Vicki Delany’s Catskill Summer Resort Mysteries is a delightful new series. So far, she has penned: Deadly Summer Nights and Deadly Director’s Cut. Set in the summer of 1953, Delaney’s novels feature a smart and spunky red-head, but she’s definitely not perky. Elizabeth Grady has far too much of a dash of darkness for that characterization. Running a Catskills resort for her retired star-dancer mother requires too much battle-readiness for a woman trying to succeed in business in the 1950s. A bruising war-time marriage that left her widowed also nipped any rosebuds of innocence from her character, though she’s far from embittered. She still uses warmth, loyalty, intelligence, and wit to handle police, employees, and customers unenlightened about a woman’s abilities to think and lead – and to solve murders!
The mysteries are nicely crafted with plenty of viable clues and red herrings sprinkled deftly along the way, although Elizabeth’s eureka moments do seem to come a bit out of the blue. Still, our heroine asks the right questions, is adventurous without being stupid, and is no delicate little flower who faints in the face of danger. Especially fun are the supporting cast: her glamorous mother and her earthy aunt; her free-spirited friend Velvet and the laid back lifeguard Randy; and her aunt’s bulldog Winston, who is forever crashing through the underbrush at the darnedest moments – when he isn’t woofing over a dead body he’s discovered.
Elizabeth also has some interesting romantic interests. Richard is the son of a rival hotel owner, always trying charmingly to make up for his father’s underhanded competitive tactics. Jim, not quite hard-bitten, is a reporter from the Big Apple who lends support in her unraveling of murders and sabotage. Whom Elizabeth will choose should she be able to overcome the memory of her unfortunate marriage is up in the air, though book two seems to lean heavily in Richard’s direction. Still, the race isn’t over until the stewards declare it official (unless a federal court weighs in). My friend Ruth and I are pulling for Jim because his somewhat rough-around-the-edges persona makes him more interesting – to us anyway!
Delany does an excellent job of recreating the ambience of a 1950s summer in the Catskills. I was reading Deadly Summer Nights while chilling on my bed with the window open on a sunny June afternoon: sounds of children playing, dogs barking, birds conversing blended with a warm breeze rolling in. The author’s descriptions of life at play in the resort seemed to merge with my reality. Both took me back to my childhood summers of release from school.
Delany is also spot on with her descriptions of women’s fashions, hair, and makeup. She has the music down pat, too. The food and drink really takes you back! Sidecars, whiskey sours, and pink squirrels! Remember when jello salads and Cheese Whiz on a celery stick were nouveau cuisine? But, oh, that baked Alaska and angel-food cake! Then there are Elizabeth’s visits to her friend Lucinda for the latest intel at the town diner – French fries, grilled cheese, and egg creams. No wonder Elizabeth is always complaining that her girdle’s too tight!
Finally, I can’t forget to add how adeptly Vicki Delany draws her mysteries and murder from the reality of the times: McCarthy witch hunts, shell-shock in veterans, hypocritical marriages, Hollywood casting couches, comedy and counterculture, heavy duty cocktail consumption! Definitely start this series!
For more info on Vicki Delany, here’s a link to her web site.
Pink Squirrel image from https://www.liquor.com/recipes/pink-squirrel/
Attribution Joe McCarthy image: National Archives and Records Administration, Records of the U.S. Information Agency, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons