, what are you doing?”
Lily was twisting her neck to look in the fireplace, and as she did, something white behind the lintel caught her eye. She reached in, grabbing a corner of it, and tugged. “There is something stuck in here, some kind of fabric.” She tugged again, then let out a startled yelp as whatever it was came free and tumbled into the fireplace with the clanging sound of metal and a shower of soot.
Jack grabbed Lily’s arm and hauled her to her feet while Mr. Page stepped quickly back. All three of them were coughing as the door to the library flew open.
“What the devil?” Frank Wyatt demanded, staring at them from the doorway. Behind him stood Percy Wyatt—newly arrived, judging by the hat and gloves clutched in his hands. Lily, her arm still clasped by Jack while dust and soot swirled around them, tried to think of some explanation. “Mrs. Adler, what are you… And Mr. Page, what is the meaning of…”
He trailed off, staring toward something at their feet with confusion that was slowly growing into horror. Lily followed the line of his gaze.
At her feet lay a pile of toweling that had clearly once been white. Now, though, it was stained and discolored—not just with soot from being stuffed in the chimney, but with the reddish brown of blood that had not yet had time to dry. And sticking out of the bundle was the missing iron poker.
But who would kill Sir Charles, and why? The man was well-respected in society and presented a very jovial exterior. His new wife appeared to be very fond of him, he was known to have a close relationship with his son Frank, and even the nephew who had been caught stealing from him swore that they had made amends the night before. He was a man seemingly without enemies, and no one appears to have significantly benefited from his demise.
Lily, Jack, and Mr. Page quickly set about gathering as much gossip and information as they can, knowing all too well that the London ton is quick to pin the blame on easy scapegoats, and more than willing to pay to make their problems go away. If the true murderer is to be found, they’ll have to work quickly. And unearth more than one family secret…
Silence in the Library is the second installment in Schellman’s thoroughly charming Lily Adler series, and the sharp-eyed widow continues to delight. This time she’s juggling a mystery with persistent unpleasantness at home: her impossible-to-please father, Mr. Pierce, has descended upon her without warning and is refusing to depart.
So now not only must she uncover Sir Charles’ murderer, she must also contend with Mr. Pierce’s constant disapproval and snide remarks about everything from her wardrobe—how dare she set aside her widow’s weeds, a mere two years after her husband’s death? Doesn’t she know she’s supposed to mourn FOREVER?—to her friends and “unladylike” behavior. And heaven forbid she actually do something useful with her life, like secure justice and protect the innocent…
There are plenty of lady investigators running about in the historical mystery genre, but Schellman has done a fine job making Lily stand out from the crowd. It’s not often that the heroine is a quiet widow, an introvert who knows when to speak up but has little interest in making a splash in society. For all the wildflowers and ladies who are underestimated by the men around them, Lily will really resonate.
It’s also refreshing to find a historical story set in London where significant portions of the cast aren’t white; London has never been as lily-white as BBC period dramas/classic literature would have you believe, and having prominent biracial characters—Lily’s closest friend, Jack, is Anglo-Indian, while their friend Ofelia’s mother was Black—is far closer to reality.
Speaking of representation: Silence in the Library features significant commentary on how neuroatypical people, or people who are on the autism spectrum, are not a modern trend. Autistic folks have always existed, though they’ve rarely been treated kindly by society, and that becomes a sizable, sensitively-handled plot point in this whodunit.
As a whole, Silence in the Library is a thoroughly entertaining jaunt through Regency London, with colorful and likable characters, a mystery that’s just twisty enough to keep us guessing, and a finale that shows off all of Lily’s cleverness and daring. Schellman is building a very satisfying series, and this is the perfect time to jump aboard.