A Midsummer Night's Scream
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From Publishers Weekly
Single mom and amateur sleuth Jane Jeffry unmasks a bad actor in Churchill's entertaining 15th punningly titled cozy (Mulch Ado About Nothing; Silence of the Hams). The Chicago-area snoop joins friend Shelley Nowack in checking out caterers to feed the volunteers working at the theater that Shelley and her husband have recently bought. The current play is suffering from writer/director Steven Imry's poorly written script and off-putting manner, while the cast of mixed students and professionals, led by veteran stage actors John and Gloria Bunting, isn't much help. Jane and Shelley connect with the genial Gloria, who enthusiastically joins their needlepoint class. The other actors are mostly ciphers, until the violent death of one brings Jane's police boyfriend, Mel VanDyne, onto the scene. For the first time, Jane finds that Mel is actually seeking her insights, since the theater crowd is unknown to him and Jane and Shelley have met them all. Churchill has her formula down pat, mixing a more than serviceable plot with a nice combination of romance, domesticity and sleuthing. Lessons in needlepoint lore and technique and in catering dos-and-don'ts add interest.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
It's summer in the Chicago suburbs, and Jane Jeffry and her best friend, Shelley, are testing caterers on a local theater group, now ensconced in a building Shelley's husband donated to the community college. An enchanting and famous elderly actress is taking part, along with her far less pleasant actor husband. When one of the most irritating of the younger actors is found murdered, Jane, Shelley, and Jane's detective sweetie, Mel, are all swept up in the search for whodunit. What usually charms about this series is the genuine warmth between Jane and Shelley, Jane and Mel, and Jane's three adolescent children. This time there's a little too much teaching in the wobbly plot, however, as Churchill ladles on the details about local theater production and Jane's needlepoint classes. Still, this quiet cozy still has appeal for those who like plenty of daily life mixed with their mysteries. GraceAnne DeCandido
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Jane is helping Shelly evaluate caterers at a theatre Shelly's husband has donated to the local college. A lackluster play is being produced, and a member of the production is killed. No one seems to care much, and Mel actually asks Jane and Shelly for their opinions on the case -- a big departure from the character's usual behavior, where he constantly warns Jane to keep her nose out of his murder investigation. Why the change? I couldn't tell you, because it was never clear to me in the book. There is very little suspense, the case is solved, and Jane and Shelly work on needlepoint.
I am really disappointed, because I miss the old Jane and Shelly, and Mel. None of the characters seem to have the depth that they used to, and the writing has become so stilted I still believe that Jill Churchill is letting someone else write the book. I just can't get over the change in writing style -- it doesn't make sense.
I don't know if I'm going to read the next Jane Jeffry book, whenever that comes out. I'll still read the "Grace and Favor" books, because those have been consistently entertaining. Again, this is where I get confused because why is there such a difference between the two series?
I remember the first Jane Jeffry mystery I read, "The Class Menagerie." I liked it so much that I went back to the bookstore the next day to get the other books in the series. Sadly, this will probably be the last Jane Jeffry mystery I read. It feels as if the heart has gone out of this series. The story plods along, the mystery in this particular installment was barely discernible, the other characters in this book (other than Ms Bunting) are not "fleshed out" and remain shadowy at best, and even Jane and Shelley seem lacking in enthusiasm and interest in discovering what's going on. All in all, "A Midsummer Night's Scream" was not a very interesting read.
Our tale begins when Jane and Shelley get involved with the local theatre company. Shelley makes the catering arrangements for the reharsals, and Jane agrees to be the official taster. It doesn't take long, however, for the pair to get a taste of how dramatic drama can be. A young actor who disagreed with the director gets himself murdered, and the janitor at the theatre gets bashed on the head and put into the hospital.
The crime-solving here is primarily done by Mel, Jane's police detective boyfriend. He's been in previous books in this series, mostly to shake his finger at Jane when she gets too nosey. But, this time, Mel is featured fairly prominently, and Jane is too busy with other things, i.e. needlepoint and getting her novel published, to do her own little investigation.
The murder actually seems kind of secondary here, as pages and pages are devoted to the finer points of needlepoint, how to get a book published and choose an agent, and what makes one caterer better than another. While Jane and Shelley languish in these safer pursuits (not once are their lives put in jeopardy!), Mel solves the murder. And, then, there's a very cheesey epilogue to let us know that basically everyone got what they deserved.
I guess my major problem is that, for two books now, Jane and Shelley just haven't acted like Jane and Shelley. Now that's a crime.
One thing, right off the bat was that I had no way to picture Mel at all. It was stressed that he is very good looking and a swell dresser. That didn't narrow it down much for me. Can't say as I recall details of Jane or Shelley's looks either; but, that wasn't as much of an issue - perhaps because their parts are so character-driven.
The mystery angle was OK (standard cozy). The premise that Paul bought the theater "on impulse" was a bit contrived and out-of-character; Shelley wouldn't be quite so fatalistic about the fact that the building was unusable (thus the donation as a loss-cutting mechanism). The catering issue was a bit weak, but buy-into-able (though transparently so), to get Jane involved with the murder mystery.
The book deal sub-plot was more than I could swallow though. Without re-reading the previous story, here's that chronology as I understand it ...
Jane had been working on her story for several years, off and on, before deciding to bring an outline and sample chapters to a mystery convention (a few months before this current story begins); registrants are provided the opportunity to present their ideas to a couple of editors for review. One of the editors likes what she saw of Jane's work, suggesting Jane send her a finished manuscript when the entire book is complete. Felicity, a noted mystery writer with whom Jane becomes friends is also favorably impressed with Jane's proposal. So far, so good. Credibility intact.
In this book, Jane mentions to Shelley that she sent the manuscript to Felicity for feedback, who sent back her suggestions for revision (chiefly, moving the "mystery" angle up by 100 pages). Jane tells Shelley that she spent "two days" on revision, and then sent a second draft out to the editor (note that Felicity's is the only feedback Jane gets on her work before sending it out) Two days? I would think that one would need a lot more revision (AND feedback!) than that.
I realize that this is fiction, but Jane's good fortune here was mind-boggling. The editor dropped what she was doing (in late July!) to devote her attention to convincing the marketing department to accept Jane's story for immediate acceptance. Within a couple of weeks of receiving a second draft from an unpublished fiction author (granted they met at the conference), the editor calls Jane offering a contract? Moreover, when a stunned Jane asks about changes, Melody tells her she doesn't need any? She then insists that Jane get an agent to negotiate the contract.
HEL-LO? If Melody's so concerned about not negitiating directly with a [new] author, shouldn't she have advised Jane to get an agent at their initial meeting back at the convention? Wouldn't Felicity have advised her to send a [final] draft to potential agents, with advice to stress to that Melody had liked what she saw?
I understand that the author is trying to set Jane up as a literary success, which is fine. However, unless Jane is incredibly talented, these events unfolded in a totally bizarre fashion. It would have been much more realistic for Melody to have returned the manuscript with a cover letter containing some very positive comments (and suggested changes), and informing Jane that she (Melody) was looking forward to receiving the next draft directly from an agent. That would have been entirely credible to me.
The epilogue format was odd, and really left me wondering about the author's intentions for the balance of the series.