Much Ado About Murder By Elizabeth Duncan: Review/Giveaway/Guest Post

Jan 13, 2018 | 2018 Articles, Mysteryrat's Maze, Sandra Murphy, Theatre

by Sandra Murphy

This week we have a review & giveaway of a fun theatre related mystery, Much Ado About Murder by Elizabeth Duncan. We also have a fun guest post by Elizabeth about the theatre side of her book. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of Much Ado About Murder, and a link to purchase it from Amazon, and an indie bookstore where a portion of the sale goes to help support KRL.

Much Ado About Murder: A Shakespeare in the Catskills Mystery by Elizabeth Duncan
Review by Sandra Murphy

Charlotte Fairfax was born in England but now lives in the States. She’s a costume designer for The Catskills Shakespeare Theater Company. She, her Corgi Rupert, and her significant other Ray, a local police officer, share one of three bungalows on the grounds of a hotel where the plays are performed. This year, the theater company is lucky enough to have English actor Audrey Ashley as their star. Audrey’s sister, Maxine, acts as her dresser between scenes as well as her manager.

The season is set, but the current director is called away for a family emergency—and doesn’t return. That leaves the company in a mess, but another local director is available. Too bad Audrey uses a clause in her contract to insist on Edmund, an English director she worked with before. book

The company is astonished when Edmund announces his plans for Much Ado About Nothing. His vision is to set Shakespeare’s play in Civil War times. This calls for complete changes in sets and costumes as well as the way the actors portray their characters. Time is short; the budget won’t allow for the sudden change, but there’s no way out of the contract. It’s do it or have a dark theater. In the end, the board agrees to Edmund’s plan. He’s ecstatic about the anticipated publicity although the actors have doubts, Audrey most of all.

When Charlotte and Audrey drop in to see Edmund the next morning to discuss costuming, they find his body instead. He’s been shot, and it looks like suicide, but why would he kill himself just when everything is going his way?

There are a number of suspects: an actress who thought the casting couch was the way to a better role, Audrey for her unhappiness with the changes, the local director for not getting the job, a mysterious nighttime prowler, an anonymous admirer of Audrey’s and more.

This is the third book in the series. Charlotte and Ray are a good couple who truly enjoy each other’s company. Paula, a wealthy woman who lives nearby is involved in the theater group and has become a good friend. She has a Corgi too. As all Corgis do, Rupert supervises activity on the hotel grounds and monitors Charlotte’s office and home.

There’s a lot of information about how a theater works, the backstage activity, and how the director brings out the best performances from the actors, all without getting in the way of the plot. Suspects take turns being the most likely, only to have the true killer be a satisfying surprise. Duncan also writes the Penny Brannigan mysteries, eight so far. They’re set in Wales and are an equally good read.

Sandra Murphy lives in the shadow of the Arch in St. Louis Missouri. She writes about eco-friendly topics, pets and wildlife for magazines and reviews mysteries and thrillers for KRL. A collection of her short stories, published by Untreed Reads, From Hay to Eternity: Ten Tales of Crime and Deception can be found at all the usual outlets. Each one is a little weird and all have a twist you won’t see coming.

The Unlikely Inspiration Behind Charlotte Fairfax and the Catskills Shakespeare Theater Company
By Elizabeth J. Duncan

The germ of the idea for Charlotte Fairfax, costume designer/amateur sleuth in the Shakespeare in the Catskills series, came when I was dog walking in Toronto with my friend Marlene. Occasionally we spotted a friendly-looking, middle-aged woman walking a little terrier, and Marlene pointed her out to me.

“That’s Sandra,” Marlene said. “She used to work in the costume department at Stratford.” That’s Stratford, Ontario, Canada, not Stratford Upon Avon, England. The Stratford Festival in Ontario is North America’s largest classical repertory theatre company and presents a dozen or more productions each season: classics, contemporary dramas, and musicals, with special emphasis on the plays of William Shakespeare.

A woman who works in classical theatre, in costume design, I thought. Now that’s an intriguing idea for an unusual main character. Fabrics? Interesting. Shakespeare? Bottomless. And she’d be at the heart of the theatre company, creatively involved, able to go anywhere, talk to anyone, and yet she’s in the background. Not quite invisible, and certainly not front and centre, as an actress would be. Just there.


Elizabeth Dunca

I pictured this character in her workroom, fitting a Toby Belch costume on a pompous, arrogant actor, while he completely ignored her. Or offering a bit of comfort to an unhappy actress, and slipping in a few pointed questions alongside the tea and sympathy.

As an author, you’re looking for a protagonist who is a deep well from which to draw, and who brings you a compelling assortment of possibilities. If the character you have in mind can’t do this, he or she probably isn’t going to work.
I was excited about this costume designer character, and wanted to work with her, but had no projects where I could use her, and didn’t even have a name for her. But I made a few notes, and then tucked her away, knowing that her time would likely come. The great thing with writers is that few ideas are ever wasted.

And then, a couple of years later, Crooked Lane Books was looking for a new series, and I was invited to pitch a few ideas. I offered several concepts, including a series set at the Stratford Festival featuring an English costume designer.

Crooked Lane liked the costume designer, liked the Shakespeare, but suggested that the series be set across the border in the Catskills, rather than Ontario, Canada. When I did a little research, and realized how revitalized and up and coming the Catskills are, the setting turned out to be perfect.

So I fleshed out my costume designer. She began her career with the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford Upon Avon. She’s in her early forties. She’s smart and attractive. And finally, I gave her a name: Charlotte Fairfax. It’s elegant, has a literary hint about it, and just seemed to suit her.

So if you’ve ever wondered where authors get their ideas, sometimes it all starts with a friend pointing out a woman across the street walking a small dog called George.

Unfortunately, Sandra moved out of our neighbourhood before any of the Shakespeare in the Catskills books were published, and I never got the chance to thank her for being the inspiration for the amateur sleuth in my new series.

But as a little tribute, Charlotte Fairfax has a small dog, and if you visit Jacobs Grand Hotel in upstate New York, home of the Catskills Shakespeare Theater Company, you might just catch a glimpse of the two of them. If you do, be sure to give them a little wave.

To enter to win a copy of Much Ado About Murder, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “ado,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen January 20, 2018. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address, and if via comment please include your email address.

Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section.

Use this link to purchase the book & a portion goes to help support KRL & indie bookstore Mysterious Galaxy:

You can also use this link to purchase the book on Amazon. If you have ad blocker on you may not see the link:

Elizabeth J. Duncan is the multiple award-winning author of two mystery series: the well-established Penny Brannigan series set in North Wales and Shakespeare in the Catskills. A former journalist, public relations practioner, and college professor, she divides her time between Toronto and Llandudno, a Victorian seaside resort in beautiful North Wales.

Disclosure: This post contains links to an affiliate program, for which we receive a few cents if you make purchases using those links. KRL also receives free copies of most of the books that it reviews, that are provided in exchange for an honest review of the book.


  1. The cover on this book is just adorable which makes it a must read for me,thanks for all the info!

  2. I love the title! Thank you for a chance to win this book!

  3. I like the colorful cover!

  4. I’ve read this series and enjoy each
    book. Looking forward to reading
    this one.

  5. I think we’d really enjoy the Shakespeare in the Catskills series. Thanks for the chance to get started with Much Ado. crs(at)codedivasites(dot)com

  6. I love anything to do with the theater as I have over 60 hrs. in it from College…thank you,

  7. The title & cover are perfect. Love this series & author.

  8. This is a new to me author and series but I would love to read it. My book club and I are always looking for some thing “new”!

  9. Love the cover! New author to me. Would love to read.

  10. This cozy sounds exciting, to be around the theatre world with all of the quirky personalities! Interesting how you came up with the idea for the series. I haven’t read the first two yet but would certainly love to start reading anywhere in the series!

  11. We have a winner!


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