Untimely Death: A Shakespeare in the Catskills Mystery by Elizabeth J. Duncan is the first “A Shakespeare in the Catskills Mystery.” A small hotel in an out-of-the-way town in the Catskills is keeping itself in business by hosting Shakespeare plays annually. Charlotte Fairfax, the costume mistress for the troupe, is preparing for three plays with her new assistant when the leading lady in Romeo and Juliet is killed. Now, it is time for her to put her skills to work in solving the mystery before more goes wrong.
Charlotte makes for a good detective with plenty of practical knowledge and a matter-of-fact approach to solving problems. The switch between her capability in crafting costumes and in taking care of murderous matters is plausible. There is a nice, low-key romance between Charlotte and the chief of police, one that is, unusually and refreshingly for the genre, already established when the book begins. She deals with past troubles in a balanced way: She does still feel some pain, but she has also built a new life. The combination makes her a good entry in the cozy mystery detective club.
While the character and setting are fine, the point of view needs work. Duncan jumps from point of view to point of view with little apparent reason. It is easy enough to follow, but it is awkward to have it jump from an omniscient outsider point of view at the beginning, to Charlotte, and then over to several minor characters at different times. Worse, Duncan pulls a couple of point of view shifts solely to keep the reader in suspense, not because the character in question wonders anything: Charlotte twice picks up the phone and listens to “something” “someone” says—and these are crucial to the mystery. Jumping from her point of view to an outsider’s becomes an artificial means to maintain suspense.
It is also disappointing that “A Shakespeare in the Catskills Mystery” has very little actual Shakespeare. There is an acting troupe and it is going to be putting on several Shakespeare plays, but as far as the plot goes, they could be putting on any play by any playwright. The title implies otherwise, and that formed part of the initial attraction to the series.
Untimely Death makes for easy reading, and served well for a relaxing few hours, but if point of view shifts trouble you, then look for another series.
Untimely Death comes out Nov 10, 2015.