Whispers in the Reading Room
By Shelley Gray
A Chicago World’s Fair Mystery, #3
Lydia's job at the library is her world---until a mysterious patron catches her eye . . . and perhaps her heart.
Just months after the closure of the Chicago World's Fair, librarian Lydia Bancroft finds herself fascinated by a mysterious dark-haired and dark-eyed patron. He has never given her his name; he actually never speaks to a single person. All she knows about him is that he loves books as much as she does.
Only when he rescues her in the lobby of the Hartman Hotel does she discover that his name is Sebastian Marks. She also discovers that he lives at the top of the prestigious hotel and that most everyone in Chicago is intrigued by him.
Lydia and Sebastian form a fragile friendship, but when she discovers that Mr. Marks isn't merely a very wealthy gentleman, but also the proprietor of an infamous saloon and gambling club, she is shocked.
Lydia insists on visiting the club one fateful night and suddenly is a suspect to a murder. She must determine who she can trust, who is innocent, and if Sebastian Marks-the man so many people fear-is actually everything her heart believes him to be.
Every once in a while, a book that is uniquely different appears in the Christian market, and Whispers in the Reading Room is one of those. Lead characters are realistically flawed and complex, the writing sparkles in places, and the historical setting is vividly conveyed. Sebastian, a charismatic leading man, has a questionable career, much of the action takes place in a seedy section of Chicago, there’s a formal style of communicating, and Lydia and Sebastian are total opposites on the surface. Yet friendship is a beautiful theme woven throughout, and while spiritual elements are subtle, they are clearly communicated.
The setting is Chicago during the Gilded Age, 1894, and a major theme revolves around literature. With Chicago’s Lincoln Lending Library as a backdrop, this story holds a natural appeal for readers and I found it fascinating. Nothing about this novel makes it a typical historical romance, and I see it as more of a relationship-driven story with a historical setting – and therein lies its strength. An air of melancholy surrounds Sebastian and I was immediately drawn to this vulnerable leading man who struggles to find his place in society and life. These quotes convey that longing and the gateway he discovered through works of literature . . .
“He went to the library to read for pleasure, to lose himself in the
allure of printed pages without anyone in his world taking note.”
“Austen and Bronte and Wilde taught him to speak. Dickens
taught him about ills . . . and about what he had a hope of being.”
“. . . all of his learning had come from a poor boy’s desire to become something he’d only witnessed in printed pages.”
Lydia was lonely and anxious, weighed down by the responsibility of obtaining a wealthy husband in order to meet her mother’s needs. I loved the growing friendship between this unlikely pair, and the way Lydia made Sebastian desire to be a better man. Self-worth and sacrifice enter into this narrative, as well as how deceptive appearances can be . . . “Just as she feared Sebastian might bolt if he knew her exact address, he feared Lydia would run if she knew how disreputable he actually was.”
Much richness comes through the supporting characters of Vincent, Sebastian’s assistant, and Bridget, his maid. It was great to see not one, but two romances! Although this third story in the series stands alone, readers will enjoy seeing the return of previous characters Sean Ryan and Owen Howard.
The only thing that I found lacking in this otherwise excellent story was the rushed ending. In the last two short chapters, the timeframe jumps ahead by nine days, followed by another week, and storylines are wrapped up with little foundation or development. An excellent story overall, though, one that I have no hesitancy in recommending.
Shelley Gray is the author of The Heart of a Hero series. Her Amish novel (written as Shelley Shepard Gray), The Protector, recently made the New York Times best seller list. A native of Texas, she earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in Colorado and taught school for ten years. She and her husband have two children and live in Southern Ohio.
Connect with Shelley at shelleyshepardgray.com, Twitter, and Facebook
Thank you to Litfuse Publicity for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
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