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Shaw, Catherine - 'The Library Paradox'
Paperback: 288 pages (Mar. 2007) Publisher: Allison & Busby ISBN: 0749080108

Vanessa Weatherburn is a wife and the mother of two young children. In 1896 this means she has had to curtail one of her passions; that of being an amateur detective. When she is approached by two professors from a London university to investigate the death of one of their colleagues, Vanessa is so intrigued that she cannot say no.

Professor Ralston has been shot with his own gun in his library. There are signs of a violent struggle but no obvious perpetrator. The only visible escape route for a killer appears to have witnesses who attest that no one left the room. There certainly is no shortage of suspects. Professor Ralston was rabidly anti-Semitic. His testimony was instrumental in sending a Jewish man to the gallows a number of years earlier.

Police arrest a young Jewish man who was first on the scene. Their reasoning is that if it wasn't possible for anyone to escape then someone must be lying and for many being Jewish in 1896 London is sufficient grounds in itself.

Vanessa is unconvinced of his guilt and sets out to track down an elderly Rabbi the young man claims he saw leaving the premises as he was arriving. As no one else saw this Rabbi, most believe he has been invented as an alibi. Vanessa's investigations take her into London's East End Hassidic Jewish community where her eyes are opened to a way of life previously unknown to her.

The title of the book, THE LIBRARY PARADOX has a double meaning. It's not just the puzzle of what happened to the professor, it is also the name given to a mathematical paradox. This is explained in the form of a conversation at a party. I have to confess that maths was my weak subject at school. All but the basics eluded me and while I get the connection in the title, I found the explanation of this mathematical paradox to be something of a tangent with little bearing on the plot.

THE LIBRARY PARADOX seemed a little slow to take off, with more time devoted to explaining the details of how Vanessa organises to free herself from her family commitments than was really necessary. However, once that was done with, the plot does take over.

To be honest, I didn't find the mystery all that challenging. I arrived at the solution before the protagonist. However, the author seems to have captured the difficulties of daily life for an independent woman quite well and the insight into Jewish life in London in the nineteenth century was particularly interesting.

While THE LIBRARY PARADOX does have a few minor weaknesses, overall I found it be an enjoyable read.

Sunnie Gill, Australia
July 2007

last updated 4/07/2007 17:31