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January 27, 2022

The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections by Eva Jurczyk ~ a Review

by Donna Huber

I always see books about libraries but it is usually after they've been out for a while and the hold lists is long at the digital library. Many of them are historical fiction or have elements of fantasy or magical realism. I saw The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections and accepted it for review but when I started to read it I had forgotten what it was about so I expected it to be like the other recent books about libraries. But it wasn't it.

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The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections
January 2022; Poisoned Pen Press; 978-1728246598
audio, ebook, print (336 pages); mystery

I don't think a year was actually given, but the story is set in present-day with a few chapters flashing back to the past to give some background on the various characters. No name of the university is given, but it is in Canada. Though it could be any large, research university. I pretty quickly ruled out historical fiction, but still, I wondered if magical realism would be included. Especially when all the characters seemed a little odd. But it is because they are all hiding secrets and not due to any tropes of fantasy or magical realism. The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections is a character-driven mystery. While I enjoyed the book, I'm not sure I actually liked it.

It starts off with Liesel being called back from a sabbatical that has just begun because the director has had a stroke and as the assistant director (I'm not sure what her actual title but it was something like that) she must lead the department. She has handled the administrative tasks - invoices, budgets, shipping, etc while the director Christopher has been the public face - glad-handing donors and handling acquisitions. Liesel is a bit out of her element as she steps into this new role and it doesn't help that the other employees don't think she can (or should) be the interim. Things quickly go downhill when a newly acquired book goes missing. And everyone at the library becomes a suspect.

I didn't particularly like any of the characters. I didn't totally dislike them either. They are all hiding something which made them hard to get to know which is strange for a character-driven story. Some of the secrets are fully revealed while others you have to read between the lines to figure out. At times, the mystery of the missing book took a position on the back-burner as we devel into the personal lives of the characters through flashbacks, which is typical with a character-driven story. 

As I work in academia, I could identify with the setting. Particularly Liesl's sentiment, "The students interfered greatly with Liesl's enjoyment of the campus." We have a special collections library at my university and while we are proud of it, I'm not sure it plays as big of a role in fundraising as the library in this book. Perhaps at the more Ivy league-type schools, they do.

I enjoyed the mystery. About halfway through I suspected a particular character which in the end I was proved to be correct. However, I didn't get a satisfying answer as to why the person did it. 

Overall, I enjoyed the book. Each time I picked it up I was immediately pulled into the story and got lost in the pages. 

Donna Huber is an avid reader and natural encourager. She is the founder of Girl Who Reads and the author of how-to marketing book Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour.

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