Happy National Library Week! Con Lehane wants to tell you all about his love of libraries and how they helped shape his newest book, MURDER AT THE 42ND STREET LIBRARY. Take it away, Con!
My new mystery novel has a librarian as a protagonist, something of an adventure for me because I’ve never been a librarian. Much as I love libraries, and while I’ve spent time in a good many of them, in order to write about a librarian and a library, which I planned to do in MURDER AT THE 42ND STREET LIBRARY, I needed to do more than read about it or look at one; I needed to feel what it’s like to work in a library. I’d been to the New York Public Library’s main branch, the 42nd Street Library hundreds of times, so the iconic structure at the corner of 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue presented itself as the logical place to house my new protagonist Raymond Ambler. To do so, I made him curator of the library’s (fictional) crime fiction collection.
Next, I wormed my way into an appointment to the Frederick Lewis Allen Memorial Room at the 42nd Street Library. The Allen room at the 42nd Street end of the second floor marble corridor is designated for writers with a book contract who are making use of the general research collections. It requires a key card to enter and has a dozen or so desk spaces that one uses on a first-come first-served basis. It’s place where you can hang your hat, so to speak, and leave your materials (in a little cubby, desks are not reserved) overnight. The fact of the matter is I did have a book contract but my main purpose was not to use the research collection. My aim was to absorb—to be and work at the library until I knew in my bones what my new friend Raymond Ambler knew and felt. To that end, I spent most of the winter of 2012 ensconced on the second floor of the library writing the first draft of MURDER AT THE 42ND STREET LIBRARY.
In addition to the time I spent writing the first draft of MURDER AT THE 42ND STREET LIBRARY at the 42nd Street Library, bits and pieces of the book were cobbled together at branches of the Cape May Library system in Cape May Courthouse and Sea Isle City, New Jersey; the Greenwich, Connecticut, Public Library (the old Greenwich Library on Greenwich Avenue was where I signed up for my first library card and took out my first book); the Lebanon, New Hampshire public library; as well as Dartmouth College’s Baker Library, where I wrote surrounded by the Orozco murals; the Newton, Massachusetts, Free Library; numerous branches of the Montgomery County, Maryland, Public Library—Chevy Chase, Aspen Hill, Rockville, Kensington, and Bethesda; the main Brooklyn Public Library at Grand Army Plaza and various branches of the New York Public Library on Broadway on the Upper West Side, the branch on 23rd Street near Seventh Avenue, and the Jefferson Market Library in Greenwich Village.
I like to think that the setting and the characters in MURDER AT THE 42ND STREET LIBRARY have a bit of an authentic feel, even to librarians. If the book does have any sort of authenticity, you can attribute it to the amount of time it and I spent in libraries as the book was coming together.
MURDER AT THE 42ND STREET LIBRARY will be available from Minotaur Books on April 26, 2016.