Recently, I read Whispers in the Reading Room by Shelley Gray. This was an unexpected, unplanned read for me. I received a free, Advanced Reader Copy, sat down and read it in an afternoon.
Shelley Gray is an author I am unfamiliar with. I had never heard of her and haven’t read any of her other books.
Why am I telling you this? I anticipate that my review will reflect my lack of experience with Gray as an author, and I want you to know why.
Though her name sounds very British, Gray actually hails from Ohio. In addition to romance, she also writes Amish fiction, and is apparently best known for her Heart of a Hero series.
Whispers in the Reading Room is actually the third book in the Chicago World’s Fair Mystery series, a fact that I was unaware of when I read the book. Perhaps that was the reason for some of the disconnectedness I felt? The two other books in the series are Secrets of Sloane House and Deception on Sable Hill.
Set in the late-nineteenth century, Whispers in the Reading Room centers around a “reading room” or library where Lydia Bancroft works. There she meets Sebastian Marks, a mysterious club owner. Inexplicably drawn to one another, Lydia and Sebastian’s lives become intertwined when a murder occurs at his club – and Lydia is on the suspect list.
I don’t know why this is considered Christian fiction – there is no reason whatsoever for such a label. There is nothing Christian about this book. Not to say that there is anything morally objectionable in it – I just think that a few references to God or the Bible doesn’t make a book “Christian.”
It’s also labeled as a mystery. I beg to differ. There is no mystery in this book. It has none of the elements of a typical mystery, aside from the murder – and a murder does not necessarily make a mystery. It’s more of a romance novel… but even then, not all the necessary elements are present. For example, the marriage proposal occurs in the middle of the book instead of at the end, and there is absolutely no kissing to be found – what kind of romance is that! As I read the book, I was unable to figure what exactly it was that I was reading and found it extremely frustrating.
Sebastian Marks reminded me a little of Rhett Butler from Gone With The Wind, and, since I liked Rhett, I found myself liking Marks’ character. That said, I found his actions laughably unrealistic. Marks is street smart and knows better than to get into a relationship with the naïve young librarian. In the beginning of the book, he has resolved to keep his distance because he cares what Lydia thinks of he him – and he knows that if he gets close to her she will inevitably find out about his underhanded business operations. And then he deliberately inserts himself into her life and doesn’t even withdraw in horrified shock when he realizes what he has done but insists on continuing to see her and even proposes?
Yeah. That seems like a perfectly natural way of handling things. Oh, wait! No, it doesn’t.
But I think that the really major flaw of this book is its inconsistency. This drives me crazy – more than anything else, I want consistency in a story. There is no believing a story that is not consistent.
Take one of the side characters, Hunt, for example. When the book opens we meet Hunt, a kind man, a widower who misses his dead wife, and wants nothing more than to take care of his little girl as best as he can. Hunt is disconcerted by the lack of feeling shown by his employer, Sebastian Marks. But later in the story, Hunt comes across as hard and unfeeling himself, capable of coarse vulgarity. He angrily opposes Marks’ relationship with Lydia, but a reason is never given for his seemingly random dislike. At other times, he is all care and concern. This doesn’t make any sense. Real people wouldn’t act like that without any reason.
I didn’t feel like, as a reader, that I got to know the characters well. Lydia, particularly, is left largely to your imagination. Marks’ past is only ever hinted at. Hunt is inconsistent, and Bridget, a character I felt more of an interest in than the heroine herself, is entirely undeveloped. When I am dissatisfied with the characters, I find that I end up being dissatisfied with the book in general and this was certainly the case with Whispers in the Reading Room.
Though I came away with an unfavorable impression of Whispers in the Reading Room, I may read the two preceding novels to see if context improves my opinion.