The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections by Eva Jurczyk

Liesl Weiss long ago learned to be content working behind the scenes in the distinguished rare books department of a large university, managing details and working behind the scenes to make the head of the department look good. But when her boss has a stroke and she’s left to run things, she discovers that the library’s most prized manuscript is missing.

Liesl tries to sound the alarm and inform the police about the missing priceless book, but is told repeatedly to keep quiet, to keep the doors open and the donors happy. But then a librarian unexpectedly stops showing up to work. Liesl must investigate both disappearances, unspooling her colleagues’ pasts like the threads of a rare book binding as it becomes clear that someone in the department must be responsible for the theft. What Liesl discovers about the dusty manuscripts she has worked among for so long—and about the people who care for and revere them—shakes the very foundation on which she has built her life.(Taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections is available now.

If you have read my blog for a while, you can probably guess what drew me to this book: I’m a sucker for books about books. The fact that it’s marketed as a mystery, as opposed to a slice of life, made me even more interested in reading The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections (Whew, that title is a mouthful!).

This book features Leisl, who has always been a quiet and experienced cog, taking care of rare books and leaving the prestige of the job to be gobbled up by others. When her boss has a stroke, she ends her sabbatical to take over in the interim, unexpectedly encountering both a theft and a disappearance which she winds up trying to solve.

Leisl is a slightly older main character, which I found to be a breath of fresh air. Not that I have anything against younger main characters, but variety is the spice of life. Leisl’s more advanced age gave her a unique perspective not always found in books. She was also a bit of a doormat, which I went back and forth on. It gave an interesting dynamic, but there were a few times when I desperately wanted her to find a backbone. As a person who has been known to reach doormat status herself from time to time, I understand that this is often easier said than done.

While I expected a mystery, this book really is more of an exploration of character dynamics. There was quite a lot of time spent on relationships, how women are often viewed in the workplace, and a little bit on mental health. Normally, I appreciate mental health being talked about in books, but I felt that it was sort of thrown in and not done very well. That being said, while I didn’t expect the mystery aspect to take such a back seat, the time spent on other things wasn’t necessarily a waste. I personally would have just preferred the mystery to be a bit more of a mystery. I wonder if I might have enjoyed this book more had it been marketed differently.

The writing was solid, although the pacing was slow. There weren’t any twists and by the end was I comfortably aware of where the book was going. The book kind of went back and forth between timelines, which I wasn’t a huge fan of. It jarred me out of the book on a few occasions, right when I was beginning to be invested.

It probably sounds like I hated the book, but I really didn’t. I just didn’t love it. It definitely wasn’t what I expected and I’m sure I would have liked the book much better had it matched the blurb, but it wasn’t poorly written. The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections would be a good match for people not looking for an edge-of-your-seat mystery, who enjoy reading about workplace dynamics and the concerns of everyday life.

Also, Leisl- stand up for yourself!


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