Good Night, Sweet Prince (St. Martins, 1990) is the third amateur detective mystery by Carole Berry featuring Bonnie Jean Indermill, an office temporary worker in New York City. Eight titles were released in this series between 1987 and 1999. Like the John Putnam Thatcher mysteries by Emma Lathen before these books and the Dead End Job cozy mysteries by Elaine Viets after them, each story is set in a different industry. Part of the backstory, which stimulated my interest in them, gives insight into the industry’s day-to-day operations and the lives of the people who work in it.
Bonnie is as usual desperate for employment but not so desperate she agrees to work in an accounting firm, where everyone she saw was gray: their clothes, their faces, their personalities. So when the chance to support the fund-raising department of the Gotham Ballet came along, she jumps at it. She knows nothing about fund-raising but she can do data entry and that’s all that’s asked of her, initially. Working late one night, she is the only staff member in the office when Nikolai Koslov, a Russian ballet star who visited the corps of dancers earlier in the day, comes out of his hiding place and tells her he wants to defect. The ensuing uproar puts Bonnie in a spotlight she doesn’t want.
At first Nikolai’s presence in the ballet company delights the management and staff but he soon annoys and offends nearly everyone. When equipment mysteriously fails during a performance, fatally injuring him, there is no shortage of suspects, even though the police believe the KGB is responsible.
The employee infighting, one-upmanship, and backstabbing give the story an all-too-realistic aura of office life as I know it. After one particularly vicious battle Bonnie’s boss quits in a huff, leaving Bonnie responsible for a major donors’ banquet; the ensuing series of catastrophes is a high point of the book.
As usual in amateur detective stories, Bonnie counts a member of the local police force among her suitors. Tony LaMarca urges her to leave the investigation to professionals, and of course she ignores him. However, this particular romance has a twist not generally seen in cozy mysteries.
The additional subplots of cocaine use among the younger dancers and a stage mother who believes in her daughter’s career more than the daughter does lend a gritty sense of veracity. An engaging read.