HomeCozy MysteriesDead in the Stacks: The Curious Librarian Cozy Mystery #1, by Zana Hart

Small-town librarian Lauren Long has to deal with the dead body of the Library Board member found in the stacks early one morning. Sure, he was kind of obnoxious, but what had happened? Dead in the Stacks is the first of the Curious Librarian cozy mysteries.

 The tale is set in the charming and fictional town of Silvermine, Colorado, which bears a resemblance to Salida and Alamosa. Lauren had moved to Silvermine when she got the job of Library Director, and she fit right into the town, with her boyfriend from one of the old families.

In keeping with the genre of cozy mysteries, the violence and sex are kept to a minimum. It’s still a page-turner, though. Cozy fans like to figure out the plot, and they keep their eyes out for the subtle clues the authors drop in. By and large, cozy mystery readers are women, and so are the authors. Not always, but it’s the trend. I had a lot of fun trying to outsmart my readers as the plot developed.

Here’s the blurb for Dead in the Stacks:

The Silvermine Public Library had never had a dead body on the floor before. The body was that of library board member Mark Wagner, and it could have been a heart attack. But of course the possibility of murder came up. Who would have killed Mark? What about the many women he hit on, putting his big hands where they didn’t belong? What about the many people who had suffered from his rapacious real estate deals? If you counted up who was annoyed at Mark, it would be hundreds or even thousands of people in Silvermine (pop. 10,000). If you counted up who might really have done it, well, there were several suspects.

Some people were talking about the library director Lauren Long, but she had her hands full, trying to keep the momentum for a new library going forward while everyone’s attention was on the death. There was her love life to keep going, too, and then someone tried to break into her house, more than once. Was she marked for murder? In this new story, the first of the Curious Librarian Cozy Mystery series, author and librarian Zana Hart weaves a tale that leaves red herrings all over the library.

The Start of Dead in the Stacks

MARK WAGNER WAS lying dead in the stacks of the
Silvermine Public Library, his body sprawled in front of the 100s
and 200s, not that the occult books, the near death experiences
collection, or the Bibles would do him any good now. They weren’t
his sort of thing anyway. As Lauren Long stood looking down at
his body, she thought that if he had ever written a book it would
have been more along the lines of How to Cheat on Your Wife and
Keep Her as Your Housekeeper
or maybe 101 Ways to Rip Others Off
with Real Estate Deals.

Mark’s cold body had been found by Richard Black, the janitor,
at 6 this morning. Richard had called the police and then her as
library director. She had thrown on some sweats and jogged the
three blocks from her house. So here she was, arriving even before
the police. She was surprised that she wasn’t feeling much emotion,
no more than if she had been looking at a piece of paper on the
floor. No doubt her emotions would come later. She guessed Mark
had died quickly, likely from a heart attack. He had had one last
year, just before she came to Silvermine.

“I’m glad the library was closed and that you were the one who
found the body,” she said to Richard. “What if he had died during
the preschool story hour?”

“Would have given the kids an education,” Richard said. “But
finding the body didn’t bother me. I must have seen hundreds of
dead bodies in Afghanistan, a lot of them buddies of mine who
deserved to live a whole lot more than this sleazebag.
Half the town could have murdered him gladly.”

He nudged a dead hand with the toe of his boot and went out
to continue the cleaning. With his shaved head, earring, neck
tattoo, muscular physique, and black clothing, Richard had a
badboy look that Lauren found attractive. He wasn’t her type, though.

Last night Mark had been very much alive. He had had a little
smile on his face as the other members of the library board each
announced how much they had raised in pledges for a new library
building. Margaret Snow had pledges for five thousand dollars, the
other people less. He had chosen to be the last to speak, and then
he had said, “I don’t have the exact numbers yet, but it should be
just over a hundred thousand.” That caused a stir.

Even then, Lauren had been skeptical, wondering how much of
that would actually turn up, but now that his body was lying here,
she hoped that his would-be donors would honor their generous
pledges. !e board would need a good amount raised before they
could even think of going to the voters for a building that could
cost around a million dollars. Mark was casual about paperwork, so
who knew what he had written down?

She supposed she should be feeling sad that he had died, but
her mind kept going to the fundraising. She’d come to Silvermine
last year to run the library, choosing this job over some much
better-paying ones, mainly because the challenge of creating a new
library interested her. She liked the town of Silvermine and
thought it would be a great place to live. Tucked in below some of
the great mountains of Colorado, with a population of just under
ten thousand, it had lots of historic buildings from its days of
mining glory. It was only a few hours’ drive across the mountains
to Denver, where she had grown up, gone through college, and
gotten her Master’s of Library and Information Science.

How had Mark come to be in the library, anyway? With it
closing at 9, and Mark’s announcement around 8:30 or so, he must
have just made it in the door before they closed. But how would
Deanna or Ashley not have seen his body on the floor when they
locked up? Everyone knew to check the whole building carefully at
closing, even the closets and bathrooms. Ever since they’d
found a homeless man sleeping overnight in the library last winter,
even Deanna had been careful to close up securely.

Things weren’t adding up. Had Mark snuck in later for some
reason? With all his real estate experience, he could easily know
how to get into locked buildings. She thought he wouldn’t have
had any trouble breaking into an old Carnegie library. But why?

A couple of policemen arrived. “Mark Wagner, huh?” one of
them said.

“Doesn’t it look like a heart attack got him?” Lauren asked.
“That’s the appearance. We have to consider all the options,”
the man said.

“I’ll leave that to you,” Lauren said. “I’ve got a library to run.
We open at 10. Can you get him out of here by then? That’s almost
four hours from now.”

“We never know exactly how long an investigation will take,
but we’ll put police tape around this part of the building if we are
still working.”

“We’ve got a story hour for pre-schoolers downstairs at 11,” she
said. “But we could open the emergency door and let them come in
that way.”

“Yes, do that if we are still here. We don’t want a bunch of kids
running around and touching things. We’ll contact his wife, and
take some photos of the scene, do some fingerprints, and check out
the spot where his body is. And we will arrange for the body to be
removed. Don’t touch it.”

“Don’t worry, I won’t,” Lauren said, a shiver of revulsion going
through her. “If you don’t need me, I’ll run home for a bit. The
janitor is here, and he can let you in and out. We’ll keep the doors
locked, or we’ll have the public wandering in, even this early.”

“When you can come by the police department, we will take
your statement.”

“My statement?”

“Yes, just what you saw.”

“Oh, okay,” she said.

As Lauren jogged back to her little house, she thought how
surreal this was. Going from last night’s elation to Mark’s corpse
lying in the stacks was a lot to take in. His death might dash her
hopes of getting a decent library for the town anytime soon. She
still couldn’t feel sad for Mark, but maybe it would be different if
she’d liked him better.

She let her dog out into the back yard. Mickey would have to
wait for a walk. She took a quick shower, trying to wash some of
the stress away with the hot water. “Breathe,” she muttered to
herself. Taking a few deep breaths did calm her a little.

Lauren normally dressed in casual professional clothes, but
without really thinking about it she put on her dressiest work
out#t, black slacks and matching jacket along with a patterned
black and white blouse and low-heeled black shoes. Her shoes were
practical, of course… Librarians walked a lot of miles. Even in the
tiny old Carnegie building, she was on her feet constantly.

She fed the dog just before she walked out the door. Mickey
only weighed twenty pounds but he would gladly eat like Spunky,
his Rottweiler friend. Lauren took Mickey’s breakfast, half a cup of
grain-free kibble, and tossed it all over the floor in the kitchen and
dining area. That would give him something to do for a few
minutes and take his mind off her departure.

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