Meyers' tales could shock a New Yorker

November 17, 1993|By Susanne Trowbridge | Susanne Trowbridge,Contributing Writer

It takes a lot to shock a New Yorker. Lurid crimes are the bread and butter of the city's tabloid newspapers and TV news programs, but in a place where murder is an everyday occurrence, it doesn't take long before the public becomes desensitized to death. Only the most spectacular crimes capture the attention of the jaded New York audience.

In both of her mystery series, Annette Meyers has made New York City the site of dozens of ghastly, grisly murders, the sort which would no doubt make front-page news if they weren't fictional. In "Murder: The Musical," the fifth novel to feature executive search specialist Leslie Wetzon, the stage manager and the composer of a Broadway-bound musical are among the victims of a backstage killer.

In "The Kingsbridge Plot," which Ms. Meyers wrote in collaboration with her husband, Martin Meyers, a madman is running amok in 18th-century New York, preying on redheaded women.

Before she settled down to life as a Wall Street headhunter, Leslie Wetzon worked as a Broadway dancer. So naturally, she takes an interest in the progress of "Hotshot: The Musical," a song-and-dance celebration of America's love affair with guns, choreographed by her best friend, Carlos Prince.

But behind the scenes, guns don't kill people -- heavy blunt objects do. Stage manager Dilla Crosby is found bludgeoned to death in the theater balcony.

The victim's lover, Susan Orkin, an old college chum of Wetzon's, begs her friend to ferret out the killer's identity. Susan suspects the play's temperamental director, Mort Hornberg, who had recently had

some violent disagreements with Dilla.

When "Hotshot" moves up to Boston for its pre-Broadway debut, the tensions -- and the number of corpses -- mount. But Wetzon has a great deal of difficulty concentrating on solving the case. Along with suffering panic attacks brought on by her last brush with murder, she has to choose between her current love, a wealthy older man, and her old flame, a police detective.

Ms. Meyers, who formerly worked as an executive assistant to Broadway director Hal Prince, provides an insider's-eye view of the petty rivalries and flamboyant egos lurking behind the footlights. Her finest touch, however, is a poignant subplot involving the teen-age son of Wetzon's acerbic partner, Xenia Smith; the young man reluctantly reveals his homosexuality to his mother, who is forced to reconsider her long-held prejudice against gays. Ms. Meyers handles the subject matter with compassion and sensitivity.

Last year's "The Dutchman" was the promising first novel in a trilogy following a family through the early

years of New York City. "The Kingsbridge Plot," which takes place a century after the first book, isn't quite as enchanting, but the two authors have once again succeeded in creating a vivid, meticulously researched portrait of early America.

"The Kingsbridge Plot" opens in 1775, a year in which Americans were forced to choose sides -- should they remain loyal to the king of England or support the rebellion? Physician John Tonneman, after a long absence in London, returns to New York after his father's death to take over his practice. Accompanying him is his friend Maurice Jamison, an unabashed Tory, but Tonneman himself longs to stay neutral.

"The modern world is too small for you to take no stand," he is warned. "Pick a side. There's going to be fighting in the streets."

As the colonies edge closer to war, Tonneman, who is named the city's coroner, faces more than his fair share of problems. A serial killer has been decapitating redheaded prostitutes, leaving the heads and bodies to be discovered separately.

Between a flu epidemic and the fighting, there is much more work than one healer can handle. Fortunately, Tonneman gains a quick-witted apprentice -- a girl who disguises herself in her brother's clothing so she will be permitted to do a man's job.

The identity of the killer is revealed quite early on; as a mystery, "The Kingsbridge Plot" could have used a couple more plot twists. Still, the love story between Tonneman and his spirited young assistant is charming, and the abundance of period

details should please historical-mystery fans.

Susanne Trowbridge frequently reviews mysteries for The Sun. She lives in Baltimore.

BOOK REVIEW

Title: "Murder: The Musical"

Author: Annette Meyers

Publisher: Doubleday Perfect Crime

Length, price: 353 pages, $18.50

Title: "The Kingsbridge Plot"

Author: Maan Meyers

Publisher: Doubleday Perfect Crime

Length, price: 353 pages. $18.50

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