If only Death on Demand were located near me! In the novel of the same name by Carolyn G. Hart, Annie Lawrence owns a bookstore that any mystery lover would drool over. It contains shelves categorized by each of the subgenres of mystery, including true crime, cozy mysteries, forensics-based mysteries, historical mysteries, classic mysteries, humorous mysteries, and an entire section devoted to the queen of mysteries, Agatha Christie. In one section of the shop, patrons can sit on comfortable sofas while drinking coffee from mugs festooned with the names of seminal works in the mystery field, the authors’ names appearing on the bottom of each mug. And the special attraction of this bookstore is a series of five paintings done by local artists that each depicts a different mystery book, with a new set of paintings commissioned each month. The first person to guess all five each month wins a free book and free coffee for a month.
To encourage the writing of more mystery novels, Annie hosts a gathering each Sunday evening of several local mystery writers until one night when one particularly disagreeable author gets up to tell everyone about his latest book, an expose of how his fellow writers on Broward’s Rock Island, North Carolina have had their own personal encounters with crime. Then the lights go out, and Elliot Morgan falls dead of a dart dipped in poison. It seems obvious to Annie that the murderer must have been one of her guests, afraid of what crime Elliot was about to reveal. But the local police chief has a different idea. He thinks Annie killed Elliot because Elliot was about to expose her for murdering her uncle in order to inherit Death on Demand.
Along with her persistent suitor, Max Darling, Annie must use her knowledge of detection gained from a lifetime’s study of mystery fiction to rush to learn what secrets each writer has buried in her or his past in order to discover the true identity of the murderer before Chief Salter arrests her.
This book is a solid start to a fun cozy mystery series. Hart has clearly read a vast variety of mystery books, liberally throwing out references to how different fictional detectives or criminals from all subgenres in mystery fiction would have behaved in a given situation. The book also frequently points out parallels between Annie’s methods of detection and those in fictional books from all times and places (there is even a reference to Judge Dee, a real detective from 7th century China). This has the potential to become tedious or give the impression of Hart’s being a name-dropper, but it never seems to cross that line. In fact, there are times when her references make me want to look up certain books because they sound of interest to me. Annie does come across as immature at times, and I don’t like the way she insists on being an independent woman who scorns Max for being too lazy because he doesn’t hold down a regular job, yet she seems to lean on him for his strong masculine support. I will concede, however, that it is possible that in 1987, the year the book was published, Annie would have seemed much more empathetic to readers than my contemporary feminist point of view will allow. Furthermore, the plot, while being original in its specific details, is in essence a rehashing of numerous other mystery stories about a man being murdered for the knowledge he has collected about other people’s crimes. In particular, the book is reminiscent of Cards on the Table, one of Agatha Christie’s more famous books. However, Hart does succeed in making the book entertaining and creates a solid basis for many successful books to come. At the present, there are twenty-five books in the series.
One bonus about this series is the fact that all twenty-five books are available to purchase through Audible, so you can listen to it in the car, while lying in bed, or while doing chores around the house. Better yet, twenty-four of the twenty-five have the outstanding Kate Reading as the narrator. This prolific reader (Audible currently lists her as narrating 333 books!) expertly navigates the voices of the numerous characters. Before Hart even tells which character is speaking, I can always recognize the speaker just from the voice that Reading employs, and that voice always makes me feel that this, and no other voice, is the true voice of the character. As the series continues, she rises to the challenge of numerous accents and unique characters. In addition, she has a very soothing, comfortable voice that makes the experience of listening to her read any book an enjoyable one. I listen to many audio books; at present I have 668 titles in my Audible account and listened to at least 100 books on cassette or CD before getting my Audible subscription. I believe this qualifies me to make the judgment that Kate Reading is the best American woman narrator to be found reading audio books.
In conclusion, Death on Demand is an enjoyable read (or listen), a good cozy mystery that leaves you interested to learn what will happen next in the lives of Annie and Max. In that respect, its most important function is to set up the groundwork for the twenty-four other books that come after.
Death on Demand (Death on Demand Mysteries Series Book 1) is available now through Amazon.