Review of The Library Paradox

The Library Paradox by Catherine Shaw

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Cover – The library paradox

📖 In Cambridge 1896, a professor is shot dead in his study. The only suspect was seen leaving the building a number of seconds before the shot was fired, and the witnesses testify no one else left the building after the shot. How could the killer have escaped? Venessa Weatherburn is asked to look into the case.

✍️ Firstly, I had not realised this was book 3 in a series so perhaps may have enjoyed it a little more being armed with that info. The book intrigued me from the offset. A historical murder mystery with the detective not being a middle-aged man (or older widow) but a young married mother with two young children of her own. It seemed intriguing. The reality of the story is she drops the kids off at her sister’s and then pretty much forgets about them.

🗣 I often think it’s useful to see an extract of a book to get an idea of the writing style. Here is a brief extract so that you can see a sample of the writing yourself:

‘I don’t know, though,’ he said. ‘People tell stories around here all the time, and Peretz’s latest can always be counted upon to get a lot of appreciation. Peretz is one of our great Yiddish authors,’ he added, turning to me. Reaching up to a shelf, which held a pile of papers and well-thumbed tomes, he took down some old newspapers and glanced through them. I looked eagerly over his shoulder, but found myself confronted with Hebrew characters, as illegible to me as if I were staring at a blank wall.
‘You won’t be able to read this,’ he said, smiling. ‘Anyway, I don’t think I have the story here, as it only just came out. Listen, I’ll find it and translate it for you, and send one of my brothers to bring it over to you tomorrow. I don’t know what conclusions you’ll be able to draw from it; probably none.’
‘I would very much like to read the story, nevertheless,’ I said.

👓 The story is all told from Vanessa’s viewpoint (written as a memoir/diary style) and whilst at times she is an interesting character, strong-willed, questioning but approachable, the book tends to drift off into large amounts of mathematical theory. Some of which is relevant to the story but the majority just seemed to be page fillers and I found myself glossing over to try to get to the next part of the book that contained actual story content.

👫 Quite early in the book we find out that the murdered professor was an anti-Semite, who made no secret of his views and had a clear stance on the famous Dreyfus affair in France. Vanessa slowly ends up in the Jewish community in London. This then meant the book went on to explain a lot about the Hassidic sect of Judaism. Some of this was interesting ( I did enjoy learning about the families and the customs within the Jewish community and the comparisons made by the Christian Vanessa). However, again the author seemed to put in every possible bit of information about Jewish culture from that time and for me, it really began to detract from the story.

🗺 I enjoyed the historical setting and the descriptions of the buildings in and around Cambridge and sections of London were very visual.

💔 Any Negatives: The story itself, for me, had real potential a murdered professor and a real puzzle of how a murderer could get in and out unseen – brilliant stuff. However, I found myself enjoying the book less and less as the author repeatedly went into more and more mathematical theories. I also feel a lot of the religious elements were unnecessary and again slowed the book and story down. There were also a few too many characters I felt, I understand Jewish communities are large, and also scholarly circles at the university, but the number of new character introductions felt too much for a fiction novel.

💭 Overall View: The setting, the mystery and the main character were all great. However, the book was too focused on mathematics, Jewish religion, and antisemitism which ultimately detracted from the story. A bit of knowledge is very interesting but the author went too far.

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