Thursday, May 13, 2021

Showcase A Fatal First Night by Kathleen Marple Kalb

Today I'm featuring a historical cozy #2 in Kathleen Marple Kalb's Ella Shane Mystery Series, A Fatal First Night. For an author with only two books under her belt she's getting a lot of praise.

ISBN-13:  9781496727244
Publisher: Kensington Books
Release Date: 4-27-2021
Length: 304pp
Ella Shane #2
Buy It: Publisher/Amazon/B&N/ IndieBound


Set in Gilded Age New York, Kathleen Marple Kalb's adventurous new historical mystery series returns for its second installment starring the swashbuckling opera singer Ella Shane, an Irish-Jewish Lower East Side orphan who finds fame and fortune singing male "trouser roles." But while her opera company's latest premier manages to attract adoring crowds and rave reviews, it also attracts a killer who's a real showstopper...

New York City, Fall 1899. Ahead-of-her-time coloratura mezzo Ella Shane has always known opening night to be a mess of missed cues and jittery nerves, especially when unveiling a new opera. Her production of The Princes in the Tower, based on the mysterious disappearance of Edward IV's two sons during the Wars of the Roses in England, concludes its first performance to thunderous applause. It's not until players take their bows that the worst kind of disaster strikes...

Flawless basso Albert Reuter is found lurched over a bloody body in his dressing room, seemingly taking inspiration from his role as the murderous Richard III. With a disturbing homicide case stealing the spotlight, Ella can't be so certain Albert is the one who belongs behind bars...

Now, Ella must think on her feet while sorting out a wild series of puzzling mishaps and interlocking mysteries. Yet even when sided with her aristocratic beau, does this scrappy diva have the chops to upstage the true criminal, or will this be the last time she headlines a Broadway marquee?

Read an excerpt:

Chapter 1
In Which Premiere Night Does Not Go to Plan
Beware Premiere Night. The words conjure images of ovations and acclaim, artistic triumph, and extravagant tributes, floral and otherwise. In the event, though, openings bring first-show glitches, importunate stage-door Lotharios, and always, inevitably, some disaster we did not anticipate. That said, I must admit that Tuesday night in early October 1899 was the first time we had seen a murder in the dressing room.
The debut of The Princes in the Tower began as a sensation in entirely the right way: the unveiling of a brilliant score by composer Louis Abramovitz and lyrics by his wife and partner, Anna, with two appealing blond divas in the lead roles. Marie de l’Artois, tiny and angelically beautiful, renowned for her spectacular high register and Queen of the Night in the Met’s production of The Magic Flute, played the younger brother, the Duke of York. She doubled as their lovely and vengeful mother, Queen Elizabeth Woodville.
The older brother, Edward V? That would be me. Ella Shane, internationally acclaimed, or at least paid in several different currencies, for my coloratura mezzo, usually heard in trouser roles, like Bellini’s Romeo or Handel’s Xerxes. Tall and strawberry blond, in contrast to Marie’s silvery delicacy. Not to mention the marquee name, company owner, and general smart aleck, if you ask my cousin, manager, and co-owner Tommy Hurley, and you probably should. I doubled as the heroic king Henry Tudor, in The Princes, ending the show in triumph by vanquishing the evil basso Richard III. I do fancy a good vanquishing.
We’d filled a medium-size Broadway theater, as we would for the rest of the limited run. With the twentieth century fast approaching, opera isn’t quite the popular form it once was, but our show was an event. A well-attended one. A new work by an unknown composer would not conflict with, or draw much attention from, the august precincts of the Met, right up the street. But it certainly drew interest from opera fanciers and more plebian theatergoers alike—at least in part because it featured the aforementioned blond divas in doublets and hose.
More than one friend of the company, as well as Tommy, had described it as a license to print money, and while I wasn’t prepared to go that far, we were certainly off to a strong start.
Marie and I enjoyed our standing ovation and curtain calls and made sure that our Richard III, a young singer in his first lead, got his share of acclaim, as well. Then we dragged Louis and Anna out of the orchestra pit to get theirs.
As Marie and I took our final bows, hand in hand in front of the ensemble, we exchanged smiles. I knew what she was thinking, because I was thinking the same thing. Not a bad night for Maisie Mazerosky of Poughkeepsie and Ellen O’Shaughnessy of the Lower East Side. If we hadn’t had the gift of voices and the good fortune to find teachers to train us, we’d be sewing shirtwaists or scrubbing floors. We know how lucky we are, and we don’t forget it, even when people are tossing roses at our feet.
Not my favorite, by the way. More than once, I’ve taken a thorn in the heel when I stepped on a bouquet in my slippers. A simple “Brava, diva!” will do nicely.
When the cheers finally faded, we took our glow to our respective dressing rooms. I would have been happy to host everyone in mine, but Marie is entitled to her own orbit and used it mostly to accommodate her family, all of whom, except her youngest, tiny Joseph, had come to congratulate her. Even her husband Paul’s parents, the Winslows of Boston, were there, pouring praise, now that they’d finally tumbled to the idea that having a diva in the family is a fairly prestigious thing.
At the next door down, it was a familial scene of a different sort. Tommy was having a happy play fight with his best friend, Father Michael Riley, sparring about whether the language of the blessing in the scene before the climactic battle was accurate and appropriate to the time. Rosa, Tommy’s and my former housemaid, newly promoted to dresser as well as lady’s maid because Anna was too busy with both lyrics and costumes, was carefully helping me out of my cape, and we were all waiting for the stage-door admirers to start knocking.
I sat down at my vanity, not to remove my makeup, since that could be more than an hour away still, but to have a suitable place to receive visitors. And also, I will admit, to take a moment to admire my floral tributes. Well, one floral tribute among them.
I’m sure that in our modern day, it is within the realm of possibility, if insanely elaborate, for someone in England to send an order of lilacs to a particular event here. But the fact that the Briton in question had troubled to do so was ridiculously pleasing to me. The card was simple enough: I look forward to seeing The Princes, and you, in London. G.
The greasepaint thankfully hid my blush, but I confess to looking at my eyes in the mirror and remembering lines from a recent letter about whether they are bluish green or greenish blue. His are unquestionably ice blue, terrifyingly cold when he’s angry, and sparkly like a naughty little boy’s when he smiles.
“Stop mooning over the lilacs, already, Heller,” Toms teased.
“Your duke again, Miss Ella? Are you sure you don’t want me to post the banns?” Father Michael added.
I glared at the boys, who snickered, as they always did at the occasional tokens of esteem from Gilbert Saint Aubyn, Duke of Leith, who had become a friend during our investigation of his cousin’s unfortunate demise and might well become far more in the fullness of time. Not that I wanted to speculate at that exact moment.
Saved by the stage-door Lotharios. There was something unctuous and grubby about the very sound of the first knock, and much more so about the knocker.
I sighed and nodded to Tommy, who opened the door to Grover Duquesne, Captain of Industry, resplendent in white tie, a floral brocade waistcoat straining to contain his paunch, and a towering top hat covering his egg-bald head. Beneath his eruption of bushy whitish-brown whiskers, his pouty baby mouth contorted into an attempt at a smile, and he seemed to actually lick his lips at the sight of me. My stomach lurched as the tiny eyes fastened on me and did a filthy appraisal that reminded me of a cattle market, only much less nice.
“Miss Ella. Such a magnificent performance,” he said, holding out a sizeable bouquet of red roses in hands with a distinct and disturbing resemblance to charcuterie. Small sausages. The Captain of Industry is from the earlier generation who collected chorus girls, and is incapable of understanding that I am a respectable lady, and an artist, not a candidate for his kept woman.
For myself alone, I am rather more blunt: I’m nobody’s whore.
Toms tensed at the door and narrowed his blue-green eyes at Duquesne, with the expression New Yorkers generally reserve for outsize vermin, like the sewer rats of the Gowanus Canal. “Thank you kindly, Mr. Duquesne,” I said, doing my best to maintain demeanor as I held out my hand and let him bow over it, as diva protocol requires. It would not do to empty my stomach on his spats.
“Indeed, Miss Ella. Are you planning to adjourn to Delmonico’s tonight?”
I had never yet adjourned to Delmonico’s of a night, nor would I. As a Lower East Side orphan made good, I was perhaps excessively careful about even the appearance of impropriety. Nothing on offer at Delmonico’s was worth the risk to my reputation. “I’m sorry, no.”
“Ah, well. It’s a delight to see you and the lovely Madame de l’Artois in such wonderful roles. And that death-scene aria of yours, ‘Never Shall I Love.’ You truly sing it like you mean it.”
“Well, Mr. Duquesne, I do.” I doubted that would discourage him, but one could hope.
“Indeed she does, Duquesne,” an acerbic voice contributed from the door. “We don’t have to have a word again, do we?”
Preston Dare, sports editor of the Beacon, dean of the gentleman writers’ corps, and informal uncle to Tommy and me, filled the frame, managing to look simultaneously amiable and menacing. Even in black tie, with a red carnation at his lapel, his salt-and-pepper hair and mustache neatly groomed, Preston managed to project just a tiny bit of threat. He and Tommy had both been known to “have a word” with any admirer of mine they deemed insufficiently respectful.
While it might seem more threatening if the word came from Tommy, who’d been a boxing champ before he turned from managing his own career to mine, Preston was also quite effective against the depredations of stage-door admirers. Under the convivial chronicler’s patter simmered the unmistakable message that this was a man you did not want to cross.
“Good to see you again, Dare.” The Captain of Industry tried for joviality. “Great column on boxing rules last week.”
“Thank you.” He bowed.
Duquesne bowed. Tommy bowed.
Duquesne took one more vile run at it before he left. “If you and your protectors should find yourselves at Delmonico’s. . .” “Thank you very kindly, Mr. Duquesne.”
Tommy took his cue and held the door, allowing the Captain of Industry to scuttle through it. Any resemblance to a cockroach was entirely unintentional.
“Great heavens, kid.” Preston shook his head. “He gets worse every time.”
“Someday, I am going to have to really teach him a lesson,” Tommy said darkly.
“No, you’re not, either of you,” I chided them. “He’s just looking and being repulsive, and that’s not worth you risking his lawyers or worse.”
They scowled like cranky little boys. Cranky large boys, actually, since both are well north of six feet.
Father Michael, no delicate flower himself despite the cassock, joined in. “I wanted to clock him one, too.”
“Right?” Tommy growled. “Swine.”
“Worse.” Preston’s scowl deepened. “At least you can make bacon with swine.”
Father Michael just shook his head.
A knock at the door announced the next contender, saving us all from further discussion. This swine was more like a piglet, actually, accompanied by his sow of a parent, and his uncle, who inspired no barnyard comparisons whatever.
Teddy Bridgewater—yes, those Bridgewaters—is barely a legal adult, and barely noticeable. His most remarkable feature is his mother. Mama Bridgewater inevitably reminds me of one of the lesser Valkyries, if they were in the habit of lurking about in bombazine dresses and mourning bonnets. She has never yet spoken to me, since as a performer, I am beneath her exceedingly respectable notice.
That, at any rate, is what she wants me to think. In fact, since these days all but the most narrow-minded acknowledge my profession as respectable and honorable, her antipathy for me is rather less noble. I suspect she’s far more bothered by the fact that I am perhaps half a decade younger than she, while she looks at least twenty years older, never mind my being slim enough to convincingly play boys.
It would have truly enraged her to know that I feel a bit sorry for her. As usual, Teddy handed me a bouquet of lilies of the valley, the scent of which nauseates me, and took my hand in his clammy paws to bow over it. He’d actually kissed it once, but it had clearly been an accident, so he was not the recipient of a “word.”
Teddy bleated a few admiring sentences about the opera, and then his mother turned her eyes away from their attempt to set fire to my costume and gazed sharply at his face. “Yes, then, I need to go home to bed.”
Mother and son turned to leave, and the third member of the delegation made his way from an amiable chat with Tommy to me, his dark blue eyes sparkling with amusement at his ridiculous relatives. I am always amazed that the same family that spawned Teddy could have produced Cabot Bridgewater.
Cabot, the current ranking male in the storied Knickerbocker clan, has spent most of his life quietly working to improve the lot of his less fortunate neighbors. Better: in addition to building libraries, he’s actually been known to read the books inside. Tommy and I had crossed paths with him and Teddy at a baseball game a few months ago, and he’s taken to coming over for the occasional tea and excellent conversation. Born to the Bridgewater prestige and fortune, he is so high in the social firmament that he has no need of pretension, and Tommy and I have both come to greatly enjoy his company.
“Well, Henry Tudor never looked so fair.” Cabot produced a bouquet of violets and took my hand, then held it warmly instead of making any real, or pretended, move for a kiss.
“Thank you, Mr. Bridgewater.” I did not pull my hand away. Yes, I’ve promised to allow Gilbert Saint Aubyn to pay court, but he’s in England. Still, while Cabot is very much here, he is also very much not His Grace. I don’t feel even the faintest trace of the odd electrical disturbances that happen when the duke is about.
It did not especially matter, really, since Cabot seemed quite happy sharing a cordial friendship with both Tommy and me at the moment and had so far given me no indication of a desire for anything more. For which I was secretly relieved, though I would not admit that to anyone.
Just then, though, I did not have to pursue that line of thought, because we heard shouting from King Richard’s dressing room.
It was right across the hall, so Tommy and I were first in the door, to see our Richard, Albert Reuter, with blood all over his shirt and a knife in his hand. His brown eyes were wild, and his blond hair stood up in spikes. He looked more frightened than menacing, but the man at his feet might disagree.
The victim was blond, like Albert, young, and probably fairly tall. That was about all I could tell, because there was so much blood from the wound in his neck.
“Arterial slash. He’s gone, kid,” Preston said behind me, shaking his head.
“How do you . . . ?” I started.
“I was a drummer boy at Gettysburg. Don’t ask me anything more, all right?”
Speechless, Tommy and I both stared back at Preston for a moment, thinking about what horrors he must have seen on those three burning days in July 1863. As we stood there, Father Michael walked in, took one look, and knelt by the victim to begin last rites.
“Albert,” I asked finally, “are you all right?”
It was an insane question, but no more insane than what happened next.
“Oh, Miss Ella!” He dropped the knife and collapsed, sobbing, in my arms. “I didn’t want him dead.”
I was still holding him and patting his back, comforting him as if he were an upset child, when the police arrived.


Praise for A Fatal Finale, the first Ella Shane Mystery by Kathleen Marple Kalb
“Kathleen Marple Kalb's debut historical mystery, set in New York City in 1899, reads like the work of a seasoned novelist. Through her charismatic heroine, Ella Shane, the reader can peer through the curtain at the world of opera, seeing it in all its glamor, hard work, and occasional seediness. With a cast of endearing secondary characters and a dauntless heroine, A Fatal Finale calls for encore after encore.”
—Miranda James, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Cat in the Stacks series

“Filled with period detail and well-drawn characters, including an intelligent parrot named Montezuma, this story provides a nice start to a series for those who enjoy feisty heroines in cozies with theatrical frames.”

“A wonderful new series. Ella is an amazing character, an expert at fencing and cycling, besides her singing career. She is fiercely independent, having resisted all suitors, and wants to stay that way, even though people keep reminding her that, in her mid-thirties, she will soon be too old for motherhood. Kalb paints a vivid portrait of New York at the end of the 19th century…Highly recommended.”
—Historical Novel Society (Editor’s Choice)

“Kalb may be a debut author, but her storytelling skills are already top-notch...Fun, romance, swordplay, music, and a well-done mystery take the stage for an outstanding debut. Brava!”
—Mystery Scene Magazine

“A thoroughly enjoyable book, for both the plot centering around a still-contemporary malady, as well as its historical description of a world on the brink of a new century.”
—New York Journal of Books

“Appealing characters…Well-drawn opera-world setting.”
—Publishers Weekly

“An immersive romp in the life of a Gilded Age opera singer from humble beginnings...It sets the stage for a series that could explore the complicated career and interior life of an independent woman of the early 1900s.”
—Criminal Element

“In A Fatal Finale, Kathleen Marple Kalb raises the curtain on the tarnished glamour of the New York City theater scene in the Gilded Age, with a cast of characters so genuine and loveable you won’t want to leave them when the book is over. Bravo to this engaging debut! I look forward to encore after encore!”
—Alyssa Maxwell, author of Murder at Crossways

“Delightfully intriguing, A Fatal Finale is a Gilded Age gem of a mystery. Kathleen Marple Kalb has gifted us with a glimpse of behind-the-scenes opera at the turn of the 20th century and introduced us to Ella Shane, an unconventional diva, and the perfect plucky heroine. Readers will adore this immersive tale!”
—Lydia Kang, author of Opium and Absinthe

About the author:
Kathleen Marple Kalb is the author of the historical Ella Shane Mystery series set in Gilded Age New York, which includes A Fatal Finale and A Fatal First Night. She’s also a weekend morning anchor at New York’s 1010 WINS Radio, capping a career she began as a teenage DJ in rural Western Pennsylvania. Kalb is a member of the Sisters in Crime New York Chapter and the Author's Guild and is active in media organizations as well. She lives in Cheshire, Connecticut with her family and is at work on her next book.

Book One


  1. This sounds like it would be really good. I like a good mystery.

  2. Sounds good and now that I am reading more cozies, maybe I'll reach on this one.

  3. I hadn't heard of this series and I do love the historical cozies. Neat that it's set in Gilded Age New York.