Thursday, September 28, 2023

September Read: :How Can I Help You? by Laura Sims


I don't know too many librarians who don't want to read this novel--about a librarian, set in a library, written by a librarian. Oh, and it includes murdering misbehaving patrons. SHHHH.

Dear Margo. She's a nondescript middle-aged woman who's worked as a circulation librarian at the Carlyle Library for the past two years. She's efficient, helpful, and keeps to herself. Her past as Jane, a nurse, is far behind her. She still seethes a bit over the injustice of hospital administration and how she was treated, but she's managed to simmer down and build a new life far away from all of that. 

And then Patricia (Pa-tree-see-a) walks in--young and polished; the new reference librarian. Margo doesn't really care for Patricia at first-she is a change in the pleasing, calming routine Margo has created for herself. She's a ripple Margo doesn't need. 

Patricia is a newly minted librarian, and this is her first job. She's escaped a dismal relationship in Chicago, along with the crushing failure of a rejected novel she's written and no one wants to publish. Desperate to try something new, she's moved to Carlyle--a dull, boring, Midwest town. 

Margo is intrigued by Patricia--what exactly does she do all day at the reference desk? Why is she always writing in her little notebook? Patricia is also intrigued by Margo--those odd flashes of coldness in her eyes; the careful stillness about her. Not to mention that very weird episode in the women's bathroom, where a patron died and Patricia saw Margo acting very, very strange. 

It doesn't take Patricia long to figure Margo out--and oh, what a story to write! But she's torn--does she tell the police now, or after she's finished writing her novel? Will it ruin her chances at a successful novel? 

The tension increases between the two women, even as they share tidbits of their lives with each other. Margo's restlessness is coming back, and she's itching to return to those heady feelings of helping folks...die. 

This was one heck of a short novel. Margo is truly a psychopath, and her mental dialogue along with her belief she's innocent are disturbing. Patricia seems like a harmless person, but her inner dialogue definitely makes you a bit uneasy, too. Two peas in a pod? 

Most of the action takes place in the library, with a few key scenes at the apartment complex both Margo and Patricia live at; the library references are spot on and the patrons--well, yes, they're definitely shaped by real-life interactions as a librarian. 

If you want to read a quick thriller, this is the one. Margo/Jane is truly one unsettling character. I found myself lingering over her chapters, trying to dig a bit deeper to figure her out. Patricia is someone you think you want to know, but by the end, I'm not so sure. It would be an interesting book to discuss with a group. 

Rating: 5/6 for a psychological thriller that builds in tension, so much so that I was almost reluctant to turn the pages! "How Can I Help You" takes on a whole new meaning in this small town library. 

Available in hardcover, audio, and e-book.

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