Nina Fleet is happy to welcome a troupe of Shakespearean performers into her bed and breakfast—mostly because she didn’t realize Harry Westcott, her sometimes enemy, serves as their director. As the campy group settles in, though, Harry quickly becomes the least of her worries. Backstage drama, personal squabbles, and a series of pranks regularly derail rehearsals. However, the production is stopped cold when the lead actor is found murdered. But the show must go on, and it’s up to Nina to find the killer among a reticent cast before she’s forced to make an untimely exit herself.
Back for another case, Nina Fleet runs one of the most charming bed and breakfasts that any murderer should feel lucky to spend a night in. The streets of Cymbeline, Georgia are littered with quirk, from a local coroner playing double duty as a pastor to an apparent delicacy known as grilled peach and peanut butter sandwiches. Author Anna Gerard has crafted a fully realized world for Nina that, for readers, is easy to stroll around in for a few hours. If it wasn’t so hot, it’d be heaven.
Well … the high murder rate might be a problem, too. In this case, Nina does seem like the best person to solve the mystery. Surrounded by a cast of dramatic egos, she’s seemingly the one levelheaded sleuth in the bunch. She’s matched with a mystery that’s lot of fun, and filled with a healthy dose of Shakespearean references and misdirection.
Note: This next section contains spoilers.
However—and it’s a big however—some of Nina’s investigating falls flat. While investigating Chris, one potential suspect, Nina looks through their personal things and discovers they have a prescription under the name Christina. The assumption is that Chris is trans, but Nina’s response to this reveal is bizarre. She considers the situation deceitful, discusses Chris’s otherwise undisclosed gender identity with Harry, and eventually confronts Chris about it. The more Nina fixates on Chris’s gender identity the more uncomfortable the book becomes.
While there’s a logical explanation for this subplot that’s practically Shakespearean, it’s an uncomfortable read leading to that point. The sections where Nina becomes fixated on pronouns is particularly awkward. At one point, Harry tells Nina to stop worrying so much and just use gender neutral pronouns. There’s practically a sigh of relief that runs through the pages.
Note: End of spoilers.
In Peachy Scream, it’s a total delight returning to Cymbeline. Unfortunately, one major misfire keeps it from being a perfect visit.
Note: I received a free ARC of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.