The Lions of Fifth Avenue – by Fiona Davis – independent book review – Historical Fiction (United States)

Awarded three stars on Goodreads but 3.5 stars is probably more accurate. It’s an interesting read with enough action to keep you going. But not exactly what I was expecting.

When I chose this book, I expected traditional historical fiction, with more information about New York City in the early 20th century. And there is some of that. But this book is really focused on two mysteries –both involving stolen books, both connected to one another, and both connected to the main New York Public Library building on Fifth Avenue.

In 1913, Laura Lyons, her husband, and two children live in the Superintendent’s apartment, inside the library building. Aside from running the library, Laura’s husband is also preoccupied writing his “Great American novel.” But Laura, smart and resourceful, is finding life as a wife and mother less than fulfilling. She longs to study at the new Columbia Journalism School and become a great reporter. Then, when valuable books being disappearing from the library, Laura AND her husband fall under suspicion.

In 1993, Sadie Donovan, still recovering from a divorce, focuses all her energies on her work as curator of the library’s Berg Collection of rare books. She is planning an upcoming, high-profile public exhibit of some of the collection’s most interesting pieces. Everything is going along well until books from the collection begin to go missing and Sadie becomes a suspect.

Public Library at 476 Fifth Avenue in NYC

So, moving back and forth in time, we have two investigations going on involving missing books. Who has access to the collection? Could someone else get into the storage area? Where could the stolen books be sold? How might it be possible to get them back? What impact will the thefts have on the library’s fundraising? Ho hum.

For me, the mysteries were NOT the most interesting parts of these two women’s stories. What interested me was learning about the deeply-rooted sexism that limited their efforts to succeed. Particularly for Laura.

Fiona Davis
Photo from her Website
Photo by Deborah Feingold

I also was fascinated learning about the Heterodoxy Club, which was a feminist debating group operating in Greenwich Village early in the 20th century. It was a group I had not heard about.

This is a plot driven novel that moves along at a steady pace. I just didn’t care that much about any of the characters and a few of the plot developments seemed hokey and unrealistic. You may feel differently.

More about the author, Fiona Davis.

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