The Magic of Libraries and Librarians + “What You Left Behind” by Samantha Hayes


I don’t know about you, but there are certain places I enter that make me happy just by their smells. Starbucks. Bath and Body Works. Whole Foods.

And libraries (and their more entrepreneurial cousins, bookstores). The smell of books and of silence (yes, it has a smell). That smell evokes decades of readers sifting through the shelves searching out information for a term paper, the perfect book for a rainy day, a gardening how-to guide. The smell of magic.

As buildings go, libraries are often utilitarian looking civic buildings, especially in small towns. Built to last. Not the library in my hometown, though. An older building, it was small and quaint, with a limited number of books and copies, but the places the imagination could go in that building was infinite. This was the days before online searching and requests from other libraries (at least as far as I knew, and, if it was around, it was probably an arduous process involving phones the regular mail).10153802_10203533889249236_1938183299_n

Note to all: The basement of the library was where Brownies were held. I remember learning important Brownie lessons such as keeping a smile in your pocket and how to sing Taps at the end of the meeting in that basement, under the pipes and next to the boiler.

We had one elementary school in town, and the school library shared books with the town library. It also shared a librarian. For some reason, I think her name was Mrs. Springer, but I may be wrong. She was patient and quiet, and I remember her as the essence of tranquility. She seemed to understand the magic of books and words (I may be making her into more than she was, but that’s okay. Books are important to me, and she helped make them so), and helped me to discover that magic.

Because of her peace and tranquility, and her ability to quiet us with one finger and a whispered “shhh,” I was slightly intimidated (these were the days of adults still intimidating kids. And our principal spanked people. At least that was the rumor) by her, and I rarely asked her for help without a big psych-up speech in my head. Because of this, I have watched in awe as my daughters approached the librarians at our hometown library with no qualms (and they get qualms over the weirdest things!), asking for the most inane, unimaginable things. (This was also crazy to me, because there is ONLINE SEARCHING!) I’ve listened as Libby as a five year old asked for blue books about princesses, as eight year-old Katy asked for books with pink unicorns. With no QUALMS.

And this brings me to our current library system–The Delaware County Library District. We usually use the library in our town, Delaware.  The building is slightly utilitarian, but inside it has a large, inviting, sweet heart. It takes everyone in and helps in copious and unimaginable ways. It’s crazy what all our library does–and most libraries do. Books and periodicals are just the start. Computers, printers, copiers. Storytimes, book discussions, writing groups. Movies, games, teen time. Lego club, art projects, genealogy, yoga. The list of the activities happening at our library never stops amazing me.

And the magical librarians! The information desk people seem to know the answer to a myriad of questions, or they know where to find it fast. Not just books (those questions I’m pretty good at finding my own answers), but just about anything you can think of (please, don’t go ask them anything you can think of–it disturbs me to think of what you may think about)!

There were many magical libraries between my childhood library and today’s library. Larger cities, other small towns, universities. The most magical library I LOVED to visit? The New York Public Library. I would ride the train in from my Westchester County home (well, where I nannied), to sit for a few hours at that library. Wherever I’ve lived, I’ve searched out the library almost immediately, knowing that it is the spot to learn about the town and it’s residents. My daughters really only know Delaware and its libraries, but they know the magic that libraries and librarians hold.

Everyone should know, and remember, that magic. You never know when you might need it.

And now, What You Left Behind by Samantha Hayes.

What You Left Behind 

Samantha’s Hayes mystery caught me by surprise. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t the book that I read. And that was a good thing.

The Premise

Set in the bucolic English village of Radcote, What You Left Behind is a story of the bad things that can happen in a small town.

When Detective Inspector Lorraine Fisher decides to take her daughter Stella for a visit to her hometown of Radcote to stay with family, she’s worried that her visit to her sister will be tense and the village will be too quiet. But she needn’t have worried.

Upon Lorraine’s arrival, she learns that her sister Jo is separated from her husband, and h= her nephew Freddie’s state is even more distressing. The usually bright and polite boy is withdrawn and moody, and Jo is disturbed where Freddie is concerned due to a cluster of teen suicides that horrified small Radcote a year and half earlier, followed more recently by the death of a homeless boy, which has just been declared a suicide.

Although Lorraine also notices the changes in Freddie, she is intent on relaxing and enjoying her visit until she realizes that there is more to the homeless boy’s death than meets the eye. While she’s visiting the local police station and asking about the case, another death of a young man is reported and she tags along to the crime scene with the lead detective, an old acquaintance named Greg Burnley. She quickly realizes that it may be foul play, and knows from experience that DI Burnley takes the lazy way out when possible, and she’s drawn into her own investigation. Adam, her husband and also a detective, comes to Radcote to help.

In the middle of the investigation, Freddie disappears, and Lorriaine and Adams attempt to put the puzzle of the suicides together as they also attempt to locate Freddie (who, through his own story, we learn is being cyberbullied).

The friendship of the neighboring rich Hawkeswell family adds to the mix. Tony, the family patriarch is wealthy and secretive, but his wife Sonia is lovely, running the local homeless shelter. Lana is Freddie’s friend, or crush, and Tony’s brother Gil is an autistic man who notices everything. The family is completely entwined with Jo’s family, as well as with the village.

The mystery is there, and there are many ‘likely suspects’  that keep it going. Gil knows too much. The manager of the homeless shelter is dark and sneaky, and seems to have a lot of secrets. The homeless boys themselves are creepy. And who is threatening Freddy?

My Thoughts

I enjoyed this mystery quite a bit. There were some spots of the book that plodded on a bit, and there were A LOT of varying points of view, but it was very mysterious.

Freddie’s story was frustrating.  For some reason (I guess the separation of his parents can be cause for the secrecy), he refuses to tell anyone about the cyberbullying.

Yes, parts of What You Left Behind lumber along, the storyline and the actual ‘whodunit’ is quiet gripping. Hayes creates plenty of red herrings to keep the reader guessing, and the plot twists keep coming throughout the book. The ending is a little ‘neat,’ but it doesn’t leave any loose ends, which is good.

All in all, I give What You Left Behind 3 and a half stars. Hayes creates an intriguing mystery in a very small town, and does a nice job. Thank you Hayes.


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