Design for Murder

I followed up with Carolyn Hart’s next Death on Demand mystery relatively quickly after reading the first one. I don’t know why I waited so long to read these; they are well-written, great fun, and a wonderful tribute to the mystery genre.

In this volume, Annie Laurance, proprietor of the Death on Demand mystery bookstore, has been asked by the frosty Corinne Webster to plan a Mystery Night for the Historical Preservation Society’s house tour in nearby Chastain. Though president, Mrs. Webster makes it pretty clear she does not support the idea, and makes a quick enemy out of Annie, who has to try hard to bite her tongue. Nevertheless, she is thrilled at the opportunity to plot a fictitious crime.

The week before Annie will present her plan to the Board of the Historical Preservation Society, she receives a plot in the mail signed by Corinne Webster which she is instructed to use, about the murder of a woman in which motive abounded. When she reads this at the meeting, however, all hell breaks loose; everyone present recognizes the victim as Corinne, who accuses Annie of creating the plot and threatens to call the whole thing off.

Annie’s fiancé Max Darling, who has recently set up a small investigation practice to pass the time, strongly advises her to have nothing more to do with matter, but Annie is determined to see her Mystery Night through. The other board members are ready to play their roles and are counting on her to make it a success. It look like it will be when tickets begin selling quickly. On opening night, however, when Annie makes a final check at the scene of the crime, she finds Corinne killed for real with her own murder weapon prop.

With this circumstantial evidence it doesn’t take long for the local policeman to hone in on Annie as a number one suspect, especially because she is an outsider to town and had lost her temper with Corinne earlier in the day. If she wants to clear her name it’s up to her and Max to present a credible alternative suspect. Luckily, the revelations in the false plot letter give them a great starting point. Corinne is thwarting the career of a promising young artist by claiming his painting are the property of her family’s museum, which gives the town vixen Sybil another reason to hate her. She has done everything in her power to prevent her timid neice Gail from seeing the brusque young reporter she loves. She has the potential to hurt the marriage or career of two town professionals, and her own husband the mayor might be having an affair. Even her closest friend was once in love with Corinne’s brother and had that relationship broken off. It’s no secret that all those close to Corinne had reason to kill her; the only important question remaining is who actually carried it through.

In a 300-page mystery the murder didn’t occur until almost halfway through, and I didn’t even mind or notice. In the end we do get a double mystery because of Annie’s own plot. Carolyn Hart also spent the time leading up to the murder in a worthwhile manner, setting the stage for the crime and building a general sense of antagonism towards Corinne. She really was a very nasty person. On the other hand, Annie and Max continue to entertain me. They are very likable and well-rounded characters, each with a distinct set of traits and flaws; though different, they complement each other and work well as a team.

It’s so refreshing to find a series with a police protagonist that remains realistic. For so many cozy series I have a hard time believing that the amateur sleuths stumble upon so many bodies, and that the police allow them to participate to the extent that they do. Both Annie and Max have plausible backgrounds for their abilities to solve crimes and plausible reasons for doing so. I like that Carolyn Hart gave them one crime to work with rather than separate interlocking ones, as might have been the temptation. I grew up on the Boxcar Children and Nancy Drew and can suspend my disbelief with the best of them, but I also like having a series where that’s not necessary. I do hope that in the future Max will get more business for his “Confidential Commissions,” though, other than just keeping Annie out of trouble.

Carolyn Hart also continues her myriad of mystery references. I consider myself relatively well-versed in the genre, even if not yet well-read, because my relatives are all aficionados. I recognized a lot of the authors and detectives mentioned, but many were also unfamiliar to me. I’m curious if anyone’s ever made a list of all the references; I did a search but didn’t seem to find one. A few reviews I came across said the habit got annoying, but I actually think it suits Annie’s character. It’s part of her job to be able to spout off authors at will or come up with the title from a customer’s sketchy description. Most of the references were confined to the plot devices of various novels when she was devising her Mystery Night, or characters she thought of when in certain situations. For example, at the Mystery Ball at the end of the tours, everyone must come dressed as a favorite sleuth. I love that Annie chose Nancy Drew and Max was Joe Hardy. It certainly mixes things up a bit. I wonder if Ned doesn’t count as a sleuth, or if Max just didn’t want to bother with a wig over his blond hair.

Part of me wants to keep going in the series right away, but another part wants to actually read more of the mysteries mentioned. A lot of our mysteries were packed up while we redid the spare room. Now that they are out again, they look tempting as the perfect quick reads for weekends.

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Published in: on September 27, 2011 at 10:16 pm  Leave a Comment  
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