A debut novel introduces a contemporary, community theater–based romance series.
Since her divorce five years ago, Clarissa has been miserable—spending unappreciated days at her dead-end job and lonely evenings with her cat, Felix. Deciding that getting involved in theater again (something her cheating ex-husband, Stephan, did not allow) is the key to rediscovering herself, she auditions for the lead role of Tracy Lord in the Empire Theatre’s production of The Philadelphia Story. (The theater has a fraught history: a Prologue explains that during opening night of the Empire Players’ production of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None in 1988, two cast members died under suspicious circumstances.) But Clarissa’s budding acting career is almost cut short when she balks at kissing a handsome stranger, Alexander, during the audition. She gives in to the kiss and nearly gives in to unexpected lust. Alexander, a newcomer to the small town, is the typical alpha male—wealthy, handsome, mysterious, and a presumed womanizer. Scarred from her divorce, vulnerable Clarissa is immediately wary of him (despite the fact he gives her no reason to be), particularly his odd attachment to the Empire and his inexplicable interest in her. At the same time, Stephan strangely begins to woo her, the fate of the theater divides the town, and Clarissa discovers that a trinket from her grandmother may be her key to financial freedom. In Masque’s appealing tale, a small cadre of supporting characters—theater director Derek, assistant Ivy, and Clarissa’s best friend, Sally—provides depth, while the deliciously evil con artist Zandra and stupid Stephan give the reader two characters to hate. The conflict between wounded Clarissa and alpha Alexander, based primarily on her unwillingness to trust him or any man and on miscommunication, is a bit contrived. But while their romance remains slightly formulaic, the mystery subplot adds interest. The Prologue’s 1988 whodunit is not mentioned again until the closing scenes, presumably to be resolved in future installments of the series.
A somewhat predictable but enjoyable diversion for lovers of cozy mysteries, romance, and theater.