If Susan Isaacs had lived in the American West as an American WASP, she would have created Lilly Bennett.
By turns sassy and tough, tender and vulnerable, Lilly, a no-longer-so-young Wyoming belle with degrees in criminology and toxicology, is a private investigator and the marshal of Bennett's Fort, a town owned literally lock, stock, and barrel by her cousin. Shod by Chanel, clad in designer suits, and wearing ladylike white gloves, Lilly is an unlikely but highly efficient detective--as she proves when confronted with solving the murder by poisoning of Cyrus Vaile, the incredibly rich, disgustingly lecherous old patron of the local repertory theater.
It happens on the night of his birthday celebration, in full view of Lilly and most of his repertory "family," any one of whom might have a pretty good motive for wanting Cyrus dead. And with so much flamboyant emotion obscuring the facts like a theatrical fog, it isn't easy for Lilly to cut through the glycerin tears and get at the unvarnished truth.
In Lilly, her eccentric extended family (who made their money in two black crops--oil and Angus cattle), and her dashing suitor Richard Jerome (an ex-Morgan banker turned opera impresario and professional team-roper), Marne Davis Kellogg has invented a fascinating cast of ongoing characters. In Tramp she has created a witty, twisty mystery that shows off each of their talents to perfection.
U.S. Marshall and Wyoming social register refugee Lilly Bennett takes a behind-the-scenes look at the world of regional theater in her third romp, after Curtsey. Multimillionaire theater patron Cyrus Vaile, a nonagenarian, privately tells Lilly he suspects that $20 million of the funds behind his pet project, the Roundup Repertory Company, have been displaced. In front of the assembled company, he announces that Lilly's the newest member of the board of directors. Then he drops dead. Suspicious about his death, Lilly requests an autopsy. While acquainting herself with the company's personnel at the annual meeting, she hears from the pathologist that Cyrus may have been poisoned. Almost immediately, she is trapped in a fire in a theater office. Lilly juggles her investigations into Cyrus's death and the arson with her god-daughter's wedding and her own tumultuous love life--wondering, as more company members die, if someone is seeking revenge or hopes to close the company. Kellogg backs up Lilly's outspoken manner and spontaneous good will with the comparable delights of her supporting cast and, setting them all in the highly structured social milieu of wealthy cowboy country, offers swift, satisfying entertainment.