A third case for crime fiction curator Raymond Ambler (Murder in the Manuscript Room, 2017, etc.) offers still more arguments for throwing a dragnet around Manhattan’s 42nd Street Library.
At least this time the cops aren’t stringing crime-scene tape around the library itself, though that’s where the trouble begins. Shannon Darling, a novice researcher who’s interested in the fiction of veteran mystery writer Jayne Galloway, installs herself in Special Collections long enough to draw the attention of Ambler, who’s especially alert when he sees his old friend Brian McNulty, the bartender at the nearby Library Tavern, escort her off the tavern’s premises after she has one or two too many. The next time McNulty and Darling are linked is when private security agent Ted Doyle is shot dead in Darling’s hotel room and the bartender and the researcher go AWOL. Detective Mike Cosgrove, the NYPD Homicide cop who’d like to talk to them both, doesn’t buy Ambler’s weak pleas to move on because there’s nothing to see here. The first of the two fugitives to turn up is Darling, killed in another hotel room in Stamford, Connecticut. By the time he gets the news, Ambler has already convinced himself that the fake researcher is Dr. Sandra Dean, the dying Jayne Galloway’s real-life daughter, whose inquiries now take a deeply sinister turn. As Ambler tries to come up with a good excuse to question Sandra’s husband, architect Simon Dean, Cosgrove is pursuing the long list of men Sandra marked for one-night stands in her journal. The two sleuths inevitably clash over Brian McNulty, whom Cosgrove naturally regards as the murderer and Ambler as an old friend who couldn’t possibly have killed anyone, especially since he’s already anchored a series of his own (Death at the Old Hotel, 2017, etc.).
This heartfelt dive into a troubled woman’s past makes the victim more interesting than any of the sleuths or suspects.