Mystery Books for Sale

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by Miranda James
Berkley Prime Crime, January 2020
289 pages
ISBN: 0451491157

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

On the first page, Charlie's daughter, an overwrought Laura, scares Diesel, Charlie's Maine Coon cat, with her reaction to a cast change in the Athena College theatrical department's spring production, "Careless Whispers." Laura is the female lead; her husband Frank is the director and the new male lead is an actor she worked with before – when she lived in Hollywood. Her assessment of Luke Lombardi, "a terrible person, but he's actually quite a good actor."

Laura enlists Charlie to attend rehearsals in hopes that his presence will keep Lombardi from throwing fits for every little thing. However, beginning with the reception to welcome him, Lombardi manages to irritate most of the folks involved in the production. In fact, he ends up with champagne in his face, followed by a slap from Madame Delphine du Jardin, "his current inamorata," much to the surprise of the guests. Anton du Jardin, Lombardi's dresser, confronts his wife with more harsh language.

At the first rehearsal Charlie and Diesel watch as Lombardi tries to intimidate only to be put in his place by the Ducote Sisters. A couple of pranks – a snake in Lombardi's dressing room that terrifies the actor followed by a doctored drink so spicy it comes close to injuring the actor's throat – serve to unsettle the actor's confidence. Another interesting development is the appearance of two young men, at different times, claiming to be the playwright of the debut production.

Charlie and Diesel conduct a bit of low key sleuthing, trying to identify the prankster and get to the truth about the playwright puzzle, around visits with the new grandchildren and attending rehearsals.

The night of the performance arrives, and the first act is amazing. At the beginning of the second act, Laura serves Lombardi a drink that stops the show when he collapses and dies. Suspects include Laura since she served the drink. Arguments with both Anton and Delphine du Jardin have been overheard or observed by several in the production. Lombardi's understudy, an eager young actor named Jared, asks if the show will continue once Lombardi's body is removed. Charlie is still checking out the two playwrights and who the prankster might be.

Miranda James never disappoints, and she fabricates a fascinating mystery that provides a framework for the 12th book in the Cat in the Stacks series. From page one you find yourself accompanying Charlie and Diesel as their story unfolds.

Visits with the characters that make Athena such a comfortable community are delightful and engaging. Well, except when Charlie meets with Chief Deputy Kanesha Berry to discuss the murder investigation.

Following Charlie and Diesel as they travel through the week is a captivating adventure, spending time with old friends and meeting new ones. And, as always, James paints Diesel as the most charming of them all.

§ Ruth Castleberry has worked as an investigator for Pinkerton’s, a city desk assistant on the Charlotte News, free-lance writer, marketing/business strategy consultant, competitive intelligence practitioner and digital marketing consultant.

Reviewed by Ruth Castleberry, January 2020

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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