The Widening Stain by W. Bolingbroke JohnsonThe Widening Stain by W. Bolingbroke Johnson
Narrator: Todd Menesses
Published by HighBridge Audio on April 23, 2024 (first published 1942)
Source: NetGalley
Genres: Vintage Mystery
Length: 7 hrs 14 mins
Pages: 252
Format: Audiobook
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For the staff of the library at the center of The Widening Stain, it’s easy enough to dismiss the death of a woman who fell from a rolling ladder as nothing more than an unfortunate accident. It’s more difficult, however, to explain away the strangled corpse of a man found inside a locked room, surrounded by rare and obscure erotica. And that’s not all—a valuable manuscript has vanished from the stacks, which means that both a killer and a thief are loose in the facility’s hallowed halls. It’s up to chief cataloger Gilda Gorham to solve the crimes but, unless she’s careful, the next death in the library might just be her own . . . A humorous and literary Golden Age mystery, The Widening Stain is adorned with as many playful limericks as it is with bibliographic details. The book, which offers a satirical glimpse of academic life at an institution strongly resembling Cornell University, is one of the most beloved bibliomysteries (mysteries involving books) of all time.

The Widening Stain is a quirky, funny and humorous mystery from 1942. It’s set at a university and the cast are professors and staff. When Mademoiselle Coindreau, the French assistant professor, is found dead in the library, apparently having fallen off a ladder, the police assume it’s an accident. Gilda Gorham, the Chief Catalogurer, is suspicious, however. Too many things just don’t make sense, so she begins a discrete investigation.

The mystery was fine. We have several suspects including professors and the chief librarian, but Gilda maybe spends more time thinking about who the killer is than actually trying to solve the case.

The book shines in its setting and dialogue. The author knows academia well and pokes fun at it just enough. The characters are entertaining and don’t see how funny they are. The word play is fabulous, including more limericks than I’ve ever come across in one book before. I listened to the audio, which worked well for me. The narrator did a good job distinguishing all the characters and kept the whole thing light-heartened. The narrator was in on the joke even if the characters weren’t.

About W. Bolingbroke Johnson

Morris Gilbert Bishop (April 15, 1893 – November 20, 1973) was an American scholar, historian, biographer, essayist, translator, anthologist, and versifier.
Bishop wrote biographies of Pascal, Champlain, La Rochefoucauld, Petrarch, and St. Francis, as well as his 1928 book, A Gallery of Eccentrics, which profiled 12 unusual people. His 1955 Survey of French Literature was for many years a standard textbook (revised editions were published in 1965 and, posthumously, in 2005). During the late 1950s and early 1960s his reviews of books on historical topics often appeared in The New York Times. His 1968 history of the Middle Ages is still (2018) in print as The Middle Ages. He was a Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur (in France), taught as a visiting professor at the University of Athens and Rice University and was president of the Modern Language Association. He was the author of many books including the pseudonymous comic mystery The Widening Stain. He was also a frequent contributor of historical articles to American Heritage Magazine.

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