Former ballerina, Irina Curtius, lives on the Upper West Side in Manhattan, New York. Everything that the great city has to offer is at Irina’s fingertips; museums, restaurants, galleries, not to mention the beautiful Central Park. There’s no reason for Irina not to be ecstatic about her home and she isn’t. New York City is the perfect place to live.
For the past 20 years Irina has been teaching ballet to little girls in her studio, Little Cygnet’s Ballet Academy, with her college friend, Jerome, playing the piano for the school. Irina loved her professional career but she loves teaching the little ballerinas and watching them progress.
Her condominium is an ivy covered brownstone on West 87th street between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenue built during the late 19th century. The rooms have beautiful crown moldings, the windows are large, and yes you can hear the traffic on the streets but so what? The city itself never sleeps and its inhabitants like to be as active as the city.
Irina has some nice neighbors too. Her best friend, high school English teacher, Margarite, lives in an apartment right down the hall with her cat Gypsy; Celeste who lives on the floor above; and Stephen Kramer, his wife Tricia and Tricia’s sister mystery writer, Alice, live on Irina’s floor. But something has changed with the Kramers.
Irina, Stephen, and Tricia always got along well but since Tricia’s sister Alice moved in the dynamics kind of changed. First of all Stephen started to look ill. He still manages to go to work where he’s up for a promotion and to play racquetball with his business associate, Alex Rankin, but Stephen looks very bad and Irina is quite concerned about his health. The strange thing is that whenever Stephen leaves town for business he returns looking fit and healthy but as he stays home he gets sick again. Tricia, his wife, says he has the flu and her sister, Alice, gets very annoyed at Irina whenever she inquires about Stephen’s health.
But life goes on and Irina, with the sneaky ways of friends Margarite and Jerome, is soon reunited with her college boyfriend, Robert. Forty years earlier Irina and Robert were living together and just before they graduated college he broke her heart and ran off to marry one of Irina’s friends. Irina was a little annoyed with her friends for interfering and isn’t sure if she wants to take up with Robert again.
So there’s a lot going on in Irina’s life but things get more hectic when a rash of burglaries breaks out in her neighborhood and then neighbor, Stephen Kramer, is found dead in his apartment by wife, Tricia.
This is all way too much for Irina and she feels guilty that she didn’t press Stephen to see a doctor. But she also feels that his death is very suspicious. Stephen was a young man and healthy, as long as he wasn’t living at home, and excited about his potential promotion at work. So when irina’s Police Lieutenant friend, Charles Whitney, tells her that Stephen’s death is being ruled as a suicide she decides she has has to find out the truth because she suspects that Stephen was murdered.
“A Manhattan Murder Mystery” is yet another great novel by Susan Bernhardt. Susan lives in Wisconsin so I wondered just what she knew about New York City. Since I’m a native New Yorker which means I’m always ready to fight any outsiders who think they know enough to write about the New York I read this book with my boxing gloves on ready for a good brawl with Ms. Bernhardt. It never happened.
Everyone writes about the Statue of Liberty, the World Trade Center, the Empire State building, that’s easy, just Google those popular sites and you have all the information you need just by sitting in bed in your pajamas but Susan’s description of Manhattan was different.
She not only described the Upper West Side to perfection with its neighborhood stores and the pre war apartment buildings but she somehow got the feel of what living in New York is all about. Every neighborhood is its own country and every apartment building is its own city. Apartment buildings actually do have “mayors” who people go to when they need someone to talk to and I’m not talking about a condo board. And walking from one neighborhood to another you kind of need a passport to pass through with people watching any strangers who pass by their buildings.
Most writers who don’t live in New York don’t get that but somehow Ms. Bernhardt did. “A Manhattan Murder Mystery” is like a love letter to this great city and it’s obvious that the author respects New Yorkers and how we live here.
But I’m here to talk a little about the book and not New York, even though New York City is a huge part of this novel.
I thoroughly enjoyed “A Manhattan Murder Mystery.” You think you know what’s going on with the murdered Stephen, most avid mystery readers would catch on fast and Ms. Bernhardt doesn’t try to hide it from her readers but how he was killed is not the reason to continue reading the story. It’s not the how but the “why” and the “who” about his death that forces you to read to the last page.
Then there’s Irina’s personal life. There were times I felt like screaming into my Kindle telling Irina to stop being such a nice person and get rid of someone in her life and to look to another instead. You will also get really angry at some of the characters and want to slap them around. Sorry about my violence towards a book character but I am a New Yorker and we all have a teeny bit of violence in our genes.
The author talks a lot about food here as she does in all her books and fans of Ms. Bernhardt will get a good insider laugh or two as they read “A Manhattan Murder Mystery.”
I’d love this to be turned into a series and I have a feeling that Susan Bernhardt just might do that. But Irina has to go over the bridge and visit Brooklyn for her next adventure. Come to Brooklyn, have someone poisoned at Nathan’s Famous, then have the suspect chased to Coney Island where they try to lose Irina on the Wonder Wheel, and then on to the Aquarium to swim with the sharks, and finally to The Brooklyn Cyclones Baseball team to get lost in the crowd. All these sites are within walking distance of each other so a good chase scene would be realistic and doable in a few hours. Maybe I should write a book.
You’ll have a great time reading “A Manhattan Murder Mystery” and will not be disappointed in this excellent story.
For more about Susan Bernhardt’s books please see Susan’s section on my blog.