Con Lehane: Author of the 42nd Street Library Mysteries

Kirkus Starred Review

A biographer is killed inside one of the world’s premier research libraries.

The New York Public Library of the 1990s, edged by wino-infested Bryant Park, would have seemed a more likely scene for murder than the contemporary version, with the park full of “sculpted ivy beds, a small, cheerful merry-go-round, and fashionable Manhattanites sipping lattes from a kiosk,” muses librarian Raymond Ambler, who works in the crime-fiction collection. Still, somebody shot Dr. James Donnelly in the office of Harry Larkin, who runs the Special Collections Division. NYPD homicide detective Mike Cosgrove  wants to know who, and he can’t think of anyone better to ask than Ray. Their friendship runs deep. Not only do they share histories involving alcoholic spouses and screwed-up kids—though Ray’s son, John, is a convicted felon while Mike’s daughter, Denise, is just a rebellious teenager—but Ray has helped Mike solve earlier cases. The librarian gives the cop a rundown of the major players in the case: Donnelly, who was preparing a book about crime writer Nelson Yates; professor Maximilian Wagner, Donnelly’s rival biographer; Donnelly’s ex-wife, Kay, who now works for Max; and Max’s wife, Laura Lee McGlynn, the ex-wife of professor Arthur Woods, who died mysteriously in the presence of Yates’s daughter Emily when he, Wagner, the Donnellys, and Yates all worked at Hudson Highlands University. But as Ray’s friendship with fellow librarian Adele Morgan deepens, he finds himself increasingly having to edit his story to Cosgrove. Ray continues to walk the fine line between protecting the innocent and obstructing justice even as the threat of more violence looms.
Lehane (Death at the Old Hotel, 2007, etc.) awards his previous detective, bartender Brian McNulty, a cameo but focuses on the complicated Ray, who looks like a promising newcomer in the talented-amateur ranks.

On Becoming a (Fictional) Librarian

reprinted with permission from Mystery Readers Journal, The Journal of Mystery Readers International, Volume 30, Number 3, Fall 2014, p 42.

On Becoming a (Fictional) Librarian

by Con Lehane

The first time I entered the majestic Beaux-Arts flagship of the New York Public Library system, the 42nd Street Library, I went there to meet a girl. At the time, I was in high school—a boy’s high school in Connecticut, where I lived. She went to a girl’s school forty or fifty miles north of the city. I don’t remember how it came about that I knew she’d be in the reading room of the 42nd Street Library on a certain day during the week between Christmas and New Year’s. I don’t remember how I arranged to find her there, or if I did. Knowing she would be there would have been enough for me. Remember the all-boys high school?

She had dark, fluffy, curly hair, and lots of it, cascading over her shoulders when she took off her furry cap, lively and dancing dark eyes, red lips, and sparkling white teeth, which sparkled often, as she had an easy and ready laugh with her head tilted back and her mouth open a bit. She wore sheer black tights under a flirty short black skirt.

We met on the steps that led from Fifth Avenue to the library’s opulent marble foyer, which is where her fluffy hair cascaded down her shoulders and chest after she removed her hat. She also un- raveled her scarf and unbuttoned her coat, which is when the sheer tights and short skirt and long slim legs came into play.

We sat next to each other at one of the long oak library tables in the massive third-floor reading room. She was working on a history project and filled out call slips to request a number of books at the central desk. I’d brought along an assignment from my own history course, a list of books, including the Encyclopedia Britannica, that I could easily have found by nosing through the shelves of my library back home. The process by which one acquired a book from the stacks of the 42nd Street Library via call slips, pneumatic tubes, pages, and such was entirely foreign to me. My friend—her name was Jenny—showed me how to fill out my call slips (I had a nodding acquaintance with the card catalog, so I could get the title, author, and call number). She did this patiently, with a flashing smile and an occasional giggle, our heads bent over the golden table, my cheek close enough to almost brush hers.
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