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by Fiona Davis
Dutton, June 2023
368 pages
ISBN: 0593184041

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

THE SPECTACULAR is the latest in a series of books by Fiona Davis that are set in iconic New York City buildings. This time the setting is Radio City Music Hall, home of the famous Radio City Rockettes. Marian, a young dance teacher, auditions for the Rockettes in 1956 and is accepted, allowing us to gain entrance into some fascinating backstage detail of how the Rockettes operate. Her father is a key player as he inadvertently forces Marian into a full-time career as a dancer because he throws her out of the house for wanting a full-time career as a dancer. At the same time, her father, an executive with the Metropolitan Power Company, is concerned about the New York City Bomber, a terrorist with a grudge against Met Power who has gone unidentified for sixteen years. These two aspects of Marian's life come together tragically as the bomber strikes in Radio City Music Hall. Marian is determined to solve the mystery and, in the midst of daily performances and rehearsals, she partners with a friend who is a psychoanalyst and profiler to try and uncover the bomber's identity.

This book skilfully weaves together several interesting elements: life in mid-century New York City, the inner workings of one of the most famous popular dance troupes in America, a good mystery and a touch of romance. First the romance. Because I'm not a huge fan of novels where romance forces itself into the action and proceeds to take over everything, I really liked that the romance in this book was secondary to the historical and mystery elements. Marian is close to becoming engaged to her long-time suitor, but with him comes a life of staying home as a housewife which she doesn't want. She maintains ties with him, even as her growing relationship with the psychoanalyst begins to show her that there is more to a relationship than just being comfortable with one another.

Next, the Rockettes story. As someone who made a career in the performing arts for nearly fifty years, I am drawn to backstage stories but am very difficult to please. It is harder than it seems to accurately portray a dancer's lifestyle or the inner workings of a theater. Either Fiona Davis does amazing research or she has had performer's experience, or both, because every detail of this storyline rang true. (I even learned that the Rockettes don't actually touch one another during the famous kickline if they lean on each other, then one stumble could cause others to stumble as well!).

Finally, the mystery. Once again I appreciated Davis' skill at integrating this storyline into the overall flow of the novel. The latest bombing hits home for Marian because of the involvement of her father and sister, and she shows that she has the moxie to do what it takes to explore investigative avenues that the police have been unable or unwilling to try.

Despite the depth and detail, this was a smooth, quick read. Once I got started, I finished the last half of the book in an afternoon. I recommend this book for anyone who is looking for an easy read that still provides a great deal of intellectual satisfaction.

Ellen Rosewall is Professor Emeritus at University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, where she taught and directed the Arts Management program. She is the author of both scholarly works and fiction. As an artist, her works have been exhibited at galleries throughout the Midwest.

Reviewed by Ellen Rosewall, June 2023

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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