Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Best Cellar

In 1981 scholars discovered letters and other documents that seemed to indicate that the original Library of Congress, thought to be destroyed in 1814 when the British burned the White House, Capitol Building, and the Library, may have been saved. At the time, Thomas Jefferson offered up his personal library to replace the books thought lost to the fire and was generously reimbursed. The evidence implied that Jefferson's friends may have created the need for the books, thus also creating a way to funnel funds to a man desperately short of cash.

Enter Charles Goodrum, a former director of planning at the Library of Congress. Using the story as a backdrop for his novel The Best Cellar, he decides to have a graduate student at a Virginia University make the discovery. Durance Steele comes to Washington D.C. to search for the final supporting evidence before she confronts a mysterious someone with her knowledge. She takes up residence in Crighton Jones's spare room. Crighton is the public relations officer at the Werner-Bok Library and no stranger to murder and mayhem. When Steele does not come home after leaving one morning to take revenge on the academic types who had badly burned her, Crighton is a bit worried. As Steele tells her host, "This is an important day for me. I've been working on this for two solid years. This is the pay-off....I'm off for a drive and if I've worked the puzzle right I come back rich and even." She doesn't come, poor, or otherwise.

Then Crighton intercepts a threatening phone call meant for Durance followed by a letter in the same vein. She decided it's time to try and trace the movements of her missing guest. She calls upon the services of her partners in previous crimes, Steve Carson and Edward George. Using the resources of the Werner-Bok and the Library of Congress as well as their contacts in the research world, the three are able to cut a search that took Durance two years down to size--leading them to the home of one of Virginia's oldest families. Will they be in time to find the missing graduate student? And will they find a missing library along the way?

This is a fascinating mystery--good plot and plenty of juicy historical details sprinkled throughout the narrative without giving the appearance of an info-dump. Library mysteries are almost as addictive for me as strictly academic ones and it is obvious that Goodrum has worked in the field. It's very interesting to watch the researchers do their stuff and use it to solve a 200-year-old mystery, not to mention that of the present day. ★★

***Finished at 11:30 pm. Last review of 2016.

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