Sunday, February 2, 2020

Review: Murder Off the Page by Con Lehane

Murder Off the Page: A 42nd Street Library Mystery
by Con Lehane
Release Date: November 19th 2019
2019 Minotaur Books
Kindle Edition; 336 Pages
ISBN: 978-1974986934
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

A note from bartender Brian McNulty, Raymond Ambler’s friend, confidant, and sometimes adviser, sets the librarian sleuth off on a murder investigation, one that he pursues reluctantly until a second murder upends the world as he knows it. The second victim is a lady friend of McNulty’s—and the prime suspect is McNulty himself.

As Ambler pursues his investigation, he discovers that the murdered woman had a double life. Her intermittent visits to the city—a whirlwind of reckless drinking and illicit liaisons with men she met in the cocktail lounges—had their counterpart in suburban Fairfield County Connecticut where, as Dr. Sandra Dean, she practiced dermatology and lived in a gated community with a doting husband and a young daughter.

While Ambler looks into the past of Dr. Sandra Dean to understand the murder of Shannon Darling in the present, NYPD homicide detective Mike Cosgrove investigates the men in Shannon Darling’s life. She might have been murdered because she frustrated the wrong man. It could have been a jealous wife. In fact, any number of people might have murdered Shannon Darling. Or, as Ambler suspects, did someone murder Dr. Sandra Dean?

My Thoughts
Murder Off the Page is the third book in the 42nd Street Library Mystery series, and in this one, Ambler and Adele are dragged into a couple of murders due to their bartender friend's involvement.  I have always found Ambler's job quite interesting (he's in charge of the crime fiction division at the library), which is one of the things I've loved about these books, but I had a hard time being convinced of his involvement or of the events in this book.  And while the psychological aspects to this mystery were quite fascinating and I read them with great interest, McNulty's involvement in the events just seemed a bit too much for me to be credible.  I think it would have helped if I had known a bit more about McNulty, and his past, for it to be more believable.

First of all, I had a hard time connecting to the murder victim, Shannon.  Her behaviour was quite dramatic and strange and although I understand the psychological aspects of it, there were things that were quite weird about her behaviour that didn't really ring true.  I'm not really sure what the author was trying to achieve with all of this.  If it was sympathy, I don't think it really worked.  While her behaviour didn't bother me, but  I do think it was the author's use of the character's behaviour that was so out of odds with other things about the character that just didn't quite mesh.  

Personally, I preferred Mike Cosgrove and his actions in this one over Ambler's. Ambler was in his head quite a bit, worrying about this and that, which is not really a problem, but it got to be a bit repetitive. I like how Cosgrove told Ambler he wasn't really helping him much on this case; his blunt style and honesty is something I really like.  Ambler himself is an interesting character and I do like that he is far from perfect: he was far from being a perfect dad, his PhD was not accepted due to political infighting, his son is in jail, his relationship with Adele is a mess, and he is not the most astute person when it comes to reading signals from other people.  The last is a bit endearing and I like watching him stumble his way around Adele, but man, she can be a bit touchy too.  

The plot is very character-driven rather than plot-driven.  I really didn't feel a lot of sympathy for the murder victim and that would be the author's fault.  I do think it could have been handled a bit differently though, to make her a bit more sympathetic to the reader as she was in a tough situation.  I did feel a lot of sympathy towards the two children involved in the story as they were caught up in their parents' / caregivers' issues and both have enough instability in their lives.  But, the hero in this book was definitely Cosgrove.  And possible his daughter Denise for having to put up with all of the extra babysitting duties?

Murder Off the Page is one of those books where I thought the best things about it was the police detective, Mike Cosgrove and Johnny, Ambler's grandson.  The plot was more character-driven, and this isn't saying a lot considering I didn't really empathize with any of the characters in this one as I thought Ambler was a bit annoying, and Adele was too touchy.  I am also one of those people who wondered about whether Ambler and Adele had started to work part-time considering they were never at work.  The book did mention they used up a lot of their vacation time but this was such a poor reason I just shook my head at the excuse.  Like any book when I give it a three-star rating, I leave it up to the reader to decide if they wish to try it or not.  I'm not really sure if I will continue with this series or not, but I will definitely not be rushing out to buy the next book.