A Moment in Crime is the second in a series of novels by Amanda Allen set in 1920s New Mexico (check out my review of Santa Fe Mourning here). The protagonist, Madeline Vaughn-Alwin, comes from a background of wealth and privilege but following the death of her husband in the War she settles in Santa Fe where she works as an artist.
This novel picks up shortly after the first with Maddie attending a display of her work in a gallery. She is surprised when her cousin Gwen turns up to the party looking on the verge of collapse telling her that she needs her help.
Gwen is an actress who has a role in a movie production that is in town to film some scenes on location. She tells Maddie that she had slept with the director, Luther Bishop, who had promised her a big role but that she was ultimately only given a bit part. He blames his wife, the film’s leading lady, for his reneging on the deal and when she has a pregnancy scare he tries to pay her off to take care of it.
Maddie soon discovers that other members of the cast and crew have grievances against their director and that he may have also made some enemies among the locals. The reader will not be surprised when Maddie discovers him dead, hanging from the ceiling in his office in a staged suicide.
Like the first novel in the series, I found this to be an entertaining and lively read. The setting is quite wonderful and appeals enormously to me both in its sense of place and time. There are plenty of interesting historical and cultural details about the city to pick up on and I do think those details help the setting to feel real and vibrant. Both books have given me an urge to travel to Santa Fe and visit the landscape and the La Fonda hotel which plays a prominent role in both stories.
The bohemian nature of Santa Fe’s artistic community in this period allows for a book that can incorporate those historical elements and themes while still feeling modern. Allen develops a great cast of supporting characters surrounding Maddie such as her housekeeper Juanita, best friend Gunther, her English doctor beau David and Chesterton superfan and crime solving buddy, Father Malone. They are all distinctive and charming, making it easy to enjoy their company.
The idea of setting a story around a film production coming to town is an interesting one. The casting couch element of the story feels particularly timely and I think it is handled quite well. Some readers may be surprised by just how messy, improvisational and chaotic a major film production might be in this period but I think the novel effectively conveys the idea that this is a time where the film industry was becoming glamorous but also that this is happening before the studio system reached its heights.
It makes a great setting for a mystery and I think the early part of the case is quite intriguing, setting up multiple suspects and giving them convincing reasons to want Luther dead. Once again Allen gives Maddie a convincing, personal reason to want to dig deeper into a case by having her cousin become the Police’s chief suspect and this works well to motivate her even when things become more dangerous.
There are some issues with the way the case develops that I think do detract from the book when judging it as a mystery. While this is set up to be a detective story, as with the first novel Maddie really stumbles onto the solution as a consequence of an action she takes rather than through deduction. This would not bother me if the reader could have solved it before the reveal but while the solution is clued, at that point there is little to disqualify some of the other suspects.
Similarly, I felt frustrated that Allen identifies several suspects early in the novel but never really does anything with them. One of those suspects has a particularly strong and interesting motive to want Luther dead that I think is at least as convincing as the killer’s and yet it goes unexamined. I do wish that space had been found to take a closer look at that suspect within the investigation as I think it would have not only helped with the case, it could have enhanced one of the novel’s themes.
Though I have a few issues with the manner in which the mystery is resolved, I did thoroughly enjoy the adventure that led to that point. This series has a wonderful sense of character and setting and I thoroughly enjoy spending time with Maddie and her circle of friends. I would certainly suggest these books for those who are looking for a historical setting away from the familiar environments of the big metropolises and I look forward to reading future installments in this series.
Copy provided by the publisher for early review. A Moment in Crime is set to be released on December 11 in the United States. The eBook will be released on the same date in the United Kingdom and on December 27 in print.