Women Sleuths in
Historical Mysteries

U.S.A. Missouri - 1898



by Cynthia Thomason

Upon the murder of her uncle, 28 year old Gwen Barlow with her 19 year old brother and mother inherits the Jubilee Palace, a lavish Mississippi river showboat. Waiting for them to take possession is the theater company and a raft of debts incurred by her uncle. Before the theater can open its doors and set off for a hopefully lucrative season on the river, the perpetrator of the uncle’s murder must be found. When others of the troupe meet the same fate, and the town constable seems notably incompetent, Gwen knows she must solve the murders herself.

The idea of a mystery involving a showboat, theater troupe, and life along the Mississippi has great appeal. This story offers nice details of the boat itself and the workings of a late 19th century stage. Expanded transportation in the latter part of the19th century greatly expanded the professional theater industry throughout the United States. Most of the plays embraced romantic plots, as seen by the one performed by the Jubilee Palace group. The difficulties of managing the Mississippi river also are touched on, including the disreputable “shanty boats.” It is a bit of a push, however, to believe that Gwen, previously a librarian in a small Ohio town, could so rapidly relocate to Missouri and jump into the role of investigator, theater financier, manager, and director, all without the aid of her flaky brother and mother. And with no help from the sullen acting troupe. Readers might also spot a few minor historical lapses such as the importance to the plot of rolls of tape, given that adhesive tape was invented in the 1920s.

The author’s main forte is as a writer of romance novels. This, her first mystery, seems to lack crime solving tension. Gwen is a likable character, nevertheless, and descriptions of her dress, demeanor, and even her new found freedom riding a bike are right on. First of a Gwen Barlow series. No author notes.



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