LAYNE LITTLEPAGE – Murder-by-the-Sea. – Murder-by-the-Sea. Doubleday, hardcover, 1987. Worldwide, paperback, 1989.

   Layne Littlepage is a singer, performer, voice coach and the author of one mystery novel, Murder-by-the-Sea, which is set in Carmel CA, which (not surprisingly) is also where Ms Littlepage’s voice studio is located.

   With that as a background, it is no surprise she set her mystery novel against a backdrop of a stock company theater, an enterprise for which she shows a deep knowledge and affection. The leading protagonist is still glamorous Vivienne Montrose, a former movie star who has found a home for herself in Carmel, but when one of the players in the town’s latest theatrical production is found drowned, she also finds herself playing detective, a role she finds she doesn’t mind at all.

   There is a list of all of the speaking characters before the story begins, and this is a detective story that most definitely needs one. Ms Littlepage not only knows the ins and outs of both being on the stage but behind the scenes as well. Even more importantly, perhaps, she also knows the kinds of people who invariably show up for xasting calls and rehearsals.

   This is fascinating stuff, but I also have to tell you that the detective end of things is far from the story’s strongest point. The dead woman was unliked, true, but for most of the book, there is no reason she was so unlikable as to be murdered. Some business about poisoned pen letters is finally brought up, but they come into play far too late to be as useful in solving the crime as they might have been.

   So read this, if ever you do, for the setting, that of the world of amateur theater and the town itself, the charming town of Carmel-by-the-Sea.