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Diana C. Hall
The Balance of Fear
Elizabeth Stanton fled New York for Seattle, trading a career on Broadway for a teaching position in theater arts and a house built like a beautiful fort. But when she discovers one of her students dead inside an empty theater, Beth risks her own safety to discover the truth of Alyson’s death—a truth that lies hidden in the histories of four women and the events surrounding the production of the play Madame Butterfly. In this psychological mystery life imitates art, with deadly consequences.
In Hall’s suspenseful thriller, a university professor racing to forget the traumatic events of her past must dive headlong into a quest to solve a student’s murder. suspenseful tale of death on a college campus. Beth Stanton, a theater professor at Seattle University of the Arts, moved from New York to Seattle to escape the painful memories of her stalker. One morning, Beth discovers the body of a student hanging in the rafters: Alyson Samuel, a cast member of the university’s production of Madame Butterfly. Though police initially consider Alyson’s death a suicide, suspicious circumstances point to murder–and Beth, along with her attorney husband John, jumps into the race to find the killer.

As she tries to uncover the motive for Alyson’s murder, Beth finds herself caught up in the bizarre dynamics of Margaret Palmer, the director of the play, and her husband Ray, a fellow professor whose fixation with the play’s young lead, Ami Akido, lands him on the suspect list: Ami was one of the last people to see Alyson alive. Hall’s understanding of academia, the theater, and the legal world add welcome authenticity to the narrative, as she convincingly captures a criminal investigation and provides accurate insight into John’s legal practice. The spot-on depiction of university tenure systems, and the tension-filled relationships between faculty and administration, ground the novel’s different components in a believable world.

Also strongly developed: The backstage politics and emotional upheaval of casting and staging a play. Hall gradually offers details into the circumstances of why Beth, once a dancer on Broadway, left New York, adding another layer of mystery. Hall’s knotty plotting and fast-paced storytelling will keep readers guessing. Despite some wooden dialogue between the characters at times, this is a compelling thriller builds to a stunning conclusion.

Takeaway: This smart, swift race-against-time thriller boasts a convincing academic milieu and a knockout conclusion.

Great for fans of: Christopher Greyson’s The Girl Who Lived, Margaret Coel’s The Dream Stalker.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: B
Marketing copy: A