The Woman in the Library By Sulari Gentill: Review/Giveaway/Interview

Jun 25, 2022 | 2022 Articles, Kathleen Costa, Mysteryrat's Maze

by Kathleen Costa

This week we have a review of The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill along with an interesting interview with Sulari. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of the book and a link to purchase it from Amazon.

The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill
Review by Kathleen Costa

A Story About Writing a Story About Writing a Story

The concept of The Woman in the Library may seem confusing or complex, but it isn’t, far from it. Hannah Tigone, a well-known successful Aussie author, is writing her newest book. Leo Johnson, a struggling writer, is an uber fan of Hannah’s work and has struck up a friendship that leads to her sharing with him chapters of her manuscript and him offering insights, an American/Bostonian perspective, professional encouragement, and constructive suggestions. The two communicate long distance through email, and readers are privy to Leo’s side of the conversation which responds to the chapter he read, addresses things that Hannah said or asked, and includes friendly repartee about the Australian wildfires, the pandemic, lockdown experiences, and the fact Leo was included as a character in her book. It is a fascinating look at the writer/beta reader professional and personal relationship, but as the communications continue, the tone in Leo’s emails changes, more intense and graphic, as well as emphasizing his frustrations with his failed writing career. Helpful and intuitive or demanding and jealous? You decide.

The manuscript Hannah shares with Leo is the story of young Australian writer Winifred “Freddie” Kincaid. As winner of the Marriot Scholarship she lives at Carrington House in Boston, Massachusetts. She found the atmosphere of the Boston Public Library reading room a refuge from the wintery cold and waits for inspiration for the book she is expected to write. She focuses her creative eye on the people sitting near her, pontificates who and what they are, entertains connections they may have, and pictures them as characters suited for her book: a tattooed “Freud Girl,” dimpled “Heroic Chin,” and too “Handsome Man.” Yet, her thoughts are interrupted by a “ragged and terrified” scream, and while waiting for the all clear from security, Freddie strikes up a conversation with her three table mates. From there the four bond over coffee, donuts, and the curious murder of Caroline Palfrey, but as they interact, they also reveal themselves to each other; littered with shocking surprises, it fuels suspicions. There’s a stalker, an assault, another murder, a writer/neighbor, and more than enough evidence to believe any one of them is a murderer. Talk about inspiration, just as long as Freddie can survive long enough to write her story.

The Woman in the Library Earns 5+/5 Savory Donuts…Unique & Engaging!
I was a bit surprised by Sulari Gentill’s “two stories in one” idea since the synopsis I read only addressed the four strangers that bond over the murder. But, after a couple of chapters, I was all in! Being a beta reader myself for authors all over the world, I can identify with the relationship, albeit friendship, that develops through the communication between a writer and reader/fan. The discussion of context, characters, and criminal machinations can be personal, as writers can attest, and the constructive suggestions or personal experiences offered up to support a viewpoint or reason for some corrective work can build or destroy a level of trust. I, too, have pondered where might be that line one should not cross. I’ve also had my name used as a peripheral character; what a kick that is!

Sulari Gentill’s story within a story turns out to be a fascinating and engaging two-fer, and once you grasp how the story is organized, it’s one you can’t put down. The murder mystery that Hannah is writing and Leo is critiquing, is compelling, well-developed with plenty of surprises revealing who the characters really are with their past and motivations heightening suspicions. It could, of course, be a story all by itself as it morphs into additional crimes, a full suspect list, and peril to avoid, and the final disclosure of the murderer and the rationale is one I didn’t entirely see coming. I didn’t feel the emails added at the end of each chapter were intrusive or interfered with the pace of the murder mystery. I found the second story with the interactions between the author and reader as compelling and a fascinating discussion on research, background, process, and interpretations. I was intrigued by the evolution from a professional partnership to a more toxic relationship. Unique. Diverse characters. Double wow!

Extras: Don’t pass up the Readers Group Guide to spark your book club discussion or the Conversation with the Author that provides fascinating insights into her work.

Be a Big Fan of Sulari Gentill!
Sulari Gentill “…tells stories…it’s outrageous…she just makes things up…I’m Australian. I was born in Sri Lanka, learned to speak English in Zambia, and grew up in Brisbane.” Her Rowland Sinclair WWII Mysteries is set in 1930s Australia and follows Rowland Sinclair, the wealthy gentleman artist and amateur detective. Using the pen name S. D. Gentill, she has a fantasy adventure series The Hero Trilogy along with standalone novels. Her work is filled with exciting, unique storylines garnering an eager fan base. Check out her work at Website: Sulari Gentill.

Kathleen Costa is a long-time resident of the Central Valley, and although born in Idaho, she considers herself a “California Girl.” Graduating from CSU-Sacramento, she is 35+ year veteran teacher having taught in grades 1-8 in schools from Sacramento to Los Angeles to Stockton to Lodi. Currently Kathleen is enjoying year 2 of retirement revitalizing hobbies along with exploring writing, reading for pleasure, and spending 24/7 with her husband of 26+ years.

Disclosure: This post contains links to an affiliate program, for which we receive a few cents if you make purchases. KRL also receives free copies of most of the books that it reviews, that are provided in exchange for an honest review of the book.

Interview with Sulari Gentill:

KRL: How long have you been writing?

Sulari: Fiction? About 13 years. Before that I wrote contracts and legal advice. But I think I’ve been a storyteller all my life.

KRL: When did your first novel come out, what was it called, and would you tell us a little about it?

Sulari: My first novel came out in 2010. An historical crime novel, A Few Right Thinking Men, was set in 1932 against the backdrop of the Great Depression and rising political tensions. The protagonist, Rowland Sinclair, is a gentleman artist, born to the establishment and great wealth, but who is naturally drawn to the company of the Bohemian artistic sets of Sydney. When Rowland’s beloved uncle is murdered, he infiltrates a dangerous but burgeoning Fascist movement known as the New Guard in his determination to find the killer. It was published in the US as A House Divided.

KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense and if not, what else have you written?

Sulari: Not always. I did write a series of novels set in the world of the Homeric epics. The Hero Trilogy (Chasing Odysseus, Trying War, and The Blood of Wolves) was the story of the Herdsmen of Ida who supplied the Trojans with food through the years of the siege via secret tunnels under the walls of Troy. The series follows their fates after Troy fell and is written against the context of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, and Virgil’s Aeneid.

KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book?

Sulari: I was writing a different book set in the US and to ensure I was getting the details of Boston correct, I was corresponding with a friend, an American writer, who was in Boston at the time. Larry is an excellent researcher and probably more thorough than I am. He would supplement his letters with maps and menus as well images and footage of Boston landmarks and streets. Then one day, there was a murder a couple of blocks from where he was staying and so, thinking that images of an American crime scene would be useful he sent me footage of the scene (after the body had been removed). When I opened the file in Australia, my husband, who happened to be standing behind me, murmured, “I hope Larry’s not killing people to send you research!” Of course, he wasn’t… I promise! But it did occur to me that it was a good idea for a novel.

KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to experience from your work?

Sulari: First and foremost, I want to engage and entertain, to make readers care about my characters and what happens to them. I want to thrill readers, to make them laugh, cry and gasp. But I hope that I also give them something to take away, to think about, long after they’ve closed the book. Crime fiction has always been a wonderful medium for talking about society and prejudice, equity and humanity within the context of a desperate pursuit for justice. My books are as much about those conversations as they are about murder.

KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just work whenever you can?

Sulari: I work whenever I can. For me, the challenge is to stop writing and deal with the requirements of the life outside my head from time to time. If left to my own devices I might never do anything else!

KRL: What is your ideal time to write?

Sulari: I seem to be most productive very early in the morning and very late at night.

KRL: Do you outline? If not, do you have some other interesting way that you keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book when you are writing it?

Sulari: I’m an extreme pantser. I don’t plot or outline at all and have no idea what will be on the next page let alone how the book will finish. I find I don’t need to consciously try to keep track of what’s going on. When I’m working, I’m immersed in the story, I live and breathe it—I don’t think I could lose track of it if I tried.

KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?

Sulari: I suppose it depends on what you call difficult. I didn’t have an agent; I didn’t even know any other writers and had no idea what I was doing. I tried to get an agent and was politely turned down by everybody. But when I sent my manuscript directly to publishers (you can do that in Australia) it was picked up immediately.

KRL: Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?

Sulari: I recall the evening I received the first offer from a publisher for my debut novel, via email, because I’d forgotten to include my address when I submitted. It was just the most incredible feeling. That night I lay in bed unable to sleep because I was so excited, and periodically I would just laugh—not at anything in particular, it was just sheer erupting joy. At about two in the morning my husband asked me to stop because I was scaring him. Thinking back, it might have been a little alarming. The following day, I was meant to drive to a board meeting in a town about 300 miles away. I’d done the trip many times before but I suddenly found myself nervous, convinced I would die in some horrific car accident because nobody was allowed to be as happy as I was without some catastrophic Karmic balancing. Luckily, that paranoia passed, the excitement about writing has not.

KRL: Most interesting book signing story-in a bookstore or other venue?

Sulari: When my boys were little, I’d often take them with me to book events if I couldn’t get a sitter. My youngest, Atticus, was one of those kids who loved asking questions, and so at the end of a reading or book talk, when questions were invited, his hand would shoot up. I’d try to ignore him, but it would remain up, waving occasionally, until other people would say things like “I think that little boy has a question.” And so, I’d give in and ask my persistent six-year-old what he’d like to know. He’d stand up, frown thoughtfully and ask, “How many words are in that book?” or “When are you going to stop writing?” or “How thick is your book?” or even just “Why?”

KRL: What are your future writing goals?

Sulari: To keep writing and reaching readers. Within that, I think I’ll always be trying to create something new, not just in terms of the substance of a novel but also in its form.

KRL: Who are your writing heroes?

Sulari: I grew up on Agatha Christie and I am still an ardent fan. There is a wonderful elegance in her work, so many things that she did first.

KRL: I totally agree! What kind of research do you do?

Sulari: It depends on the book I’m trying to write of course. I do have a preference, wherever possible, of talking to people as opposed to just reading material. I find I can get a much better feel for a place or a time or an incident in a conversation, where I can ask questions or test ideas. But I do also read, dig around archives, visit settings and google!

KRL: What do you like to read?

Sulari: I’ll read any genre as long as it’s a good story. I consume a fair bit of non-fiction as well. I only occasionally read poetry, but every time I do, I wonder why I don’t do so more regularly.

KRL: What are your favorite TV shows or movies?

Sulari: I’ve been binging all the limited series based on Harlan Corban’s books – The Five, The Stranger, Safe etc. I loved Ozark. Midsomer Murders, Foyle’s War, Lewis, and Frost are also big favorites in my house. And Shutter Island. I don’t rewatch it because I find that final twist so shattering, but I think about it often.

KRL: Those are some of my favorites as well. Have you any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?

Sulari: Write in a manner that suits you, that makes you happy. There is no right or wrong way to create and rules are of our own making. There is no virtue in agony for its own sake and suffering for your art does not by itself make you a better writer. A writer’s life has many challenges, so if you can find joy in the act of putting one word after the other, however you choose to do it, it’s an easier road to walk.

KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?

Sulari: I’m not good at keeping secrets. I think about that failing quite often, because I write about people who are doing just that, who are good at leaving things out or staying silent. I, on the other hand, am not. I would be totally useless at covering up a real murder.

KRL: Pets?

Sulari: A menagerie. Four dogs (Rolly, Miss Higgins, Alfred and Piggy), two cats (Hero and Scaredy), two miniature horses (Matilda and Camoo) and two donkeys (Ruby and Reginald).

KRL: How fun!

To enter to win a copy of The Woman in the Library, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “library,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen July 2, 2022. US only, and must be 18 or older to enter. If entering via email please include your mailing address in case you win. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.

Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section. And join our mystery Facebook group to keep up with everything mystery we post, and have a chance at some extra giveaways. Be sure to check out our new mystery podcast too with mystery short stories, and first chapters read by local actors. A new episode went up this week.

You can use this link to purchase the book from Amazon or click here. If you have ad blocker on you may not see the link:


Kathleen Costa is a long-time resident of the Central Valley, and although born in Idaho, she considers herself a “California Girl.” Graduating from CSU-Sacramento, she is 35+ year veteran teacher having taught in grades 1-8 in schools from Sacramento to Los Angeles to Stockton to Lodi. Currently Kathleen is enjoying year 2 of retirement revitalizing hobbies along with exploring writing, reading for pleasure, and spending 24/7 with her husband of 26+ years.

Disclosure: This post contains links to an affiliate program, for which we receive a few cents if you make purchases. KRL also receives free copies of most of the books that it reviews, that are provided in exchange for an honest review of the book.

8 Comments

  1. The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill sounds like a highly detailed and fascinating book for those who love reading and the writing process.

    Reply
  2. Sounds interesting! Count me in!

    Reply
  3. I really liked the synopsis of the book. Sounds like a book I would enjoy reading.
    diannekc8(at)gmail(dot)com

    Reply
  4. What a thrilling page turner! I would love to enter the giveaway!

    Reply
    • Very intriguing! I like the two-stories-in-one aspect, usually makes for a thrilling and suspenseful story.

      Reply
  5. Should be an interesting read.
    Love to try it. thanks
    txmlhl(at)yahoo(dot)com

    Reply
  6. We have a winner!

    Reply

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