Book Review: The Bodies in the Library by Marty Wingate
Earlier this year at the always exciting mystery conference, Malice Domestic, I was fortunate enough to meet author Marty Wingate. Although our conversation was brief, I found her quite engaging. And since Marty writes cozies, which are my all-time favorite reads, I could not understand why it is that I have never read any of her books. I decided to remedy that immediately and was delighted to find that she was launching a brand new series starting with The Bodies in the Library.
So I checked around and found that (be still my heart!) the series was based in a private library filled with the work of the Golden Age writers. Just think, Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Mary Roberts Rinehart and other Golden Age authors serving as a backdrop!
The story begins in present-day Bath, England. Lady Georgiana Fowling has passed away but left money providing for the continuation of her First Edition Society consisting of first editions written by female Golden Age authors. Haley Burke, who had majored in 19th Century Literature at school, was lucky enough to be hired as curator to this collection of 20th Century work. Luckily for Hayley, the job came with an apartment in Middlebank House, the mansion that housed the collection. Were there no drawbacks to having this job? Maybe one. I will let Haley tell you about Lady Fowling’s secretary, Mrs. Woolgar, who apparently came with the job.
Mrs. Woolgar’s eyes were veiled as she snapped her handbag closed and brushed an imaginary speck off the lapel of her dress. “Yes, well, it’s only that we have a great responsibility here at Middlebank House. Not only because this was Lady Fowling’s own residence and she was held in high esteem here in Bath and greatly mourned three years ago when she died, but also because it sets the standard for her grand endeavor, the Society, which she began herself with…
I stopped listening but kept the polite smile plastered on my face as Mrs. Woolgar continued to tell me my job.
So you can see, Haley has her work cut out for her on many fronts: curating the collection of literature of an era that was unfamiliar, proving her worth to the society’s board, and keeping the society fiscally solvent might all be easier than pleasing Mrs. Woolgar.
One of the issues that increased the strain between them is that Haley has allowed an Agatha Christie fan fiction group to meet in the library. She is also thinking of hosting literary salons and other innovations, while Mrs. Woolgar wants everything to stay as it was when Lady Fowling was alive.
Their ongoing arguments had to take a backseat when Hayley and Mrs. Woolgar heard the cleaning woman, Pauline, shrieking. They ran upstairs and then:
We found her on the landing between Lady Fowling’s portrait and the overturned Chippendale side chair. She had flattened herself against the wall and held the duster in front of her as if warding off a vampire.
“He’s in there! I didn’t know,” she stammered, pointing a shaky finger at the open library door and waving the duster in my face. “I thought you might have had someone in…for a meeting and he…”
Pauline had discovered a dead body. Trist, the most arrogant member of the fan fiction group was murdered and his body is found, where else? In the library at Middlebank House. As it turns out, Trist was murdered elsewhere and his body moved to the library. What could that mean? For one thing, Hayley’s new career is off to a bad start. However, she is nothing if not resourceful. She turns into a determined amateur sleuth in order to preserve the dignity of the Society and save her job.
Hayley Burke manages to juggle multiple personal issues, a new job, and a murder without losing her cool. (Well maybe she loses it a little bit.) I found her to be a protagonist that I would love to meet in person, go to tea with and perhaps discuss Golden Age female authors, since I know she has been brushing up on their wonderful books. I can tell you that my very favorite thing about Haley is this: There is a portrait of Lady Fowling on the stair landing and Haley rarely passes without tossing Lady Fowling a comment or two. She had developed a relationship with her deceased mentor, which I found endearing. In short, I loved this book and if you are a cozy fan, a Golden Age fan or, like me, a fan of both, you will love it too.