A locked-room mystery, threatening ambience, chilling secrets

MYSTERY/LITERARY FICTIOON

Lynn C. Miller

The Unmasking

University of New Mexico Press  

Paperback (also available as an e-book), 979-0-8263-6171-4, 246 pgs., $19.95

October 1, 2020

 

“We fight to mask the fact that so much of life is beyond our control.”

 

A mask can protect, disguise, or project a different persona, which can either be positive or have detrimental consequences, based on the wearer’s intention.

 

Bettina Graf, Miriam Held and her spouse, Vivian, and Fiona Hardison, all of Austin, Texas, are invited by a mutual friend to participate in a Chautauqua at a lodge in Silver City, New Mexico. Each of the women will be presenting or personifying strong female authors from literary history for a small audience over several days. Before this event, however, the dean of liberal studies at Austin College, Alec Martin, is killed in a suspicious car crash; his wife, Barbara, is the number-one suspect, but without solid evidence. When Barbara, who remains a person of interest in her husband’s death, and her lover join the other women at the Chautauqua, the tension at the lodge quickly escalates.

 

The geographic atmosphere at the lodge in Silver City is idyllic, surrounded by luxurious nature and crisp mountain air, a far cry from the oppressive summer humidity in Austin. Instead of falling into easy camaraderie, looking forward to sharing their chosen female literary heroes in front of an audience, the women are faced with turmoil, a threatening ambience, and chilling secrets. The concept of the locked-room mystery plays a large role in this story, which the reader may recognize from Agatha Christie’s classic mystery And Then There Were None. Someone in this small group of women at the lodge must certainly be responsible for the menacing events and suspicious accidents that start occurring as soon as everyone arrives, but determining who turns into a game of riddles, mistrust, and red herrings.

 

The Unmasking by Lynn C. Miller is a literary look into the dynamics of female friendships and acquaintances in academia and the baggage, wreckage, and intimacy that invariably infiltrate these relationships over the years. This tale is a combination of cozy mystery and literary fiction, with the added twist of ladies portraying strong female authors of classic literature, such as Edith Wharton and Gertrude Stein.

 

Relationships are a key aspect to the plot, with all the women exhibiting various levels of trust, affection, or indifference for each other. Another strong force in The Unmasking is psychic phenomenon. Daphne joins the group as a psychic and provides an interesting layer of both reliable and unreliable narration, based on individual belief. What this role definitely provides is a supernatural aspect that heightens the thrill of the hunt for the culprit and a glimpse into a person’s psyche when cornered.

 

As a literary mystery, The Unmasking offers captivating characterization that highlights the various personalities of women in different stages of life, interacting in a seemingly locked-room environment. Secrets can be difficult to keep in such an intimate setting, and true feelings and intentions are often set free, either to soothe or wreak havoc, depending on the woman and the secret.

 

Once the mystery is solved, melancholy reigns at the realization that some people will do anything to remain relevant and needed in a beloved’s life. The Unmasking is the ideal story for anyone looking for a light mystery that explores the human condition, navigating both the joys and pitfalls of love and friendship.

 

Lynn C. Miller is the author and coauthor of several books, including The Day After Death and Death of a Department Chair. She has performed a number of solo performance pieces and plays about Edith Wharton, Gertrude Stein, Katherine Anne Porter, and Victoria Woodhull.

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