Unstrung / A Blanchard House Mystery
By: Cynthia Morrow
Length: 329 pages
Release date: Dec 14, 2014
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Violist Althea Stewart, a former L.A. musician, divorced and in her early forties, convinces her best friend Grace Sullivan, also newly divorced, to give up her struggling career as a Hollywood studio cellist, follow in her own footsteps, and move to the Pacific Northwest to open a music school in a rambling old mansion, Blanchard House, in Kirkland, Washington. The lavish pre-Christmas tea, which they host for relocated L.A. musicians, becomes the scene of a well-planned murder, the poisoning death of Marvin Pratt, a retired concertmaster, who has a fatal seizure while driving home from their party. His wife, Annabelle, a well-known violinist, is also severely injured in the crash.
Many musicians who attended the tea had good reasons to have hated Marvin Pratt, it turns out, from his less-than-exemplary private life to his unscrupulous business dealings. Althea soon realizes that some of her oldest friends may be suspected of the crime due to hitherto unknown ties to the deceased. Althea herself comes to the attention of Detective Harry Demetrious of Kirkland P.D. as a possible suspect. Demetrious is handsome, witty, and is quickly charmed by Althea’s quirky personality and auburn-haired good looks. The feeling seems to be mutual. Althea has been slow to recover from the pain of abandonment by her former husband, alcoholic violinist Dennis Littleton, and his swift remarriage.
Althea is informed by the police detective that Annabelle Pratt has inexplicably listed her as next of kin at the accident site. Althea and Grace drive to the Pratt’s home in Seattle to rescue Annabelle’s cat, learning more about the private lives of these two people in the process. Althea follows up on Annabelle’s suspicions of Marvin’s infidelity within the musical community. She also learns some details of Marvin’s shady practices as a violin collector, including his shameful theft of a rare violin that had belonged to her long-time friend and Seattle Symphony violinist Andrew Litzky. Soon Althea’s reputation as a good listener and safe confidant lead any number of friends who are worried about their involvement in the case to confess their own motives for Marvin’s murder. As it turns out, Marvin Pratt’s priceless instrument collection is at stake, as well as millions of dollars in personal wealth.
Conrad Bailey, an older colleague and long-time friend of Althea’s who has driven over from Whidbey Island for the party, has stayed on at Blanchard House after the accident to offer moral support. Conrad himself has quite an incriminating secret concerning his relationship with Marvin Pratt, which he ultimately shares with the astonished Althea. Is it possible that Marvin was indeed murdered by someone she’s known for many years and considered a friend?
Conrad’s Christmas present to Althea and Grace is a Seattle Symphony concert, complete with second row seats and a hired car, at which Grace finds herself smitten with Emile Girard, a handsome bassist in the orchestra. The backstage introductions, however, go badly, and Grace feels that she’s been snubbed and humiliated. Althea herself is haunted by the sight of a familiar face in the sea of concertgoers, but the mysterious woman disappears during the second half of the performance, and Althea tries to convince herself that her imagination is working overtime. Their return home is delayed by a death in the street directly in front of the concert hall. It seems that the annoying, and rather shady, violin dealer, Oliver Siddons, one of Althea’s least favorite people, has just been shoved into the path of an oncoming bus.
Althea’s daily hospital visits with Annabelle ultimately become the key to unraveling a mystery in her own past as she finds herself drawn into a world of unimaginable and deadly secrets as the murderer prepares to strike again.