Death in Castle Dark
Dinner and a Murder Mystery, Book #1
By Veronica Bond
Author Website: juliabuckley(.)com
Brought to you by OBS Reviewer Daniele
Actor Nora Blake finds her dream job when she is cast in a murder-mystery troupe that performs in an imposing but captivating old castle. When she stumbles upon a real murder, things take a nightmarish turn in this first book in an exciting new series.
Maybe it was too good to be true, but when Nora Blake accepted the job from Derek Corby, proprietor of Castle Dark, she could not see any downsides. She would sink her acting chops into the troupe’s intricately staged murder-mystery shows, earn free room and board in the fairy tale-like castle, and make friends with her new roommates, which include some seriously adorable kittens.
But something sinister lurks behind the walls of Castle Dark. During Nora’s second performance, one of her castmates plays the part of the victim a little too well. So well, in fact, that no one can revive him. He has been murdered. Not ready to give up her dream gig–or to be the next victim–Nora sets out to see which one of her fellow actors has taken the role of a murderous real-life villain. (Goodreads)
I really enjoyed this first book in the Dinner and a Murder Mystery series by Victoria Bolt (aka Julia Buckley). Death in Castle Dark combines the best elements of gothic suspense, including a moody castle, with cozy mystery tropes to make a fresh, delightful mystery.
Nora Blake is obviously talented, but the actress and songstress has had limited success in the Chicago theater world so when a dinner theater gig that includes room and board is offered, she would be crazy to turn down. She loves the castle, her new home in which the entertainment takes place, her enthusiastic new boss, her work, her secret kittens named after the Bronte sisters, and her fellow thespians. Everything is going well until one of the actors dies during a performance, stabbed with his prop dagger. Nora has the unfortunate luck of finding his body in the castle’s chapel. Surely, someone from outside the walls of the castle is the killer; it could not possibly be one of the actors, right? Time will tell.
I like Nora. She is kind and intelligent, if a reluctant sleuth. She more or so stumbles across clues than actively investigates, and I wish she was a bit braver, though her behavior is fitting for the heroine of a gothic tale. She is also a bit of a blabber-mouth, and I wish she had more discretion when spouting her theories about the murder to others. This gets her in serious trouble at one point. That said, I enjoy spending time with her and the supporting characters. I did not think I was going to like Connie, the ingénue of both the cast and the book, but she really grew on me, and I like her budding friendship with Nora. The supporting characters are bigger than life, as only actors can be, but relatable and interesting. Detective Dashiell and castle co-owner Paul provide a grounding presence amidst the melodrama. For a moment I feared Ms. Bolt might be setting up a love triangle….
The castle setting is just about perfect. The secluded location, dark halls and secret passages provide the right amount of creepy atmosphere and suspense. The mystery is well laid out with suspects and motives constantly evolving. I did not see the resolution coming. The pace is a little uneven, sometimes getting bogged down in mundane everyday activities that do not move the plot along.
Death in Castle Dark is a great debut, and I look forward to reading more tales featuring Nora and her fellow performers. Recommended to fans of classic gothic suspense and cozy mysteries alike.