Sunday, November 11, 2012

Crime Fiction Alphabet: Letter Z

This week we come to the end of a second year of The Alphabet in Crime Fiction, a community meme which has been sponsored by Mysteries in Paradise.  Thank you, Kerrie, for hosting us again! It's been fun as always! Each week she expected participants to produce a post featuring a mystery/crime novel or novelist related to that week's letter.  And we've finally come to the last letter of the alphabet--the Letter Z.  

Earlier this year I took a little ride in a time machine and read M. J. Zellnik's Murder at the Portland Variety.  That's right, Z is for Zellnik.  From the author's websiteM. J. Zellnik is the joint pen name of sister-brother writing team Miriam and Joe Zellnik. Miriam, based in Portland, OR, is an accomplished freelance writer who's been published in Marie Claire, Bust, and other local and national publications, as well as authoring numerous novelty titles for Running Press Publishing, Quirk Books, and others. Joe lives in New York City where he is a theatrical composer and graphic designer. His musicals have been performed at New York's Ensemble Studio Theater, Dodger Stages, Playwright's Horizons, and London's Bridewell Theater, among others, as well as touring the country. This series marks their first collaborative effort (well, since early childhood!)  I have read the first book in the Libby Seale series (review below) and looked forward to more.  Unfortunately, when I ventured to the website to get background info, I discovered that the publisher has opted to pass on publication for the third in the series.  I still plan to pick up the second at some point.
Zellnick took me back to the 1890s in Portland, Oregon. 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)


Anonymous said...

Bev - Thanks! This does sound like a good, solid mystery and I have to admit, the historical aspect of it appeals to me. And how refreshing that the authors understand the balance between setting the context for the reader and inundating the reader. Time for me to try this team's work, methinks.

Bill Selnes said...

An interesting pair of authors. I wonder how they write together being a country apart. In the age of the internet electronic communication seems most likely.

Debbie Rodgers @Exurbanis said...

Sounds like an interesting series...congrats on getting the "Z"!

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Always fascinated by family writing partnerships and this one sounds more unusual than most - thanks Bev.