Review

When the Fax Lady Sings: A Molly Masters Mystery

by Leslie O'Kane



The mystery genre, it might be said, is a house with many rooms.
There's the hard-boiled room the drawing room room, the locked
room...and the domestic room. The domestic room doesn't get a lot
of press. These are mysteries that are normally set in suburbia and
involve amateur sleuths --- normally housewives --- who ask some
questions, make some deductions, and find themselves solving
mysteries that are not necessarily complex but are nonetheless
intriguing enough to keep the reader reading and wondering. And
what more do you need with a mystery?

Molly Masters is the "Fax Lady." I've got to admit, when I first
heard of the "Fax Lady" series, I though that this was another
example of the bloated public school bureaucracy gone amok. I mean,
the school where my wife teaches has an assistant principal who
does nothing but take care of the vending machines, so...why not a
lady who does nothing but faxes (don't get me started). But no.
Molly Masters has a home business that involves the creation and
faxing of greeting cards by request. An interesting niche market.
Of course, interesting doesn't put food on the table, and as Molly
herself notes, her business isn't making a whole lot of bucks. She
accordingly has time to solve mysteries in her bedroom community,
and boy, do people drop dead around her with frightening
regularity. WHEN THE FAX LADY SINGS is the fifth of this series and
contains the basic elements of the earlier books: a murder, an
interesting cast of potential suspects, and a number of personal
domestic subplots that keep things moving.

WHEN THE FAX LADY SINGS opens with a somewhat unlikely scene of the
crime: a fundraiser variety show dress rehearsal for the Carlton
Central High School PTA. Molly and six other individuals are
dressed as look-alike clowns when one of them murders Corinne
Buldock, the director, in full view of God and everyone. Molly is
removed from suspicion, since the homicidal clown brushed right
past her just before the murder occurred. That leaves six suspects,
any one of whom could have had a motive. And part of the strength
of WHEN THE FAX LADY SINGS lies in exploring the motives of the six
suspects.

Corinne, it seems, was a bit of a hot number. It's rumored that she
was involved with a student and a teacher. The teacher and
the student's parent are both present --- but there is more going
on within the school's hallowed halls than that. Molly slowly but
surely uncovers evidence that parents of graduating seniors are
engaged in some activities to make sure that their child
graduates as Valedictorian. But would they stoop to murder? I
initially considered this to be farfetched. But then I thought
about the Texas parent who was willing to murder so that her
daughter would get on the high school cheerleading squad. Consider
the competition for a prized seat at an Ivy League college, and it
doesn't seem so far-fetched after all.

There are other considerations as well that make WHEN THE FAX LADY
SINGS a cut above the usual domestic mystery. Molly, while
attempting to identify the murderer, is also attempting to have
some remodeling work done on her home. This, of course, requires a
contractor. Molly's dealings with her contractor are so
true-to-life that anyone who has every had such work done will
identify with it immediately. The broken promises, the less than
satisfactory work, the incidental damage, the laconic
workers...this is art imitating life. Molly's occasional
difficulties with her children, one of whom is taking the first
tentative steps toward adolescence, are also true to life. WHEN THE
FAX LADY SINGS demonstrates why the Fax Lady series, as well as the
domestic mystery genre, remains highly, if quietly, popular.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 24, 2011

When the Fax Lady Sings: A Molly Masters Mystery
by Leslie O'Kane

  • Publication Date: April 3, 2001
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Mass Market Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Fawcett
  • ISBN-10: 0449005682
  • ISBN-13: 9780449005682