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by Elizabeth J. Duncan
Crooked Lane Books, December 2016
279 pages
ISBN: 1629537691

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Costume designer and amateur sleuth Charlotte Fairfax and her corgi Rupert return in the second of Elizabeth J. Duncan's Shakespeare in the Catskills mysteries, ILL MET BY MURDER. It's summer in the Catskills, and that means the Catskills Shakespeare Theater Company must prepare for its biggest fundraiser of the year. This year, their patron Paula Van Dusen has informed them that the traditional performance will also be part of her daughter's wedding festivities, making it even more imperative that the evening is a success. Although the play goes well, tensions among wedding participants—including the bride and groom—and high-stakes Manhattan real estate deals keep everyone on edge, and when Charlotte discovers a body in the garden, everyone realizes just how thin the veneer of high society manners is. Add in a dog-napping, an unstable actor, and old family secrets, and the stage is set for an entertaining cozy.

Overall, Duncan keeps the reader guessing with plenty of red herrings, keeps the tone light and the action going just as she should with a traditional cozy. To add a bit of interest, she also mixes in some mild romance between her amateur sleuth and the small-town police chief, and their relationship grows as the mystery's events play out. In fact, their relationship and the fact that the main action centers on a regional theater group are what truly hold the reader's interest. That Charlotte is a costume designer, along with her intern Aaron who also ventures into dress design, is a nice twist.

Relationships are well portrayed and believable, although the reader might wonder why the perceptive Charlotte doesn't pick up on some of Aaron's minor infractions of the law, and the characters are almost all likeable and worth getting to know, though they aren't particularly deeply drawn, in keeping with the light tone of the novel. What works a little less well are the pacing and the ultimate reveal. Because it's not a police procedural, the reader doesn't see much of the investigation, which means Charlotte must do a lot of dog walking and leaping to conclusions without much foundation, and some of the situations created to get Charlotte in place to pick up on clues seem a bit contrived. Plus, Duncan provides so many red herrings that she never really sets up the killer and motive and is forced to simply wrap things up quickly at the end. However, that doesn't detract much from the escapism of an easy read and time spent on a summer vacation in the Catskills.

§ Meredith Frazier, a writer with a background in English literature, lives in Dallas, Texas

Reviewed by Meredith Frazier, January 2017

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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