There are few writers in the genre of cozy mysteries that can hold a candle to Carolyn Hart, and even fewer still living. Considered one of the foremost authorities on the literary style of Agatha Christie, Hart has taken the very traditional mystery and brought it into a new age with both her series novels and her individual books. THE RICH DIE YOUNG is an excellent example of how quickly and easily Hart found her niche --- for which we're all grateful. First published in 1983, THE RICH DIE YOUNG has been reissued, as have been many of her earlier works, to the delight of fans everywhere.
In this stand-alone mystery, Ann Farrell has returned to southern California to teach at Friar's Academy and hopefully find comfort in it's familiar surroundings. But she quickly learns that the school is not the same as she remembered --- partially because she's now on a first name basis with the same staff that she used to be in awe of, and partially because there is a troubling aura about the campus that she can't quite put her finger on. When she discovers one of her journalism students dead from an apparent suicide, the sedate, noble atmosphere of the institution begins to erupt.
Oscar Howell II wasn't a model student --- far from it. He spent most of his time in a stoned haze, barely communicative, and seemingly a loner. On the afternoon of his death, Ann had avoided his plea for yet another after-hours conference, which had become habitual of late. When his death is ruled a murder, Ann's guilt propels her into an investigation that threatens to expose any number of indiscretions among the Friar's Academy staff and places her own life in danger. Drugs, gambling, and sexual scandals are running rampant; and Oscar may have been neck deep in an evil blackmail scheme. But a cryptic note found in Oscar's typewriter leads Ann to believe he wasn't involved in blackmail but had stumbled onto something far more sinister quite by accident:
Who's a witness? Oscar? To what? These are among the questions that lead Ann into an expanding web of deceit that may expose her closest friends' dark secrets and, ultimately, a murderer.
Like any good cozy, THE RICH DIE YOUNG has a little romance woven into the nubby fabric of suspense. Lieutenant Fox, assigned to hunt down the murderer, takes an inordinate amount of interest in Ann's safety, and she's unconsciously drawn to him as well. It's unfortunate that Lieutenant Fox is not as well developed as some of her later characters, as he certainly has the potential to be an appealing recurring character. In fact, their eventual joint investigation has the makings for a series, but alas, Hart never goes down that road with these two. Nevertheless, fans waiting anxiously for the next HENRIE O or DEATH ON DEMAND will find the same consistency of writing and engaging storyline in THE RICH DIE YOUNG that has made Carolyn Hart such a popular, award-winning author and a giant among her peers.
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Reviewed by Ann Bruns (BkPageWC@aol.com) on November 1, 2000