in the series of Claire Gray mysteries by Michael Craft
Hardcover published February
The show must go on. But director Claire Gray has murder on her mind.
After a long, successful career on Broadway, Claire moved cross-country to head the theater department of the newly built Desert Arts College near Palm Springs, California. Imagine Claires surpriseafter some thirty years of a largely peaceful existence in Manhattanwhen her new life is darkened by a second murder investigation within mere months of her move.
Stewart Chaffee, an aging, eccentric art collector and society decorator, has agreed to lend Claire an antique Austrian clock that will provide the finishing touch for the stage setting of her first production at the college. When Claire arrives as scheduled to pick up the rare timepiece, she finds Chaffee dead, victim of what appears to be a gruesome kitchen accident.
Detective Larry Knoll quickly determines that the mishap was no accident, but murder. Suspects abound, ranging from the elderly mans nurse to his bitter houseman. Even Larrys brother (and Claires best friend), Grant Knoll, is seen in a suspicious light. Making matters worse, two of Claires students were with her when she made the grim discovery, news of which soon infects the entire cast of her play, threatening the artistic integrity of her all-important opening night.
Tied to the crime by chance and circumstance, Claire resolves to match wits with a clever, ruthless killer. With a bit of assistance from an old friendjournalist Mark Manningshe struggles to bring the investigation to a rapid, decisive close.
While Desert Winter, like any mystery novel, deals with some heavy goings-onnamely, murder and its detectionthe tone of this book remains fairly lighthearted throughout. Its difficult not to keep ones tongue in ones cheek while spinning a tale that features a doddering interior decorator, a spunky and petulant majordomo, and a caregiver who resembles the notorious Nurse Ratched. Claire Gray, our heroine, finds herself knee-deep in an investigation that verges on preposterous but is ultimately plausible and, I hope, highly engaging. I can predict with reasonable confidence that youll enjoy a bout of obsessive page-turning throughout the last hundred pages of the story.
While the surface plot, the whodunit, is told with a distinct sense of humor, the threads of the various subplotsdealing with Claires emotional and romantic developmentsare more serious and introspective. Narrated by Claire herself, these are the very passages that help us truly come to know the woman. A theme that developed during drafting, which I had not consciously detailed during the outlining stage, is the storys frequent examination of the dynamics between couples who are of disparate ages (the May-December thing, as Claire glibly refers to it). At least four such relationships find their way into this novel, and Claire uses each of these to reflect upon her own unlikely relationship with the hunky young Tanner Griffin. I must admit, when I first invented Claire and Tanners relationship in Desert Autumn, the pairing struck me as more plot-driven than believable, but now that Ive gotten more deeply into Claires head, it seems utterly natural, with no need for extensive justification.
One final note: You may notice among the books jacket credits that the cover photo was snapped by yours truly. This is the view from the spare bedroom of the condo in Palm Desert where my partner, Leon, and I have made our second home until recently. I looked out upon this courtyard while drafting considerable portions of the text of Desert Winter, and youll find this view described in detail near the bottom of page 16 of the book. Leon and I have since moved from the condo to a house in nearby Rancho Mirage; in the next installment of this series, Desert Spring, Claire will make an identical move.
Meanwhile, Id like you to know that Desert Winter is easily, to date, the book Ive most enjoyed writing. I hope youll take equal pleasure in reading it.
Michael Craft is a talented, gifted storyteller who is clearly
a grand master of the amateur-sleuth tale . . . Fans of the Mark Manning
series, also written by Mr. Craft, will be delighted to know that he plays
a key role in this crafty all-in-the-family production.
Click here to read an excerpt from Desert Winter.
Click here to read a related interview by William E. Robbins.
Click here to order Desert Winter from Amazon.com.
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