By Mary Miley
1924. Leah is a longtime Vaudeville actress whose life is about to change. She looks just like Jesse Carr, a missing heiress from Oregon, and the uncle of the girl has come to offer Leah a deal: come back to Oregon and impersonate the missing girl and share a fortune. When circumstances in the Vaudeville circuit turn against her, Leah accepts the deal. She has a lot of people to convince, some of them very unhappy about the return of a family member and the potential loss of a lot of money. The plans to inherit are fraught with problems, dangers, and death. What really happened to Jess seven years earlier? Who knows the truth and what lengths will some people go to secure wealth?
This plot has been seen many times, but I haven't read a book quite like this one. First off, I'm always a little wary of stories that occur in the past. I just don't care for them. I enjoy present day mysteries, or at the most, those that are set within the last couple decades. Now, I will admit that I've read a lot of period stories and so far I've enjoyed them. This one set in the era of Prohibition is a good one because the author has to remember all the intricacies of the year, the technology, the culture, etc. The extra feature of murders adds the needed attraction.
Oliver Beckett: fifties, thinning hair, fat, Vandyke beard, niece disappeared when she was 14, mother still living, sister and brother both dead
Leah: twenties, vaudeville actress, mother died when Leah was child, father left before her birth, auburn hair, freckles, blue-green eyes, has used various first names and surnames
Henry Carr: three siblings, tall, strong, handsome, athletic as a youth, body turning stocky, liked politics and sailing as a youth, attended Stanford, wants to be in the state legislature, smug
Ross Carr: Henry's younger brother, 21, wears glasses, dark curly hair, green eyes, thin face, short, attends Stanford, wants to be an academician, suffers from asthma
Buster: stable hand, simple-minded, tall, muscular, missing some teeth, voice low and slow
Benny Kubelsky: plays vaudeville, plays violin, comedian, later changed his name to Jack Benny
Truthfully, these are expected characters, but that doesn't make them any less worthy. I enjoyed the fact that each had a distinct personality that I could recognize with each scene. Each character, even the minor ones, stood out. And of course, bringing in real people or name dropping real people adds to the fun.
Voices are distinct enough because the characters stand out pretty well. No conversation veered off track. The important material was conveyed.
First person from Leah's POV. Varying lengths of chapters. The set up to the impersonation went pretty fast. From then on, it was Leah's challenges and adapting to the new world with a homesickness for the vaudeville scene. 'Bastard' and 'damn' are the most profanity used. Action was mildly tense but enough to keep interest. The mixing of fact (using real locales, events, and people) and fiction was the key to this book's success. This won a First Crime Novel award and though I didn't know the others in the running, this one probably deserved to win.