Written by David Linzee — Opera mysteries are a rare thing but St Louis author David Linzee hopes to tap a narrow-but-deep cross-over of interests with his first Renata Radleigh book.
Renata is an English opera singer currently employed by the St Louis Opera to sing the relatively minor role of Mercédès in Bizet’s four-act classic, Carmen. Her brother, fellow ex-pat David, is also employed by the SLO, but his task is to tout far and wide for commercial sponsorship.
When a key company patron Helen Stromberg-Brand is found brutally murdered, the police suspect David Radleigh and arrest him. His motive? It seems that Helen – nicknamed Sturm und Drang – and her husband were on the verge of cancelling a huge donation. Could they have argued? Did David lose his temper with the headstrong woman?
But there could be another motive… Helen Stromberg-Brand was a national celebrity, at least in the field of pharmaceutical research. She and her team were on the threshold of patenting a revolutionary drug to combat urinary tract infection in women. In partnership with the charismatic billionaire Keith Bryson – who has the casual dress sense, long hair and boyish charm of Richard Branson – Helen’s unit at the Adams University Medical Centre were about to find even greater fame and riches. Now she lies in the police mortuary, her head shattered by a heavy glass bowl.
Renata is not the world’s most loving sister, but she refuses to accept that David could have killed Sturm und Drang, if only because he is far too wet and wimpy for murder. Together with a former reporter, Peter Lombardo, she thinks the lady’s demise was less to do with the SLO, and more to do with the cut-throat world of drug patenting.
The author has himself been a ‘supernumary’ – basically the opera equivalent of a spear carrier – and he enjoys several digs at the way an opera company in a mid-sized city is run. I particularly enjoyed his jibes at the ubiquitous need for sponsorship. The SLO has to make sure that literally every brick in the building has corporate support. Thus we have the Peter J Calvocoressi Administration Building, the Charles Macnamara III Auditorium and – best of all – the Endeavour Rent-a-Car Endowed Artist. In this case it’s Amy Song, the woman playing Carmen.
By the time Renata and Peter think they have unravelled the mystery of who killed the formidable Mrs Stromberg-Brand, the unorthodox stage set of the Carmen production experiences a malfunction. A giant playing card land on the heroine’s head. An all-points-bulletin is issued for the only actress who can replace the stricken Ms Song – none other than our very own Renata Radleigh. Renata takes the stage in triumph, but before the distraught Don José can plunge his stage dagger into Carmen’s heart, a real killer pre-empts the drama at the bull-fighting arena.
The book sits fairly comfortably in the cosy bracket. This is by no means a criticism, but the gentle humour and thoroughly urbane style of writing point Spur of the Moment in that direction. Blood is shed, certainly, but not dwelt upon. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable read and you might just fall in love with Renata. However, I am an ardent opera fan and a former musical thesp, and I do wonder if readers less versed in the peculiar ways of grand opera – both front and back stage – will enjoy it quite as much as I did. I look forward to Mr Lindzee’s next production starring Ms Radleigh.
For another mystery where classical music is a key theme, try Oscar de Muriel’s The Strings of Murder.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars