Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Library Paradox by Catherine Shaw

This book is interesting in that it is a work of fictional mathematical mystery. That said, it is a murder mystery with a substantial history of the Jewish community, particularly in East London, in the 19th century. Catherine Shaw has done a great deal of research into this time period. Here we have a heroine very much ahead of her time, Vanessa Weatherburn, a young mother of two toddlers who is also an amateur detective. Fans of Anne Perry’s Charlotte Pitt series will relate to this character who has an ability to mix and mingle while collecting information.

The Library Paradox is not just the title of the book, it is an actual mathematical paradox concerning a catalogue of catalogues. In this case, the book title also represents the fact that the murder took place in a library and paradoxically no one could have done the crime. The murder victim is a fiercely, almost insanely anti-Semitic professor of high standing. With no witnesses to the actual murder but 3 witnesses to the aftermath and one person on the walkway heading the other direction when the shot was heard, no amount of tests of timing could put any of them on the spot at the exact moment of the shooting. The professor himself had an exceptional number of enemies, and therein lies the dilemma of discovering a suspect.

In the course of events, many real crimes against Jews are mentioned, including the Dreyfus Affair, famous in French history, and it is soon discovered that the professor had a hand in the conviction of two Jews in the "ritual" murder of an 11 year old boy, James Wilson. There are several seemingly unrelated issues throughout the book, but it holds itself together. The segments pertaining to tracking down an elderly rabbi, or rebbe as the Hasidic community refers to him, is quite entertaining in an odd way. Did I like the book? Yes, I enjoyed it enough that I would read another of Catherine Shaw’s books, but I personally felt it was a little dragged out in spots, particularly at the beginning, but it took all my attention once the actual drama began. Still, I recommend it for its adventures into a time and place we do not often hear about, and for a sound and satisfying mystery.

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