With his back pressed close again the door of the police station, Carty Rand stood gloomily staring across the street. Should he go up to the Press Club and play poker with the gang, or spend the next hour improving his mind at the public library?
-Murder in a Library
Title: Murder in a Library
Author: Charles J. Dutton
Rating: 3 Stars
Length: 302 pages
Carty Rand is a young newspaper reporter. He’s assigned to cover stories surrounding police work and the public library. So when he finds the reference librarian, Ruby Merton, murdered in her office next to a reading room full of people, he can’t help but investigate. Rand is joined by a police inspector (Kent), the chief of police (Rogan), and a popular professor of abnormal psychology (Manners), in an investigation that takes them from the library to the local speakeasy, but they are all puzzled. As they repeat ad nauseum, who would ever kill a librarian, and why?
I came across Murder in a Library by chance, while I was searching for a different missing book at the library. Flipping open an original copy from 1931 the overwhelming hardboiled detective vibe was strong from page one (spoiler alert: Carty Rand chooses to go to the library). I was instantly charmed and checked it out. Here’s another snippet from the first chapter:
Crossing the floor he paused at the delivery desk and for a few moments joked with the efficient looking girl who was in charge. Because of the storm the room was almost deserted and the assistant had plenty of time at her disposal. There were at least twenty girls on the staff and Rand knew them all…
And now every one of you who has ever worked in a library is thinking, “Oh, he’s one of those types.”
Honestly, I enjoyed this book simply for the era and attitude it captures, but it was not a good book. Rather, reading Murder in a Library was a so-bad-it’s-good situation. The writing is sloppy, and Dutton oddly repeats himself all the time. The mystery wasn’t particularly engaging. Oh, and the old librarian stereotypes (and sexism) are very strong in this one. Poor Ruby Merton, the reference librarian, comes off as a pretty unpleasant character. Here’s a taste of how she’s described:
- “…A funny, repressed neurotic, whom life had soured, who, to say the least, was not well liked.”
- “No one had ever called the reference librarian good-looking; there were many who said she was just the opposite. Eccentric in everything she did, like many of her type, her clothes ran to vivid, extreme colors.”
- “Why should anyone kill that harmless, neurotic old maid? True she had a sharp tongue, caused no doubt by the fact that most of the prizes of life had passed her by, but to murder her—the thought was absurd. Yet she had been murdered. That reality could not be escaped.”
Ouch. It reminds me of It’s a Wonderful Life when the fact that Mary is an unmarried librarian is just about the worst thing George can imagine:
George: Please, Clarence, where’s my wife? Tell me where my wife is.
Clarence: You’re not going to like it, George.
George: Where is she? What happened to her?
Clarence: She became an old maid. She never married.
George: Where is she? Where is she?
Clarence: She’s…she’s just about to close up the library!
The book is pretty short, and if you want to read it, a scanned version of Murder in a Library is available for free on HathiTrust!