Sarah Kelling Bittersohn has been enlisted by her Aunt Emma to paint the backdrops for her Pirates of Pleasance group’s performance of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Sorcerer in The Plain Old Man, the sixth book in Charlotte MacLeod’s Sarah Kelling/ Max Bittersohn series.
Things have been going smoothly until they wake up the morning before the dress rehearsal to find that the large Romney portrait of Ernestine Kelling has been removed from its frame and stolen, with a vague ransom demand left in its place. Not willing to interrupt the preparations for her final performance, Aunt Emma gets Sarah to paint a parody of Emma as Ernestine to put in the empty frame. To get help with the project, Sarah asks Great-Uncle Frederick to come over, and that evening everyone learns of the death of Charlie, who has adored Emma for forty years and was to play the plain old man in the musical. Frederick gets Sarah to take him home that night, but with a detour to Charlie’s home that gives them the evidence they need to prove that Charlie has been murdered. In the following days a flurry of ransom notes over the portrait appear, but they seem irregular in style, as if coming from different kidnappers, one somewhat friendly and amateur and the other vicious.
Someone really seems determined to sabotage the performance, with Sarah’s being put in charge of investigating both the theft and the murder by Aunt Emma. The book concludes with a wild and exciting series of scenes to catch the criminals.
As always, Charlotte MacLeod meets her standard of creating fun characters. With Max in Europe for the majority of the book, Sarah gets the spotlight, and we learn more about her childhood, as she reminisces with Aunt Emma’s cook about her time spent with them while growing up, especially while Sarah’s parents took a trip to Europe upon learning of her mother’s terminal cancer. We have heard about Aunt Emma and Cousin Mabel in previous books, but it was fun to get to meet them and see why everyone loves Aunt Emma, the energetic civic citizen who puts on her acclaimed Gilbert and Sullivan light operas as fundraisers for charitable causes. We also see first-hand why Cousin Mabel deserves her negative reputation as a stingy, spiteful crone.
The audio version of the book is performed by Andi Arndt. She does a good job of reading and makes the book enjoyable, though she is not my favorite narrator.
The plot of the mystery moves in a fun way, with some nice twists to keep the reader attached to the book. I do not consider this the strongest book in the series but still enjoyed The Plain Old Man enough to give it four stars!
The Plain Old Man is available in several formats. To order from Amazon, click this link. You may also find it in your local bookstore or library.