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Friday, November 22, 2013

Peak Season for Murder: A Leigh Girard Mystery By Gail Lukasik

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Cynthia Chow

Check out details on how to enter to win a copy of this book at the end of the review.

After surviving breast cancer, Leigh Girard jettisoned both a career as a Chicago college teacher and an unsympathetic husband to begin a new life in Wisconsin as a reporter for the Door County Gazette. Although Leigh has slowly adjusted to life in the isolated small town she can’t resist forays into investigative reporting, especially when it concerns those she cares about. Brownie Lawrence, which she learns was not even his true name, was a homeless–but not address-less–benevolent man who died on the valuable land bequeathed to him and whom the police suspect was murdered by his distrustful and often enraged friend, Ken Albright. Believing that Ken is trouble but not homicidal, and having evidence that he refused to trust to the police, Leigh researches the life of a troubled man whose history leads back to tragic events from the Vietnam War.

The actual article Leigh has been assigned to cover concerns the Bayside Theater, America’s oldest professional residential summer theater, which is celebrating its 65th anniversary with a series of productions that includes The Merchant of Venice. The event’s drawing attraction is Nate Ryan, a famous Hollywood actor whose history of drug abuse and accusations of domestic violence has led to a declining career. As Leigh interviews the cast, she discovers tales of pranks, illicit affairs and jealousy, and witnesses ominously disastrous rehearsals.

Although Leigh is able to resist the considerable charm of Nate Ryan, she can’t say the same of her friend, Lydia Crane, a nurse whose new business as a masseuse places her directly in the path of the promiscuous actor. What is shocking to Leigh is the call she receives from Lydia with a plea for help and the confession that she has Nate, dead, in her studio. Soon the media is circling and Lydia becomes her own worst enemy as she withholds information, lashes out at Leigh and blames herself for not being able to diagnose or revive Nate. Suspicions of an overdose and continued substance abuse begin to circulate around the late actor and Leigh receives the aid of two of her “ex-somethings,” one of whom is her editor, to shield Lydia as much as she will allow.

Image source: Five Star

In the theater world the show must go on and as the Bayside Theater’s Anniversary continues, Leigh uncovers superstitions and the mysterious disappearance of Danielle Moyer, an actress who last performed for their 50th anniversary along with several of the actors who returned for the 75th. As Leigh attempts to investigate both the death of Brownie and Nate Ryan, she must contend with the finalization of her own divorce, her reluctance to trust enough in order to commit to a new relationship and a friend who is spinning out of control. The attentions of the BT groundskeeper/bartender are an unwanted distraction; especially since Leigh is uncertain whether they are threatening or amorous.

The third in the Leigh Girard series continues to display the excellent writing that expands on Leigh’s continual need–pointed out rather unkindly by another character–to take in strays. The descriptions of beautiful Death’s Door combine with extraordinarily complex characters who reveal a multitude of dimensions to make this a very enjoyable and powerful read.

The author creates a fascinating story arc with the character of Lydia, who teeters between states of near-catatonic guilt and manic narcissism, the latter causing her to conduct inadvisable interviews with entertainment tabloids. Despite Lydia’s best attempts to alienate and even attack her friend, Leigh’s protective instincts kick in as her perceptiveness allows her to see through Lydia’s default defensive behavior.

Although I’m not sure what it says of me as a person, I found Lydia’s eventual fate to be somehow satisfying and beneficial to Leigh. Since her first appearance, “Destroying Angels” Leigh has moved on to a point where she is ready to make final decisions and move on with her life. Lukasik has created a mystery that examines many fascinating characters extensively while including the juicy details of the theater world. Leigh brings a mature, witty and very intelligent voice to this very strongly written mystery series.

To enter to win a copy of Peak Season, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Season”, or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen November 30, 2013. U.S. residents only.

Cynthia Chow is the branch manager of Kaneohe Public Library on the island of Oahu. She balances a librarian lifestyle of cardigans and hair buns with a passion for motorcycle riding and regrettable tattoos (sorry, Mom).

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