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Stagestruck: A Jubilee Showboat Mystery    by Cynthia Thomason order for
by Cynthia Thomason
Order:  USA  Can
Five Star, 2003 (2003)
* *   Reviewed by Liz Cooper

It's 1898, and Gwendolyn Barlow is leading just the kind of small town life she wants. She has a satisfying job as a librarian, and she gets along well with her family. But at the ripe age of 28, she's still unmarried and according to her mother, her social life leaves a lot to be desired. Gwendolyn is content, and doesn't yearn for adventure and intrigue. Yet when her uncle Eli dies and leaves his only possession to Gwendolyn's mother, adventure and intrigue manage to find her.

Uncle Eli was the proud owner of Eli's Jubilee Palace, a showboat in the shape of a large, ornately decorated wedding cake. Although it may look outlandish, Gwendolyn is pleasantly surprised to find that the interior is elegant and ready to showcase some of the brightest talent this side of the Mississippi River. But things aren't always as simple as they seem. Unfortunately, the showboat is also in dire financial difficulty. The employees haven't been paid in over a month, and debts abound in the town of Hickory Bend. If that were not enough, Gwendolyn soon finds out that her uncle was murdered, and with a piece of his own newly installed theatrical equipment, no less!

Now, everyone's a suspect. Could the beautiful and bitter Anabel Whitedove be the killer? Eli had promised her a brilliant acting career and then gave the play's lead to someone younger and more beautiful. What about Solomon Wade, the former Captain whom Eli fired just one day after hiring him? And why would Eli hire Travis Veazy to work on the boat? The 19-year-old is rude, arrogant and lazy. Could he also be a killer? Suspicion quickly surrounds everyone on the Jubilee Palace and even townspeople emerge as suspects. It seems Uncle Eli had many enemies, at least one of whom wanted to see him dead.

The author has created an intricate historical mystery, offering a convincing depiction of life at the turn of the century. The characters are believable and complex. Each suspect's motivations have been developed in such a way as to make each one seem like the most likely killer. Gwendolyn does a wonderful job in her role as amateur sleuth. Novice mistakes, such as jumping to conclusions, make her character that much more realistic and endearing. After all, she's a librarian, not a trained detective, and as she herself comes to realize, 'there was a lot more to be learned outside the cover of a book'.

Cynthia Thomason is well known for historical and contemporary romances, and she writes her mysteries with the same masterful skill. Stagestruck is sure to delight those who enjoy their historical fiction with a cozy mystery twist.

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