3 out of 4 stars
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The year is 1941 and the tumultuous activities in Europe are briefly overshadowed by the death of a prominent Broadway actress in pre-war New York. Artemisia, our protagonist and employee on site during the show, is picked up by the local police and questioned as a potential accomplice to the murder of her very employer, role model, and benefactress. Artemisia needs to convince the local authorities of her innocence and is rapidly sucked into the investigation’s twists and turns in search of the truth. Death of a Diva: From Berlin to Broadway by Brigitte Goldstein takes the reader on a whirlwind of testimonies to determine who is behind the gruesome murder of a beloved star.
Death of a Diva is a book that fits squarely into the C/T/M/H genre and can more colloquially even be characterized as a ‘whodunit’. That being said, the book brings so much more to the table than a classic murder mystery story. Focused around our protagonist and the investigation, as the reader is introduced to more and more characters, they are consequently given a glimpse back in time to each of those characters’ lives. Not only does this weave a tale of interconnected lives back to the very early 20th century Europe, but it also pays homage to the difficulties, stigmas, and controversies of that time period and location. As the reader is made aware of each individual backstory, you see how the characters’ pasts define how they become what they are in 1941, how their lives are interconnected, and eventually how this all relates to the murder of Stella Berger.
I really enjoyed how this book was put together. I loved how it mixed in the events of New York in 1941 with the lives of the characters back in Europe even prior to World War I. Not only were each of these individual stories interesting, but they also fit together quite nicely into the murder mystery plot. After each “flashback” the reader is given another piece of the global picture puzzle but with just enough details left out to keep you guessing. As with any good crime/mystery novel, there are just enough twists and turns (without too many complications) to snag the reader’s interest and encourage you to make your own guesses. What I particularly liked about this novel, however, is how it mixed the modern day crime story with each of the backstories. This gave the novel a distinct historical fiction feel to it and did extremely well in educating the audience on the trials, tribulations, challenges, and stigmas forced upon the Jewish inhabitants of Europe in this time period. For anyone not aware of what these people went through between the dawn of the 20th century and the beginning of WWII, it is an effective education piece and eye opener.
I only had a couple of qualms about the book and the way that it was put together. Most prominently, and what I disliked the most, was that I found the story to move quite slowly. If you are into the book for the crime story, revelations of the “whodunit case” come infrequently and are interrupted by the excursions back in time. If you are in it for the historical fiction aspect of the book, albeit interesting, there is very little action. Either way, I felt that the author could have introduced a couple more elements into the novel to keep the reader’s adrenaline up.
For the interesting way that the book was put together, the mix of historical fiction and crime genres, and for the expertly crafted ‘whodunit’ tale spanning several decades, I give Death of a Diva 3 out of 4 stars. The slow tempo at times and the lack of significant action in parts of the story were enough for me to deduct one measly star. I wouldn’t hesitate at all to recommend this book to those who have a penchant for the history of pre-WWII (and pre-WWI) Europe (especially focused around that of Jewish culture) and for aficionados of the C/T/M/H genre. If your be all and end all of literature focuses around non-stop action, however, this one may not be for you.
Death of a Diva
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