Blog Tour: The Woman in the Library – Sulari Gentill

*I received a free ARC of this book, with thanks to the author, Ultimo Press and Anne Cater of Random Things Blog Tours. The decision to review and my opinions are my own.*

Blurb: In every person’s story, there is something to hide…

From award-winning author Sulari Gentill comes a
mischievous, twisty crime novel in the vein of Only Murders in the Building and White Lotus.

Four strangers in the Reading Room at Boston Public Library are introduced by a scream. Caught up in the subsequent murder investigation, each one finds themselves revealing more than they intended about their pasts as they race to solve the murder before one of them gets hurt.

Whilst their stories unfold, so does another. Dear Hannah…

As correspondence between the author and an avid fan becomes interwoven with the core tale, the boundaries between what is fiction and what is real life begin to blur, highlighting the lengths people will go to keep their secrets.

Through these entwined narratives, Gentill delves into the complicated nature of friendships, the lives we show versus the lives we lead and the ways in which art can imitate life. Or perhaps it’s the other way around?

A sharply thrilling literary adventure, The Woman in the Library is contemporary crime with a clever twist.

I think this might be one of the cleverest mystery books I have ever read. Confusing, at times, but so cleverly constructed.

Sulari Gentill presents us here with a mystery novel she has written, about an author (Hannah) writing a mystery novel, about an author (Freddie) writing a mystery novel about the people she meets at the start of her story (creatively named Heroic Chin, Freud Girl and Handsome Man, but who Hannah has named Whit, Marigold and Cain). A series of letters from beta reader and fan, Leo, to Hannah form the outer structure of their mystery, which is told through the one-sided correspondence and the chapters she sends him in return (and I was surprised how pointed her responses managed to be in the format of her fiction!)

Then there is the mystery of the scream that Freddie and her new companions hear in the library – the scream that prompts them to speak to each other and sets the little ‘Scooby Gang’ into action, and turns out to have come from a woman whose body is found after they leave. As nosy writers, journalist and psychology student respectively, how can they resist a little bit of informal investigating?!

Luckily, the story Freddie is also writing stays mostly in the background, as I think there was plenty of mystery already without adding another layer to the already-complex network of plot threads. Because Hannah’s story and Freddie’s story weave in and out of each other, with Hannah borrowing from real life events and Leo’s letters when writing her novel, blurring the lines between the two different fictional threads.

I was initially thrilled by the beta-reading observations in Leo’s letters, as I don’t see as much of my own craft in fiction as I would like, but my excitement turned to discomfort and then utter horror as he began to impose his own ideas on Hannah’s story – insisting on his choice of murderer, insisting she address the pandemic in her work, and eventually even rewriting her chapters to his own preferences! I think I was slightly more horrified by that than any of the murders! (I take my editing duties very seriously!)

The whole meta-story within a story about the story concept is an incredibly clever hook and is very well-executed here, with the plots bouncing off each other and enriching each other’s details right up to (and past) the final reveal. The only slight drawback I found was that I had to concentrate so much on keeping the characters and threads distinct in my mind, that I was never able to forget that I was reading a novel. Still, what was lost in immersion was definitely made up in entertainment and innovation, so I thoroughly enjoyed this read.

I would say this is the ideal book for anyone who loves a twisty murder mystery but is looking for something fresh and unusual, focused more on plot than character, and with a very clever hook. Did I already mention how clever it is?!

Writing in the Boston Public Library had been a mistake. It was too magnificent. One could spend hours just staring at the ceiling in the reading room. Very few books have been written with the writer’s eyes cast upwards. It judged you, that ceiling, looked down on you in every way. Mocked you with an architectural perfection that just couldn’t be achieved by simply placing one word after another until a structure took shape. It made you want to start with grand arcs, to build a magnificent framework into which the artistic detail would be written—a thing of vision and symmetry and cohesion. But that just isn’t the way I write.

– Sulari Gentill, The Woman in the Library

After setting out to study astrophysics, graduating in law and then abandoning her legal career to write books, Sulari now grows French black truffles on her farm in the foothills of the Snowy Mountains of NSW. Sulari is the author of The Rowland Sinclair Mysteries, historical crime fiction novels (ten in total) set in the 1930s. Sulari’s work has been shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize (Best First Book), the Davitt Award, the Ned Kelly Award and the ABIA. She won the Davitt Award for the A Decline in Prophets, and the Ned Kelly Award for her most recent standalone novel, Crossing the Lines.





Don’t forget to stop by the other blogs on this tour (see the poster below for details) for more great content and reviews!


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