Friday, May 21, 2021

Book Review: Something Wicked by Carolyn Hart (Death on Demand #3)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Good mystery; fun characters
Cons: Pacing uneven; characters could be stronger at times
The Bottom Line:
Death in theater
Complex solution to case
Few flaws, but still fun

Not all the Dead Bodies on Set are Fake

Summer theater.  It’s a staple of so many communities.  And it forms a wonderful backdrop for Something Wicked, the third Death on Demand Mystery from Carolyn Hart.

The local theater company in Broward’s Rock, South Carolina, is getting ready for their first summer production of the season, Arsenic and Old Lace.  Book store owner Annie Lawrence has a small part of the production, but her fiancĂ©, Max Darling, has scored the lead.  Annie loves the play, so she should be having a great time in rehearsals, but things aren’t going well.  A series of accidents has plagued the production, and they are escalating in intensity as the cast gets closer to opening night.

Among the cast is former Hollywood actor Shane Petree, best known for starring in several beach movie musicals in the 1960’s.  Shane has been the most difficult actor in the production.  He hasn’t even bothered to memorize his lines, for example.  Then, with just a few days to go, Shane is murdered backstage in the middle of a rehearsal.  The local prosecutor is determined to pin the crime on Max, and the evidence seems to point that way.  Can Annie prove his innocence?

If you aren’t familiar with Arsenic and Old Lace, you will miss out on part of the fun of this book.  Fortunately, I’ve seen the play a couple of times (it’s much better than the movie), so I was able to enjoy the scenes that take place during rehearsals.  Don’t worry, if you haven’t seen the play, you won’t miss anything crucial to the mystery being told in this book.  Just think of it as a bonus.

I’m of two minds about this book.  On the one hand, the plot is very creative.  I never would have figured out the ending, but it all makes sense when Annie confronts the killer.  On the other hand, the pacing is uneven, with lots of activity to try to hide that fact from us.

Likewise, the characters are entertaining, at least at first.  However, as the book went on, I felt like any character development just wasn’t coming, and they almost slipped in caricature.  Some of that was on purpose as we were supposed to find the antics funny.  I’ll confess I did laugh at some of what was happening.  But at other times, it felt like the author was trying too hard to make us laugh at the expense of making her characters real.

Speaking of humor, I have to mention the sub-plot involving Max’s mother trying to take over planning their wedding.  Considering some of the crazy things she throws out there, I can’t wait to see what their actual wedding is like in the next book in the series.

On the whole, I did enjoy the book.  This is one of those cases where it is easy to spot the flaws, but you are still drawn into the story and can’t wait to find out what happens next.

I’m continuing to listen to the audio books narrated by Kate Reading.  She does a fantastic job with her narration.  She brings the characters and story to life without getting in the way of the story itself.

This book originally came out in 1988.  While that means that some things are dated, that doesn’t impact the story overall.  Just know that going into the book and you’ll be fine.

One feature of this series is the name dropping of mystery writers and their sleuths.  I will be interested to see if I recognize more as I reach the later entries in the series, which were written in the last few years.  As it was, I only recognized a small percentage of those mentioned.

I’ve long had the Death on Demand mysteries on my to be read list, so I’m glad I’m finally seeing why so many people love them so much.  Something Wicked is a fun entry in the series.

Check out the rest of the Death on Demand Mysteries.

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