The Winter of Her Discontent – Kathryn Miller Haines

To preface, I started this (a trade paperback) because my Kindle quite simply had a hissy fit. When all’s said and done, unless someone pours glue over it you will always be able to at least open a book: one reason I don’t think “dead tree books” will ever go away.

“Discontent” is right (though the only “winter” is Rosie herself – this takes place in March. Which, all right, is technically winter…); Rosie is discontented, disgruntled, unhappy, and cranky. And miserable. She has every reason to be – her boyfriend (or is he?) is missing in action, and she can’t get any further information; the War and the shortages and rationing and blackout that go with it are making life in general and life in the theatre in particular more challenging, not to mention the constant casualty lists in the paper; the weather is dismal; she is between shows; and her buddy Al has been arrested for murder. Still, it isn’t what you might call fun when the first-person narrator is irritable to the point of chewing out her best friend and barely trying in a role she feels she is miscast for. It’s a tribute to Kathryn Miller Haines and my fond memories of the first book that I stuck with her through the beginning of this one.

Al, it seems, has turned himself in for the murder of a young actress, and part of Rosie’s misery is that she feels guilty: Al showed up to see her just hours before he was arrested, and she can’t shake the feeling that he was trying to tell her something or ask her for help, and she brushed him off (being cross at the time). He doesn’t want her help now, and says and does everything in his power to dissuade Rosie and her good friend and roomie Jayne from helping, but they will not be dissuaded. And off they go into a new investigation, centered around a new production, a mystery-shrouded mob-related situation, interwoven with new progress in the other abiding mystery in Rosie’s life: the problem of her missing not-quite-fiancé.

I’m a bit impressed by the fact that Rosie seems to have grown from the last book, and also does so within this book. She has, in a couple of ways, a more solidly grounded reality to her than do a great many fictional characters who are expected to carry their books: hers is no white-washed Mary Sue personality. When she is miserable – discontented – she can and will take it out on those around her, including her beloved Jayne. She loathes Ruby, the snobbish knock-out who will go far in acting even if she has to destroy everyone in her path, and the two of them have a constant sniping relationship; realistically, neither is blameless in the nastiness. There is real pain on both sides, but they flat out don’t like each other, and that will, apparently, never change: they may end up temporary allies as required, but they’ll never be bosom pals. Rosie says and does things that she regrets, that cause pain, as do others; she learns from what she is feeling, from what is happening around her, and advances. I can’t think of a non-coming-of-age story in which there’s so much development to a character.

I don’t think the slang in the book has changed since last outing, but for some reason I found it annoying in Discontent. “Shut your box” seemed to especially get on my nerves. On the other hand, it strikes me that if the slang of the time was so prevalent then, with no trace of it surviving here and now, then I should feel better about the “like” and the “bro” and all the rest of the stuff that makes me twitch; in a decade or so it’ll start going away, and be gone … when the next generation’s slang takes over. Bother. Oh well.

I only hope in the next books Rosie doesn’t get a role through someone else’s misfortune. That would have a similar feel to the “cozy” mysteries where the main character comes upon a corpse every six months or so; I wouldn’t want to be friends with that person, and I wouldn’t want to be in a show with an actor who was such a jinx.

At the beginning of the book I wasn’t sure I’d make it through; by the end I was friends with Rosie again, and cared as much about what happened to her as ever; in her guilt over and apologies to Jayne for her ratty behavior she is also making amends to the reader, and that’s another sign of growth. This is a very good book in a very good series.

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