Review: Untimely Death by Elizabeth J. Duncan

untimely deathTitle: Untimely Death by Elizabeth J. Duncan
Shakespeare in the Catskills Mystery Series Book One
Publisher: Crooked Lane books
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery
Length: 290 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher


A Catskills resort’s production of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet takes a wickedly ironic turn when the leading lady, Lauren Richmond, is first poisoned and then stabbed. Who would extinguish the life of such a beautiful young thespian? Who wouldn’t? Seems like just about everyone had a motive to pull the ropes on her final curtain call.

At the center of this Shakespearian tragedy is Charlotte Fairfax, formerly the costume mistress of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Upstate New York is a long way from the royal stage, but Charlotte is always the queen of her domain. As this small production’s costume designer, she has stitched her way into everyone’s lives, learning more than anyone could possibly imagine about the rise and fall of Lauren Richmond. But curiosity killed the cat. And it might well kill the costume designer.

Witty and wise work, Untimely Death, the first in Elizabeth J. Duncan’s charming cozy series, is sure to delight.


Elizabeth J. Duncan’s new cozy mystery series, Shakespeare in the Catskills, is off to a strong beginning with the first installment, Untimely Death. Starring British born costume designer turned amateur sleuth Charlotte Fairfax, this charming novel is an intriguing whodunit with an eclectic cast of interesting characters.

Charlotte’s career as a costume designer is near and dear to her heart and she is eager to teach her craft to young intern Aaron Jacobs. With rehearsals already underway for the upcoming production of Romeo and Juliet, she and Aaron are tasked with fitting the cast members wardrobe. The production is off to a bit of a rocky start for Charlotte since one of the actors is someone with whom she shares a complicated and rather unhappy history. Further complicating the beginning of rehearsals is the lead actor’s drinking problem but things take a sinister turn when someone tries to poison Lauren Richmond, the lead actress in the show. When that attempt fails, Lauren is fatally stabbed a few days later during rehearsal. Although the state police and Charlotte’s boyfriend (and Chief of Police) Ray Nicholson are investigating the case, she decides to do a little snooping on her own when she learns that Aaron is their chief suspect.

Despite living in the US for ten years, Charlotte is still a fairly prim and proper Englishwoman but she is very easy to like. She has a forthright manner of speaking and she sometimes gets a little carried away with lectures about the ins and outs of costume design (a charming, but sometimes annoying, character trait). While she avoids her ex as much as possible, she does not let this discomfort get in the way of doing her job and she is rather surprised by how she feels after they finally come face to face. Charlotte is in a comfortable relationship with Ray but her probe into Lauren’s death eventually causes a bit of friction between them.

Since the small police force is not equipped for murder investigations, Ray has no choice but to call in the state police. Although he tries not discuss the specifics of the case with Charlotte, he reveals just enough to pique her curiosity. Fearing the police are getting tunnel vision after they zero in on Aaron, she decides to be proactive and begins trying to put the various pieces of puzzle together on her own. Charlotte’s impulsive decision eventually yields results but is the damage to her relationship with Ray worth the risk?

Untimely Death is an enjoyable cozy mystery that fans of the genre will enjoy. Charlotte is quite clever and like many amateur sleuths, she sometimes makes questionable choices as she investigates the murder. The romantic aspect of the novel is low-key but it adds depth to the overall storyline. While Elizabeth J. Duncan employs a number of red herrings and misdirects, the perpetrator’s identity is somewhat easy to guess but the motive behind the murder is a complete surprise. All in all, it is a thoroughly enjoyable first installment in the Shakespeare in the Catskills Mystery series that will leave readers impatiently awaiting the next book starring the very intrepid and personable Charlotte Fairfax.

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