The Dancing Murders

A Literary Historical Mystery Portia of the Pacific Series Volume 6

Fiction - Mystery - Historical
282 Pages
Reviewed on 04/24/2021
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Romuald Dzemo for Readers' Favorite

The Dancing Murders is the compelling sixth entry in A Literary Historical Mystery series by James Musgrave, a novel that reads well as a standalone story. Set in San Diego in 1888, the story follows a murder mystery that is as suspenseful as it is mind-boggling. Wyatt Earp is a gunslinger charged with the first-degree murder of Rabbi Sonnenschein. His common-law wife — a feisty woman who has always given life the risk it deserves, always exploding with curiosity — offers testimony that leaves everyone unsure about the perpetrator of the crime. Attorney and detective Clara Shortridge Foltz quickly finds herself with four suspects. This could have been an easy case, but she is plunged into an investigation that takes her through a labyrinthine path of sex trafficking, mysticism, terrorism, and more. Can she unveil the face of the murderer as the mystery deepens and which of the four suspects is most likely to have committed the murder?

To say that The Dancing Murders is a great read would be an understatement. It is explosive. Period! It features complex and cleverly written characters that grab the attention of the reader from the first page. The writing is bold and James Musgrave confidently breaks the rules of conventional narrative and allows the voices of the characters to ring through naturally. As the story progresses, each layer of each character’s depth is peeled away and readers are faced with more complex questions as they explore the inner workings of the minds of the characters, especially the four suspects. The first-person narrative voice is well-crafted and it is hypnotic. James Musgrave is a master when it comes to crafting suspenseful scenes and characters that are multilayered. His talent for making readers question everything and everyone shines through every page of this compelling mystery. You’ll find delight in following the cunning twists and the sharp narration. The Dancing Murders is utterly absorbing.

Grant Leishman

The Dancing Murders: A Literary Historical Mystery (Portia of the Pacific Series Volume 6) by James Musgrave takes us back to the world of renowned female private detective/lawyer, Clara Shortridge Foltz. Now based in San Diego, Ms. Foltz is about to represent one of the West’s most written and talked about characters of the previously wild West, former U.S. Marshall Wyatt Earp. In 1888, Wyatt, long retired from law enforcement, has settled in San Diego with his common-law wife and is now a well-known businessman and entrepreneur. When Wyatt is accused of murdering a mystical Jewish rabbi who was hell-bent on destroying the red-light district of San Diego, much of which had been financed by Wyatt and his wife, it seems a pretty straightforward case of murder. There’s no disputing Wyatt Earp pulled the trigger that fired the bullet that blew the Rabbi’s head apart but the question remains – why? The prosecution thinks they know but with the redoubtable Ms. Foltz on his case, ably supported by one of the U.S.’s first female doctors, Dr. Charlotte Baker, there is always the opportunity of placing some reasonable doubt in the minds of the jury, if only the team can unravel the tangle of mysteries and intrigue that surrounds this case.

The Dancing Murders is the latest iteration in a series of mysteries and murders that revolve around the amazing and redoubtable Clara Shortridge Foltz. As one of the very first women attorneys and private detectives seeking to perform in a man’s arena, Clara always has her back to the wall but her deductive skills and her uncanny intuition have seen some label her as the real-life incarnation of the fictional Sherlock Holmes. Author James Musgrave uses a literary contrivance of telling essentially the same story from four different perspectives, that of the principal suspects. This is a technique fraught with danger that risks the reader becoming overwhelmed with the repetitive nature of the facts; however, Musgrave handles it extraordinarily well, with strong characters whose interesting, and at times, unusual perspectives of the same event prevent the reader from wearying of its retelling. The plot is as twisty and convoluted as any I have read lately and sucks the reader into the narrative so completely that they will constantly find themselves questioning the motives and actions of the various characters. You genuinely will want to read this story from cover to cover because it just won’t let you go. This is a stunning story, filled with mysticism and good old-fashioned wild-west attitudes that will appeal to a wide range of readers. I enjoyed this dive into the somewhat wild, wild west and can highly recommend this read.

Deborah Lloyd

San Diego in 1888 is one of the many boomtowns on the West Coast. Its Stingaree District was the home to prostitution, drugs, and gambling. When Rabbi Jerome Sonenschein was killed by Wyatt Earp, he and his common-law wife, Josie, hired Mrs. Clara Foltz and Dr. Charlotte Baker to investigate. Clara would also serve as his defense attorney at the trial. The Rabbi, leader of the Kabbalah Mystical Society, endeavored to rid the District of its vices. As this exciting mystery progresses, other possible suspects emerge. Author James Musgrave has crafted the sixth volume of the Literary Historical Mystery Portia of the Pacific Series, titled The Dancing Murders. His outstanding grasp of this historical period is unmatched.

Author James Musgrave has penned The Dancing Murders by utilizing a unique technique to illuminate the perspective of the four suspects in this intriguing case. Through the use of first-person narratives, each one shares his/her story in chronological order. He is able to capture each one’s thought processes, as well as narrative and acts. Character development is built piece by piece, enchanting the reader as each new tidbit falls into place. The inclusion of metaphysical aspects adds another layer to this fascinating tale. This book is a perfect example of historical fiction – a great deal of factual information interwoven with both real-life and fictional characters. The entire series is a must-read for fans of this genre and a great introduction for those who have not yet ventured into this realm.

Lit Amri

Who is the true perpetrator in the murder of Rabbi Jerome Sonenschein on May 6, 1888, in Tijuana, Mexico? The accused, retired Marshal Wyatt Earp, relies on attorney and detective, Clara Shortridge Foltz, to prove his innocence. Other historical figures such as US postal inspector and politician Anthony Comstock, the first husband-and-wife physicians Dr. Fred and Dr. Charlotte Baker, and several of Clara Foltz’s children also appear as characters. James Musgrave takes it a step further to make the mystery more immersive by allowing the readers to explore the psyches of the four main suspects in The Dancing Murders, the sixth volume of the Portia of the Pacific series.

Wyatt Earp, the hero of the O. K. Corral shoot-out in Tombstone, Arizona, is charged with the first-degree murder of Jewish Mystic and itinerant Rabbi Jerome Sonenschein. Just like its predecessors, the mystery in The Dancing Murders is intricate, involving mystical Kabbalah, twisted vulgarities, and other vices of society. With the combination of first and third-person POVs, the plot and pace are the familiar methodical narrative but only for the first five chapters. Afterward, in Musgrave's own words, “It will be like a Groundhog Day mystery, where the only difference is the unique perspective and psyche of the suspect you choose.” The truth is not straightforward and predictable; it’s just as complex as some characters have their own personal agenda. All in all, fans of Portia of the Pacific will find this latest installment for the series a commendable and satisfying mystery read.