I’m trying to find mysteries by authors unknown to me to broaden my outlook, so to speak. So this week for my Mystery Monday meme, I tried this novel by Paul Eiseman, actor, playwright, director, and now author of a series of murder mysteries. Eiseman’s hero, Harrison Hunt, is also a playwright/director from New York City who finds himself in the small community of Brookfield (somewhere in New England), where he has been hired to direct two plays of his own over the summer with the Brookfield Players’ Barn Theatre.
The novel begins by introducing us to Harrison (Harry to his friends) and his “Girl Friday”, Sophie, who is totally indispensable to Harrison (who is feeling under the weather on this particular morning in May). Facing auditions from local would-be thespians armed only with a small bottle of Alka Seltzer and the resumés for the morning, Harry notes that the last audition of the afternoon is a rather famous actress and old flame of his, recently recovered from a nervous breakdown after the stabbing death of her husband, Belinda Bobbie.
The one stand-out from the auditions, one Randy Williamson, becomes a key suspect, as does Belinda when her brother, Robert Gregory becomes a victim killed in the same manner as her husband who was knifed in the chest a few years earlier. When Charlie Wetherstone, Harry’s technical director, hasn’t been heard from by the end of the day, Harry and Sophie head out to the cottage Charlie has rented for the summer to see if he’s arrived. Charlie and Harry met at Yale where Charlie had rather lived on the wild side until his eventual suspension. After quite a few years of substance abuse, Charlie decided to get himself on track, and has seemingly done well in that regard. His emails have been full of enthusiasm for his life, his new companion (a black lab/pit bull mix), Lucy, and for the new plays and for the opportunity to be working again with Harry and Sophie. However, when they arrive at the cottage, Charlie’s van reeks of alcohol, Lucy is howling in the cottage, and when she is released, they follow her into the woods, and down a slippery slope to the stream where Charlie lies, drowned. The police say “accidental death” but when Harry and Sophie find their invitations for Charlie and Hazel’s wedding, they don’t believe for a moment that it’s an accident and their sleuthing begins.
Other characters in the novel include Augie and Louise Freemount who extend their hospitality to Harry and Sophie, who are hiding something from the New Yorkers, Damian Devoe, a bitter would-be director who writes vicious articles/editorials in the Brookfield Bugle blaming the New Yorkers for bringing murder to their quiet burg, and Meredith Beekee, the shy, self-conscious girl who shares the local inn’s desk duties with the outgoing Randy.
I had a bit of trouble getting into this story at first. It starts rather slowly and I started to wonder if anything was going to happen, but once it got rolling, it was interesting and even fun. Hunt uses a lot of theatre references, and can be quite sarcastic and droll. He thinks of Sophie as his “Ann Sothern, [his] Rosalind Russell”, and thinks she may have a crush on him. The plot thickens when the fiancé arrives and tells of mysterious packages that Charlie received on a regular basis, the source of which he had been trying to track down on his trip from Portland to Brookfield. Louise Freemount has also been receiving weird packages on the same dates, and for the same length of time. A mysterious post box in a nearby rural post office is in her name but she claims to know nothing about it.
Harry finds a connection to a Yale theatre production he and Charlie were involved in, and uses the call-back session at the theatre to try out an idea to reveal the murderer, but the final unveiling of the culprit was a total surprise, so all in all, it was a pretty good read. A second book in the series, Six Days in June: The Havenport Murders, is also available. (Any bets the next one will be Seven Days in July?) A quick, light read that keeps you guessing. * * *