Mystery author # 18: Carolyn G. Hart

Title: Death on Demand
Series detectives: Annie Laurance and Max Darling
No. in series: 1
Year of publication: 1987
Type of mystery: Murder
Type of investigator: Amateurs, murder magnets
Setting & time: USA, S-Carolina, 1980’s
Number of deaths: 4
Some themes: Books, blackmail, malice, secrets, having to prove one’s innocence

Story: Annie has recently inherited Death on Demand, a specialist mystery bookshop on the small S-Carolina island of Broward’s Rock. She has been holding regular ‘Sunday Night Specials’, a gathering of crime writers who live on the island, but when one of them threatens to expose the other’s dirty secrets, he is murdered. One of them did it, but who? Police chief Salter’s bet is on Annie, and she has to scramble to find the real killer before he arrests her. Fortunately her ex-boyfriend from New York, Max, has tracked her down and is more than willing to help.

This is the sixth crime magnet story I read for the challenge, and the second bibliomystery. In The Roaring Boy it was a play that started the killings, in this one it’s an unpublished book.

Not only does Hart write well, but she has a way of gripping the reader on page one and not letting go until the final page. I became so absorbed in Death on Demand that I missed the first act of the Eurovision Song Contest semi-finals, and was absorbed in the book through most of the program, only keeping one ear and one eye on at the proceedings while I read on. This, my friends would say, is unthinkable, because I simply love watching the ESC – the biggest, glitziest, kitschiest comedy on television.
More on the writing in the author review.

Rating: An entertaining, gripping, humorous mystery. 3+ stars.

This review contains a SPOILER for the previous book.

Title: Something Wicked
Series detectives: Annie Laurance and Max Darling
No. in series: 3
Year of publication: 1988
Type of mystery: Murder
Type of investigator: Amateurs, murder magnets, police
Setting & time: USA, S-Carolina, 1980’s
Number of deaths: 2
Some themes: Acting, actors, twisted love, fraud, having to prove a loved one’s innocence

Story: Annie and Max are rehearsing Arsenic and Old Lace with the Broward’s Rock Players and planning their wedding. Annie’s nerves are frazzled by constant calls from her mother-in-law-to-be who wants to make the wedding the most spectacular show of love and togetherness ever. It doesn’t help that someone is trying to sabotage the play, with various tricks that keep getting more and more malicious until one of the actors, former beach movie actor Shane Petree, is murdered during a rehearsal. It doesn’t help Annie’s nerves one bit that circuit solicitor Willard Posey, an obnoxious boor if there ever was one, decides that Max is the culprit and sets out to prove it. Max seems calm and secure enough, but dark clouds start to gather on the horizon of Annie’s mind when the murder weapon is found in Maxi’s condo and she frantically sets out to prove his innocence, aided by police chief Salter and mystery buff Henny Brawley.

Review: Loved it. The plotting is tight and under full control, no ramblings (except perhaps the comical interfering mother-in-law-to-be, but my bet is that it’s preparation for the next book, when the wedding will presumably take place) and full of humour. Henny Brawley, the ever-changing sleuth (one day Miss Marple, the next Sister Mary Helen) provides some good-natured comic relief, while Purdy and Annie’s lawyer (the self-proclaimed greatest criminal lawyer in the United States) are wonderfully funny and accurate parodies of stereotypical lawyers and politicians.
More in author review.

Rating: A very good, very funny mystery. 4 stars.

Author review: What we have here is a definite master (or should that be mistress?) of her craft. The stories are everything cosies should be: entertaining, full of quirky and interesting characters, suitably but not too full of danger and action, and wonderfully twisty. Apart from the rather clumsy way she works the names of mystery authors and their books into the beginning chapters of DOD, I can find no fault with her style. The story telling is fast-paced and there is no dawdling beyond some descriptions of the island which are necessary for people to get a mental image of the place and some short comic interludes which serve to lighten the tension.
The books are clearly written by a mystery fan for mystery fans, as is evidenced by the many mystery authors, mysteries and series characters that are mentioned or referred to in the books. I have written down every one I wasn’t familiar with to keep for future reference.

All in all, I think I have found an author whose books I will not hesitate to buy in the future.

Next author: Robert Barnard.


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