The Lions of Fifth Avenue by Fiona Davis is named for the world-renowned pair of marble lions that guard the Beaux-Arts building of the New York Public Library at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street in Manhattan. The novel is a dual timeline story about the Lyons family which has two generations that worked in the library.
The first timeline starts in 1913 with Laura Lyons. Because her husband is the superintendent of the library, they and their two children live in an apartment inside the library. Laura wants to be an independent woman and attends Columbia journalism school. While researching a story, she runs into a female doctor who invites her to the Heterodoxy Club for Women in Greenwich village. Laura learns first hand of the women who are fighting for equal rights, politics, suffrage, and the freedom to live as they please. Laura suffers discrimination from her chauvinist and plagiarizing professor at Columbia. She makes several judgment errors along the way.
The second timeline is about Sadie Donovan, who is the granddaughter of Laura Lyons. Sadie never met her grandmother, and Sadie’s own mother rarely spoke of her. In 1993, Sadie lands her dream job as the curator for the New York Public Library’s Berg Collection. In her research, she learns that rare books were stolen when her grandparents lived in the library. When rare books that will be used in a new Berg Collection exhibition start disappearing, Sadie is determined to find the culprit. The mystery of how the books were stolen and by whom takes center stage in both timelines of the novel.
The history of the library and the historical value of rare books were interesting topics. I found parts of the book to be melodramatic. I did not like Laura Lyons very much. Her mistakes had some tragic consequences, but she does admit them. She is also forgiving of other people’s mistakes. Sadie’s character was much more relatable and I enjoyed her storyline. I wasn’t able to figure out whodunit or how they did it in either of the timelines, so that made the story more fun. 4-stars.