Latest Truman mystery sizzles

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 5, 2007

“Murder at the Opera,” by Margaret Truman. Ballantine Books. 2006. 319 pp. $24.95.

By Mary Rice Patterson

For the Salisbury Post

“Murder at the Opera” features the crime-fighting couple Mac Smith and his wife, Annabel Reed-Smith, as they navigate the glitz, glamour and grime that is Washington, D.C.

The story begins with the killer (unnamed) deciding where the fateful deed will take place as he contemplates the demise of Charise Lee, a young Asian Canadian singer who knows too much and is an obstacle in his path.

The victim insists on meeting him at the opera where she is stabbed backstage during rehearsal.

Margaret Truman very skillfully tells her story amid the staging of the opera “Tosca,” with Mac Smith playing a spear carrier. They use many extras for small parts such as this. So he and his wife are pressed into service to solve the crime.

Then the theater board asks another avid opera fan, former homicide detective Raymond Pawkins to assist with the investigation.

Not only is Truman at home with the opera “Tosca,” but she handles the location description in an excellent manner, as well as the political situation as they prepare for the president’s appearance as a guest.

She also very expertly propels her story forward by her use of dialogue, which makes for an easy read.

Sometimes, it seems as if she is using code since she uses initials for so many organizations and bureaus, such as the FBI and CIA, until she comes up with this one: BON. Then the reader gets to laugh. It stands for The Bureau of Non-Coordination. I suppose that is a joke and very much so in Washington.

Sometimes when investigating a crime, the Smiths decide to follow the money trail. How did Ray Pawkins afford to live on the level that he did? He was retired but drove an expensive car, dressed very well and loved the opera.

He has tapes of all the composers and when listening, plays the conductor. He certainly is a character of interest, carrying an unregistered gun. There are plots and subplots and a murder from a few years back that complicates the situation.

If you love mystery you’ll agree that Truman has not lost her touch. Maybe you’ll solve this one or maybe not.

Truman has won faithful readers with her works of biography and fiction, particularly her ongoing series of Capital Crimes mysteries.

Her novels let us into the corridors of power and privilege and poverty and pageantry in the nation’s capital. She is the author of many nonfiction books as well, most recently “The President’s House,” in which she shares some of the secrets and history of the White House, where she once lived. She now lives in New York City.

Mary Rice Patterson reads and writes in China Grove.