Vicki Delany: Deadly Director’s Cut

This is the second book in Delany’s series set in the Catskills in the 50’s.  While the Catskill resorts that served so many families back in the 50’s and beyond are now gone – even the great Grossinger’s is a ghostly version of itself – Delany nevertheless manages to make the area come alive for the reader.  She doesn’t dip into the pure historical novel category.  Instead, she provides period details that set the reader where she wants them to be, and she somehow manages to invoke the feel and atmosphere of a very specific place and time.  The fact that a Canadian writer who, I am thinking, did not spend her childhood summers in the Catskills, is able to do this with such virtuosity is one of those mysteries of the writer’s art.  The time period is close enough that with a little bit of yearning and nostalgia you are right back there with her.

Her main series character, Elizabeth Grady, runs the resort her mother owns, Haggerman’s.  It’s not one of the bigger ones, like Grossinger’s, but it’s a nice, respectable place that draws high level entertainers and regular guests.   Her mother, a retired actress, provides front of the house glamor while Elizbeth does the hard work of running the resort.  This summer, there’s a movie being filmed on her property, and one of the stars is an old buddy of her mother’s, Gloria.

The director is extremely unpleasant and dictatorial, making sure his chauffeur is ready at a moment’s notice, treating the staff as they don’t deserve to be treated, and laying into and sometimes humiliating the actors and actresses in his film.  Because he’s a very successful director with several Oscars under his belt, everyone tends to jump when he says so.  Of course, in a mystery novel, this is the very kind of person who is going to be murdered at the first opportunity.

While the movie is being shot at Haggerman’s, most of the crew and the actors aren’t staying there, they are staying at the slightly nicer and bigger resort owned by Elizabeth’s friend and possible love interest, Richard.  One night, however, the director decides to host a dinner at Elizabeth’s place, demanding that she attend.  This of course ends horribly – he collapses and is taken to the hospital, where he later dies.  This also gives Elizabeth a chance to observe all the players in the drama firsthand.

Delany is a pro at setting up a story and telling one clearly and with precision.  This book is no exception.  She’s drawn into the investigation in order to save her business – if some one was poisoned by food at Haggerman’s there’s a danger her kitchen will be shut down at the height of her summer season.  She and Richard work together as his hotel is also implicated.  It’s not known for a time where exactly the poison ingested by the dead director came from.

For some reason, this is completely believable, and Elizabeth’s investigation seems totally natural under the circumstances.  (Of course, the reader will hope that Haggerman’s doesn’t continue to be the setting for murders.  It will be terrible for business).  Delany also continues to fill out Elizabeth’s backstory.  She was raised by her Aunt Tatiana (now the head housekeeper at Haggerman’s) while her mother pursued her career.  Later in life, the two women are getting to know each other better, and share a cabin on the property.

This is a well thought out, well paced, and captivating mystery.  For this particular reader, who grew up in her parent’s northern Michigan resort, it’s almost a forcefully nostalgic read.  One of my favorite memories is being in the hotel’s ballroom, sipping a Shirley Temple, watching the ballroom captain sprinkle the dance floor with a bit of wax for easier and smoother dancing.  Delaney’s book brings it all back in a whoosh.  This is a truly delightful series and I can’t recommend it more highly.