How Can I Help You

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Pub Date 25 Jul 2024 | Archive Date 24 Jan 2024

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From the author of Looker comes this 'compulsive and unforgettable novel' (Mona Awad) of razor-sharp suspense about two local librarians whose lives become dangerously intertwined.

No one knows Margo’s real name. Her colleagues and patrons at a small-town public library only know her middle-aged normalcy, congeniality, and charm. They have no reason to suspect that she is, in fact, a former nurse with a trail of countless premature deaths in her wake. She has turned a new page, so to speak, and the library is her sanctuary, a place to quell old urges.

That is, at least, until Patricia, a recent graduate and failed novelist, joins the library staff. Patricia quickly notices Margo’s subtly sinister edge, and watches her carefully. When a patron’s death in the library bathroom gives her a hint of Margo’s mysterious past, Patricia can’t resist digging deeper—even as this new fixation becomes all-consuming.

Taut and compelling, How Can I Help You explores the dark side of human nature and the dangerous pull of artistic obsession as these 'transfixing dual female narrators' (Kimberly McCreight) hurtle toward a stunning climax.

From the author of Looker comes this 'compulsive and unforgettable novel' (Mona Awad) of razor-sharp suspense about two local librarians whose lives become dangerously intertwined.

No one knows...

Advance Praise

“A dark and spellbinding descent into jolly madness, How Can I Help You is reminiscent of Shirley Jackson at her eerie best. All of Sims’ deliciously wicked powers are on full display in this compulsive and unforgettable novel. A classic.” —Mona Awad, author of Bunny and Rouge

How I Can Help You is a gripping and dark psychological thriller about two librarians that takes place in a library. Delicious, right? What more do we book-lovers need to know? I read it one sitting.” —Harlan Coben, The TODAY Show

“Laura Sims’s unnerving How Can I Help You . . . reads like an homage to Jackson’s work — and, in its portrait of Patricia, to Jackson herself. Sims’s great achievement is to present the two main characters almost as sides of the same coin, colluding in a psychological cat-and-mouse game that only one can win.” —The New York Times Book Review

“Sims plumbs the depths of obsession and madness as she has each woman tell the story in alternating chapters, deftly building the tension until the explosive ending.” —The Washington Post

“A Highsmithian cat-and-mouth thriller featuring two librarians . . . Sims’s work harkens back to the complex personality studies of mid-century psychological fiction, and pays homage to middle-aged womanhood—serial killers age too, after all.” —CrimeReads

“A fun and entertaining cat-and-mouse novel . . . about women behaving badly . . . You’ll fly through the pages as Margo and Patricia play mind games, try to outsmart each other, and ultimately both get what’s coming to them.” —Glamour

“[A] slow-burn game of cat and mouse . . . The characters are well drawn, and Margo is a particularly enjoyable antihero who brings dark humor to the story….Fresh and funny…A quick read that is reminiscent of Laura Lippman’s Sunburn and Christine Mangan’s Tangerine.” —Booklist

“A former nurse with a cruel streak and an aspiring novelist check each other out in this eerie thriller set in a library. . . . Watching these two women peer at each other as they terrorize the bookshelves is great fun.” —Kirkus 

“Laura Sims brings suspense to the stacks.” —Publishers Weekly

A Publishers Weekly Best Books of the Year

One of BookRiot’s Most Anticipated Releases 2023

One of Town and Country’s Must-Read Books of Summer

One of The Millions’ Most Anticipated Books of 2023

One of CrimeReads‘ Best New Novels of July

“A dark and spellbinding descent into jolly madness, How Can I Help You is reminiscent of Shirley Jackson at her eerie best. All of Sims’ deliciously wicked powers are on full display in this...

Available Editions

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ISBN 9780857308757
PRICE £9.99 (GBP)

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Average rating from 72 members

Featured Reviews

How Can I Help You by Laura Sims is something very different and great fun. Possibly the first psychological thriller based mostly in a public library it features 2 women with pasts circling around each other,at first attracted then distinctly uneasy in each other's company.
This is a slow burn story, reserved Patricia enters the domain of "Queen of Library" Margo and a tentative friendship is at least attempted and a lack of social skills has one of the women dropping clues to her past, a past that truly dark.

This is an excellent read,and an obvious,and acknowledged, homage to Shirley Jackson with its Gothic horror in a seemingly mundane environment involving unlikely protagonists. The characterisation is excellent, Margo in particular is "complicated" to say the least but entirely believable,a great story with a touch of dark humour.

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4 stars
Hohohohohooooo damn I liked this. This was messed up and weird to read the POV of Margot (especially when she talks about certain things) and even to see how Patricia sort of starts going off through her POV.

I really liked this but the damn ending didn't do it for me like I wanted. What did I want? I have no clue maybe something even more messed up or intense I don't know but I do know that I felt a little deflated by it compared to the rest of the book.

BUT really did enjoy this! Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC to review!

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This was an easy and quick read, I read it in one sitting smd it did keep me hooked. I definitely recommend it.

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'How Can I Help You' by Laura Sims is set in the world of librarians, which was what drew me to it, as I am a librarian too. And Sims perfectly described what it's like to work in the public library system, dealing with all manner of strange patrons and book requests etc. The story centres on two women, Margo, a librarian who has a very dark past (I felt a bit squeamish reading about her murderous exploits as a nurse, tbh) and Patricia, a writer who comes to work with Margo in the library and begins to suspect something is not right. I found the prose tight, perfectly paced, and I couldn't put the book down. This is a compelling psychological thriller, set in an unusual situation.

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Set in a library, How Can I Help You follows Margo, who’s not at all who her colleagues think she is, and Patricia, a frustrated writer, new to the small town where she’s taken up the post of reference librarian.
Once an ICU nurse, Margo has worked as a circulation assistant for two years, accepted by her colleagues who see her as a good sport. When Patricia arrives, Margo’s slightly rattled but determined to make friends, uncharacteristically letting slip a detail about her past that fans Patricia’s writerly curiosity already ignited by her discovery of Margo apparently trying to save an elderly patron, collapsed in the toilet. Patricia spends her days writing in her notebook when she should be doing her job while Margo begins to unravel, increasingly suspicious of her new colleague.
Laura Sims alternates her narrative between Margo and Patricia ratcheting up the tension nicely culminating in a breakneck race to the denouement which fit the novel well. There’s lots of dark humour to enjoy along the way but Sims is careful not to make Margo a caricature. A thoroughly enjoyable piece of crime fiction which reminded me of Alice Slater’s excellent Death of a Bookseller.

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A great, quick read! Margo is a wonderfully intriguing character. From the very beginning it is obvious how manipulative and deceiving she is and this only strengthens as her secrets are revealed. When Patricia arrives her at the library, the new life Margo has created for herself begins to crumble slowly. This leads to a brilliantly unexpected ending which is perfectly timed.

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What a read in under 250 pages! You'll read this short yet engaging narrative in one sitting! It is written from the povs of the two main characters, Margo and Patricia, who we follow in a steam of consciousness writing through the story. The chapters often follow the same narrative from both perspectives, adding fresh details and hints about the people to make the plot progress and keep us interested.

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I loved Laura Sims' previous novel so had very high hopes for this one and I'm so pleased to say that I loved it! This is a slow burn psychological novel that really gets under your skin. We follow Margo who works at the library but she has a dark secret in her past and is determined to keep it hidden whilst also wanting to feel those feelings all over again. One day Patricia joins the library and Margo seems quite fascinated by her. We then see Patricia's story and she is a failed novelist who is determined to make it as a writer and she starts writing down things about Margo. The two women are fascinated by each other but never quite become friends as they warily circle each other's lives. The tension in this book gets so ramped up that I had to remind myself to breathe as I got nearer the end. The ending of the novel is shocking and it's one I keep finding myself thinking about. I loved this novel and I highly recommend it!

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I can confidently say this book kept me hooked and I devoured it in one sitting. Although it is short, I think it was the perfect length for this story and feel if it was any longer I would be bored!

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Ery short but I loved every second of it! Such a fresh concept and worlds apart for any other book I've read recently. It's well plotted out and the characters are so well written and fleshed out. As I said, it is a short read but immensely enjoyable for anyone wanting a nice wee thriller!

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What a quick 250 ish pages!
I enjoyed this page to page so much was crammed in!
A perfect psychological crime book for short evenings!


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Well, this was a pleasant surprise! 'How Can I Help You' was compulsively readable and I flew through it- it's possibly even one of my favourite books I've read this year! It tells the story of a killer nurse (inspired by the true tale of 'The Good Nurse') who is lying low in a small town to evade capture - and gets a job at a local library. The story alternates in viewpoint between Margot (or Jane, the killer nurse) and Patricia, a new recruit at the library's research station - Patricia is a failed author who becomes increasingly suspicious of her colleague Margot (and also becomes inspired by her). I was completely gripped by this thriller and loved the writing- the only thing that let it down is the ending felt far too rushed. Thanks to Netgalley for this early copy - UK publication date is 25th July 2024 (I believe it's already out in the US). I'd definitely recommend picking up a copy if you enjoy a cosy thriller!

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What happens when a person in hiding becomes the new fixation of a new-to-town, struggling writer?

It's a small but no less eccentric novel about two characters and their spiral of obsessions. Margo, with her mysterious but horrid past as a nurse and her perverted mania with death. Patricia, with her desperation for a writing breakthrough and finding a new source of inspiration in her new suspicious colleague.

As the two librarians' lives intertwine, and we venture deeper into the novel's pages that chronicle their psyche, the thrill builds to see how the two will tip-toe around the other, chasing the adrenaline rush of being on the edge of discovering another new shameful thing of the other.

Margo and Patricia are well-characterised with passages devoted to exploring their pasts or setting up the context of who they are in the present contributing to the story's pacing instead of hindering it. Margo, in particular, I would imagine is a hard character to write. Someone so irrationally odd and complicated and twisted that most people can't empathise with. I mean, she chronicles and documents her 'patients' and is utterly possessive over them! Yet, we don't need to empathise with her; all we need to do is understand how she is the way she is. Patricia, however, is poised to be the underdog: a crap boyfriend, low job prospects, feeling disillusioned about her passion for writing after failing to sell her first novel. So when you put two desperate characters in one tame setting (a public library), you get an equally desperate pair of characters tugged into a death dance like binary stars, ever slowing inching towards the other, bound to collide together in an explosive climax.

Thanks to Netgalley and VERVE Books for providing me with the e-ARC/DRC in exchange for an honest review.

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"How Can I Help You" is a compelling psychological suspense novel about two librarians, Margo and Patricia, whose lives become dangerously intertwined.
The story delves into the dark side of human nature and the dangerous pull of artistic obsession.
A great read!

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Fast-paced, dark thriller. While it’s on the shorter side it certainly packs a punch! Very descriptive and keeps you engaged, the premise sells itself honestly! Would 100% recommend this to anyone looking for a solid thriller to enjoy.

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Move over dark academia, it's time to meet the dark librarians. Margo seems every inch the mild-mannered librarian, but hides a very unpleasant past, working as Nurse Death in a hospital. We, the reader, are gradually given glimpses of her backstory, but it's when our second main character arrives that things get really interesting.
Enter Patricia, a failed novelist who moves to the Smallville town in part to escape the crushing dullness/gaslighting of her boyfriend and work on the Reference desk of the same library. Sizing up Margo sparks a new novel idea for Patricia and she gets scribbling in her notebook, introducing a meta layer to the story (along with some wink-wink reading matter references to the Queen of Unsettling Tales, Shirley Jackson).
How Can I Help You is pacy, slick and smart. It's in a similar how-far-can-I-push-this vein as Death Of A Bookseller and every bit as entertaining. I loved this slightly over-the-top expose of the twisted minds lurking behind the library shelves.

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This is such an intriguing book with two very interesting main characters, Margo and Patricia. The author really captures the creepy and bizarre actions and thoughts of both characters in such an entertaining and disturbing way.

The story was nothing like what I expected and was full of great twists and surprises, really pulling me into the story with some tense moments. This book is great for anyone who enjoys characters who are outside the norm and maybe on the darker side too. A really enjoyable read and fairly short which is always a plus!

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I was very intrigued by the library setting after initially feeling hesitant at the plot, mainly because I don't usually read stories involving murder. Something grabbed me however, and I just had to open this book.
This took me out of my comfort zone and I felt unsettled at times but also deeply engaged with the characters and wanting to see how this would unfold and where it could possibly be headed. I questioned Patricia's actions often but as we drew to a close, I pondered whether a particular turn would occur and was surprised that I was right. Looking back, certain things seem fated!

This did give me a spark of inspiration to pick up a notebook and write, haven't done in a long time and Patricia's drive and the buzz she was blooming with, really is so relatable when a story flows from you. I think that's where my similarity ends however in this case!

A great read, kept me engaged and was one of those where I struggle to put it down so look for an excuse - maybe another bath today - and sneak off to read.

Thank you to VERVE Books and NetGalley for the copy of this book.

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This was so good. Such a page turner and full of suspense that I finished it in one sitting. Hard to put down and the author keeps you turning the pages. I love a short thriller that I can just fly through with my heart pounding all the way through

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for this arc

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From the first sentence I know I would devour this in one setting and let me tell I did.

We hear in the first person from sinister and compelling Margo who interested me right away. Margo who has much more to her than the floral dresses and hearty laughs she gives the patrons from the library she works at. Margo who really is not Margo at all.

And we hear from Patrica who whist isn't quite as compelling but is an equally complex interesting character. A failed lost writer. A writer needing a story.

The plot is a full on cat and mouse game between the two. It is very subtle yeah it's fast paced but nothing really happens as such which shows what a well written book it is as it keeps you reading. There is constant undercurrent that something is going kick off.
Whist this book is short with a fast paced plot the author really manages to develop the characters, in fact while this has a creepy, sinister, slow burning thriller feel, it's actually a very well written character lead novel. There is a lot inner monologue and examination of the self from the characters which greatly enriches the plot. Both characters are witty, complexed and are in a battle with each other and themselves. Margo in particular has a very dark humour despite her being somewhat of psychopath I really liked her.

I loved the library setting and the literature references real added bonus and a unique setting.

It reminded me in parts of The Good Nurse tv show and the book Death Of Book Seller.

This book could have been a clear five stars for me had it been longer, sprinkled in with some flash back chapters and a slightly better finish but it is nonetheless a solid four stars and accomplished debut I look forward to reading more from the author and I do hope there is more to come.

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What a deliciously bizarre book.

Hook, line and sinker as I read the first page, wanting to know more about Margo, the calm librarian surely nursing (pun intended) a dark secret.

What I liked about this book was that both two main protagonists and the supporting characters are fleshed out masterfully, as the tension builds up between the former. I felt the ending was a bit rushed, maybe because I was expecting more of that diligent character study as Margo and Patricia unravel.

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Oh wow.... what a marvellous book! A beautifully crafted, dark psychological thriller with two totally compelling central characters. Set in a library, the story centres around two female librarians - Margo and Patricia. On the surface, these two characters appear to have nothing in common. Margo, older and a little dowdy, is on the run from her previous life as a nurse. Patricia, on the other hand, is young, beautiful and recently qualified. Despite their differences, the two women are drawn into each other's lives. When Margo admits she used to be a nurse in a previous life, Patricia starts digging - and discovers Margo's dark secret.
Having tried her hand at writing a novel that never got published, Patricia has decided to stop writing. But now, she feels compelled to write about Margo - obsessively noting down every detail of Margo's past, as well as watching her as she goes about her day to day life in the library.

Original and gripping this is a must for anyone who likes their crime fiction dark and twisted.

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I really liked this book and managed to finish within a day as I was hooked as soon as I started.
It begins by us meeting Margo - who used to be Jane a nurse, but is now working in a library so we know straight away that something happened previously where she was chased out of hospitals. I like how it is told from both Margo and Janes point of view. Jane has also recently started working at the library and has noticed Margos sometimes strange ways. We get to read all their inner most thoughts and some turn out to be quite unhinged which I liked! This is a book about a quiet library which plays host to a possible murder. I found this to be a really good quick read and will be recommending.

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This was a fun novel! Margo Finch is a librarian with an iffy past as a nurse. No one suspects a thing until a new reference librarian joins the the crew and starts paying a little too much attention. An enjoyable, short read to burn through.

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Being a librarian myself, there was something slightly unsettling about reading a psychological thriller set in a library! This is a dark (really dark in places) engaging thriller. Margo is really interesting to read. I felt less drawn to Patricia, but I liked seeing the interplay of their two stories. And watching Patricia become feverish in her writing, I did get caught up in where her story would go. I wasn't entirely sure about the ending, though I sort of sensed things might go that way. Very readable, though it wasn't always the best thing for me to read immediately before bedtime!.

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Once upon a time, Margo Finch is Jane, but they’re very different characters - maybe! As Jane, she works in a hospital, but that’s a whole other story but her only intention is to help, honestly. Margo applies for a job at Carlyle public library, she likes the calm working environment and on the whole that’s exactly what it is, as she surveys her surroundings two years later. Now, she tries to help at the library but will chaos erupt from the proverbial peace and quiet? All is going well until Patricia (Pa-tree-shee-ah) a wanna be author arrives. The story is told in alternating points of view by both women.

This is so good! It’s a well written psychological thriller that’s creative and different and which hooks me in from the beginning. The characterisation of Margo and Patricia is outstanding, though they’re not at all likeable and as far from reliable narrator as it’s possible to get! Margo’s anxiety and distinct unease at Patricia‘s arrival is palpable as her nerves are distinctly stretched. However, Patricia‘s reaction to Margo is, well, interesting. It’s fair to say they each become obsessed with the other but in different ways and for very different reasons. A fascinating game of cat and mouse begins as they try to “score points” off each other. Are they both chameleons or maybe even wolves in sheep’s clothing? Who is the harbinger of doom? Is a deliciously dark puzzle of lies and secrets galore as you try to figure it out.

The library setting is a perfect choice for the drama as it’s calm belies the storm building beneath the surface. I love the inclusion of Shirley Jackson’s “We have always lived in the castle” which is so appropriate and clever. It’s a well paced gripping novel which is darkly, entertaining and chilling on more than one occasion. The tension between the two of them radiates off the pages as situations escalate to a dramatic ending.

It’s a quick, easy, fun read and one I can recommend to fans of the genre.

With thanks to NetGalley and especially to VERVE Books for the much appreciated arc in return for an honest review.

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This book is great if you look for a thriller / crime story to entertain you. It's quite fast paced and has short chapters and the characters are unlikeable in the best was possible. I like how Patricia was instantly suspicious about Margo and how we got to know a little bit more about her past as the story went on. Great read for in between but nothing that's on your mind for too long.

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A feel good thriller novel for an evening! Loved the juxtaposition of Margo, desperately trying to hide the secrets of her past, and Patricia, the new library entry who is suspicious (italics intended). The setting was adorable and inventive; both Margo and Patricia were utterly unlikeable which only made the storyline more interesting, and Margo's creepiness factor was absolutely a delight!

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This was a pretty good thriller. I think the ending felt a bit rushed and a bit too easy - but I enjoyed following the two main characters, Margo, who works in a library and hides a troubled past, and Patricia, who has just started working at the same place and immediately has suspicions about Margo. It was well-paced and interesting, I found the characters unlikable but engaging, and I liked the premise of the plot.

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Compelling from the start as mysterious Margo arrives in town, finds solace in the library, and discovers there's a vacancy. She drops some disturbing hints about her former job as a nurse.

Two years later and Margo is well established as a popular member of staff. She feels disquiet when Patricia is hired as the first reference librarian for 11 years. Patricia finds herself fascinated by Margo, who it transpires, lives in the same apartment block. A frustrated writer, she finds Margo a source of inspiration, particularly after she finds Margo astride an elderly woman who's died in the library toilets.

Margo gets restless and realises how much she misses her old profession and killing ways.

As Patricia frantically writes in her notebook, creating a murderous nurse novel, Margo is planning just one more murder.

Events race towards a thrilling climax in a confrontational finale. I'll never look at librarians in the same way. An original psychological drama with ordinary women who are anything but.

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