Library dramas

‘Call Numbers’ – Syntell Smith


Call Numbers

Life is a book… and every person is a chapter.
Everything’s looking up for Robin Walker. It’s 1994 in New York City, and he’s been transferred downtown to the 58th Street Branch Library. Ready to move up the ladder, Robin is excited about the opportunities that await him.

But success, personal or professional, is as elusive as a first-edition rare book. Robin struggles with his strange new work environment as this motley crew of employees generates more drama than a runaway bestseller. He doesn’t know who to believe – or who to let in. And as potential romance mingles with devious machinations, there’s no telling where Robin’s story will go. All he knows is that he must see it through to the very last page.

Call Numbers is a captivating and multilayered adult drama. Through realistic dialogue and situations, author Syntell Smith has crafted a modern-day classic about the trials and tribulations of adulthood. Because a library is usually the last place you’d expect high drama, but for these characters…it’s long overdue.

If you ever thought that librarians were meek, mild-mannered individuals, then think again! Smith creates a world full of drama between the stacks in this New York library, where it seems that none of its employees can be trusted…

I found this book difficult to get into because of the vast number of characters. The read itself was quite dense and involved a lot of attention and I think this was because I struggled to connect with each individual’s story. With frequent dialogue and sudden shifts in storyline, it wasn’t until the last quarter of the novel did I find myself remembering all the different characters and understanding their plot involvement. I wonder, perhaps too many characters were given attention in this first novel of a series? Perhaps Smith would have created a better dynamic by reducing the number of characters he truly focused on, running their stories to a conclusion in the first novel, before bringing a different set of characters to the forefront of the plot in the next book of the series?

Despite my misgivings, I could not help but imagine the setting as my own childhood library. And it is with utmost fond memories that I was able to place the cast of this novel into my own library imagination. However, with these rosy memories comes stories of racism, family and loyalty as each member of the library staff appear to being tested by either other colleagues or external influences. It casts a shadow over a place typically associated with calm and tranquility, which shows how the writer creates a totally different world to one that you would expect within a library.

The central protagonist, Robin Walker, was equally endearing and irritating. His violence and bad temper made him seem immature and hot headed. I was frustrated by how often he was able to shout at others and resort to violence and, whilst this does reflect Walker’s passionate nature, made me wish that the writer had done more to reveal about Walker’s personality and background influences. It’s possible that I missed this from my reading but, nonetheless, I wish the writer had set an example that violence is not the resolution.

Within this story there are plenty of geographical demands – lots of references to New York streets which were hard to follow. Not being a resident or at all familiar with the city, I found this quite alienating and the details somewhat mundane. I am sure if you know New York well, this would make the story even more vivid but for me, this meant the plot was full of irrelevant details.

The reverence dedicated to librarians and the “code” was slightly unbelievable. It reminded me a bit of the “Pirates Code” from Pirates of the Caribbean and I wasn’t too sure whether this reverence was meant to be taken seriously. It seemed to suddenly get Robin Walker out of many sticky situations so it just felt quite ridiculous at times.

So, all in all, whilst I did enjoy reading a different perspective into the inner workings of the employees at a library, the intensity of the plot lessened my enjoyment. I certainly would read the next of the series out of curiosity to see how the writer develops the storylines further, especially now as I feel I finally understood all of the characters by the closing of the novel! It grabbed my attention and I predict that the next story would be more engaging, having fully established the characters in this book.

I received a free copy of this novel from the author in exchange for an honest review.

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