Cheryl Honingford’s debut mystery opens in the autumn of 1938. America is in the midst of the Great Depression, Europe is on the brink of war, and radio is in its heyday. Ambitious young radio actress Vivian Witchell has landed a role in a popular mystery serial “The Darkness Knows” on Chicago’s WCHI radio. She plays the role of Lorna, sidekick to the series hero, and she’s determined to make a name for herself. At first Vivian plays up to her costar, the equally ambitious but enigmatic Graham, but soon finds herself up to her eyes in real mystery when she discovers a body in the employee lounge. It’s the station’s big-name actress, Marjorie Fox, whose public popularity unfortunately does not extend to her colleagues at work. A note found with the body also contains a veiled threat against “Lorna,” and the station owner soon assigns a private detective as Vivian’s protection.
Vivian finds herself attracted to PI Charlie Haverman, and an unlikely scenario unfolds as the two look into what—or who—lies behind the murderous events, which appear to involve letters from an unhinged fan who calls himself “Walter” and who seems to confuse the radio characters with real-life people.
Who might benefit from the aging actress’ death? The search uncovers a host of radioland suspects who seem willing to do almost anything to grab more on-air time and a chance at fame—including Graham, the handsome hero who has a way with women; a couple of wannabe starlets; a star-struck station engineer; and an enterprising midget who unexpectedly lands a choice promotion.
Familiar plot scenarios are not always a bad thing—we often read to relax and visit comfortable territory. Here, however, the author has offered a predictable, plot-driven narrative, missing a golden opportunity to provide the details of an exciting historical milieu in which real adventure could flourish. The author has chosen a great premise—a world in the shadow of war, prime time for a burgeoning form of public entertainment—but never seizes the seemingly endless possibilities for intrigue and story development.
This series has lots of room to grow, and hopefully later installments will leave the shallows and add a generous dose of atmosphere.