Set in the seedy mid-80s New York City neighborhood of Hell’s Kitchen—where drugs and prostitution run rampant—Lee Fairchild’s repertory theater is the perfect place for murder. The theater was an abandoned burlesque house where the homeless lived. The third floor makes Lee uneasy with its scattering of feathers and bones. Still, having the theater is a dream come true. If her husband hadn’t died six months earlier, she’d be euphoric.
It doesn't matter, she tells herself, that her brilliant Artistic Director, Alan Dunbar, has mysterious gaps in his resume since they last worked together; that her guest director, Ernst Kromer, is uncooperative; that the theater is under-staffed. Times Square redevelopment makes the property desirable.
She finds the mutilated body of a homeless man on the third floor, a crack vial and black candles beside him. Mordecai Green, cynical NYPD detective (who also moonlights as an actor), investigates. The death is termed suspicious.
Lee’s call to a temp agency brings her Michael Day, sexy and mysterious. He’s charming, helpful, generous to a fault. He confides he recently had a car accident and still has severe headaches. He shrugs it off but Lee sees he's worried. Lonely, she falls into a passionate affair with the younger man.
At a cast party held at Lee's home, Alan's lover, psychiatrist Walter Kaplan, also attends. He’s intrigued by the Mexican mask hanging on Lee's wall, says he’s doing a paper on Indian rites and occult practices for the Society of Medical Anthropology. Lee tells him the mask supposedly had been used in Aztec sacrifices. The Indian who’d sold it to her late husband said it had an ancient curse. Maybe the Indian was right, Lee thinks. Richard was too healthy to have had a heart attack and die.
After the party ends, Lee discovers the mask is missing.
The theater has a run of bad luck. An actor is stabbed. An actress is poisoned.
When the missing finger of the homeless man shows up on the third floor, entangled in the bodice of Lee’s nightgown, she pays a visit to Detective Green. Someone, she says, is trying to scare them off the property. Green also suggests Santeria practices.
The missing Mexican mask, its three eyes glittering with malice, hovers over the theater like a demented moon. In the shadows is the figure who controls it—until the mask takes control of him.
Bizarre events escalate to ritual murder. Is there a cult at the theater? Is it a psycho, working alone? Does someone want the theater property?
Lee discovers the shocking truth. But not before she almost loses the theater, and, in a heart-pounding climax, nearly loses her life. Winner Reader Views Literary Award, Best Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, 2008
“This mystery is so character driven that it is easy to suspect any of the theater company...they all have something to hide. But it is Lee's ultimate struggle with loneliness and an overloaded professional struggle that brings the story to its shocking climax. Don't start this wonderful story if you have something else to do, because this fantastic plot will win the fight! A big thumbs up!!” –Shelley Glodowski, Midwest Book Review
“The writing is tight and precise. The characters are amazingly detailed and believable, with their back-stories intricately weaving in and out of the main story line. It is one of the really thrilling mysteries I’ve read, remaining mysterious to the very end and scary enough that I did not want to read it when I was alone in the house.” Olivera Baumgartner-Jackson, Reader Views.com
“The book is set in a world both real and unreal, tangible and imagined. This unusual, arresting dynamic makes it fascinating. . . One can never be truly sure whether something is artifice or reality, an acting moment or an emotional moment, and this uncertainty keeps the reader off-guard and interested. Involving and surprising.” Tory Lowe, Ashland University Collegian
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About the Author
As well as a successful author, Kay Williams is a professional actress. She earned her Actors Equity card in San Francisco where she played many roles, including the title role in Miss Jairus, Cybel in Great God Brown, Rosalind in As You Like It, and Amelia in The House of Bernarda Alba for the nationally famous Actor’s Workshop. She was with the Pittsburgh Playhouse for two years, and from there moved to New York City, living in a 6-floor walkup (a women’s residence that provided free breakfast!!) while she made the rounds. She was hired by the Jackson, MS Theater Center to replace Mercedes McCambridge as Regina in The Little Foxes and stayed on to do several other plays including originating the role of Queen Elizabeth I in a new play, Masquerade, that opened off-Broadway. She has also acted in TV shows and in movies, but finds stage acting more challenging and rewarding.
A lucky break landed her a job with a prize-winning independent filmmaker and that gave her flexible hours to audition and rehearse. She was cast in a number of new off-Broadway plays (it was an exciting time for theater in NYC).
When acting roles began to dry up, it seemed natural to gravitate to writing, and she’s surprised to find she doesn’t miss acting all that much (although she still has occasional nightmares of being onstage and not knowing which play she’s in). A big plus with fiction writing is: you can play all the characters!
The author’s move into the crime-ridden, sleazy Hell’s Kitchen of 1977 provided the catalyst for the award-winning thriller, Butcher of Dreams, co-authored with Eileen Wyman. Kay’s wide ranging acting credits and theater experience gave focus to this character/plot driven mystery that centers around the struggling 42nd Street repertory theater where much of the action takes place.
Kay’s years with the filmmaker gave her production credits for two films, respect for the courage of independent filmmakers, and took her to the Cannes Film Festival, where for a month she shared a villa overlooking the Mediterranean with cast and crew. She traveled with the filmmaker to Leningrad in 1991 where she received the idea for The Matryoshka Murders. Anything could happen here, she thought, in this city at this desperate time (just a few months before the USSR broke apart).
Eileen Wyman, Kay’s writing partner, helped organize photos and notes collected from the trip, and together they drafted a plot and wrote this thriller that begins in Russia and jumps across an ocean to New York City.
Eileen, known to friends as Jo, an amazing, talented woman, tragically passed away on Sept. 6, 2013, just after The Matryoshka Murders was completed, but before the book was published. She is deeply missed by family and friends.
Kay is also a co-author of the comic romance One Last Dance: It’s Never Too Late to Fall in Love, started by her journalist father Mardo Williams, and finished by her and her sister Jerri Lawrence. One Last Dance has won several awards, including an Ohioana Award (to Jerri and Kay) for writing and editing excellence.
Coming next (dedicated to Jo) will be a series: New York City, Collected Letters, 1956-57: Were We Ever That Young?, the hilarious, heart-breaking and hair-raising adventures of two starry-eyed girls from the Midwest (Kay and Jo) who arrive in New York City with big dreams of success. Part Two will be San Francisco, Collected Letters, the Sixties.
(May 25, 1930 - Sept. 6, 2013)
Eileen (known to her friends as “Jo”) studied Fine Arts for two years before transferring to Ohio State University, where she graduated with a B.A. in Radio/Television. Her first love was comedy, and she spent her life learning the art and craft of it, filling file box after file box with her bon mots and wry, pithy descriptions. She raided this gold mine when she and Kay began writing their thrillers together.
Eileen crafted jokes for speech writers and comedians, humorous fillers for various magazines, and captions for cartoons. She could come up with a witty retort at the snap of a finger. She was a writer of short fiction. She edited many books and film scripts. She wrote additional dialogue for films. During her long career, she held a variety of jobs to make ends meet: television traffic clerk, classified ad-taker, third grade teacher, social worker, gal Friday for an independent filmmaker, and human resources administrator.
When Manhattan Plaza ("The Miracle on 42nd Street") became available to artists in June 1977, she moved in. At that time, the neighborhood (Hell’s Kitchen) was very scary, and considered one of the worst areas in New York City for crime. It eventually proved to be the catalyst for Butcher of Dreams, a suspense/thriller about the theater, which she co-wrote with Kay Williams. The book has won several awards and was adapted by the two women into a screenplay.
Several years ago Eileen was diagnosed with COPD, which severely affected her mobility and stamina, but she never lost her quick wit and her compassion for others. She persevered with her writing and editing. She loved to collect cartoons (her standards were high) to distribute to friends and neighbors; she loved to find funny pictures to write her own captions on.
Before her death in 2013, she completed (with Kay) The Matryoshka Murders, a political/historical thriller that opens in Russia, with filmmakers competing at the 1991 Leningrad International Documentary Festival, against the chaotic backdrop of a disintegrating USSR.