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Untimely Death (Review 2)
Shakespeare in the Catskills #1
Elizabeth J. Duncan

Crooked Lane Books
November 2015/ ISBN 978-1629531915

Reviewed by Leslie C. Halpern


This mystery set at a Catskills resort involves the cast and crew of a small Shakespearean acting troupe, along with their family, friends, and the resort management team. When the lead actress in the play, Romeo and Juliet, nearly dies from a drug overdose, the local police and hospital staff fear her experience may be due to a homicide attempt rather than an accident. When the same actress – whom everyone has a reason to dislike – then receives a fatal stab wound during a rehearsal, the intention becomes all-too clear. The murderer’s identity, however, is less clear.

The very British Charlotte Fairfax (wardrobe mistress for the acting troupe) and her local policeman boyfriend, Ray, search for clues to solve the mystery. The ill-tempered actress who met her untimely death had a history of aggressive and bullying behavior that gave nearly everyone at the resort a motive for killing her. And many of these people have shady backgrounds themselves that could have influenced their behavior. With opening night of Romeo and Juliet approaching and a replacement actress who needs costumes and rehearsals, pressure mounts to solve the case quickly.

As a cozy mystery with muted sex and violence, Duncan instead fills the story with fascinating tidbits about theater, fashion design, and British customs. She provides plenty of clues about the murderer, plus offers the obligatory red herrings to keep readers guessing throughout the story. The characters are intriguing with a range of personal problems, including drug and alcohol addictions, bad taste in romantic partners, and other assorted flaws.

If Duncan makes the perpetrator seem a little obvious, readers can likely forgive her because of the limitations associated with the charming resort setting she chose as the backdrop for her story. In a secluded community with a tiny police force aided only by Charlotte’s amateur sleuthing (and her helpful little dog), they could not have handled the technical and financial challenges of a more difficult murder mystery. As it stands, the local flavor and theatrical details help create a satisfying tale for fans of similar mysteries, such as those of Agatha Christie, in this first book of what promises to be a delightful series.

Reviews of other titles in this series

Untimely Death #1 [review 1] [review 2]
Ill Met by Murder #2
Much Ado About Murder #3

Reviewed 2015