August 2007

   After Jamie Sturgeon sent me the floor plan of the college that’s the center of Midnight, by the multi-author Mark Strange, I mentioned to him that I love maps and floor plans in detective novels.

   In reply, he sent me this one — see below — a floor plan from The Cat and Fiddle Murders by E.B. Ronald which he recently obtained. He goes on to say, “It could be the most complicated one I have ever seen in a crime novel!”

   I second the motion. I haven’t even asked him what the story’s about. I think that you could probably write your own after seeing this. I hope you can see all of the details.

Cat and Fiddle Murders

[UPDATE] 08-31-07. Jamie responds:

    “Thanks for putting the Ronald floor plan on your blog. It’s not easy to say what The Cat and Fiddle Murders is about. The book has no blurb either inside or on the dust wrapper, where all it says on the front panel is ‘A real cat and a real fiddle at the grotesque “Cat and Fiddle” and why two people are murdered’

Cat and Fiddle Murders

    “Al has it that The Cat and Fiddle Murders is set in New York City when it actually takes place in London. Is it possible that the American version had the setting changed? It appears that the author’s book as Ronald Barker Clue for Murder has, according to one ABE bookseller, several floor plans!”

   Me again. After I posed the question to him about the setting, Al agrees that he was most likely in error and has made the correction in the latest online Addenda to the Revised Crime Fiction IV.

   As for Clue for Murder, as soon as I learned about this, I immediately ordered the one cheap copy of it to be found on ABE. More than likely, I’ll report back later.

   Although Al Hubin has cast a very wide net in putting together Crime Fiction IV, he still hasn’t caught everything. Once in a while I come across a book that seems crime-related enough that it ought to be included, and it isn’t, or not yet.

   The latest of these rare instances is the following author and title, which will appear shortly in Part 18 of the Addenda to the Revised edition of CFIV:

Guerrilla Game      PADDEN, IAN.
         Guerrilla Game. Bantam, pbo, June 1987.

      From the front cover:

    “In the California desert, one man wages a fierce war for more than survival … justice.”

         From the back cover:


on a mock battlefield in the California desert — until the “enemy” started firing live ammunition and a young trainee wound up dead,


Captain Ronald Cochrane of U.S. Special Forces knew the attack wasn’t an accident. Alone, he was going back to the desert to prove that Carl Nathan was murdered in cold blood … even if he had to risk a court martial to do it. What Cochrane didn’t know was that he was already a man marked for death … the target of a powerful military underworld and a corrupt superior who was setting him up for the ultimate double-cross.


For Cochrane, the game was over and the real war is about to begin. And he will need every commando trick in the book to survive …

                  GUERRILLA GAME.

   Ian Padden is also the author of a series of non-fiction “The Fighting Elite” books on the military. One of these is shown, The Fighting Elite: U.S. Airborne: From Boot Camp to the Battle Zones:

The Fighting Elite

   A couple of weeks ago I posted all I knew about mystery writer Mark Strange, who doesn’t exist and never did. The one book “he” wrote was the collaborative effort of three women and one man, all friends and/or related to one another. I invite you to go back and read about the authors. This post, though, is about the novel itself, as British bookseller Jamie Sturgeon has found a copy, and he’s passed along to me what he’s learned about it.

   First, here’s the entry as it appears in the Addenda to the revised edition of Crime Fiction IV, by Allen J. Hubin:

      STRANGE, MARK. Joint pseudonym of Adrian Leslie Stephen, Karin Costelloe Stephen, Marjorie Colville Strachey, & Rachel Costelloe Strachey, q.q.v. Under this pen name, the author of one novel in the (Revised) Crime Fiction IV; see below:
         Midnight. Faber, hc, 1927. [Academia; England]

   Here from Jamie is more about the book:


   It looks like a fairly typical 1920s murder mystery, set in a women’s teacher training college. There’s a plan of the ground floor of the college opposite the title page. Here is the authors’ note after the title page:


    “THIS story was the work of four people, M., A., R., and K. The method adopted was simple and can be recommended to those readers who feel sure that they could themselves write a detective story if it was not so much trouble. M., A. and K. discussed the plot and then wrote alternate chapters until the book was completed in outline. R. was then called upon and then inserted 10,000 additional words distributed evenly among the different parts. The authors defy the public to trace their separate hands or locate the padding.”

   Here’s a scan of the ground floor plan mentioned above:

Mark Strange



   An obituary for Nicholas William Wollaston, writer, born June 23 1926, died April 23 2007, appeared in the online Guardian, May 9, 2007, from which the following paragraphs are excerpted:

    “Nick was born in Gloucestershire, the son of the naturalist and explorer Sandy Wollaston, doctor and botanist on the first Everest expedition in 1921 […] A forebear was the eminent early 19th-century chemist William Hyde Wollaston.    […]

    “Wollaston also published seven novels. They contain passages of vivid and imaginative writing — the physical and mental trauma of being stuck in an Alpine crevasse in Jupiter Laughs (1967), the lovingly clinical account of a devout Indian bathing and self-administering an enema in Pharaoh’s Chicken (1969), […] the horrors of a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp in The Stones of Bau (1987), possibly his finest novel — and they were well received.    […]

    “The publisher who said he was incapable of a dull sentence and the reviewer who described his writing as ‘refreshing as a cool wind to a sweat-soaked wayfarer’ were right. Wollaston was a consummate stylist — the briefest book review in the Observer was perfectly shaped — yet what he wrote never suggested the careful polishing that undoubtedly went into it; it was supremely natural.”

   A complete online bibliography of Mr. Wollaston’s work can be found here.


   Not mentioned in the tribute taken from the Guardian was the only novel he wrote which is included in Crime Fiction IV, by Allen J. Hubin:

      WOLLASTON, NICHOLAS (1926-2007)
         * Eclipse (London: Macmillan, 1974, hc) Walker, 1974. Film: Celandine, 1977 (scw & dir: Simon Perry).

   The film is obscure enough that it’s not even included on, but a very short synopsis in the BFI database says “Story of the possession of one man – his mind, heart and soul – by his twin brother.”

   Of the book itself, one online bookseller says, “The author’s fourth novel, about identical twins, one of which is killed in a boating accident while sailing with the other.”

   While I collect Gothic romance paperbacks, I certainly have not read most of them. Yet, that is. So when I get an inquiry like the following, I’m seldom of very much help. It’s a long shot, I know, but I’m posting the question here, just in case someone stops by sometime and recognizes the book right away. You never know.

The Moonstone

   Leave a comment or email me directly, and I’ll pass the word along to L.B.

PS. And as I said in my first reply to her, several of Wilkie Collins’s books were published in paperback as Gothics. This was early on in the craze for them, before a crew of authors had been established to write new ones and publishers were growing frantic trying to jump on the gravy wagon. Anything that could be published as a Gothic was, back in those days. All they had to do was to put a new cover on it, one with a girl in the foreground, running from a spooky manor house in the background.

   Here’s her question:

    I’m hoping your memory is a lot better than mine. I’m trying to recall the title and author of a paperback novel I read in the 1960s — the genre was then termed “Gothic” romance (not to be confused the the Brontes, Wilkie Collins, etc.). I read quite a few of these Gothic novels, and I’m hoping you can help me.

   The setting was summer, modern day. The husband takes his beautiful young wife (Rikki) to the shore for the season — Rikki had some type of medical condition (breathing, asthma?). A woman is hired to stay with the family (there may have been a young child?) while the husband is back in the city at work; this woman becomes the protagonist of the story.

   As the story develops it turns out Rikki is a jealous psychopathic liar, who senses early on her husband has more than platonic feelings for the woman (they both share a passion for Sinatra music, etc.) — the implications are the marriage was strained at the story’s outset. The climatic scene towards the end has Rikki on the telephone with someone, cleverly creating a “scene” where she’s screaming the protagonist is about to kill her, during which Rikki actually trips and falls (I think her death was the result of electrocution).

   Does any of this ring a bell for you? I’ve tried Googling some of the key words — most of the results are for some type of heavy metal music. I may not have given you sufficient information, but this is all I can recall of the plot.

               — L. B.

   So much for putting this blog on vacation, you might be thinking. But I can explain. It’s been too hot this August to do much but rearrange the boxes in the garage. No heavy lifting, in other words, but I have been peeking in and recording the contents of a large number of these boxes, some of which haven’t been peeked into since I came home from whatever bookstore, garage sale or library sale I’d been to that day.

   And once in a while I come across something that catches my eye more than usual, and I make myself a note to the effect, here’s something I have to tell you about and I can’t wait.

Manx McCatty

   Case in point. Here’s the entry as it is in Crime Fiction IV, by Allen J. Hubin:

      REED, CHRISTOPHER; Playwright and musical comedy lyricist and composer; living in Oregon.
         * The Big Scratch (Ballantine, 1988, pb) [San Francisco, CA]

   Nothing more. Nothing to indicate that this is a private eye novel, and in fact the PI in this novel is so novel that he is not even included in Kevin Burton Smith’s website: One Manx McCatty.

   The actual title, and I must tell Al this, is A Manx McCatty Adventure: The Big Scratch. You’ve already peeked at the cover, so you already know, or you’ve guessed, but in case not, or even if you have, read on. From the back cover:


INSTANT I.D.: Cool cat from the docks.

STRENGTHS: Thinks fast on his paws.

WEAKNESSES: Fresh-caught fish and a silver-gray Persian named Pasha.

DAILY ROUTINE: Keeps the bad guys in line, snags a cat-sized snooze.

   Evil lurks along the mean streets of San Francisco – Fisherman’s Wharf, North Beach, the fog-enshrouded waterfronts. And, as usual, hardboiled hero Manx McCatty is outnumbered by blackguards: low-life hoods, stoolies, extortionists, and Gato Nostro kingpin Tabby Tonelli.

   But dastardly villains haven’t stopped the superior snooper cat before. He’s too smart to trip into their traps; far too cagey to be caught in their web of danger. A cat’s cat, Manx McCatty is one feisty feline who licks his chops at a challenge … the tougher the odds, the sweeter the prize.

   And from instead the front cover:

    “I was nosing into the notorious Gato Nostro, a powerful organization of sleazeball felines who specialize in various forms of terror, extortion, protection, black marketeering, and, most recently, the exportation of cats to different parts of the world.

    “The news caused such an uproar that an investigation was called for, and, as always, I was elected to prowl around and find out what I could. That didn’t bother me. Investigation is my game.

    “I flexed my paws and hit the street.”

Manx McCatty

   I’ve not been able to find out very much about the author, Christopher Reed. Nothing on Google, though admittedly I haven’t yet done an exhaustive search. All that’s known, at the moment, is what’s found at the end of the book:


A MANX McCATTY ADVENTURE: THE BIG SCRATCH marks the debut of CHRISTOPHER REED as a novelist. He is, principally, a playwright and musical comedy lyricist. His theatre works, including THE FINAL ACT and (in collaboration with Ron Martell and Cynthia Carle) SHOOTIN’ STARS, have been performed in New York and other cities. Mr. Reed lives in Ashland, Oregon, where he has recently completed a second novel featuring Manx McCatty.

   If the book was written, it was never published, and perhaps there’s a story behind that. In the meantime, the book’s not hard to find online – there are only six copies on ABE, but most are not pricey – so grab one while you, and sit back and relax and begin reading:

    “The fog dropped in like a huge, soggy pancake. As I wound my way along the deserted waterfront, I wondered how air could ever get so wet. Just being near the piers made me nervous, but the eerie glow of the naked dock lights and the lapping of the waves against the creaking pilings really ruffled my fur.

    “Something moved and I sprang. The little garbage mouse didn’t have time for even a quick regret before I served him up like the blue plate special down at Sylvester’s any Tuesday night.”

   The book is illustrated, too, and by the same fellow who did the cover artwork. He really ought to be mentioned, so I will: Tom Newsom.

   There is only one entry for Mrs. Webb in Crime Fiction IV, by Allen J. Hubin:

         * The Will and the Wilful (Dorrance, 1969, hc)

   And that’s all there is for her, nothing more. Until this past week, that is, when Al Hubin discovered that she was born June 23, 1908, and died on November 23, 2001. This information will, of course, appear shortly in the Addenda to the Revised Edition of CFIV.

   The book she wrote is not common, but neither is it terribly difficult to find. With the assistance of bookseller Jon Rieley-Goddard of Baldy Books in upstate New York, I have a scan of the front cover that I can show you, and from the back cover jacket flap, a lengthy profile of the author herself. I’ll get back to that shortly.

The Will and the Wilfull

   First, though, a short description of the book itself. From the blurb on the front flap:

    “A series of macabre murders shatters the peaceful existence of an affluent lakeside community in upstate New York. … First to die is lovely Janice Rhodes, electrocuted by a floor lamp, with which someone has tampered, turning it into a lethal weapon.

    “Sally Martin, a close friend and confidante of the two Rhodes girls, is the narrator of this tense and intricate thriller. She recoils with unbelieving horror at the news of the bizarre murders of three members of the Rhodes household and then barely escapes death, herself.

    “Suspicion falls on the guardians assigned to the Rhodes girls in the unusual will left by Dr. Rhodes before he and his second wife are killed in a highway accident, and on the girls’ two suitors. For Sheroff Brandon and Private Eye Rob Cummings, it is a perplexing case.

    “For Sally Martin and the frightened community, it is a nightmare.

    “For the reader, it is a masterpiece of suspense and intrigue. It is a safe bet that even veteran devotees of the whodunnit will never guess the outcome!”

   The last paragraph reveals the author’s intent with this book. In spite of the blurb’s early emphasis on bizarre deaths, this is a whodunnit of largely a cozy nature, with a little romantic suspense added in for good measure.

   From the jacket flap inside the back cover, more on Martha Tooke Webb, who …

    “… was born in Syracuse, New York, where she attended the public schools and Syracuse University. After her marriage, she and her husband moved to Rochester, where she studied portrait painting under the late Harold Bishop. Her paintings have been exhibited at the Great Lakes Exhibition and the New York State Exhibition, as well as at local art galleries in Rochester.

    “The author and her husband now live on the beautiful Oneida Lake in central New York. She is proud of her flower garden, which abounds in many varieties of roses. …”

   Before beginning the interview below, you may want to go back and read a previous post entitled The Compleat Cases of MORGAN TAYLOR. Morgan Taylor was the actress-sleuth created by Susan Sussman and Sarajane Avidon who appeared in two well-regarded mystery novels before the death of Sarajane in 2006.

Susan Sussman

   After the profile of the Morgan Taylor the detective had been completed, I got in touch with Susan Sussman, who quickly agreed to answer a few questions for me:

Q. Can you say something about your friendship and collaborative work with Sarajane Avidon, especially the Morgan Taylor books? And my most sincere condolences on the loss of someone who appears to have been a best friend.

A. I met Sarajane many years back, between our junior and senior year of high school, when we were both enrolled in the Cherub Program at Northwestern University — Sarajane was in theater, and I was in Radio/TV/Film. I was from Chicago and she was from Parkersburg, West Virginia.

   The books came about when Sarajane was battling cancer, unable to act for a while. She was feeling depressed and I suggested that, since she was sprawled on the sofa not doing much of anything, perhaps she’d like to write a book with me about a Chicago actress. It was the perfect creative outlet for her at the perfect time.

Q. As I understand it, her input was largely, but not limited to, that of providing and describing the background of being an actor and the world of the stage, would that be correct?

Sarajane Avidon

A. How we worked was, I’d write a scene or chapter, and Sarajane would read it. Then we’d discuss it over refreshments (there was always food involved) and she would say something like “You didn’t mention theater dust. You must mention theater dust.” Then she’d arrange for us to go backstage someplace so I could smell and experience theater dust and describe it in the book.

   She was a brilliant and careful reader and brought a richness to the theatrical and angst-riddled world of Morgan Taylor.

Q. Are you a long-time mystery reader yourself?

A. I’ve been reading mysteries since I was very little. Cut my teeth on Nancy Drew mysteries. (The original old ones. She was much more independent and inventive in those years.) I love mysteries, always have, although the books on my nightstand run a wide gambit.

Q. What authors from the past or present are and have been your favorites?

A. For true-to-life characters, Stephen King; for humanity, Ray Bradbury; for humor, Susan Isaacs and Elaine Viets; for razor-sharp political commentary, Carl Hiaasen; for scary stuff, Tess Garritsen…. the list goes on and on. My nightstand is piled high with fiction and non-fiction, screenplays, plays and some sheet music I keep promising myself I’ll learn to play.

Q. Was Morgan Taylor based on any real life person? If so, was this person aware of this?

A. Morgan was entirely a figment of my imagination. As a writer, I much prefer life behind the scenes. Sarajane, the consummate actress, was all about finding the brightest spotlight in which to stand. Sarajane told me that, after the first book was published, she received calls from friends of hers who were convinced they were one character or another in the book. She never told them otherwise. But this happens with many books. Friends think they are my heroes and heroines and are certain they know the villains.

Joan Cusak

Q. If the Morgan Taylor stories were to be picked up by Hollywood for movies or TV, what actress would you most enjoy see playing her in the role?

A. I would love to see Joan Cusack in the role. In fact, I think she’d be knock-out in a weekly series based on Morgan Taylor (…sort of a Murder, She Wrote for the younger set.) Joan has the humor, the vulnerability and the talent to bring Morgan alive and make us care what happens to her.

Q. The books were received quite well, from the excerpts from the reviews. Would you agree?

A. We were blessed with wonderful and lively reviews, and our appearances in bookstores were always a great hit. What we did was act a scene from the book. Sarajane was a gifted actress and I was a superb straightman.

Q. A third book was mentioned as being in progress. Is there a chance that it will be completed?

A. At the moment, a play Sarajane and I wrote — Woman Standing — is in the hands of a Chicago theater. It was a labor of love for us both and was based on the life of Chicago artist Shelly Canton. I’m waiting to hear from the theater on that. Meanwhile, I’ve just published a children’s book and am under contract for another. I have all the research for the next Morgan Taylor book, and have outlined two others.

   But at this moment I can’t honestly say what will happen. I’m just taking things as they seem to be ready for me to do. The play was a really big push — Sarajane died soon after our second reading done with professional actors — and I’ve just recently finished incorporating her ‘notes’ from the reading into the final play. So these children’s books are like a breather for me before I gear up for the next novel.

Q. Is there anything you’d like to say or add in closing?

A. I haven’t yet been able to access your blog, so I hope my angle of response is what you were looking for. Sarajane Avidon was a fabulous actress and friend and those of us who knew her are richer for it.

Q. Your responses were exactly what I was looking for. Thanks very much for taking the time to reply.

A. You’re welcome!

   Donna Frey left a comment on my blog entry about gothic romantic mystery paperbacks a while back, and I thought it might be more useful if posted my reply as a new blog entry, instead of leaving it hidden where no one would find it.

   Here’s what Donna asked:

    “I have a 1953 copy of Theresa Charles’ Fairer Than She, and I’ve always loved it. The heroine is psychic, and TC is such a good writer. Would like to buy her other books but there is never a plot description on Amazon or eBay so it’s buying blind. I don’t like the Nurse in love with Doctor books. How do I get a description before I buy? And does anyone know of a bio of Ms. Charles? Would like to read about her. Thanks.”

Theresa Charles

   Donna, you’re not alone in liking the gothics that Theresa Charles wrote. I’ve been asked a few times before to be on the lookout for her books by people trying to find them. (They’re not all that difficult to come across, but again there must be a demand for them. The asking prices online start around $4.00, which as the low end price for a gothic, is rather high.)

   As far as a biography is concerned, technically speaking, there is or was no “Theresa Charles.” That was the joint pen name of two British authors, Irene Maude Swatridge and Charles John Swatridge, neither no longer living. Other than their names, though, I’ve never found much of anything more about them. I assume they are were a married couple, but of course this doesn’t mean that they were. Irene also wrote a few books on her own, using a pair of other pen names. I’ll list the titles below.

   You’re right in being wary of buying any books by Theresa Charles without knowing more about them. A lot of the books under her name appear to have been straight romances, including (yes) Doctor-Nurse affairs. The list of titles below are from Crime Fiction IV, by Allen J. Hubin. With one possible (and obvious) exception, these would be your best bets as books to start hunting down. [UK = British edition.]

      CHARLES, THERESA; pseudonym of Irene Maude Swatridge & Charles John Swatridge; other pseudonyms: Leslie Lance & Jan Tempest
         * The Burning Beacon (Cassell, UK, 1956, hc) Lancer, 1966.
         * Fairer Than She (Cassell, UK, 1953, hc) Dell, 1968.
         * Happy Now I Go (Longman[s], UK, 1947, hc) U.S. title: Dark Legacy. Dell, 1968.
         * House on the Rocks (Hale, UK, 1962, hc) Paperback Library, 1966.
         * The Man for Me (Hale, UK, 1965, hc) U.S. title: The Shrouded Tower. Ace, 1966.
         * Nurse Alice in Love (Hale, UK, 1964, hc) U.S. title: Lady in the Mist. Ace, 1966.
         * Proud Citadel (Hale, UK, 1967, hc) Dell, 1967.
         * Widower’s Wife (Hale, UK, 1963, hc) U.S. title: Return to Terror. Paperback Library, 1966.

      LANCE, LESLIE; pseudonym of Irene Maude Swatridge; other pseudonyms: Theresa Charles & Jan Tempest
         * The Bride of Emersham (Pyramid, 1967, pb) British title?
         * Dark Stranger (Low, UK, 1946, hc)
         * The Girl in the Mauve Mini (Hale, UK, 1979, hc)
         * The House in the Woods (Ace, 1973, pb) British title?

      TEMPEST, JAN; pseudonym of Irene Maude Swatridge; other pseudonyms: Theresa Charles & Leslie Lance
         * House of the Pines (Mills, UK, 1946, hc) Ace, 1968.

   I hope this helps!

   Even though acting was what she did for a living, Morgan Taylor somehow also managed to find herself solving two cases of murder in her short-lived career as a detective fiction character. She was the creation of two longtime friends who lived in Chicago, Susan Sussman and Sarajane Avidon.

   A former journalist, Susan Sussman is the more prolific writer of the pair, as a visit to her website will show. A third book in the series, A Voice for Murder, is mentioned as being in preparation, but alas, it appears it was never completed.

   Sarajane Avidon, a professional actress and award-winning artist, was born in 1941 as Sara Jane Levey, and died in 2006 after a long struggle with cancer. See a photo of her here, along with a brief account of her battle with the disease.

   Their combined entry in Crime Fiction IV, by Allen J. Hubin, reads as follows, slightly revised and expanded:

         * Audition for Murder. St. Martin’s, hc, January 1999. Worldwide, pb, June 2000. SC: Morgan Taylor. Setting: Chicago, IL; Theatre
         * Cruising for Murder. St. Martin’s, hc, July 2000. Worldwide, pb, May 2002. SC: Morgan Taylor. Setting: Ship


      Book Description:

Audition for Murder

   Welcome to the world of Morgan Taylor, a thirty-something struggling actress who is dying for a juicy role in a prestigious revival on the Chicago stage. She hasn’t had a role in months, and the chance to work with the esteemed director Martin Wexler has her practically salivating.

   Though Morgan shows up right on time for the audition, Lily London, her assigned auditioning partner and a cantankerous older woman Morgan has never really liked, seems to have forgotten. Morgan gets more and more anxious until it seems that nothing can salvage this chance. Her mood is shot, her nerves are frazzled, she’s got the stage manager for an auditioning partner. When it’s all over, of course, Morgan finally comes across Lily–dead, lying cold on the floor of the theater bathroom….

   The character of Morgan Taylor is fresh and thoroughly entertaining; she’s as dramatic as the most talented actresses and as shrewd as the most calculating investigator–in short, a perfect amateur sleuth. Her debut, Audition for Murder, peopled by a delightful supporting cast, including Morgan’s best friend, Beth, who suffers from MS, and Beth’s finicky dog, Hamlet, is one of those rare mysteries that delivers a wonderfully written story and an engaging, suspenseful puzzle.

      Review Excerpts:

Publishers Weekly: “From novelist Sussman […] and actress Avidon comes a sparkling first mystery, told in the present tense, that displays no opening night jitters as Chicago actress Morgan Taylor makes her memorable sleuthing debut. […] Even the bit players make notable contributions in Sussman’s entertaining and witty romp, which will have readers applauding for an encore.”

Booklist: “Anyone interested in the theater will especially appreciate this hilarious look at the mounting of a 40-year-old play in Chicago. Playing the lead in both the novel and the play is Morgan Taylor, a funny, smart-mouthed, totally endearing character who never forgets to thank the “theater gods” for her successes. […] Although this is Morgan’s first outing, one strongly hopes that Sussman and Avidon will give her an encore.”

Audition for Murder


      Book Description:

Cruising for Murder

   Now that the touring production of Rent has just closed and a Chicago winter has descended, dancer/singer Morgan Taylor impulsively accepts a gig on a Caribbean cruise ship, anticipating three weeks of show tunes and suntans — not a stage set for murder.

   Her friend Kathy, the show’s production director, neglected to tell Morgan that the entertainer she’s replacing died under mysterious circumstances. And when Morgan’s beautiful, backstabbing roommate is found floating in the turquoise waters of the Bahamas — neatly zipped into a garment bag — things look ominous indeed.

   Neatly sidestepping a stalker, dangerous threats and a sinister shipboard mystery, Morgan remains, as always, a seasoned performer. She may be in a killer’s spotlight, but the show must go on. Morgan just hopes it continues to be a live performance.

      Review Excerpts:

Publishers Weekly: “In her second appearance […] as an amateur sleuth, wisecracking Chicago actress Morgan Taylor grabs center stage and never lets go in this frothy, high seas murder mystery. […] The solution to the two murders that the authors conjure up hardly registers, since their heroine’s overwhelming personality has upstaged even the plot long before the end. A subplot involving Morgan’s Uncle Leo, who turns up on the cruise accompanied not by his wife, Bertha, but by a gorgeous blonde, presumably will be resolved another time Morgan hits the boards.”

Kirkus Reviews: “A bouncy, self-deprecating heroine holds the plot together with wisecracks. Not quite up to Stephanie Plum’s high jinks but still, like Audition for Murder, very cute.”

School Library Journal: “The first-person narration, lively and contemporary, quickly draws readers into the mind and world of the funny, feisty protagonist. Some unlikely plot devices and a rather complicated solution won’t detract from most readers’ enjoyment of this light and finely rendered diversion, and teens will probably come hurrying back for the first Morgan Taylor adventure, Audition for Murder.”

Cruising for Murder

[UPDATE] 08-14-07. An interview with Susan Sussman, including her answers to several of my questions about Morgan Taylor and Sarajane Avidon, appears in this later post on the M*F blog.

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