In one of his recent Booklist columns, Will Manley (who brought the world The Sex Lives of Librarians Survey along with all sorts of other interesting/quirky thoughts on librarians and librarianship from his blog, Will Unwound) noted that as far as qualifications for being a librarian go, being a mystery lover is right up there with fantasizing about heaven as a gigantic library and collecting book-themed neckties. Well. I’ve got two out of these three qualifications in the bag–I big time [heart] mysteries and do spend a lot of time ogling bookshelves and am kind of sort of hoping that when the world ends, I’ll find myself in Amsterdam’s Centraal Public Library. (Being a fan of ties, I should certainly consider starting a collection of Biblio neck-wear, too…)
Given this widespread love of murder and mayhem (Mr. Manley excluded), it seems only fitting that librarians would not only read mysteries, but write and star in them, too. For my most recent review, I wrote about academic librarian Amanda Flowers’ debut novel, Maid of Murder, which features a plucky college librarian named India Hayes as its heroine. Fear not–it’s not all about the Dewey Decimal System and reference services, although the parts that are about such things are truly delightful. You can read the review on Reviewing the Evidence, or see the full text below.
It’s a commonly held truth that librarians are avid mystery readers—lovers of capers, whodunits, and thrillers of every stripe. And while perhaps this enthusiasm may not jibe with some people’s image of the staid and stern ‘shush-er,’ it does make a lot of sense. Librarians are professional researchers, trained to suss out facts and information that might elude the average person. Clearly, the stakes are lower than in a police investigation, but the fact remains: librarians, though you may laugh, are a little like detectives. Who better then to write a mystery—and to solve one—than a than a reference librarian?
Enter debut author Amanda Flower, whose entertaining Maid of Murder is a fine addition to the ‘bibliomystery’ genre, as well as a charming cozy about the perils of friendship, unrequited love, and reference work in a small Ohio college town. Flower’s plucky heroine, India Hayes, works as an academic librarian at a small, middling college where most of her days are spent teaching research skills to apathetic undergrads, listening to her colleagues debate the (de)merits of the Dewey Decimal system, and trying to remain on the good side of the college bureaucracy. Not exactly a glamorous life, but a reasonably happy one, which India supplements with her love of painting, a close friendship with a fellow librarian named Bobby, and the daily dramas brought on by her eccentric family: her former flower children and outspoken activist parents, her domineering sister, and her younger brother Mark, whose emotional frailty is only superseded by an obsession with advanced mathematics.
When India reluctantly agrees to act as a bridesmaid for her childhood friend Olivia—the woman who sent her brother into a nervous breakdown from which he’s never really recovered—India knows that she’s in for a hectic summer. But when Olivia is murdered and Mark becomes the prime suspect, India finds herself much more deeply involved in the investigation than she could have ever expected.
India is a witty and resourceful character—self-deprecating without being passive, and clever without being too polished. Although her one-liners sometimes go awry (and there are a few notable clunkers), she delivers most with aplomb. Substituting a small college town for the traditional English village of cozies, Flower delivers plenty of colorful and quirky sub-characters (such as India’s enthusiastically faux-Irish landlord), as well as enough simmering suburban tension to keep the stakes high and reasonably unpredictable throughout the story.
Maid of Murder has something for readers of many tastes. Librarians will be amused by tangential discussions on reference desk placement, and chick lit enthusiasts will enjoy the trials of gold lamé bridesmaids gowns and the hints of romance between India and the more-than-professionally-interested detective assigned to the case. Here’s hoping that this formerly quiet Ohio suburb produces enough nefarious crime for a second appearance of India Hayes.