Sunday, October 25, 2020

REVIEW: Dewey Decimated (book) by Charles A. Goodrum

Dewey Decimated is the first book in Goodrum's Werner-Bok Library Mysteries series. I checked it out from my library.


Betty Crighton Jones (called Crighton from here on out) is the press officer for the Werner-Bok Library in Washington, D.C. Some recent developments are making her job particularly stressful. Anonymous letters sent to various members of the media claim that several of the Werner-Bok's rare books are, in fact, fakes, and it's starting to put the Library's reputation at risk. Not only that, but Murchison DeVeer, the Head of the Manuscripts Division, claims he knows that something fishy is going on in the Rare Books Division. 

In a effort to deal with the anonymous note situation as quietly and quickly as possible, the library director, Brooks, invites Dr. George, a respected retired librarian, to look into the situation in the guise of doing research for a book. Brooks assigns Crighton to be George's guide/assistant. Shortly before George arrives, however, DeVeer ends up dead in an apparent accident. Was DeVeer the one responsible for the notes, and is the problem now solved? Or is something more sinister going on?

This was originally published in 1977, and it shows. An actual card catalog, a physical shelflist, male librarians in all the most important positions, casual sexism (which leaves Crighton feeling more resigned than annoyed), and characters who've barely heard of smoke detectors before. The best point of reference I had was the semester I spent at the Newberry Library. Even today, a portion of their collection still can't be searched in the online catalog and must be found using the card catalog. Without the experience I'd had searching for research materials there, as well as the time I spent in some of their staff-only areas, I'm not sure how much sense parts of this book would have made.

I went into this expecting it to be a cozy mystery, but I'm not sure that's quite the right label for it. The first death, in particular, had gorier aspects than I'd normally expect from a cozy. Then there was the, uh, drawer full of blood. Ew. Still, the cutesy title and slight romance subplot fit, I suppose - there's a love triangle involving Crighton, a researcher named Carson, and Welles, the assistant chief of the Rare Books Room.

Although I enjoyed the Werner-Bok's messed up workplace politics, this was a bit of a struggle to get through. None of the characters particularly appealed to me or even made much of an impression. Almost all of them had the same "voice," and I found myself repeatedly having to flip back and forth in the book in an effort to figure out who people were and what their jobs were. It didn't help that nearly everyone was referred to by their last names, several of which began with the same letter. I kept mixing up Carson and Conrad, and the first few times Welles appeared on-page I couldn't even remember which division he worked in.

The romance aspect was painfully weak, and the mystery aspects were mediocre. I correctly guessed the identity of the murderer well before the end of the book - Goodrum made it so obvious I was sure I was going to turn out to be wrong. I will say this, though: the cat-and-mouse scene near the end, in the closed library, was really good, even if it did make me want to shake Crighton for not fully thinking everything through (she brought food but no flashlight!). Also, the title is fabulous, although it would have been more appropriate for a book set in a public library than a research library.

I have no plans to seek out the next book in this series.

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