Sunday, July 29, 2012

Murder at the Portland Variety: Review

Took a little ride in a time machine this weekend--back to the 1890s in Portland, Oregon. That's the setting for M. J. Zellnik's Murder at the Portland Variety. The Portland Variety is a theater house where vaudeville acts made up of beautiful dancing girls, magicians, and recycled opera singers entertain Portland audiences.  Libby Seale is a seamstress who works backstage to keep the vaudeville players properly dressed.  Libby has come to Portland from New York City--escaping a past that she wants to forget and that she hopes to keep secret.  She hasn't been at the theater long before the magician's assistant, Vera Carabella, is found murdered in the tunnels that run underneath the city.

Libby is disappointed when the police chalk Vera's death up to the white slave trade and refuse to waste time investigating.  She feels she owes it to her friend to try an find out what really happened.  Libby makes another friend of Peter Eberle, a young reporter with the local newspaper.  Between the two of them, the investigation will reach from the brothels and dockside bars to the house of Portland's mayoral candidate. The clues they find will lead them to one of the key players in the white slave industry, a chase through the underground tunnels, and a surprise confession at a society wedding.

This is a very promising beginning to a new historical mystery series.  The characters are solid and have plenty of depth.  The period detail is just enough to support the story without overwhelming the reader with minutia.  The mystery is fairly well-clued and is generally well-plotted, although it is not an extraordinary page-turner.  I enjoyed the development of the partnerships and relationship between Libby and Peter and look forward to seeing how things progress in future books.  Libby is very clever and a bit forward-thinking for the time period--hopefully Peter will continue to put up with her unorthodox (for the time period) ways.  Three stars for a good, solid mystery.


With Libby, he never had to search for words, and she seemed to understand what he was going to say before he said it. (p. 70)

She was a good friend of mine...perhaps not a close friend, but a good one....I hadn't known her long, but sometimes acquaintance of short-standing can be more intense for its brevity, rather than less. [Libby Seale] (p. 151)

One can't right all the wrongs of the world, child. There will always be crime, and there will always be innocent victims. [Hatty Matthews] (p. 185)

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