Friday, March 19, 2021

Stage Fright: Christine Poulson

 Description from Christine Poulson's web site ...

During her maternity leave, Cambridge academic Cassandra James gets involved in a production of EAST LYNNE. There is as much drama behind the scenes as there is on stage. The director is desperate to revive his flagging career. The maker of a fly-on-the-wall documentary is equally desperate to launch his. The crisis is reached when the leading lady disappears before the first night. Cassandra thinks it is more than stage fright, for Melissa has left six-month-old Agnes behind. Cassandra’s struggles to uncover the truth lead her deeper and deeper in a maze of illusion and deceit. Someone close at hand is not what they seem. Cassandra and her baby are in grave danger . . .

Professor Cassandra James is the head of the English Department at Cambridge University's St. Ethelreda's College. As this book starts, she is working with a theater group that is putting on a version of East Lynne, a Victorian sensation novel by Ellen Wood. Cassandra has rewritten the play to modernize it, and thus is taking part in the rehearsals. Shortly before opening night, the leading lady disappears. 

Melissa, the leading lady, is Cassandra's friend. They have bonded because their babies were both born prematurely at the same time and were in the hospital together. Thus when Melissa disappears, her husband Kevin (also the director of the play) calls Cassandra, thinking she may know something about her disappearance. He has to worry about his wife, the care of their infant daughter, and how to continue with the play, all at the same time. And he is suspected by the police when Melissa isn't located quickly.

My thoughts:

I loved everything about this book. Cassandra narrates the story. She seems like a real person, with faults and fears. She also is portrayed well as the mother of a young baby. Sometimes it seems like in fiction the child disappears and you don't get the feeling of the mother / child bond or the responsibilities that go with it. You always know that the baby comes first with Cassandra, and also see the fatigue and concerns of a 39-year-old new mother. 

Cassanda lives on the fens near Cambridge, a beautiful setting that is used very well. Kirkus described this book as "an academic cozy with attitude." There isn't a lot of violence but plenty of tension, which builds towards the end. I was surprised by the resolution of the story, and thought it was very effective.

The theatrical setting is an added bonus, with descriptions of the restored theatre, the rehearsals, and the way the play seems like it will never come together and then it does at the end. 

I have to admit that I did not know much about East Lynne, the novel or it stage and film versions. So of course I looked it up and that was interesting too.

This is the second book in a series of three. You can read and enjoy this one without reading the first one, but I do recommend reading the first one, Murder is Academic. They are both excellent books, in a lovely setting. 


This book fits in with the theme of Reading the Theatre at Entering the Enchanted Castle. Check out more on that topic here.



Also see reviews of Stage Fright at Clothes in Books, I Prefer Reading, and Reviewing the Evidence.



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Publisher:   Thomas Dunne Books, 2005 (orig. pub. 2003)
Length:       240 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Series:       Cassandra James, #2
Setting:      Cambridge
Genre:       Mystery
Source:      I purchased this book.


26 comments:

CLM said...

I have to go back to this series! I read the earlier book in preparation for visiting Cambridge two years ago (although it seems like longer). I guess we glimpsed some fens from the train but I wouldn't say it counts.

TracyK said...

Constance, I have enjoyed the first two books in the series so much and I will read the third sometime soon, although it looks like that will have to be on the Kindle.

I am not a big traveler at all, but I would love to see Cambridge and surrounding areas.

Cath said...

It's funny, one of the crime scenarios that doesn't really appeal to me in murder mysteries is theatre based stories (along with courtroom dramas!) So it wouldn't be much good me doing this challenge. LOL! I enjoyed your review though and understand what you mean about mothers of children who go missing and how they're written. Perhaps it's very hard to portray unless you've experienced it... which thank God most never do.

TracyK said...

Cath, I have never been very interested in courtroom dramas, although I usually find that my enjoyment may vary based on the author's writing. I do like Erle Stanley Gardner's Perry Mason books, but they often spend a lot of time outside of court.

I generally enjoy mysteries set in the theatre though. The artistic temperament and all of that.

Cath said...

Yes, having said all that, I was a huge Perry Mason fan when I was a teen, the TV series I mean. (Can you imagine teenagers of today watching that?) Although I have not read any of the books. And Death Has Deep Roots, Michael Gilbert's book which I've just read, was really superb and I didn't mind the courtroom scenes, which only dragged occasionally due to his superb writing I feel. Still not 'much' of a fan though. LOL

Margot Kinberg said...

I can't tell you how pleased I am that you enjoyed this, Tracy! I agree that it's a terrific series. And Christine Poulson is a lovely person. By the way, if you haven't tried her Katie Flanagan novels, I recommend them...

Christine said...

Tracy, I am thrilled that you enjoyed Stage Fright! I really enjoyed doing the research for that one. Thank you for writing such a lovely review. (And Margot's comment has made me blush!).

IzaBzh said...

I had never heard of this series before, thanks for sharing and making me discover it :)

FictionFan said...

This sounds great! I love theatre as a setting - all those actors ought to be good at hiding their guilty consciences... Must check this series out.

Peggy Arthurs said...

Sounds really good Tracy! Will keep my eye out for this author.

TracyK said...

Margot, I find Cassandra James such a real, interesting character, I love reading about her. I have Foot Fall (the third in the series) and Invisible (a standalone book) on the Kindle to read, although you know I would rather have a paper copy.

I have read all of the books in the Katie Flanagan series. That is another great series. My favorite in that series is Cold, Cold Heart, because of the setting in Antarctica. Fantastic!

TracyK said...

Christine, I always have a hard time saying why I love a book, and I did my best to get that across with this one. Your settings are always so good. I can imagine that the research for this one would be fun. And you deserve all of the nice things Margot had to say.

TracyK said...

Cath, I watched the Perry Mason series on TV, probably at different periods of my life. We have been rewatching them over the last 2 or 3 years... there are a lot of episodes. They are more fun than the books.

Thanks for reminding me I need to get to Death Has Deep Roots. In my ongoing mission to read all of Michael Gilbert's books

TracyK said...

Iza, Thanks for stopping by. I have enjoyed every book I have read by Christine Poulson. I hope you have a chance to try one of her books.

TracyK said...

FictionFan, the theatrical setting was put in good use in the book. This was almost like an espionage novel, it was hard to know who could be trusted. I hope you do check out Christine Poulson's books.

TracyK said...

Peggy, I do think you would like this series, and other books by the author.

Christine said...

Thank you!

Rick Robinson said...

Tracy, when is this set? Sounds like it would be historical, or maybe set in the Fifties?

Rick Robinson said...

Oh, with pregnancy leave, I guess not historical, but still, Fifties? Sixties?

TracyK said...

Rick, I assumed the setting was contemporary, around the time it was published, which was 2003. I don't offhand remember specific things that pointed to the time. Less technology than now. The attitudes seemed contemporary.

Lark said...

Theatres and universities are two of my favorite settings for a book. This one sounds like a lot of fun. :)

TracyK said...

You would like the first one in the series also, Lark. It is set in the English Department at Cambridge.

YY said...

I just stumbled onto your site after googling for more mysteries to read. Thank you so much for maintaining this site and for the helpful reviews. I have collected many 'new to me' recommendations and hope to find them in my local bookstore.

TracyK said...

YY, thanks for stopping by and commenting, and I hope you enjoy any new books you discovered.

col2910 said...

Glad you enjoyed it Tracy. I ought to read the book I have by her, before considering anything else.

TracyK said...

Col, I still have two more of her books to read, the next in this series, Footfall, and Invisible, a stand alone. Both as ebooks.