Review: Murder a Cappella, by James R. Callan and Diane Bailey

Murder a Cappella cover artMurder a Cappella, by James R. Callan and Diane Bailey (Wayside Press, 2012)

The stereotypical image of barbershop music is a quartet of older men in straw hats, singing four-part harmony. What most people outside barbershop circles don’t know is that A) men’s quartets and choruses have young and middle-aged guys too, and B) there are ladies’ quartets and choruses. And both groups have regional, district and international competitions.

So… the scene is San Antonio, Texas. The Alamo plaza, to be precise, where an identically-dressed quartet of female barbershoppers is part of an open-air concert. It’s part of the Sweet Adelines’ international competition, and women have travelled from all over the US and beyond to participate.

When a sniper kills two members of the quartet, is it random violence? Or is someone after the singers?

Barbershopper Tina Overton is in town for the competition, but she’s a cop in her other life. The victims were her friends, and she wants to help find their killer. She works herself into the investigation as a liaison between the San Antonio police and the Sweet Adelines.

This is a mainstream novel and there’s some minor profanity. Because a lot of my readers are Christian, I’ll warn you there’s one instance of Jesus’ name used as a curse. The sad thing is, another word would have done as well and been less offensive. Otherwise, the novel’s a good read.

By definition, a competition for barbershop choruses involves a lot of characters. While only a few are central to the story, like Tina, Angela and the detective, there are a number of interactions with what I’ll call “mid-level” characters. At times I got their names jumbled. If you’re prone to that sort of thing, I’d suggest taking a blank paper for a bookmark and jotting down each person as s/he appears. First and last name (the detective uses surnames) and a cue, like “director.” It’s times like this I wish for the Agatha Christie-style cast list.

Murder a Cappella is the first barbershop-themed mystery I’ve read, and the authors do a fine job of balancing the intricate behind-the-scenes world of the women’s international competition with the unfolding mystery and clues. The solution took me by surprise.

If you’re a barbershopper, you’ll nod and smile at some of the details and situations. If you’re not, you’ll learn a bit about something new. You won’t feel lost in jargon or technicalities. This is Tina’s first time at International, and she’s new enough to her chorus that if there’s anything you need to know, she’ll need to know too. Her friend and mentor Angela will explain it in a non-disruptive way.

You can learn about co-authors James R. Callan and Diane Bailey at their respective websites. For more about Murder a Cappella, to read chapter 1 or to view the book trailer, visit the Sweet Adelines Mystery site. Yes, there will be more Sweet Adeline Mysteries. And that’s a good thing.

[review copy from my personal library]

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