A review by leandrathetbrzero
The Woman in the Library, by Sulari Gentill
dark mysterious tense medium-paced
- Plot- or character-driven? Plot
- Strong character development? No
- Loveable characters? It's complicated
- Diverse cast of characters? Yes
- Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes
↓ Other Mystery/Thriller Hybrids ↓
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- The Guest List by Lucy Foley
Thank you so much to Poisoned Pen Press and #Netgalley for gifting me an ARC of The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill in exchange for this honest review!
Freddie Kincaid visits the Boston Public Library in the hopes of making good progress on her current mystery manuscript. She finds inspiration in the table’s three other inhabitants, nicknaming them Freud Girl, Heroic Chin, and Handsome Man. As she creates their personalities and backstories in her head, a woman’s scream breaks the library’s silence. This mysterious scream acts as a bonding experience, and the four strangers forge an unexpected friendship. They become almost inseparable when a body is found.
The novel’s first few chapters had me on the edge of my seat. I found myself immediately invested in Gentill’s first-person protagonist, Freddie. Her thoughts and dialogue were authentic and very believable, although she did read older than 27 years old (imo). On that note, I also found characters like Marigold and Whit to act younger than they are meant to be. I was 100% on board for the brilliant chemistry between Freddie and Cain (aka Handsome Man). As thrilling as the narrative, was with each new clue and the ever-rising tensions between the four main characters, there are a few aspects to this novel that made it a less than satisfying read for me.
At the end of each chapter, the reader experiences an extra layer of metafiction with a letter from Leo (beta reader/pen pal) to Hannah (the “author” of Freddie’s storyline). The reader learns quickly that Leo is responding to Hannah’s most recent additions to an ongoing manuscript. To recap: Gentill is writing about Hannah as she writes about Freddie. While the correspondence intrigued me at first, it soon grew tiresome. The red flags and creepy intimacy of Leo did give me goosebumps, but then I just found myself annoyed by Leo. For instance his insistence on including COVID into the novel, and his obviously wrong assumptions about the culprit(s) and the characters’ relationships had me yelling at him aloud in frustration. The psycho pen pal is a fun idea, for sure, but I felt it was forced into this novel, and I would have preferred to simply read The Woman in the Library without the epistolary commentary.
I was most disappointed with the ending. I correctly identified the person(s) responsible for the crimes committed, but the actual motive was surprisingly less complicated and sinister than I imagined it would be. In fact, this is a rare moment in which I believe my imagination came up with a better motive to match the narrative’s tone. My only additional critique focuses on Gentill’s tendency to rush things. The relationship between Freddie and Cain is measured in weeks, yet they have fallen in love with each other already. Furthermore, the story ends a bit abruptly, and at a strange moment. I assume the final scene shines a light on Gentill’s dark humor which I would not have minded, but I wish it was grounded in more substantial past clues/scenes that support such an ending.
I do not regret reading this novel in the least. The blend of thriller and mystery ingredients kept me on edge for most of the novel. I enjoyed the “frame-up job” angle, as it added to the tension and feelings of distrust among the characters. I believe this book could be a good match for those who enjoy metafiction, multiple storylines, and mysteries that are thriller-leaning.
Minor: Stalking, Torture, Racism, Sexual assault, and Sexual violence