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American/Cozy Mysteries

The Librarian, Larry Beinhart, Nation Books, $15.95.

The Librarian by Larry Beinhart

Our book club usually reads one of the paperback originals nominated for the Edgar - and often, we've been disappointed. This year's choice, The Librarian, not only was not disappointing, I think we're guaranteed a wonderful discussion after we've all read it. This isn't a novel so much as a call to action. If you're a big fan of George W. Bush, you should probably stay far, far away from it, but if you aren't, you'll probably savor the entire thing. The political polemic actually comes in the form of a really terrific, smoothly told story about a mild mannered librarian who agrees to inventory the papers of a local man who is not only extremely wealthy, but deeply involved in the behind the scenes job of re-electing the sitting Republican president. This "fictional" president was elected the first time under suspicious circumstances (Florida was the swing vote), has dealt with a terrible terrorist attack, and has initiated three wars in the Middle East (I did say this was fiction, right?)

President Scott's opponent in the novel is the first woman ever nominated for president (see? It is fiction), a decorated nurse who served in Vietnam, became a doctor, then a senator, and through a quirk of fate the Democratic nominee. She's so perfect you wish this wasn't fiction some of the time; and the visceral hatred that some of the characters in the book have for her - simply because she's a woman - is not only chilling, but a bit too believable. Through many other quirks of fate, the librarian is assumed by Scott's undercover bad guys to know more than he does, and he's forced to go on the run, taking up with some very unlikely companions, in his search for the truth and an attempt to make sure the election of the president of the United States is a fair and free one. Beinhart leaves the ultimate conclusion up in the air - and he makes the point that even a mild mannered librarian can speak up and make a giant difference. He's prodding the rest of us not to be so complacent. Whether or not this will have any actual effect remains to be seen, but the end of the novel certainly left me thoughtful and more than a little uncomfortable. It's not so often that such an enjoyable read is also thought provoking.

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