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Historical fiction set in London

  • Submitted: 1st April 2024

The Library Thief- Kuchenga Shenjé

When you have a book with the tagline: “The library is under lock and key. But its secrets can’t be contained” what do you do?

Read it straight away, that’s what!

Florence is of Jamaican heritage and she ends up working in the rare books library of a private collector. Rose Hall is a dream for booklovers but here, the books share more secrets than you can read in them. There is a home robbery one day – no rare books are touched but they find the remains of one book in the fireplace. The remains of Rose Hall’s owner’s long-dead wife….

Map the locations in The Library Thief

Library thief Historical fiction set in London


Destination : Manchester

Author guide: 

Genre: historical fiction

Food and drink to accompany: you won’t have time to think about food – this is a library!




A novel to transport you to a rare books library


Map the locations in The Library Thief

This novel threw up many surprises for me and all of them good ones! It’s historical fiction, set in Manchester and in a rare books library. We go back to the early 1900s but this is not a book about a war or wartime in any way. Instead I was introduced to Florence who was born in Jamaica and who finds herself working in a private library in Manchester. The man who owns the library is called Lord Belfield and he had originally wanted Florence’s father to work for him. He’s a bit shocked when Florence turns up!

Florence has fled home however and wants to stand on her own two feet. For a young woman of colour in those days, everything was against her. However, Florence is a formidable character. She enters Rose Hall and it’s not long before she will discover its secrets.

She finds a burned book in the fireplace one day after there has been a robbery at the house. Strange that the valuable books are still on the shelves. Turns out, this burned book was the diary of Lord Belfield’s wife and this very book may hold the clue to her fate.

It’s very beguiling entering Rose Hall and the world of bookbinders, rare books and well, just the library in general. It’s all evoked with style and gothic skill. Where the book really shone however was the underlying but powerful story of a black woman who came to England from Jamaica. This is the story of Florence and others like her, black Britons who came to England with their families even before the Windrush generation. I felt I was reading a long lost history and it was a compelling one.

Map the locations in The Library Thief

Library thief Historical fiction set in London

There’s themes of reparations and racism but the book weaves that in seamlessly with a cracking yarn of gothic mystery. The author has crafted a wonderfully layered tale with the ease of a few brilliant brushstrokes. Her paintbrush paints books and secrets but reveals history, slavery and more. I thought it a very clever way to write about such tough topics.

A gorgeous cover too. Add a poignant ending and you have a really good reading experience!

Map the locations in The Library Thief


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More books set in bookshops and libraries


BookTrail Boarding Pass: The Library Thief

Twitter: @kuchengcheng

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