Book Review: A Fatal First Night (An Ella Shane Mystery #2) by Kathleen Marple Kalb

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Genre: HIstorical mystery
Publisher: Kensington Publishing Corporation
Publication Date: April 27th, 2021
Pages: 304, hardcover
Source: NetGalley

Set in Gilded Age New York, Kathleen Marple Kalb’s adventurous new historical mystery series returns for its second installment starring the swashbuckling opera singer Ella Shane, an Irish-Jewish Lower East Side orphan who finds fame and fortune singing male trouser roles. But while her opera company’s latest premier manages to attract adoring crowds and rave reviews, it also attracts a killer who’s a real showstopper…

New York City, Fall 1899. Ahead-of-her-time coloratura mezzo Ella Shane has always known opening night to be a mess of missed cues and jittery nerves, especially when unveiling a new opera. Her production of The Princes in the Tower, based on the mysterious disappearance of Edward IV’s two sons during the Wars of the Roses in England, concludes its first performance to thunderous applause. It’s not until players take their bows that the worst kind of disaster strikes…

Flawless basso Albert Reuter is found lurched over a bloody body in his dressing room, seemingly taking inspiration from his role as the murderous Richard III. With a disturbing homicide case stealing the spotlight, Ella can’t be so certain Albert is the one who belongs behind bars…

Now, Ella must think on her feet while sorting out a wild series of puzzling mishaps and interlocking mysteries. Yet even when sided with her aristocratic beau, does this scrappy diva have the chops to upstage the true criminal, or will this be the last time she headlines a Broadway marquee?

Opera diva-detective Ella Shane is back in Kathleen Marple Kalb’s A Fatal First Night. When one of her cast is murdered, and another is imprisoned, Ella must “determine to prove a villain” and save her company, all while staging an opera based on the princes in the tower. Her prospective beau, Gil, has come over from Britain on a quest he can’t tell Ella about, but which involves a beautiful widow.

Ella’s voice is much clearer in this second book. She also doesn’t mention every other chapter how hard the world is and how she does what she can to make it better. It’s nice to see a progressive cast of characters in a Gilded Age cozy mystery, and Ella handles racism against one of her cast as she handled homophobia against her cousin, straightforward and not tolerating the perpetrators for a moment. She shelters her loved ones and casts her net wide to help those in need.

It’s understandable that she does not want to give up the freedom that her career offers to enter into a formal relationship with Gil, and even nicer that Gil, and Ella’s friends, do not push her to do so. She does waffle a great deal, though, and she and Gil talk about their future children and marriage as though things were settled, when they have only an “understanding,” and not a formal engagement.

One small fact check – there are no polar bears in Antarctica, as mentioned by Ella’s housekeeper after she attended an “improving lecture.”

Recommended, and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens when Ella and her company cross the pond in the next book.

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