Rosie Winter is a down-and-out actress trying to make it in 1942 New York. Though she currently lives in a boarding house along with her best friend Jayne, she’ll soon be kicked out since she hasn’t booked a job in months. In order to make ends meet, Rosie has been moonlighting as a secretary with a private detective agency. However, she is forced to do some detecting of her own when she finds her boss dead in his office. The police think it’s a suicide, but Rosie believes it could be murder. Her subsequent investigations reveal that an incredibly significant play has gone missing, and several parties with dubious motives are on its trail. But can Rosie find a murderer and pursue her acting career, all without being killed herself?
The first thing about this book to catch my eye was Rosie’s noir-style narration. Her glib, cynical tone immediately got me in the mood for a darkly humorous mystery full of tough-talking dames and mafia thugs with hearts of gold. Fortunately, the book delivers all that and more. Rosie’s no-nonsense demeanor masks some internal vulnerability, but she never lets that get in the way of doing her job. I don’t know that I’d call her likeable – she’s a bit prickly for that – but she’s definitely a compelling character to read about. I also liked the book’s approach to its World War II setting. I find that most books set in this time period end up being all about the war. Here, it’s not exploited for any kind of emotional payoff; it’s merely the grim backdrop to Rosie’s everyday life.
Finally, I have to say that this is one of the best-plotted mysteries I have ever read. At first I was worried that there were too many distractions from the main issue of finding the murderer. There are some (seeming) detours into Rosie’s romantic background, her acting career, and her best friend Jayne’s romantic turmoil. But all my fears proved completely groundless as I was treated to one of the most dramatic reveals I’ve ever encountered. Even if I hadn’t enjoyed the setting or the characters, the last few chapters alone would have made the entire book worth it. I will definitely be tracking down the rest of this series to see where Rosie and her friends will go from here!