"Death Comes Silently" by Carolyn Hart
Reviewed by David Marshall James
Carolyn Hart's "Death on Demand" mystery series now numbers into the 20s, so let's look at some of the reasons for her continued success, because we're certainly nol going to divulge the intricacies of this novel's "whodunit" plot line.
Hart has developed engaging characters and an appealing setting. As for the latter, the action transpires on fictitious Broward's Rock, South Carolina, a barrier island accessible only by boat, with daily ferry excursions.
Her main characters, Annie and Max Darling, are snugly (and snugglingly) married, so there's no "will they or won't they wed?" issue hovering in a protracted fashion from one volume to the next.
However, their marriage doesn't preclude romance. They are young, attractive, well-off, and have the hots for one another.
It probably helps that they don't have children. Dorothy L., the cat who favors Max over Annie, proves enough of an interloper toward Annie's bed rest, if not her good times.
The Darlings' respective business concerns on the marina boardwalk tie in with their propensities and proficiency toward/at sleuthing: Max's investigations agency, Confidential Commissions, and Annie's mystery bookstore, Death on Demand-- complete with coffee bar and a resident kitty, Agatha, who favors anyone who adores her, which of course involves feeding and petting.
Bookstore regulars include Henny Brawley-- a retired teacher, voracious reader, and active volunteer in various pursuits. She's something of a mother figure to Annie, and more the sage-aunt figure to Max, whose rather unconventional mother, Laurel, flutters about the island, spreading good thoughts and purveying positive karma in haute-couture ensembles.
Last but never least comes (and not of the titular "silently," either) Emma Clyde, highly successful author of the Marigold Rembrandt mystery series, which tends to give Annie pause. Nevertheless, Emma can be an extraordinarily helpful friend when she's not wrought up in Marigold or her considerable self, which spells "flash" from her neon-hued caftans to her Technicolor-tipped, spiked hair to her maroon Rolls-Royce.
As this story opens, Annie is holding a book-signing luncheon for Emma at Death on Demand. That afternoon, a murder occurs at a free-necessities dispensary at which Henny and Annie volunteer.
That afternoon's volunteer discovers an incriminating note in a donated tweed jacket that belonged to a recently deceased man. That volunteer contacts the deceased's family, setting off a domino-row of violence. Max, Annie, and especially Henny, but also Emma and Laurel dive into the investigation because a young man whom they're certain is innocent is fingered as the killer.
Politics abound on the island, with a publicity whore of a mayor who butts heads with the chief of police, a good friend of the Darlings.
Hart adheres to the Agatha Christie maxim of not overwriting a mystery. Her concisely crafted novels-- and this is a prime example-- immerse themselves in the reader's consciousness.
Yet another reason the author succeeds is that she has seemingly read every 20th-century mystery novel, as she readily references titles both familiar and obscure.
Hart knows her mysteries, and other writers in the genre would do well to consider her template for success.
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