New mystery explores New York in the 1910s and 1990s

Deborah Feingold Photography

Patience and Fortitude, the marble lions gallantly standing at the steps of the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street in Manhattan, were only 2 years old when Jack Lyons, along with his wife and two children, moves into a large apartment hidden away on the library’s mezzanine floor. It’s all part of Jack’s job as superintendent, an intriguing fact that Fiona Davis uses in her latest historical mystery, “The Lions of Fifth Avenue,” which was selected as “Good Morning America’s” August Book Pick.

“While researching, I discovered that when the library was built, the architects included a seven-room apartment deep inside, where the superintendent and his family lived for 30 years. I thought it would be the perfect setting for my book and I invented a fictional family — the Lyons — and decided to tell the story from the wife’s point of view in 1913, as well as from her granddaughter’s in 1993,” said Davis, who chose 1913 because that decade was when women made great strides, socially and economically. “What surprised me about the 1910s was just how actively women were involved in feminist causes, including the right to vote, the right to birth control, and the right to exert agency over their own lives. There was a huge movement forward in terms of the ‘New Woman,’ one who considered herself equal to men.”

Living in the library creates an opportunity for Jack’s wife Laura, who yearns to be more than a housewife, and is mentored by Jack’s boss, who encourages her to find her own writing voice and helps her win entry to the Columbia School of Journalism. But Laura soon learns that she doesn’t want to be relegated to writing housewife-like features for the women’s section as expected, and instead becomes a noted essayist and crusader for women’s rights.

“It was wonderful to step back in time and imagine what it all was like then,” said Davis, noting that both she and Laura attended Columbia. “I earned my master’s degree there, so it was fun to draw on that experience.”

Fast forward 80 years in time to when Laura’s granddaughter, Sadie Donovan, a curator at the New York Public Library, is chosen to step in at the last moment to curate the Berg Collection of rare books. Among the rare papers are those of Laura Lyons, who had been forgotten over time, but whose writings are now being celebrated again.

At first proud of her connection to her grandmother and excited that Laura once lived at the library where she now works, Sadie hides their connection after discovering her grandmother and grandfather were caught up in a scandal about a rare book of Edgar Allan Poe’s poetry, typically stored under lock and key, that’s gone missing.

Before long, history is repeating itself when Sadie finds that vital materials about her grandmother are also missing, and only a few people had the opportunity to take them, including Sadie herself. Soon Sadie, already shattered by her husband’s infidelity and the couple’s ultimate divorce, is the prime suspect of the theft. Her reputation is on the line as is her grandmother’s and solving the mystery is the only way to redeem them.

HOME by Harlan Coben

Patrick and Rhys, two young boys from wealthy families went missing ten years before the night that Win, a relative of Rhys who prides himself on keeping his emotions under control but has no trouble with violence when provoked, spots Patrick in near the tracks at Kings Crossing, a seedy area where prostitution and drugs are rampant.harlan-author-photo-final_photo-credit-claudio-marinesco

Unsure of how to approach Patrick after all these years and wondering if he does so, whether Rhys will be lost forever, Win finds that the decision is already made when three dangerous looking men approach the young man. Wanting to save Patrick, he confronts the men and, though he subdues all three, Patrick disappears again.

“I had blown it,” Win tells himself, knowing that after all his years of fruitlessly searching, if the one lead that came his way was lost, he wouldn’t be able to help the boys’ parents who were trapped in a limbo of despair, crippling anxiety and unending heartbreak.

And so beings Home (Dutton 2016; $28), the latest mystery by author Harlan Coben, who has had ninehome consecutive #1 New York Times best sellers, reintroduces us to one of his most popular heroes, sports agent Myron Bolitar as he and Win try to find the boys and reunite them with their grieving parents.

Asked where he gets his ideas, Coben, whose books have sold 70 million copies around the world, says that anything can stimulate an idea.

“The hard part is knowing which ideas will work and being able to develop that idea into a workable story,” he says. “An idea is not a plot and it’s not a novel. Turning it into a story is where the real work comes in.”

Ifyougo:

What: Meet Harlan Coben

When & Where: 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, September 21, Union League Club, 65 W. Jackson Blvd., Chicago; 7 p.m. Wednesday, September 21, Skokie Library, 5215 Oakton St., Skokie.

FYI: (847) 446-8880; thebookstall.com

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