About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Monday, February 1, 2021

The Lions of Fifth Avenue by Fiona Davies

(2. - 1074.) The Lions of Fifth Avenue by Fiona Davies - The proud marble lions of the New York Public Library have welcomed the world since the Library was built in 1911. In 1913 they were called Leo Astor and Leo Lennox after the founders of the library. In 1993 they are Patience and Fortitude having been re-named by Mayor La Guardia in the 1930’s.

I was intrigued that in 1913 the Superintendent of the Library and his family lived inside the library. Laura and Jack Lyons with their young children Pearl and Harry have a 7 room apartment. It is an amazing concept to think of living amidst 1,000,000 books in the heart of New York City.

Laura has been accepted to the new Journalism School at Columbia University but the $85 tuition and $20 for books are beyond the means of the family. She is bitterly disappointed.

In 1993 Sadie Donovan has disdain for the hordes of tourists who come to the Library daily. She wished it was less architecturally impressive. For Sadie, libraries are for serious readers not the gawking masses:

Sadie had always preferred books to people.

She had enjoyed being on the reference desk in the Catalog Room looking up answers to questions such as “how much horse manure was dumped on the streets in 1880”. She loves her promotion to assistant curator of the Berg Collection where she deals with the requests of “scholars and researchers”.

Back in 1913 Laura gets an unexpected scholarship and becomes a member of the Class of 1913 at Columbia. She is frustrated with assignments for women that involve home and fashion while the men get to write about the major political and social issues of the day. The demands upon all the students by the professors are unreasonable.

There is a crisis as books, starting with a first edition of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, go missing.

Then in 1993 the last volume of Virginia Wolfe’s diary goes missing from a bookcase which is inside a locked cage.

A chill descends upon the families of both eras. Suspicion, as it must, falls upon the librarians of past and present for they are among the few with unlimited access to the rare books.

To my surprise Sadie is Pearl’s daughter. Born in l906 Pearl is still alive. Frail but alert Pearl is living with Sadie’s brother and wife and daughter - Lonnie, LuAnn and Valentina.

I wished the story from 1993 had not revealed important bits of the 1913 story before they were reached in the 1913 narrative. I love discovering in books what is happening as the characters learn of events. Knowing what is to come dissipates rather than enhances tension for me.

While Laura, having attended university and about to have a career, has opportunities available to few women of her era she is not a modern woman tucked into the past century. She interacts with the feminists and professional women of her pre-WW I era. As the plot progresses she is drawn into the issues of women in her time.

Laura and Sadie each feel compelled to solve the mystery of the stolen books. The books are works of art, symbols of the days when they were published. The literary heritage of the world is diminished by their absence.

It is impossible for the missing books to have been lost or misfiled. To discover who has taken them they must address how they were stolen from secure locations. Thus the library itself becomes a character as each sleuth studies the details of the magnificent building.

The lives and relationships of Laura and Sadie are well explored. They are complex women who love the written word and books. While the marble lions outside the library are male lions it would have been fitting had they been female lions. Patience and Fortitude are apt descriptions of Laura and Sadie.


  1. It sounds like a great book for a book lover, Bill. And the dual timeline can work very well if it's done effectively. You make a good point, for instance, about revealing too much in one timeline about what happens in another one. But the library setting is irresistible. I think the book might be worth reading just on that score. The fact that there are strong, well-developed lead characters just adds to the appeal.

    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. The two timelines were interesting. Davies did well in bringing them together.

  2. I was surprised to learn that people lived above Carnegie Hall too. I wonder if they can hear the music.

    1. Patti: Thanks for the comment. I wonder as well. Every year I learn of quirks about NYC landmarks through reading crime fiction.

  3. I like the premise of this book and I enjoy dual timelines. Definitely a book to read someday. I have not heard of this author before.

    1. TracyK: Thanks for the comment. I think you will find it interesting. I had not heard of the author before reading this book.

  4. I had several problems with this book. I'm not a fan of the dual timeline device, which is now so common. It can work sometimes, but I didn't feel it worked well for this story. I didn't find any of the characters particularly engaging, and in fact actively disliked both Laura and Jack who were both selfish and silly in their actions. On the plus side, I did enjoy the descriptions of the New York Public Library, which I hope to visit one day.

    1. Penny: Thanks for the comment. Ouch on the book. I do hope you get to the NYPL. It is a great library experience.