Just months after the closure of the Chicago World’s Fair, librarian Lydia Bancroft finds herself fascinated by a mysterious dark-haired and dark-eyed patron. He has never given her his name; he actually never speaks to a single person. All she knows about him is that he loves books as much as she does. Only when he rescues her in the lobby of the Hartman Hotel does she discover that his name is Sebastian Marks. She also discovers that he lives at the top of the prestigious hotel and that most everyone in Chicago is intrigued by him. Lydia and Sebastian form a fragile friendship, but when she discovers that Mr. Marks isn’t merely a very wealthy gentleman, but also the proprietor of an infamous saloon and gambling club, she is shocked. Lydia insists on visiting the club one fateful night and suddenly is a suspect to a murder. She must determine who she can trust, who is innocent, and if Sebastian Marks—the man so many people fear—is actually everything her heart believes him to be.
In this conclusion of Shelley Gray's Chicago World Fair Mysteries trilogy, it's now some months after the close of the fair. Librarian Lydia Bancroft finds satisfaction running the local library's Reading Room. She finds herself drawn to one patron with an air of mystery about him. Dark haired, dark eyed, and a man of few words.
This mystery man, soon introduced to the reader as Sebastian Marks, is the proprietor of a local saloon and popular gambling house located in a rather unsavory area of town. He finds solace away from the rowdiness and violence in Lydia's Reading Room but is concerned that if word of his love of books got out, it would damage his street cred, so he prefers to keep quiet about his favorite pastime (well... one of them anyway... ). Lydia desperately wants to know more about him but how to approach him without seeming intrusive? Luckily, an opportunity soon presents itself.
Lydia and her mother have recently been left in a financial bind by Lydia's deceased father's poor money management. To try to pull them back in the black, Lydia enters into a marriage engagement with a man who presents himself as a man of wealth and status. Turns out he has a bit of a temper though. While having tea with her fiancee at the hotel where Sebastian just happens to live (the restaurant in the lobby there), Lydia finds her conversational comments unexpectedly get her man riled up, causing him to get physically abusive with her. Sebastian happens to be in the lobby and immediately comes to Lydia's aid. In just a few moments, Lydia's fiancee has called off their engagement, further disturbed that she seems to have an acquaintance with Sebastian. At this point, Lydia is unaware of Sebastian's line of work, but once the truth comes out she can't help but feel Sebastian is more than this work that pushes the boundaries of legal. Sebastian, in turn, is overcome to find someone who honestly seems to have faith in him as a person, having never had that in his life before. Lydia's friendship and loyalty to Sebastian will be put to the test as murder victims and suspicious cops continue to find their way to the doorstep of Sebastian's establishment.
Having now completed the series, I think I'd say this was my favorite of the trilogy. Though it technically takes place after the close of the Chicago World's Fair, Gray still finds a way to work the fairgrounds into the plot here, which was nice since the fair felt nearly non-existent in Book 2. I found this book to have some of the best atmosphere, what with the split between the peace and coziness of the library scenes vs the moments in Chicago's urban underbelly of 1893. I liked the way the relationship between Sebastian and Lydia progressed, the pace of it. Likewise, I like how the "bad guys" were developed. Though it might have made me cringe to hear Lydia's fiancee's speeches on how she needed to give up her bookish silliness once they were married, that kind of jerk was needed to illuminate Sebastian's soft side when he talks of his love of Lydia's intelligence and love of literature. I'm a book blogger, how am I not going to swoon a bit over the tough guy who loves the bookish girl? ;-)
Note To Readers: I would strongly recommend reading this series in order! There are characters that are carried over from book to book. Eloise's story was introduced in the first book, then became the focus for book 2. In this third book, Sean Ryan, the detective who was assigned Eloise's case in the second book, is brought back to investigate the case involving Sebastian. It'll all just make way more sense if you take these in order. Also, though this is technically considered Christian fiction, the mention of religious aspects is minimal in the first two books. I think there's little more than some characters briefly entering churches or, if a character shows conflicted emotion, another character might suggest to "pray on it". The religious aspect is slightly more noticeable in the third book, but still, only kept to one or two quoted bible passages and a "God Bless" or "God willing" here and there.
FTC DISCLAIMER: TNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own.