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The first Maggie Ryan mystery

AUDITION FOR MURDER (Maggie Ryan 1967)

Actors Nick and Lisette O’Connor need a change. They leave New York City for a semester as artists-in-residence at a college upstate, where they take on the roles of Claudius and Ophelia, two of the professional leads in a campus production of Hamlet. Threats and accidents begin to follow Lisette, and Nick worries it might be more than just petty jealousy. Maggie Ryan, a student running lights for the show, helps investigate a mystery steeped in the turmoil of 1967 America.

About AUDITION FOR MURDER (Maggie Ryan 1967)

"It's a triple pleasure, a sophisticated theatre story, a knowing campus tale and a topnotch suspenseful mystery, with excellent characterizations and honest plotting." -- Judith Crist

"An extremely well-written tale, with a plotline that offers a jolt per page." -- CF, Booklist

"Very literate, sprinkled with surprises and offering that rarity of rarities -- fully fleshed out characters." -- Bob Ellison, Los Angeles Daily News

The Mystery Company/Crum Creek Press edition restores to print the 1985 novel that introduced Maggie Ryan.


1. In Hell’s Kitchen in the 1960’s, talented, troubled actress Lisette O’Connor is attempting to deal with her suicidal thoughts with drugs and alcohol. Rescued again by her husband Nick, also an actor, she sees an offer to act Ophelia at an upstate college as a way out, and asks Nick to give up his good off-Broadway role to help her. Why is this a major sacrifice for him? What was (is) life like for most actors trying to make it in New York City?

2. Audition for Murder is set in 1967, when there were many social and political conflicts in the US. In today’s Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street protests, we see some of the same problems being argued in slightly different form. How did the Vietnam war affect the lives of the characters in this mystery? How did gender issues affect them? Are there similar conflicts today?

3. Lisette and Nick aren’t surprised that there is jealousy from student actresses who had hoped to play Ophelia, but worry because some of the unpleasant jokes are reckless and life-threatening. Why do they ask Maggie and Rob to help them keep the episodes quiet?

4. The story is told from two points of view, sometimes following Nick O’Connor, a professional actor, and sometimes following Ellen Wingate, a pre-law student. How do the professionals react to being among students? How do the students react to the professionals? How is Ellen’s reaction different from Maggie’s reaction? From Judy’s and Laura’s?

5. Have you had the opportunity to teach or assist students starting out in your field? How did you feel about the situation? How do you think the students felt?

6. Other important people in the mystery are the academics. Cheyenne is a professional scene designer with an academic appointment; director Brian is department chair; speech coach Grace is a professor; Dean Wagner helps run the college and represents it to alumni. How do their college responsibilities affect their relationship with the cast and crew of the centennial Hamlet?

7. Early in the book, Rob insists that Brian reschedule rehearsals so the professional actors can have more time in New York City, even though it is inconvenient for everyone else and eliminates Brian’s only time with his young son. Do you think Nick was right to support Rob’s request?

8. The author chose Hamlet for this book in part because many readers are familiar with the play and with many lines from it. What other reasons make Hamlet appropriate for this mystery?

9. Directors often stress certain aspects of the playscript to clarify their vision of the story. For example, Laurence Olivier’s famous interpretation of Hamlet emphasized Freudian theories, such as Hamlet’s Oedipal love for his mother. In Audition for Murder, the director has a different approach to Shakespeare’s text. What is it? Does it seem appropriate to the sixties?

10. Paul Rigo is a marginal student but an excellent stagehand, completely committed to the theatre like his professional mentor Cheyenne. What is Paul’s big worry early in the book? How do he and Maggie try to solve his problem?

11. At the end of the book, both Maggie and Nick are devastated and grieving, yet they are able to help each other take some first small steps toward coping. Talk about their friendship.