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MURDER AT THE OPERA:
A Capital Crimes novel
By Margaret Truman
Ballantine, 2006 ($24.95)
Reviewed by Shirley H. Wetzel
Annabel Lee-Smith loves the opera. Her husband, law professor Mackenzie Smith, does not. Annabel, a member of the board of the Washington National Opera, finds a way to get her man interested: she gets him a gig as an extra -- called a "super" in the opera world -- in the upcoming production of Tosca. Before the show can go on, however, a Canadian singer is murdered at Kennedy Center. Retired homicide detective Raymond Pawkins, whom Mac had met several times in the courtroom, is a major opera buff and also a super in Tosca. The board asks him to undertake an investigation independent of the police, hoping he can use his time and expertise to solve the case more quickly than they can. Mac, a former criminal trial attorney, and his amateur sleuth wife help in finding out who took the life of this rising star, Charise Lee, a student in the prestigious Young Artists Program. Her roommate, pianist Christopher Warren, seems to be hiding something. Her two agents, a peculiar couple with an international clientele, are also not forthcoming under police questioning. Somebody must know something, but nobody's talking, and there is little in the girl's life to suggest a motive for her murder.
Far from Washington another drama is taking place. An Iraqi informant is killed in Jordan, but not before he reveals that terrorists are planning to assassinate high-ranking American officials. The British agent in charge, Milton Crowley, is called to Washington to discuss the leak in his operation. Milton, nearing retirement, is tired of it all, and only wants to go home to his little cottage in Dorset. From his intelligence and from "chatter" by the terrorists, it is learned that there may be a Canadian connection to the assassination plot.
A third thread in the interwoven plot concerns a cold case that Pawley investigated six years ago. A college professor and Mozart scholar was murdered, and some priceless musical scores he was reported to have just discovered were missing. A graduate student was suspected, but there was not enough evidence to hold him. New DNA testing has lead to the case being re-opened. Through hard work and dedication on the part of the investigators for the opera -- Mac, Annabel, and Pawkins, and the police, especially partners Willie Portelain and Sylvia Johnson, the three cases will be resolved, but not before further murders take place and some government officials in very high places find themselves in harm's way.
The juggling of three very different plots was more ambitious than many of Truman's previous novels, but it all worked out in a fairly satisfactory manner. As usual, her insider's knowledge of the Washington scene is fascinating. Her fans will enjoy this book, and non-opera readers will learn something about opera and the life of its performers and managers.
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