by Cynthia Chow
Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a signed copy of A Star is Dead. We also have a link to order it from Amazon, and from an indie bookstore where a portion goes to help support KRL. You can also listen to a Mysteryrat’s Maze Podcast episode featuring the same character.
When scandalous 1960s celebrity actress Jessica Gray sails into Chouteau Forest, St. Louis, it’s as much as to hock her “Captivating” youth beauty line as it is to present her one-woman “Just Jessica” show at the Lux. Jessica arrives with an entourage that now includes Mario Garcia, a local St. Louis hairstylist and also one of Angela Richman’s best friends. Despite her claims that her eternal beauty stems from her Captivating skin care regime, there’s not much natural about the geriatric celebrity. Even less real is her personal as America’s Sweetheart, an image that her lambasted assistants know is an absurd façade. That is never more evident than during her “hilarious” performance at the Lux, when she humiliates three homeless women in a mock makeover that includes forcing them to attend the after-show party at the estate of Reginald Du Pres.
With shades of being Joan Rivers, but far crueler and less funny, Jessica continues her reign of terror at the prestigious affair. Even a bout of double pneumonia doesn’t stop the imperious celebrity from signing out of the hospital AMA, declaring that she is not about to die in the “hole” of a town. She’s wrong about that, though, as her limo isn’t far from the hospital before she suffers an attack that has her dead before she can return. When evidence quickly mounts indicating that Jessica was poisoned, Angela’s duties as a Death Investigator have her meeting the late actress when she definitely does not look her best. With the laziest and most careless Detective Ray Greiman assigned to the case, Angela is going to have to do her best to prove that her friend Mario isn’t set up as an easy arrest for a headlines-grabbing murder.
What this series does so well is blend together the best aspects of forensic procedurals and cozy mysteries. Both fascinating and a little gruesome are the details involved in Angela’s profession as a Death Investigator, especially when involving her other cases. An unexpected domestic violence murder, the tragic poisoning of a Vietnam Vet, and a personal request by a wealthy widow testing her inheriting children all prove to be entertaining diversions without interrupting the main mystery of the novel. Chouteau Forest is itself a fascinating elite society filled with manners, rumors, and interweaving relationships. Angela’s physical and mental recovery from her near-fatal strokes that were so central to the early novels are no longer mentioned, and she is now up to her former outstanding capacity as an observant and talented investigator.
Angela is never jaded nor inconsiderate of the victims she examines, and is frequently horrified by the callousness of the survivors. Friends and her own sense of humor prevent the darkness of her profession of clouding her life, which has its own share of tragedy. While Angela still considers her late husband to have been the love – and only love – of her life, there are hints that perhaps she may be open to moving on in the future. This continues to be a cleverly written mystery series that exposes the ugly underside of the wealthy elite and the pretenses money only superficially hides. A summary conclusion of characters’ fates is more than satisfying, with justice prevailing, and everyone getting the punishment or reward they deserved. Hopefully readers will to continue to follow the adventures of Angela and her friends, especially as her personal life may be growing as strong as her professional one.
To enter to win a signed copy of A Star is Dead, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “star,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen April 18, 2020. U.S. residents only and you must be 18 or older to enter. If entering via email please include your mailing address in case you win-emails are deleted after the contest is over. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.
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