Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Murder at the Palace by Margaret Dumas

First Line: It all started because of the séance scene in Blithe Spirit (1945, Rex Harrison and Constance Cummings).

When her big movie star husband runs off with his beautiful co-star, Nora Paige needs two things: a place to hide out from the paparazzi, and something to take her mind off her troubles. When a friend offers a guest house and a temporary job as the manager of an old movie theatre that shows classic films, Nora heads straight for San Francisco.

What she finds is a building that needs some TLC, a rather eccentric group of employees, and a dead body in the old ice machine in the basement. Oh, and there's the little matter of a ghost named Trixie that only Nora can see. Will Nora and the gang be able to catch the killer before anyone else comes to harm?

I have to admit that the reason why I picked up Margaret Dumas's Murder at the Palace is that I spent a lot of time at the movies for decades and sometimes even think in movie quotes. For me, the setting is perfect. Many of the films I saw as a teenager were in theatres that had originally showcased vaudeville acts-- just like the one in this book. I also didn't mind the parenthetical references to old movies when there was a tie-in with the plot. The one thing that got old quickly (for me anyway) was the occasional break to talk about an old film from a blog called Movies My Friends Should Watch. If you're not familiar with the films that are discussed, you probably won't mind it at all, but I was, and I found the breaks intrusive. There was an easy solution, however-- I skipped over them.

The police presence in Murder at the Palace is practically non-existent, but that prevents me from breaking out in hives due to the used-to-death stupid cop characters. What the book lacks in the department of men in blue it more than makes up for in the eccentric. I liked Nora. She's strong and funny, but-- maybe because she's got so much on her mind-- she sometimes does some pretty silly things, but she's so likable that you just have to forgive her.

The employees at the theatre are very good, although the character of teenager Brandon needs more oomph and Marty the projectionist needs a bit less oomph. Since one of my touchiest pet peeves is the word "like" being overused, I'm happy that Callie the college student didn't have a larger role, but that's just, like, me. And what about the ghost of young Trixie, the usherette who died in the theatre in the 1930s? She could really turn out to be a strong member of the cast, although I do hope she learns some manners and stops expecting Nora to answer all her questions when there's another person in the room. (Nora's the only one who can see her.)

This is a book that has good bones. I learned a bit about a certain type of business dealt with in the story, and the mystery is a good one even though some of the clues were too obvious. I think I'll add a word of warning, though. For those of you who hate cliffhangers (and I know you are legion), the mystery in the book is solved, but the story does end on a cliffhanger that involves Nora's personal life.

Do I want to find out what happens in that cliffhanger? Yes, I do. I like Nora and I like that old movie theatre. I want to know more.

Murder at the Palace by Margaret Dumas
ISBN: 9781635114638
Henery Press © 2019
Paperback, 272 pages

Cozy Mystery, #1 Movie Palace mystery
Rating: B
Source: Purchased at The Poisoned Pen.



  1. Oh, that is a great context for a story, Cathy. I'd be interested, myself, just on that score. I like the premise, too, and I'm glad you found a lot to enjoy here.

    1. I've noticed that old Hollywood films are beginning to show up in crime fiction. I like that.

  2. This sounds like so much fun! I love a group of eccentric characters, and I'm so curious about Nora and Trixie!


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