"Backstage Stuff" by Sharon Fiffer: Book Review

"Backstage Stuff" by Sharon Fiffer
Minotaur, 290 pp., $24.99
Reviewed by David Marshall James


Drama brings ad-exec-turned-"picker" Jane Wheel home (yet again) to Kankakee, Illinois, in a murder mystery that deserves a standing-O by final curtain.

First off in the drama department, Jane contends with a domestic upheaval.

She's splitting up with her husband, as amicably as possible, seeing as how her ex-to-be is always off on archaeological digs. Jane puts their son, Nick, on a plane to visit, and he's soon tweeting and putting pics on Facebook faster than you can say, "Goldman Sachs."

Which begs the question, who's Margo?

Plenty of comfort abounds, however, as Jane temporarily re-ensconces herself at her parents' home in Kankakee. Her mom, Nellie, may be a tough nut to crack, but she does dish up hot-fudge sundaes and blueberry pancakes, although any comparisons to June Cleaver end there.

Nellie is also trodding the boards (actually, she's portraying a comatose character who never sets foot on the boards) in a new production of a never-revived play, directed by Jane's oldest and best chum, fellow picker, and collectibles dealer Tim Lowry.

Lowry, who has assigned himself the leading-man role, trenchcoat and all, ensnares drama-major Jane as props mananger, to handle all the backstage stuff.

Meanwhile, Jane is also assisting Tim in prepping a huge estate sale: sorting and tagging through dusty rooms, but that's catnip to them.

Just so happens that the man who wrote the play is the grandfather of the two heirs who are liquidating the estate.

Well, it's no coincidence; rather, it's the reason Tim selected the obscure theatrical piece in the first place.

Nevertheless, someone is going to great lengths to kill off the revival before opening night.

Turns out, too, that the production is reuniting Nellie with old friends and nemeses. Jane is also up to her old yearbooks in faces from her past.

Author Sharon Fiffer evidently enjoys the theatrical milieu as much as a yard sale, and that enthusiasm carries over-- via Jane, of course-- to the entire proceedings.

The thirty-page finale provides a comedic tour de force that's a welcome departure-- and more than a bit of a parody-- from the traditional "mystery heroine in grave-but-never-insurmountable-peril" close to be expected in most examples of the genre.

This is Fiffer's "lucky number seven" Jane Wheel novel, one that already stands as a top pick for this New Year's mysteries.

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