A Fatal Overture is the third in Kathleen Marple Kalb’s wonderful mystery series set in New York City at the turn of the 20th century, featuring opera singer Ella Shane, a mezzo soprano “trouser diva,” known for singing male roles. Ella, the daughter of an Irish father and a Jewish mother, grew up in a tenement on the Lower East Side and was orphaned at an early age. The trauma of finding her mother’s body, frozen to death in their tiny room, has never truly left Ella. After being raised by her aunt on her father’s side of the family, Ella found a mentor, a famous opera singer, who discovered she had a great voice, and so, by the time the series begins, Ella has also become famous. She owns her own company and lives in a brownstone on Washington Square with her cousin Tommy, the son of the aunt who brought her up. Tommy, a former champion boxer, is a closeted gay man who manages her career and helps her fend off unwelcome admirers.
This is the second in Kathleen Kalb’s delightful series about opera star Ella Shane, who is working in New York City in 1899. She and her cousin Tom run an opera company and live agreeably together in a large brownstone with Ella’s parrot, Montezuma. These books have a really vivacious quality, matching Miss Ella’s own. Not only is Ella a working woman in 1899, she sings men’s parts – she’s what was known as a “trouser diva”.
Her first nights tend to be problematic, however. In the first book, as she sang Romeo to her Juliet, Juliet was really dead. In this book, though the stage portion of her new show goes perfectly, when she comes off stage she discovers one of her co-stars in his dressing room, covered in blood, a dead man at his feet. The gentle singer is hauled off to the Tombs and Ella tries to wrap her head around his guilt.