Carolyn Marie Wilkins’ academic mystery Melody for Murder introduced me to a world I’ve never seen, from the poverty of Chicago’s South Side to the glitz of charity galas in the African American community. Protagonist Bertie Bigelow is a young widow and a music professor at a South Side community college where she nurtures young talent and leads the choir. When one of her protogees embarrasses the college at a performance, Bertie’s job is on the line. Her effort to understand LaShawn Thomas’s behavior propels her into world of evil she’s never experienced. She’s forced to confront all her assumptions about the movers and shakers she thought she knew.
Wilkins’ plot is a dynamic puzzle that had me pointing to new suspects and discarding others with every scene shift. Even more skillful is her prose. She has a genius for sound and a pen that can bring music to life for her reader. Her ear for dialect and nuance flows easily from characters that spout Latin phrases to street talk. Bertie’s eye for fashion gives the reader welcome breaks from the violence and desperation she encounters, as striking African dresses, sumptuous furs, and power suits contrast with gang bandanas and shabby cardigans. In short, Wilkins’ characters spring to life in full color and voice as they make their moves against the Chicago setting. Melody for Murder is a great read!