Carolyn Hart played around with other forms of mystery before she launched her Death on Demand series in 1987. In May, she will be honored by Mystery Writers of America as a Grand Master. But, in 1983 she wrote the book that was her only attempt at a hard-boiled private eye book, Death by Surprise. Honestly? If she had continued writing in the hard-boiled style rather than the traditional mystery style, she would still be a Grand Master. Death by Surprise was an intriguing story with a admirable sleuth. It's actually one of my favorite of Hart's books.
K.C. Carlisle and her cousin, Kenneth Carlisle, came from the generation of the family that had a great deal of money. And, they both went into law, but Kenneth was a blue-blooded corporate lawyer in La Luz, California, and K.C. chose to work in a storefront serving the working class community. However, they were both caught up in the drama when Francine Boutelle showed up, pretending to be a reporter while blackmailing individual members of the Carlisle family. And, they were both at Francine's the night she was murdered. But, it was Kenneth, the candidate for the House seat, who was arrested. And, it was K.C., convinced of his innocence, who was determined to prove her cousin wasn't a killer.
Hart's hard-boiled story might not feature streets quite as nasty as the ones where other fictional investigators walked. However, K.C. Carlisle is a canny woman who is an insider in the Carlisle family, able to pressure them for answers. She's a woman with her own secret, one she doesn't want revealed. And, the dame who blackmails the family, and the surprising killer, are just as hardhearted as the blackmailers and killers in other hard-boiled mysteries.
Judging by Death by Surprise, Carolyn Hart might have succeeded at hard-boiled private eye novels. But, maybe K.C. Carlisle isn't as hardhearted as she needed to be. Death by Surprise is the story of cagey woman determined to out-maneuver a wily killer. It's just one more piece of proof that Carolyn Hart is a Grand Master.
Carolyn Hart's website is www.carolynhart.com
Death by Surprise by Carolyn Hart. Seventh Street Books. 1983, 2013. ISBN 9781616148690 (paperback), 194p.
FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.