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It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Christmas trees, carols and performances of The Nutcracker abound! Murder in Third Position takes us into the world of dance with cranky choreographers, aging dancers and a rickety set design. Hmm, this sounds like an excellent set up for a murder mystery!
More About Murder in Third Position
Deadly rivalries. Ruthless enemies. And that’s just the first act.
The Nutcracker ballet is filled with holiday cheer, but no one is happy, least of all lead dancer Leah Siderova. It’s bad enough when Maurice Kaminsky forces her to perform upon a shaky platform, which teeters high above the stage. It’s worse when the curtain opens on the first murder victim, and the scene looks more like the end of Romeo and Juliet than a child’s vision of Christmas.
The dancers were unanimous in their dislike of Maurice, and they eagerly anticipated his departure. What they didn’t foresee is that he would exit in a body bag, and not on a nonstop flight to LA.
Leah doesn’t want to get involved in the ensuing murder investigation, but when suspicion falls upon Tex, her dance partner and friend, she has no choice but to act. She enlists the Choreographers of Crime for help, but it’s her life, her career, and her complicated romance with homicide detective Jonah Sobol that’s on the line.
With opening night less than a week away, and the future of American Ballet Company hanging in the balance, can Leah save Tex in time to save the show?
Read an Excerpt from Murder in Third Position
After several failed attempts, I stepped back from a nearly vertical escalator and said what everyone else was thinking. “Maurice, your set design is beautiful, but it looks as if one grand jeté will send it crashing to the ground.”
I couldn’t deny that the scenery for our new production of The Nutcracker ballet, with its cantilevered platform and glittering gears, was dramatic, imposing, and imaginatively designed. The rickety structure, however, was without one essential element: Me.
With short, powerful arms, Maurice hauled himself onto the stage from the orchestra pit below. “Get on with it, Leah. We don’t have all day.” He banged the side of the staircase, as if to demonstrate its strength, but which instead caused the interior mechanism to clank and rattle in protest. The grinding gears sounded like a ride in a traveling amusement park, the kind that routinely made headlines for some horrible accident.
I took a deep breath and placed one trembling foot onto moving stairs that vibrated with the strain of my puny weight. By the time his contraption transported me to the narrow platform that loomed overhead I could barely breathe, let alone dance Brett Cameron’s complex choreography.
The Nutcracker was Brett’s first full-length ballet, and he feared the collapse of his career more than the collapse of his principal dancer. “Move downstage, Sugar Plum! Your solo is supposed to be the highlight of the Nutcracker Ballet. Not its best-kept secret.”
The choreographer’s indifference to me and his support of Maurice came as no surprise, although their artistic partnership was almost as fiery as their marriage.
I inched closer to the edge, but Brett continued to harangue me. “Stop mincing! You look like a scared kid creeping around the edge of the playground on the first day of seventh grade.”
His middle school analogy was apt. My face burned with the same self-conscious embarrassment I endured when I was thirteen. This time, however, everyone really was looking critically at me.
Actually, it was worse than that. Nelson Merrill, a filmmaker better known for true-crime documentaries, had the cameras rolling, capturing my cowardice for all eternity. I hoped, not without reason, the day’s footage would end up on the cutting room floor. The dancers were incidental to Nelson’s film project, which was Maurice’s life and art. Our egotistical set designer was famous for his paintings, his sculptures, and his multi-media installations. The Nutcracker was his first commission for the ballet. He had a lot to learn.
When Maurice realized the camera was focused on him, he dropped his combative attitude and struck a more conciliatory pose. He rested his chin on his hand, as if posing for a shorter, older, and considerably less contemplative version of Rodin’s The Thinker. “No need to worry, Sugar Plum. I built a set of ridges into the flooring, so you can feel when you’re getting too close to the edge.”
The only thing I could feel was an incipient panic attack. Those cautionary ridges weren’t deep enough to penetrate the hard surface of my pointe shoes, and the solo included a tightly choreographed sequence of tricky balances and turns. Unless my toes were to magically achieve the sensitivity of the title character in The Princess and the Pea, dire consequences were sure to follow. Those fears unfolded in a series of scary images. I could trip on the pebbled, wavy surface and fall flat on my face. I could stumble out of my pirouette and land on the stage below.
Given the state of my nerves, a massive heart attack was another distinct possibility. Medically, I would qualify as unusually young for any serious coronary event. As a dancer, however, I was closing in on ancient. And perched on that platform, I was aging rapidly.
Forgetting how sharp the acoustics were in the theater, I said, in an undertone not meant to carry beyond the apron of the stage, “Why can’t Tex dance up here and let me dance on solid ground?”
Maurice clapped his hands to stop the music. “I heard that. Let me explain, once and for all, that this set design symbolizes the mood Hoffman envisioned when he wrote the original story of The Nutcracker. Artistic decisions are my area of expertise. Not yours.”
Brett, annoyed at Maurice’s intrusion into his territory, took his irritation out on me. “I don’t hear anyone else complaining. And just so you know,” he turned to toss a baleful look at his husband, “my work is an homage to Petipa’s original ballet. The set design is not the star of the show.” He surveyed the dancers, as if daring them to speak.
None did. Between Maurice’s claim to have channeled the famous writer of The Nutcracker, and Brett’s claim to have surpassed one of the greatest choreographers of all time, there wasn’t much room for ordinary people to take a position on the matter. I didn’t blame my colleagues for their silence and averted looks.
Brett signaled for the music to resume, and I threw myself with renewed determination into the role. The amount of time allotted to my variation was less than three minutes. But it took Brett and Maurice more than an hour to figure out how those three minutes would look from the audience.
The general consensus was bad. Not naked-in-front-of-an-audience bad. But not good.
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About the Author
Lori Robbins is the author of the On Pointe and Master Class mystery series. Her work has garnered multiple awards, including the Indie Award for Best Mystery and the Silver Falchion for Best Cozy Mystery. Short stories include “Accidents Happen” in Mystery Most Diabolical and “Leading Ladies” in Justice for All. She’s also a contributor to The Secret Ingredient: A Mystery Writers Cookbook.
A former dancer, Lori performed with a number of modern and ballet companies, including Ballet Hispanico and the St. Louis Ballet. Her commercial work included featured ads for Pavlova Perfume and Macy’s. After ten very lean years onstage she became an English teacher and now writes full time.
As a dancer, teacher, and mother of six, Lori is an expert in the homicidal impulses everyday life inspires.
Where to Find Lori Online
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