By Book or by Crook is the first book in the Lighthouse Library Mystery series by Eva Gates. (Eva Gates is a pen name of Vicki Delany, who writes both series and stand-alones under her own name.) The series follows Lucy Richardson, who flees Boston to work as an assistant librarian in a lighthouse-based public library in the Outer Banks, where she has family.
The book certainly ticks all the boxes when it comes to contemporary cozies — quirky job setting, books, a cat (Charles, who lives in the library), Jane Austen mention (the library is hosting an exhibit of Jane Austen first editions), and some light romantic interests. Happily, the book transcends the box ticking and is very enjoyable.
Lucy is an engaging protagonist. She has escaped parental social expectations, a lackluster romantic attachment, and a job at the Harvard Library to take a new job at the Bodie Island Lighthouse Library (real lighthouse, fictional library). Soon, however, public excitement about the library’s display of Jane Austen first editions (and a notebook of the author’s) is displaced by the disappearance of one of the books and the murder of the chairperson of the library’s board of directors.
Lucy’s boss, Bertie, comes under suspicion and Lucy does some investigating to clear her new friend. At the same time, Lucy is (somewhat mildly) attracted to both one of the investigating police officers and the town’s mayor (who she had previously met as a teenager). The story moves along at a good pace and Lucy eliminates some of the suspects from contention.
There are a lot of characters to keep track of, but since this is the first book in a series, that is to be expected (as most of them will undoubtedly return).
Lucy’s capacity for detection, unfortunately, is slight. Granted, there is no particular reason for her to investigate the murder (once Bertie is quickly cleared) and missing books in too much detail. She is curious and ponders the possibilities, but doesn’t work out the solution until it is, literally, staring her in the face. Additionally, she only gets out of the a situation with the assistance of Charlie (the cat).
Having said that, the story itself is more than compelling enough. The characters are well differentiated and there are plenty of plausible (and not so plausible) suspects. The pacing is excellent and the story moves along quickly. What weaknesses the book has are more than compensated for by what it does so well — an easy to like main character with a good supporting cast, a lovely setting, and a clever mystery.
The second book in the series is due out in September and I’m looking forward to it.