Something Wicked, the third in the Death on a Demand series by Carolyn G. Hart and winner of the Agatha Award for Best Novel of 1988, features Max and Annie during rehearsals for a community theater performance of the dark comedy Arsenic and Old Lace. The rehearsals seems the victim of either a curse or sabotage, unless it is both. Frustratingly for the other actors in the show, the producer of the show has cast an aging former star in the role of Teddy. Unfortunately, the actor, Shane, revuses to memorize his lines. Instead he spends his time making out in the wings with the teenage daughter of a woman he only recently had an affair with, and generally telling everyone that he is too important to take their community theater seriously.
Even more stressful for the cast, someone has been playing what starts off as relatively harmless practical jokes that have moved to the malicious. Then someone puts ipecac in the champagne punch at a party at Shane’s home, leaving about 100 people getting volubly sick all over the entire house. Then someone kills a pet cat and leaves it in the window seat.
In the midst of all this drama in their public lives, Annie and Max deal with much drama in their private lives, as we meet Max’s delightful but slightly crazy mother, Laurel, who is determined to take over the plans for their September wedding and make it a “cosmic statement on love.”
Then there is the murder. Shane is found dead, and Max is the main suspect, leaving Annie to solve the mystery.
This book is much stronger than the previous two in the Death on Demand series. The characters, which were already well developed in the first two books, get even more rounded, and Henny, who made merely token appearances in the first two books, becomes a thoroughly fleshed out character in this. This dashing character is the store Death on Demand’s biggest customer and loves to assume the personae of famous fictional detectives, especially women, even entering dressed as the detective and using the accent of Britain, California, New York, or wherever and imitating the speech habits and content of the character and her or his era.
As mentioned before, we also meet Laurel in this book, and while I think she would drive me crazy to have as a mother-in-law, I couldn’t help but love the character. Laurel provides a complete foil for Annie. Annie is the uptight, super organized one who must do everything on. Laurel, on the other hand, moves as the wind takes her. Despite her five previous marriages, which one might think could have made her cynical about love, Laurel seems to live for love and for both showing her love for Max and Annie and helping them demonstrate their love for each other to the rest of the world and themselves at their wedding.
As in the previous two Death on Demand books, Hart includes five pictures of scenes from mystery books that hang in Annie’s store, and the first person to guess all five correctly gets a free book. The book describes the pictures in detail to let the reader take a try at guessing the answer, which is provided near the end.
In addition, this book, like the previous two, is filled with references to probably hundreds of other mystery books coming from all genres and eras of mystery. They sometimes make me feel highly uneducated in this field, but I enjoy the times when I recognize books throughout. She does not do so by just throwing out names. She uses the books as further descriptors of the situation she is setting up. For example, in one book Annie wishes she were more like Miss Marple in her wisdom, placidity, and view of human nature, but admits to herself that she is more like Mrs. Bantry in A Body in the Library in the way she can’t sit still but must act.
All but one of the books in the series are expertly narrated by Kate Reading , and it is in Something Wicked that Reading really begins to demonstrate her amazing prowess. As I noted in my review of Death on Demand, Reading just has to read a voice, and I can recognize the character before the author even reveals the name. This book provides an unusual challenge that only the very best, like Kate Reading, could even attempt to rise to, but which Reading succeeds at remarkably. As mentioned earlier, the character of Henny likes to play fictional detectives, and in so doing, she not only dresses the part and acts the part but also speaks the part. Hart is careful to mention the exact accent and styles of speech used by Henny, which would be a challenge to any narrator just because Henny uses so many different regional accents. But Reading conquers this challenge so remarkably that I hear not just Henny speaking the line, but Henny speaking the line as Nero Wolfe or Sam Spade, etc. What an incredible accomplishment!
In summation, Something Wicked is a very fun read, and I was glad to return to Brower’s Rock Island from Chastain, the setting of the previous book Design for Murder. With such great narration and an excellent sense of the dramatic, set against the fun background of the play Arsenic and Old Lace, this book is a winner!
Something Wicked (Death on Demand Mysteries Series Book 3) is available now from Amazon.