A Fatal First Night (An Ella Shane Mystery)

Written by Kathleen Marple Kalb
Review by Vicki Kondelik

This is the second book in Kalb’s series of mysteries set in 1890s New York, featuring opera singer Ella Shane, a mezzo-soprano who sings male roles. Ella’s company is performing the opera The Princes in the Tower when, on opening night, a dead body is found in the dressing room of the bass-baritone playing Richard III. The singer, Albert Reuter, is the prime suspect, but Ella has her doubts about his guilt. While Albert is in jail, a series of accidents happen to members of the company, both on and off stage, and Ella wonders if someone means harm to the company. Or is there a killer among the cast and crew?

Meanwhile, Gilbert Saint Aubyn, Duke of Leith, the British aristocrat with whom Ella has an understanding, returns to New York, but not just to see her. Gil cannot talk about his reasons for his visit, but Ella suspects it may have something to do with a murder case her reporter friend Hetty is covering, in which a society lady is accused of murdering her husband. Hetty is glad to write about a murder case because it means a welcome break from the fashion pages.

This is a well-written, suspenseful series with extremely likable characters. Ella, in particular, is very admirable. Not only does she have a wonderful voice, but she is a master swordswoman, and she’s passionate about her career. She’s conflicted about whether to marry Gil, because she’s afraid she would have to give up her career, and she is not about to do that, no matter how much she loves him. You learn much about the musical world of the time, and also about social issues, especially women’s rights. I highly recommend this book and the first in the series, A Fatal Finale.