Slightly Abridged – Erato
St. Martin’s Minotaur
A spry 84-year-old fan of Juliet Bodine’s Regency romances finds a suppressed fragment of “The Memoirs of Harriette Wilson”–the 1825 blockbuster by Regency England’s wittiest, most notorious courtesan. Days after she brings the unpublished pages to Juliet, the old lady disappears– and, with her, the manuscript. Could a two-hundred-year old sexual indiscretion be worth killing for? Juliet teams up with NYPD detective Murray Landis to find out…
From Publishers Weekly: “Great expectations have been fulfilled! The second book in Pall’s Nine muses series, this one inspired by Erato, the muse of love poetry, and again starring New York romance writer Juliet Bodine, is sure to please fans of Corpse de Ballet (2001). Ada Case Caffrey, a spry octogenarian who enjoys reading her own erotic verse at poetry slams, shows Juliet some recently discovered manuscript pages from the memoirs of Regency London’s most infamous courtesan, Harriette Wilson. The sheets contain a hitherto unknown couplet attributed to Byron. Juliet refers Ada to Dennis Daignault, a rare books dealer whom she has been dating. But Ada never returns from her meeting with Dennis, and Juliet files a missing persons report. When Ada turns up strangled and stuffed under a car on Riverside Drive, Juliet finds herself a likely suspect in a homicide investigation. Despite the erotic theme, nothing here would make a maiden aunt blush. Pitch-perfect dialogue furthers the wonderfully intricate plot. Juliet’s recollections of her first conversation with Ada, and of Ada’s verses, lead to the dramatic denouement to a fully satisfying mystery.” (Apr. 7) – February 24, 2003
Slam Dunk from The Washington Post ”Mystery reviewers, like other readers, sometimes check out jacket blurbs when deciding which new books to take on. Blurbs alone aren’t make-or-break — they get maybe 25 points on the University of Michigan admissions scale — but they can spur a reviewer on to a closer look and, on rare occasions, lead to a “not to my taste” instant rejection.
Mistakes can be made. I set aside Slightly Abridged (St. Martin’s Minotaur, $23.95) when I noted that author Ellen Pall’s first mystery, Corpse de Ballet, had been praised by just two publications, and one was Romantic Times. Not for me, I thought.
Wrong. A second look — which came when the early chapters of a crime-fiction bigfoot’s new work proved disappointing — got me hooked right away on a delightful new series by a writer who comes across as a sort of sprightly Ruth Rendell. Pall may have been noticed by Romantic Times because her amateur sleuth, Juliet Bodine, is a popular writer of Regency romances. There’s nothing either gauzy or overwrought about Bodine herself, however; she is a witty, canny young New Yorker whose involvements with men are entirely and rather sweetly up-to-date.
Working under her pseudonym, Angelica Kestrel-Haven, on “A Christian Gentleman,” Bodine is caught in a no-inspiration funk, and she is blocked. She is afraid she might even have to quit writing and “find a job teaching English literature, probably at some small college with a sense of humor.” Then Ada Case Caffrey arrives. She is an 84-year-old fan from upstate New York who wants Bodine’s help with appraising and possibly selling a manuscript fragment found in a secret compartment in a bedpost. The author of the pages appears to be Harriette Wilson, a Regency-era courtesan with a taste for extortion and connections to Lord Byron, whose verse to her she quotes in the unearthed memoir section.
Imperious and manipulative, Caffrey is a funny, self-dramatizing old bohemian who takes the New York downtown poetry-slam scene by storm with her erotic verses — until, that is, she turns up strangled in a garbage bag along Riverside Drive, her manuscript gone. Caffrey was such a wonderfully insufferable piece of work that her death jars Bodine out of her blank-page panic and also recharges her off-again-on-again, sort-of romance with NYPD detective Murray Landis.
Both New Yorkers to the bone, Bodine and Landis are amusingly out of their element when the murder investigation takes them to the Adirondacks hamlet where Caffrey was involved with both a theatrical group, the Adirondactors, and radical environmentalists. The variegated range of suspects in New York and Espyville is to Bodine like “a Chinese finger puzzle, one of those tubes of braided straw that constrict more tightly around one’s fingers the more one pulls away. The only route of escape was to move into the puzzle, deeper into the trap. Like turning into a skid. Or developing a character.” – by Richard Lipez © 2003 The Washington Post Company
From Booklist: ”After exchanging letters, author Juliet Bodine was finally going to meet one of her most ardent fans, 84-year-old Ada Case Caffrey. Ada adored the regency romances Juliet wrote under the pseudonym Angelica Kestrel-Haven, and she eagerly accepted Juliet’s invitation to tea, hinting that she would be bringing something special. When Ada shows Juliet the pages she found hidden in a secret compartment in her bed, Juliet immediately recognizes them as the writing of Harriette Wilson, one of the regency era’s most celebrated and scandalous courtesans. If the reference to Byron in the pages turns out to be genuine, the manuscript could be quite valuable, but Ada and her literary treasure abruptly disappear, and Juliet finds herself once again working with New York Police Department detective Murray Landis to trap a clever killer. The second in Pall’s series featuring Bodine, each of which centers around a different “muse,” Slightly Abridged is a sophisticated treat, and Pall’s elegant, witty writing and deft characterizations will delight those who like their mysteries seasoned with a graceful hint of romance.” – By John Charles, March 15, 2003 Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved.
From Library Journal ”Bearing manuscript pages discovered in the leg of an antique English four-poster bed, an aging fan visits Regency romance writer Juliet Bodine in New York City. Although the 84-year-old Ada Case Caffrey is a bit of a dolly-like doozy, the manuscript that she shows Juliet appears to have been written by a famous courtesan of the Regency era who excised men from her memoirs upon receipt of extra payment. Unfortunately, Ada is subsequently murdered, and the manuscript disappears. Enter police detective (and Juliet’s boyfriend) Murray Landis. This second entry (after Corpse de Ballet) in Pall’s new series features an appealing plot and a brilliant cast of delightful characters. An essential purchase for most mystery collections.” – April 1, 2003, Rex Klett
From The Denver Post ”In a much lighter vein is “Slightly Abridged” by Ellen Pall (St. Martin’s, 271 pages, $23.95), the second in her witty and entertaining Nine Muses series, this one inspired by Erato, the muse of love poetry. It brings back Regency romance writer Juliet Bodine, who again is stuck with an unfinished manuscript and a looming deadline.
Juliet finds welcome distraction in a visit from one of her fans, 84-year-old poet Ada Case Caffrey, a genuine eccentric who has come to show her some suppressed manuscript pages from the memoirs of the notorious Regency courtesan Harriette Wilson (a real person), which contain a verse fragment attributed to Byron.
Juliet is delighted by the discovery but dismayed when, only a week later, Ada is found dead and the manuscript has gone missing. She enlists the aid of her NYPD detective friend Murray Landis to help her solve the murder, in which she herself is the primary suspect.
The author does as clever a job with her literary subject matter as she did with the world of ballet in her first novel, and Juliet remains a believable and thoroughly engaging heroine. – Tom and Enid Schantz, The Denver Post
From Kirkus Reviews: ”When her elderly fan, Ada Case Caffrey, writes that she is visiting New York and wishes to consult her about a historic manuscript she has discovered, Regency romance writer and amateur sleuth Juliet Bodine (Corpse de Ballet, 2001) invites her to tea. The young daughter of a friend has found the manuscript hidden in a secret compartment in the giant antique bed where Ada sleeps in her upstate home. In the throes of writer’s block-her hero is too chaste for a romance novel-Juliet is delighted to have a little harmless distraction. But Ada, it turns out, is not so harmless. A histrionic, selfish, passionate, and eccentric woman dressed in pre-WWII elegance, Ada effortlessly embroils Juliet in her life. Juliet finds Ada a room in a bed-and-breakfast, accompanies her to a poetry slam, which Ada wins by reading her own distinctly erotic poem, and introduces her to Dennis Daignault, an antiques dealer specializing in historic documents. Dennis thinks the manuscript is an authentic fragment of a memoir written by a notorious prostitute in Regency England. The fragment concerns an aristocrat whose descendants are British and therefore readily embarrassed. Before Dennis can find a buyer, however, Ada’s dead body is found in a Manhattan garbage bag, and the manuscript has disappeared. Soon Juliet finds that the 84-year-old had stirred up quite a number of murderous feelings in her lifetime. A well-plotted, witty cozy without pretensions that nonetheless features a set of unusually complex characters.” – February 1, 2003
From the Detroit Free Press: ’A writer of first-rate froth, Manhattan’s Juliet Bodine likes to think of her immensely popular Regency romances as literary anesthesia for miserable women.
Unfortunately, in “Slightly Abridged” (St. Martin’s, $23.95), she’s joined their ranks, despite two hunky men in her life — which is played out in an Upper West Side duplex with a river view. Juliet can’t write her next book and she’s depressed.
Then a feisty elderly fan from rural New York shows up for tea, bearing a possibly valuable 19th-Century manuscript. Of course both the fan and the manuscript disappear, and Juliet is soon involved in a murder investigation, aided by a cop she has the hots for, and her novelist’s instincts and insights.
The plot in “Slightly Abridged” doesn’t quite live up to the vivid characterizations, but author Ellen Pall tells a wry story of the writing life.” – by Lev Raphael, May 11, 2003
Related Article: Whodunit? Suddenly Nobody Cared from The New York Times, February 9, 2003, Sunday
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|Corpse De Ballet – Terpischore
St. Martin’s Minotaur, 2001
Paperback, St. Martin’s Minotaur August, 2002
From Publishers Weekly Terpsichore, the ancient Greek goddess of dance, must be smiling down from her home on Mt. Helicon at Pall’s (Back East) splendid first entry in this cleverly themed series with its insights into the egos, jealousies, pains and passions of a Manhattan ballet company. Juliet Bodine, a successful writer of Regency novels and ex-professor of English literature at Barnard, puts aside her own deadlines to give literary advice to her longtime friend, Ruth Renswick, choreographer for the Jansch Ballet Company of New York, who is creating a new ballet based on Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations. A ballet fan herself, Juliet is fascinated by the personalities of the company and the process of creating a new production. When a lead dancer dies suddenly, she’s convinced it was murder, but her old Harvard friend, police detective Murray Landis, concludes the death was a suicide. Case closed, but not for Juliet. From the executive director to the lowliest member of the corps, the characters come alive through Juliet’s astute observations and the extremely well-crafted dialogue. Vivid settings capture summer in New York, and one can almost feel the heat and steam of the ballet studio. Both mystery fans and ardent balletomanes will be left with great expectations and eager anticipation for the next in the series. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
“Lovingly crafted, classically modeled, fascinatingly set…a real treat. Pall has written a literate, wryly funny, sharp-eyed story.” BOOKNEWS from The Poisoned Pen
“Sleek and sophisticated…The witty dialog and insightful handling of talent and ego add verve and dash to the theatrical mystery familiar to the readers of Ngaio Marsh.” www.crimepays.com, Partners Picks
“Given that choreographers and dancers often plot each other’s murders, Ellen Pall’s loving and very funny satire is full of witty insights and little wisdoms on the grandiose world of ballet, and moves with the fluidity of a dance.” – Lar Lubovitch, choreographer
“Utterly delicious is the only way to describe this terrifically clever, teasing and sophisticated mystery. Ellen Pall’s motley ballet company may be having some problems with esprit de corps, but her sparkling writing and engaging heroine are spirited indeed. The perfect book for a cozy chair, champagne and bonbons.” – Lynne Sharon Schwartz, author of Ruined by Reading: A Life in Books and Disturbances in the Field
URBAN TACTICS: Imaginary People In Real Gardens from The New York Times City Section, May 6, 2001, Sunday
Modern Romantic from The New York Times Magazine, May 11, 1997, Sunday
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