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Review of 'Murder in the Library' - Anita Davison

A body in a hospital isn’t so unusual. Unless they’ve been murdered!

1916, London: Keen to support the war effort, bookshop manager and sometime amateur sleuth Hannah Merrill has taken a volunteer role in the library of the nearby military hospital. But arriving at the hospital one cold winter’s morning, she is horrified to find the body of a dead soldier in the library.

What’s more, a beautiful young nurse confides in Hannah that she thinks she’s being followed, and then she abruptly disappears. Hannah can’t shake the suspicion that the two cases are connected, but she can’t solve the case alone. She’ll once again need to call upon her delightful, demanding, only-occasionally devious aunt, Violet. The two women know they must find the missing nurse before it’s too late… but they don’t realise they’re now both in the killer’s sights.

When I was offered this for review, I was undecided whether or not to take it - if I'm reading a series, I like to start right at the very beginning and this was Book 2. However, I was really drawn in by the delightful cover art and it sounded like just my kind of book, so I decided to take it and make time to read Book 1 first. As it's on Kindle Unlimited, this wasn't too much of a problem.

I'm very glad I did. There were a couple of things that stuck out for me and which make this book quite different to many others in the genre. Firstly, the detective is not the love interest for the young character - Hannah - and they have an uneasy relationship, even in Book 2. Secondly, it's set during the First World War, rather than in the 1920s and this allows more scope for the storylines because there is always the threat of war lurking in the background. In both books, this presence becomes much more immediate and has a direct impact on the characters.

Whilst the book sits firmly in the 'cosy crime' genre, it feels a little bit edgier, which I quite liked. It never strays from the trusted format of such books, but there is an added element of danger which keeps the reader interested. In the first book, Davison showed she wasn't afraid to kill off those closest to Hannah and I think this adds to the sense that nothing can be taken for granted. In this, it reminded me a little of the Maisie Dobbs books and this is never a bad comparison to make.

I think it also helps that Hannah and her aunt live in a world of books and this always makes me happy - that they recognise the importance of such places even in the midst of war, is quite telling and when Hannah is displaced from bookshop to library, she continues to use literature to improve the lives of those around her.

The war setting also adds a further element of difficulty to Hannah's task in tracking down a killer because there is so much possibility for movement due to zeppelin raids.

I look forward to reading the next instalments in the series. As always with a series, whilst this can be read and enjoyed as a standalone and the story is complete within the book, it definitely makes more sense, particularly in the interpersonal relationships, if you have read Book 1 and I highly recommend doing that if you haven't already!

Anita Davison is the author of the successful Flora Maguire historical mystery series. Previously published by Aria, she is writing a new cosy mystery series for Boldwood, the first title of which, Murder in the Bookshop, will be published in August 2023.

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