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.