Whispers in the Reading Room weaves the emotion of Austen’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE with the intrigue and atmosphere of “Downton Abbey” against a backdrop of the closing of the Chicago World’s Fair near the turn of the last century.
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.
The charming heroine shows values of honesty and simplicity while attempting to honor her mother yet indulge in a job she loves and to which she’s perfectly suited. The hero, however, values little beyond his privacy and business at the beginning of the book.
When he witnesses an abusive exchange between the heroine and her suitor, a protective flame for the woman he’d only passed in the town’s lending library ignites. And a juicy romance builds slowly. Loved that! However, I didn’t like Lydia’s whiny mother. The character added another layer to the story, but she almost felt a caricature, not unlike some of the wicked characters from fairy tales or the heartless antagonists from simple romances written in and near the setting’s time period.
But the minor annoyance with the totally self-absorbed mother was lost with the plethora of rich and fully-developed characters that populate this story. I also enjoyed getting into the heads of so many of them with the multiple points of views.
This story is the third of a series. I had the feeling it might be, as two of the characters introduced are newly married and had solved recent mysteries. WHISPERS easily stands alone, though. But while it is part of the “Chicago World’s Fair Mystery series,” the mystery here isn’t very strong. There is little suspense and the antagonist is obvious, but secrets abound in this book, not so much as mysteries as they are layers of intrigue. The hint of a little mystery is like a spice enmeshed within a delicious historical romance.
Brilliantly written with the propriety of the time in internal thought as well as dialogue, I highly recommend this book! I’m grateful to Zondervan Fiction for providing me with a free copy, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.