Source: I received a complimentary egalley from the author through BookSirens in exchange for an honest review.
“Chicago. 1935. The Great Depression has brought America to its knees, and the people are dying for some entertainment. Luckily for them, a murder has been scheduled for opening night at The Red Rising Theater. When the lead actress receives a death threat, Detective Rowan Manory and his partner Walter Williams agree to take the case. Neither realizes the curtain is rising on the deadliest and most vexing mystery of their career. There will be 200 witnesses in the seats and not a single suspect on the stage. Could this be the perfect murder? The Opening Night Murders is a thrilling impossible crime novel that will keep you guessing from the first clue right up to the shocking finale.” – Goodreads
I have long been a fan of the impossible murder and it seems I have happened across another enthusiast, James Scott Byrnside. On his site he states, “Footprints in the snow, locked rooms, and missing murder weapons are some of my favorite things.” So inspired by the classic Golden Age mystery novels, he has written two books, with a third out this year, featuring just these scenarios…the impossible crime. The Opening Night Murders is his second novel, with both the first and second featuring the sleuthing duo of private investigators Rowan Manory and Walter Williams, though I haven’t had the pleasure of reading the first,entitled Goodnight Irene.
The novel opens up in the cesspool of corruption and poverty that is the Great Depression-era Chicago. The setting for the novel is centered around The Red Rising Theater, though the author does give us quite a few glimpses of the Chicago area at the time. I felt it was very well described and the story had a strong sense of place because of it. Though the novel was set in 1935, it did seem to lose the feeling of the period from time to time. I couldn’t quite put my finger on whether it was certain words or phrases the characters would use or if it was descriptions within the story that left me with a much more modern sense, but occasionally it seemed to slip into the modern realm just a little. As for the characters, though there were quite a few of them, it never seemed confusing to me due to the fact that Byrnsides gives each of them quite a strong, unique voice and personality.
The mystery was definitely of the impossible variety. You have a woman die on stage in front of two-hundred-plus theater goers with no possible way of having made it happen. I had a theory or two throughout the book, but until the clues started to fit together around the 75% mark, I was actually quite clueless and hadn’t managed to guess it correctly at all. Beyond that, the person I had pegged as the culprit was completely innocent of the crime and it was one of the few people that I actually liked and thought would be above such a killing. It had me totally stumped.
Overall, this was a great classic noir-style mystery with a fantastic cast of characters, a unique setting, and a baffling mystery. If you’re a fan of impossible murder mysteries, give this one a go.