ill met by murder book coverReviewed by Kelly Ferjutz

Murder, romance, theater, doggies, humor–what more could I ask for in a mystery novel? Not much. Elizabeth J. Duncan has created a dandy premise and put it in a mostly-reasonable location, with characters you just can’t help but like and thus care about a what happens to them. The perfect ensemble, to my mind.

But if you’re not a theater-buff, not to fret, that part of it isn’t at all overdone. And neither is the romance. What there is, though, is a delightful, not-well-known location, and a cast of characters that are multi-faceted enough to keep you interested in what is happening to them.

The Catskills, in upstate New York, was once a well-known resort area, most especially for residents of New York City. Now, however, it’s fallen out of favor, so one famous old hotel – the Jasrcobs Grand – shabby now, but once a shining jewel in the town of Walkers Ridge, has expanded to house the Catskills Shakespeare Theater Company, the brainstorm of the owner Harvey Jacobs. His nephew Aaron who is interested in fashion design is spending the summer, as a sort of intern in the Costume Department. This portion of the theater is managed by the forty-something English native Charlotte Fairfax, once an actress with an interest in costume, now the costume designer. At her suggestion, Aaron also serves as deputy stage manager.

Simon Dyer, manager and director of theater, while the once-famous British actor Brian Prentice is the company’s leading older man–a staple of most Shakespeare plays.

In Ill Met by Murder, one of the theater’s most loyal patrons, the wealthy widow Paula Van Dusen, has always hosted a fundraiser at Oakland, her nearby estate. This time, however, there’s an added party. Her daughter Belinda will be married the next day from the estate garden. The sets will be utilized for the wedding, and the theater evening plus dinner after, will also serve as the rehearsal dinner and party.

Aaron is recruited to design and produce the dresses for the two bridesmaids, Sophia and Jessica.

The play selected for this performance is A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with the kicker being that all the parts will be played by men. Unfortunately, before dinner is completed, a corpse is found in the gardens. At first glance it looks like the groom, but further inspection proves it to be a local real estate  baron, who was once in love with Belinda.

Trying to sort out who is the victim, in addition to why, leads to secrets from the past intermingling with the present in sometimes bizarre ways. Through it all, however, Charlotte, her corgi Rupert and her special friend, the local Chief of Police Ray Nicholson,  keep cool heads while following leads and trails to a brilliant conclusion.

This second installment in the Shakespeare in the Catskills series from Elizabeth J. Duncan is a fine contribution to an already strong series. The setting in upstate New York is quite different from that of Ms. Duncan’s other series with Penny Brannigan, which is set in Wales, but the writing is first-rate in both series, and the characters are full of interest and individuality. In both cases, I thought the first book was excellent, but with each addition, the series seems to gain even more interest and strength. There is just enough description of the surroundings, and the details about Shakespeare productions and backstage operations in this case are fascinating. The mystery is well-plotted, with plenty of suspense and a few twists. Ms. Duncan is now one of my favorite mystery writers.

I can hardly wait for the next act!  Hurry, please.

First and foremost, Kelly is a reader, then a writer and editor. She adores Regency-set novels, and cozy mysteries. Every now and then, however, she finds something else to enjoy if it has a great premise with characters who belong in there, and fabulous writing! She writes under her own name, as well as her pen-name, Hetty St. James.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Crooked Lane Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.