Murder in the Locked Library

By Ellery Adams

Number Four of the “Book Retreat Mysteries”

Review by Jeff Salter

Amazon blurb:

With her twins, Fitzgerald and Hemingway, back in school, Jane Steward can finally focus on her work again—managing Storyton Hall, and breaking ground on the resort’s latest attraction: a luxurious, relaxing spa named in honor of Walt Whitman. But when the earth is dug up to start laying the spa’s foundation, something else comes to the surface—a collection of unusual bones and the ragged remnants of a very old book. The attendees of the Rare Book Conference are eager to assist Jane with this unexpected historical mystery—until a visitor meets an untimely end in the Henry James Library. As the questions—and suspects—start stacking up, Jane will have to uncover a killer before more unhappy endings ensue . . .

When I spotted a novel featuring a library, I was already hooked… since that was my profession for 30 years. Knowing (from the title) that a murder occurred in a LOCKED library… I couldn’t wait to start reading. I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to say that the heroine (and someone else) was inside that locked library when the death occurred. And, as often occurs in such mystery stories: where you find one death, you’re likely to find another.

There are twists and turns to this tale that I can’t touch on, lest they spoil the story. My reading was halted after about six chapters by family visitors, holidays, and a real-world funeral I had to coordinate… so when I resumed reading, I didn’t remember much from the beginning. Maybe the author revealed some of this early on, but I don’t want to risk ruining it for y’all. So let me just say that Jane Steward is Storyton Hall’s manager … but a lot more. In this sprawling mansion array are numerous library collections, meeting rooms, and ballrooms… and it functions as a retreat for writers and book lovers. But it’s also much more. Attending Jane at this expansive facility are Sinclair the head librarian, Lachlan the recreation coordinator, Sterling the chauffeur, and Butterworth the butler. But each of these four men are MUCH MORE.

Intrigued yet?

Well, consider Jane’s boyfriend – Edwin – who is evidently an adventurer / traveler / treasure hunter… but also much more.

While clearing an area for Storyton Hall’s planned spa addition, a skeleton is discovered. It won’t give away too much to tell you that body was buried some 200 years ago… and these are the ancestral lands of Jane’s family.

Jane has that mystery to solve, all the while entertaining her friends, hosting her book club meetings, preparing for a multi-day conference of rare book fanatics, missing her lover (presumably in some distant land), and raising adorable twin boys.

The remote, isolated Storyton village is nearby and Jane is good friends with almost all the shop owners and influential citizens.

For readers who appreciate fulsome descriptions, the author provides lush details on decorations, costumes, books, and food. To my subjective tastes… there’s too much description and detail that doesn’t interest me.

I liked the basic plot, even though it bogged down with extended descriptions of things like the costume “game” where attendees had to guess the literary pun being played by that apparel. That said, I had a difficult time following some of the plot elements… such as an 18th century scandal about food producers who sold food that was supposedly harmful.

Remember that skeleton I mentioned? In the same grave was a book — so degraded by time and moisture that its pages were blank. The characters try to determine what the book was about: was it buried because it was valuable or dangerous? If valuable, why would it be buried underground with a body? If dangerous, why was it not simply destroyed?

Most of the characters were well-drawn and the ones who were supposed to be likeable… were. That said, I had a bit of trouble remembering who was who… and this is likely due to that lengthy break of some ten weeks when I couldn’t resume my reading.

You might think that – as an English major and a career librarian – I’d appreciate the multitude of allusions to authors, titles, and quotes. But I thought the author went overboard. We see literary quotes in the characters’ internal thoughts and even in their dialog. Almost every character. That didn’t ring true to me, even though these are people who love literature. What it felt like was the author trying to impress me with how many writers she can quote… so it felt like name-dropping. Sorry… I just call them as I see them.

Another demerit for lots of chit-chat dialog that didn’t advance the plot and didn’t really reveal anything useful about the characters speaking.

A final demerit for letting the investigatory team so quickly narrow down the possible identities of the 200-year-old skeleton. [They figured it out faster than those forensic detectives on TV shows.]

Too nit-picky? Perhaps so. I really did enjoy the mystery… and no, I had not guessed the actual villain. So it was a successful story on that level. I just felt like the novel bogged down with all the literary allusions, quotes, and the way-too-clever use of author names for every single room in that vast mansion. To me, it needed the firm hand of an objective editor to say, “No, we already have too much of that.”

[JLS # 572]


About Jeff Salter

Currently writing romantic comedy, screwball comedy, and romantic suspense. Fourteen completed novels and four completed novellas. Working with three royalty publishers: Clean Reads, Dingbat Publishing, & TouchPoint Press/Romance. "Cowboy Out of Time" -- Apr. 2019 /// "Double Down Trouble" -- June 2018 /// "Not Easy Being Android" -- Feb. 2018 /// "Size Matters" -- Oct. 2016 /// "The Duchess of Earl" -- Jul. 2016 /// "Stuck on Cloud Eight" -- Nov. 2015 /// "Pleased to Meet Me" (novella) -- Oct. 2015 /// "One Simple Favor" (novella) -- May 2015 /// "The Ghostess & MISTER Muir" -- Oct. 2014 /// "Scratching the Seven-Month Itch" -- Sept. 2014 /// "Hid Wounded Reb" -- Aug. 2014 /// "Don't Bet On It" (novella) -- April 2014 /// "Curing the Uncommon Man-Cold -- Dec. 2013 /// "Echo Taps" (novella) -- June 2013 /// "Called To Arms Again" -- (a tribute to the greatest generation) -- May 2013 /// "Rescued By That New Guy in Town" -- Oct. 2012 /// "The Overnighter's Secrets" -- May 2012 /// Co-authored two non-fiction books about librarianship (with a royalty publisher), a chapter in another book, and an article in a specialty encyclopedia. Plus several library-related articles and reviews. Also published some 120 poems, about 150 bylined newspaper articles, and some 100 bylined photos. Worked about 30 years in librarianship. Formerly newspaper editor and photo-journalist. Decorated veteran of U.S. Air Force (including a remote ‘tour’ of duty in the Arctic … at Thule AB in N.W. Greenland). Married; father of two; grandfather of six.
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15 Responses to Murder in the Locked Library

  1. Honestly, I dreamed of being locked in a library a few times in my life when I was a kid, a teen and in my early 20s, seriously. I can see where this one would have caught your eye,and it probably would have caught mine.
    I think that we can enjoy a book but still find things about it which we thought could have been handled better, or just left out completely.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      yeah, I think this author spent 4-5 pages on that game with the costumes as literary puns. All the while that Jane was supposedly trying to solve the first mystery of the skeleton and buried book.


  2. ejhomusic says:

    I enjoy this series, too, and try to overlook some of the inconsistencies you’ve mentioned. Have you read Genevieve Cogman’s Invisible Library series?

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Patricia Kiyono says:

    I’ve been reading cozy mysteries for a while now, and I thought you’d discovered a series I should read. I’m not sure I’d appreciate all the literary detail, though. Maybe someday, when I’ve run out of books to read…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      I think you, like me, would enjoy the basic story.
      But I believe you may also become impatient with all the literary name-dropping and incessant literary quotations.


  4. I’ll bet you enjoy the Aurora Teagarden, Hallmark movie series since she’s a librarian. Arnie and I love to watch what new crime she gets involved in. They’re a lot of fun.

    When I read a book, I try my hardest to read it as a reader, not a writer. Still, I find errors, things I’d have written differently, , or things I’d change in all the books I read because I’ve been writing for so long. That doesn’t keep me from enjoying the stories. Instead, I take it as a lesson in how I’d like to or not want to write. 🙂

    We’re all at different levels of our writing knowledge, and we all write in a different style. I try to keep that in mind as well. In all the time I’ve been reading, there have only been two books I stopped reading because of frustration in the way it was written, too unbelievable, or for too many errors and mistakes.

    We as writers will always find things we can correct or change in the books we read from other authors. One of the drawbacks to being a writer yourself.

    I do love a good mystery, so I’ll have to check this one out. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It sounds like a great idea for a story, but given your review I don’t think I’d like it. Too much detail, etc usually makes me stop reading.

    Liked by 1 person

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