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.
Our two regular reviewers, Cathy Akers-Jordan and Vicki Kondelik, have shared their top 10 lists with us, and the book club chimes in on their favorite reads of the year as well. Lots of good reading here!
Daughter of the Morning Star, Craig Johnson. The new Longmire book is always the highlight of my mystery-reading year. The rez isn’t part of Walt Longmire’s jurisdiction, but when Tribal Police Chief Lolo Long recruits Walt and Henry to protect her niece, we learn the shocking statistics on the abuse and murder of Indian Women. Walt deals with a teenage basketball star while trying his best to keep her alive.
After we closed the store and my reading was slightly less proscribed by authors visiting or the latest new thing, I realized that one of the genres I truly love is historical mysteries. The range is so wide – in story telling style, in time period, in characters, and the armchair history lessons always, always add to my reading enjoyment. The fact that the books are set in the past makes the detective rely much more on old fashioned, golden age style sleuthing methods, another attraction, as far as I’m concerned. Thanks to Mystery Scene Magazine as well as my own reading, I find I read pretty widely in this subgenre. Here are my 10 favorites this year. One of them I liked so much it’s on my all around top 10 list (stay tuned!)
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.
To my mind, historical mysteries are some of the best mysteries being written at the moment. They combine classic elements of detective fiction, unmarred by cell phones or computers, and combine it with fascinating time periods and characters. These wonderful books are now all available to order on our website, along with many other historical mysteries (have a browse!) Kathleen Marple Kalb’s first novel came out this April, a difficult time for a first novel, with no bookstore events or conferences to attend. I am not a fan of the cover art, but I am a huge fan of this charming debut. My review ran in Mystery Scene, and you can read it here. The main character, Ella Shane, is a “trouser diva”, an opera singer who sings men’s roles in 1899. At the time, opera was a travelling proposition, as the Met was new. If you enjoy books by C.S. Harris, Anna Lee Huber or Dianne Freeman, check this one out.