M. K. LORENS – Ropedancer’s Fall. Bantam; paperback original; 1st printing, August 1990.


   I’ll begin with a confession of sorts. Back when M. K. Lorens’ first book, Sweet Narcissus, came out, it looked particularly appetizing and I gave it a try, but I didn’t get very far.

   Whether I wrote a review of the book, based on what I had managed to read, I have no idea. I suspect not, but I might have. Isn’t giving up on a book worth pointing out, as long as you say so very clearly and carefully?

   And point out just why it was that you came to a dead end with it, without loudly and vociferously saying how greatly the author’s fault it was? (Even though in large part it may have been?)

   In any case I haven’t come across it recently, “it” referring to the review which I may or may not have written, so the point is moot.

   But the second book in the series recently surfaced, and remembering my earlier experience, I said to myself, here’s my opportunity to give the author another chance.

   Lorens’ detective is the key attraction, a gent by the name of Winston Marlowe Sheridan who writes a “Gilded Age” series of mystery fiction himself, but under the well-disguised pseudonym of Henrietta Slocum. Slocum’s character in turn is named G. Winchester Hyde. How can one resist?

   A portly fellow, Sheridan himself is a professor of literature at a New England college, and on occasion he finds himself involved in cases of murder, for which he places his sense of deduction on the line to solve.


   In this case the dead man in Ropedancer’s Fall is John Falkner, whose one novel won a Pulitzer, but who was never able to write another one and who had been recently been reduced to being to PBS talk-show host, albeit a very good one. And as he was a long-time on-and-off friend of Sheridan’s, as well as a hopeless reclamation project, Sheridan takes his death very personally.

   All well and good, but — and you knew this was coming, perhaps? — the telling is dense and nearly impenetrable — over 260 pages of small print — filled with Sheridan’s enormous entourage of friends and acquaintances, some closer than others, and their multitude of spouses and ex-spouses and intermingled offspring and foster children. And as the book goes on, the list of the above gets longer and longer — a snowballing effect figuratively if not literally.

   But given some time to get to know them, the list of characters does becomes manageable, and the writing, while dense, is also delightfully incisive and witty. Eventually, though, it begins to dawn on the reader (or at least this one) that the investigation is going absolutely nowhere. Wheels within wheels, but all of them are spinning and spinning, and spurting up little but slush.

   Skipping to the end, after about 160 pages, and sure enough, nothing happened in Chapter Twenty that couldn’t have been predicted after reading Chapter Two.

   Recommended if you’re a fan of clever, witty repartee between clever, witty people. (Do NOT read any sense of sarcasm into this statement.) Not recommended if you like a hands-on mystery to solve in your detective fiction.

      BIBLIOGRAPHIC DATA. [Expanded from Crime Fiction IV, by Allen J. Hubin.]

LORENS, M(ARGARET) K(EILSTRUP). 1945- . Pseudonym: Margaret Lawrence. Series Character: Winston Marlowe Sherman, in all. [The distinctive artwork for the covers you see is by Merritt Dekle.]

      Sweet Narcissus. Bantam, pbo, August 1989. [corrected year !]
      Ropedancer’s Fall. Bantam, pbo, August 1990.
      Deception Island. Bantam, pbo, November 1990.


      Dreamland. Doubleday, hardcover, April 1992; Bantam, pb, March 1993.
      Sorrowheart. Doubleday, hc, April 1993; Bantam, pb, April 1994.

LAWRENCE, MARGARET. Pseudonym of Margaret Keilstrup Lorens. SC: Midwife Hannah Trevor, in the first three; her daughter Jennet, who is deaf, appears in the fourth. Setting: Maine, 1780s.

      Hearts and Bones, Avon, pbo, October 1997. [Nominated for Edgar, Agatha, and Anthony awards]

Martha Lawrence

      Blood Red Roses, Avon, pbo, October 1998.
      The Burning Bride, Avon, pbo, September 1999.
      The Iceweaver, Morrow, hc, July 2000. Trade paperback: Harper, July 2001.

Martha Lawrence