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by Mary Lou Kirwin
Pocket Books, November 2012
308 pages
ISBN: 1451684649

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

It is probably safe to say that though they are among the most popular subgenres of crime fiction, the cozy mystery generally is held in little esteem outside the genre's most ardent fans. While being a "gentle" read has appeal to many readers, other readers, not to mention critics, often deride the simple plots, the niche plotlines and generally consider them to be too cute and slight for their own good. Enter Mary Lou Kirwin's KILLER LIBRARIAN, a novel that sports a catchy title, but manages to disappoint at nearly every turn.

Meek librarian Karen Nash is finally getting to embark on her life-long dream to visit England when her boyfriend Dave suddenly breaks up with her with little explanation leaving her distraught. But Karen is determined to not let that prevent her from going on a trip of a lifetime and goes by herself, hoping that the trip will be a worthwhile diversion from her troublesome personal life, when she discovers that Dave has made the trip as well, with a much younger woman.

Trying to put Dave, and his new companion, out of her mind; Karen checks into a cozy-looking bed and breakfast and befriends the proprietor, a handsome gentleman who shares Karen's love for the printed word who agrees to show her around town in due course. But Karen happens upon a fellow tenant of the B&B dead under mysterious circumstances and quickly finds that many of her housemates had reason to wish the recently deceased man to be dead - including her prospective beau.

You can probably see where all of this is going. Karen is likable enough as a character and serves as an adequate vehicle for this sort of story, but the shallowness of her characterization, the prosaicness of the story and supporting cast severely drag down the proceedings. Much is made throughout the book of Karen's love for classic British literature and her status as a confirmed anglophile; however these descriptions seem to come from a perfunctory viewing of BBC America rather than providing depth to her character. While the plot is classic cozy, the narrative drifts towards what at least appears to be of the spy/hired assassin variety which strains the book's credibility. The fellow tenants of the B&B and other supporting characters seem to originate from a checklist of stock cozy characters rather than presenting the reader with anything new or original.

KILLER LIBRARIAN is a disappointment—though a relatively harmless and a rather readable one. However, at a time when some authors such as G.M. Malliet are reshaping the modern cozy with refreshing twists on an old formula, it is even more disheartening for a cozy mystery to adhere so stringently to the conventions and checklists of the subgenre in this way. While there are likely worse ways to spend a cold winter afternoon, lovers of the cozy can find much more than what Karen Nash's adventure has to offer.

§ Ben Neal is a public librarian in northeastern Tennessee and likes to fancy himself an amateur writer, humorist, detective, and coffee connoisseur in his spare time. He can be reached at beneneal@indiana.edu.

Reviewed by Ben Neal, January 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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