Whispers in the Reading Room (Chicago World’s Fair Mystery #3) by Shelley Gray
Pub. Date: November 10, 2015
Source: e-ARC via netgalley (Thank you, Zondervan!)
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.
Genre: Christian Fiction, Historical Fiction, Romance, Mystery
Back in February I devoured the second book in this series and mentioned in my review that, while the previous one wrapped up nicely (to where I wasn’t even sure if there would be a third book) if Gray were to write another I would definitely read it. And much to my delight Whispers in the Reading Room was announced. I was ecstatic, elated, beside myself with joy and couldn’t wait to settle in for what I was convinced would be a fantastic read. Unfortunately I was more than a little let down.
The Chicago World’s Fair has recently ended and the foul Society Slasher has been brought to justice. The city is slowly returning to its former self and for Lydia Bancroft, that means a nice, quiet library full of patrons. One patron in particular has captured her interest, though they have never exchanged a single word.
Sebastian Marks is not the kind of man to be leisurely whiling away an afternoon reading. As the owner of a popular gambling joint, he’s not exactly what one would consider respectable – many people actually fear him. He’s also not the kind of man who would find a quiet, bespectacled librarian so alluring.
When a luncheon reveals her fiance’s true colors, Lydia finds herself in the care of her mysterious patron and the two form a somewhat uneasy friendship, made all the more fragile after Lydia discovers what Sebastian hasn’t been telling her…
Oh how I wanted to love this one! To be honest, for a while I was on board: Lydia’s father recently passed and with his death came the family’s fall from grace. No longer able to support her mother’s high maintenance lifestyle, Lydia has procured a job and found a smaller, yet respectable home. Her engagement to a wealthy Mr. Avondale couldn’t have come at a better time. This was all great and well-written and I was enjoying the story. But then.
Jason quickly shows his true nature and immediately calls off their engagement. It just so happens that Sebastian was in the area and immediately came to Lydia’s rescue and the story went careening downhill from there. You see, Whispers in the Reading Room is supposed to be a mystery. Okay, so later (and I mean WAY later) in the book there’s a murder and a horrifically half-assed reveal at the end. But once Sebastian and Lydia finally talk to one another, the novel quickly becomes a romance. I wouldn’t have minded one bit had I not been expecting (it’s in the series name!) a mystery.
I was going to ignore the instalove and attempt to enjoy the story, but the more I read the more I noticed how manipulative and abusive Sebastian was. I think he was meant to be seen as protective and caring only for Lydia’s well-being, but his words and actions completely took me out of the story:
Obviously she had forgotten to breathe again, and he had forgotten to make sure she did.
He had failed her yet again.
“If you [moved away] I would lose my librarian, Miss Bancroft,” he said gently. “And we both know I would never allow that to happen.”
When Sebastian learns about Lydia’s financial situation, he immediately makes one of his employees move into the Bancroft’s home as a maid. He refuses to take no for an answer when Lydia insists she’s able to make do just fine without one. After a man is murdered in front of Sebastian’s club, Lydia faints in Sebastian’s office and he takes it upon himself to unbutton her dress and loosen her corset. When she awakes and is rightfully uncomfortable (and flustered) she asks him to leave while she fixes her clothing. He refuses, complaining that he might as well do it since he can’t summon a maid at the moment with the police still in the club. He went on:
When she groaned, he continued with a thinly veiled, exaggerated impatience. “Either let me help you or remain in your current state of dishabille. It’s all the same to me.”
The entire novel contained moments like this: Sebastian throwing a tantrum until he got his way, Sebastian insisting on “looking after” Lydia, he even went behind her back and arranged their marriage. Not romantic at all, buddy.
When the mystery element is (finally) introduced, it’s so hurried and lackluster that Gray shouldn’t have even bothered. It felt as though she was writing this romance only to realize that uh-oh, this is a mystery series and quickly tacked on a murder. The worst part though, was the Big Reveal. SPOILER, but the murderer wasn’t even in this book apart from a few brief mentions. Nice.
It’s so upsetting to me that this novel is connected in any way to Deception on Sable Hill. The only good thing is that the books follow different characters and have completely different plots. I still recommend the first two novels, but do yourself a favor and consider this series a duology.