Review: Murder in the Second Row by Bev Robitai

My second book for the Global Challlenge this year takes me to New Zealand and a book I learned about from Kiwi crime fiction blogger Craig Sisterson. I’ve no clue how the digital age is going to impact writers and publishing in the long term but this is one of those books I would never have read if it hadn’t been available to me electronically. It cost me $4US at Smashwords and would have cost $30 + shipping to import it here in physical format if I could get the sole New Zealand store stocking it to ship it to me which appears unlikely from their website.

At the Regent Theatre in the small town of Whetford, New Zealand the resident amateur dramatic society are preparing for their next show which, they’ve decided, will be Agatha Christie’s Appointment With Death. They can just about afford well-known Director Adam Bryant and have soon held auditions are are in early rehearsals when one of the cast members is gruesomely murdered. This comes on top of the news that local developers want to build a shopping mall that would require the bulldozing of the theatre and the local Council, which owns 40% of the theatre, is keen to support the move. Jessica Jones, the theatre’s manager, heads up the campaign to save the theatre and takes on an amateur sleuthing role in her zeal to protect her beloved theatre.

Robitai has done a tremendous job with her setting here, really bringing to life a historic theatre with all its creaks and ghosts and the amateur dramatic society dedicated to keeping the building and its purpose alive. By the end of the novel I was feeling terribly guilty for not supporting my own local theatres more in recent years as I too have spent many happy hours at such places in the past and I liked the way the novel demonstrated the cultural value of such buildings.

There’s also a delightful cast of characters in this classic whodunnit. Refreshingly our leading heroine is not considered a suspect (well only for a moment) and becomes a conduit of sorts to the police investigation, which she doesn’t mind at all given that Jack Matherson, the detective in charge of the case, is attractive and funny. The pool of possible culprits is extensive and their personal stories are nicely varied. None are really explored in great depth but there is enough to get a sense of them as people and as a collective of ‘average’, community-spirited people they are very credible.

The mystery element itself is reasonably straight forward and would need a couple more twists and turns for seasoned readers of the genre, but the plot is logical and the big reveal at the end manages not to go too far overboard. The humorous tone of the writing, especially the dialogue between Jessica and Jack, suits the light, fun tone of the novel and there really is a lovely, genuine feel to the story. I will be keeping an eye out for more from this talented debut author.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

My rating 3.5/5
Author website
Publisher Smashwords [2010]
Length 209 pages
Format eBook (ePub)
Book Series #1 (perhaps?) in a series featuring the theatre?
Source I bought it

This entry was posted in 2011 Global Reading Challenge, Bev Robitai, book review, New Zealand. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Review: Murder in the Second Row by Bev Robitai

  1. Kerrie says:

    Thanks for this Bernadette


  2. Bernadette – Oh, this does sound like a fun read. I’m glad you enjoyed it. I know just what you mean, too, about a book that really gives a sense of atmosphere; that is so very important, isn’t it?


  3. Ann says:

    This is a great review. I have a couple of books on Smashwords too. It’s a great place to cover different formats for e-reading.


  4. Bev Robitai says:

    Wow! What an amazing thrill to see a reader getting all the right messages from my book. One of my main aims in writing it was to make people appreciate their local theatres – sorry to leave you feeling guilty, Bernadette! You’re doing the book world a great service with your site – can’t beat personal recommendation to guide readers to the books they want. Huge appreciation for your work! Thanks!


  5. Thanks for stopping by Bev and for the kind words. I figure the least I can do to help out authors who are struggling to be discovered among the deluge of books around these days is to bang on about the good ones. And, perhaps more importantly, to assuage my guilt have bought tickets to several local theatre productions occuring during our Fringe festival starting later this month.


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