Reviews – January 15, 2002
"A Lively Jitterbug Down Memory Lane"
"In 1940, a woman can’t get a job in male-dominated swing bands except as a singer. But when violinist Lois Duncan falls (or is pushed) off a bridge, unemployed Katy Green goes in a few hours from pounding the LA pavements to sharing a Pullman car with the Ultra Belles, an all-girl band. The irony of the band’s name is not lost on Katy. Liquor and drugs and sex, and talking about them, comprise the brassy Belles’ favorite pastimes. Bandleader Ted Nywatt, a songwriting lothario who’s bedded half the Belles, including Katy, spends most of his time reminding them to indulge their vices in private. After a chaotic day, Katy crashes in an upper Pullman berth above salty, hard-drinking Ivy and across from nympho Suzanne and married Eileen, convinced because of her affair with Ted that there’s a private detective around every corner. Next morning Katy finds Suzanne’s throat sporting a shiny brass hatpin – the same item that was spotted at the scene of Lois’s misfortune. Turning sleuth, Katy questions musician suspects from Jack ("Don’t call me Jacqueline"), a Communist and closet lesbian who proselytizes ceaselessly for both causes, to the Bliss sisters, bitter hangers-on from vaudeville. It takes two more murders for Katy to ferret out the clever killer.
"Since this story first appeared as a six-hour audiobook with original songs by the author, it’s no wonder that Glatzer’s atmospherics effectively evoke the swing era. Though mystery takes a backseat to band member shenanigans and wall-to-wall banter, it’s still a lively jitterbug down memory lane."
Publishers Weekly - March 4, 2002
"A Strong Debut"
"Amateur detective and professional musician Katy Green has her work cut out for her: not only does she have to play the violin for -- and negotiate fights between -- other members of the Ultra Belles, an all-girl swing band, she also has to figure out who's behind a growing list of
mysterious deaths. Hal Glatzer's Too Dead to Swing is a strong debut, and the book has a tale of its own: it's based on a story from the late 1940s by mystery ghost-writer Hanna Dobryn, who willed her Katy Green
mysteries to Glatzer on the condition he see them into print."
Library Journal - March 2, 2002
"Nostalgic Fodder for Forties Music Fans"
"Set in 1940 California, this novel-length
rendition of the author's award-winning audio play
follows a female swing band as it tours by train.
When one member of the band is unexpectedly
incapacitated, a spot opens up for Katy Green,
violinist, sax player, and amateur sleuth. Once
smitten with the group's founder, a charming
womanizer, Katy finds herself trying to figure out
who murdered their alto sax player on the train
(with a hatpin, in her berth). The simple,
easy-going style, catty dialog, changing scenery,
and nostalgic fodder for Forties music fans
recommend this for larger collections."
Midwest Book Review - April 8, 2002
"[The] Murderer Is Nicely Hidden. Great Story!"
Hal Glatzer is a writer, with three prior books to his credit: Kamehameha County, The Trapdoor, and Massively Parallel Murder. His diverse vocations include directing the Art Deco Society, playing swing guitar, and an interest in the arts and culture of the 1930's and 1940's.
In Too Dead To Swing, Glatzer asserts that he has reproduced a manuscript written by a Hannah Dobryn, ghostwriter of girl-detective stories. Mr. Glatzer met Ms. Dobryn in the 1970's in Honolulu, and was gifted with her Katy Green manuscripts. Thus the reader is primed for the view of the 1930's and 1940's swing era straight from the horse's mouth.
Katy Green, daughter of a doctor who possesses an uncanny sense of people and events, is a working musician on the sax and violin. She meets up with a former beau just about the time when she desperately needs a gig and a paycheck, in the form of Ted Nywatt, band leader, writer, and ladies' man. Katy agrees to go "on the road" with Ted's all-girl band, the "Ultra Belles", after their violinist Lois meets with a bizarre accident. Katy signs on, but doesn't realize that the traveling band is a hotbed of conflict, bickering, and murder:
"The blonde in the compartment opened her door, tiptoed into range, and squinted up the aisle to see what the fuss was about. But as soon as she saw, she screeched and ran back inside, throwing her door shut with a bang. From right across the aisle and high up, I had the best view. Suzanne lay on her back. Her eyes were wide open. Half of her face was covered with blood that had seeped out of her nose and mouth in a long, dark red stain that extended down past her ear and her cheek, along the pillow and onto the sheets."
Katy Green is a clever and resourceful amateur sleuth, who also is well developed as the mouthpiece for Glatzer's racy and entertaining tale. Immediately the reader is drawn into Katy's world, and the antics of the Ultra Belles add spice and mirth to a fairly complicated murder plot.
The reader is so drawn into their escapades that Glatzer's murderer is nicely hidden. Great story!
-- Shelley Glodowski, Reviewer
Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine - June 2002
"We Hope To See [Katy] In Future Cases"
Finally, Hal Glatzer's Too Dead To Swing, reviewed here last November in its audio version, is now available in more conventional print form. You don't get to hear the original '40s big-band-style songs, but you do get reproduced vintage postcards on the chapter headings and an informative foreword and afterword about how band singer and amateur sleuth Katy Green (whom we hope to see in future cases) came to be.
-- Jon Breen [click here to read Mr. Breen's review of the audio-play]
TheColumnists.com - May 2002
"Enough Color and Excitement To Make A Pretty Good Movie"
Two years ago, Hal Glatzer's audio-play "Too Dead To Swing" was released on tape by Audio-Playwrights of San Francisco--six hours of radio-style drama about a mysterious series of murders aboard a railroad train carrying an all-girl band through California circa 1940.
Glatzer originally claimed his audio play was adapted from an unsold novel by Hannah Dobryn, a former neighbor of his who had unsuccessfully attempted to market a series of mystery novels featuring 1940s girl musician Katy Green. Dobryn finally died in obscurity, Glatzer explained, and left him her manuscripts with the proviso: Get them published someday.
Well, it was a great gimmick--and Glatzer has proved a worthy heir. "Too Dead to Swing," the first in a series of Katy Green mysteries, has just been published as a trade paperback ($13.95, Perserverance Press)--but with Glatzer's byline.
Foul play? Not in the least. You see, there never was a Hannah Dobryn. Glatzer made her up, along with the book. Either that or he bumped Hannah off, buried her in his backyard and has erased all traces that she ever existed. Either way, it works for me because "Too Dead to Swing" is a delightful read, no matter who wrote it.
Maybe I have a special reason for liking this nostalgia-laced mystery, even though I've never met Glatzer and know little about him. For one thing, it takes place in the California landscape I grew up in during the same years. It even stops in my hometown, Santa Cruz, and plays out a whole chapter at the legendary Coconut Grove dance hall on the Boardwalk, one of my all-time favorite places.
Furthermore, it's an old-fashioned railroad train mystery--and we haven't had anything like it since the hilarious "Silver Streak" with Gene Wilder.
When we first meet Katy Green, she's out of work and in serious danger of being stranded in L.A. without enough money to catch a train home to her place in New York City. She's growing more desperate by the minute as she meanders along the beachfront in Santa Monica, telling us "I chewed gum for lunch," but couldn't afford the shrimp cocktails they were selling at the ocean-view joints.
By luck, she runs into Ted Nywatt, a former boy
friend and leader of The Ultra Belles, an all-girl
swing band he put together not long before. While
they're getting reacquainted, Ted's violinist
falls--or was pushed--off the pier and is severely
injured. Could Katy possibly fill in for her? Well,
since nobody from Carnegie Hall has called lately,
she jumps at the chance.
All this takes place while the band is going by train from the Los Angeles area up the California coast, over to San Jose, Oakland, Sacramento and Lake Tahoe at the Nevada border, then back for the final gig in San Francisco. Glatzer does a marvelous job of re-creating these communities as they were on the verge of the U.S. entry into World War II. For anybody who loves 1940s band music--and grew up in California--"Too Dead to Swing" is going to be an everlasting delight.
If I had to bellyache about anything, it might be that Katy Green doesn't really do quite enough to qualify as the "detective" of the story. But she's a pretty interesting observer and seems to really understand not only the period she's living in, but also the dynamics of a touring musical group.
There's enough color and excitement for this to make a pretty good movie--at least the TV brand of movie--and it certainly takes us behind the scenes of an environment that's endlessly fascinating. It might also give quite a few young pop musical stars the chance to both act and play a kind of music we don't much opportunity to hear anymore.
-- Ron Miller, Reviewer (copyright 2002 by Ron Miller)
Romantic Times Book Club – April 2002
"Katy Is A Winner"
It's 1940, the war is in the future, and musician Katy Green gets a dream gig, a chance to play with the Ultra Belles, an all-girl swing band. No matter that the bandleader is her former lover, Ted Nywatt, nor that her chance to play comes about because someone tried to drown one of the girls; it's still a break.
The band is touring California and life looks good until someone does away with the saxophonist and Katy comes to realize there's a killer among the Belles. When another murder occurs, Katy realizes her next gig just might be with Gabriel's Big Band in the sky.
Forties glitz and glamour make a fun backdrop for Too Dead To Swing. The mystery takes a while to evolve, but Katy is a winner and the book is a real nostalgia kick.
-- Toby Bromberg, Reviewer
reviewingtheevidence.com - September 2002
"A Curious and Interesting Novel"
This is a curious and interesting novel. It's the story of an all-girl band in the swing era just before the tensions in Europe and Asia erupted into World War II. As such, it is of considerable historical interest. There weren't many job opportunities for women in musical groups at the time, except as vocalists. We've heard all the tired clichés.
Author Hal Glatzer knows his period. Indeed he is at pains to be sure to touch just about every aspect of the time, from politics to drugs to easy sexuality. But the accuracy of the observations by the members of this traveling band of swingers sometimes makes for arch and awkward dialogue.
The year is 1940. Out of work musician, Katy Green, takes time off from looking for a job to visit the Santa Monica amusement pier. There she just happens to encounter an old lover from back east who is touring California with his all-girl band, the Ultra-Belles. One thing leads to another and the bandleader and song writer, Ted Nywatt offers Katy a temporary job. The mystery begins here with the reason there is suddenly an opening in the band. Protagonist Katy Green is a good character. Glatzer has obviously worked hard to invest in her the characteristics of a bright, good-hearted, basically pure individual, worthy of our support and attention while she figures out who is preying on this struggling band of musicians as they wander through California by train. She may drink sometimes, but almost never to excess and she's able to resist the occasional offer of drugs, and neither she nor any other member of the cast uses bad language. Ever.
This story first saw light as an audio tape production, apparently with a first-class cast. Apart from coincidence, a strange lack of emotion at times, even as horrible murder takes place in the same Pullman sleeping car where the band is located, and a solution that requires serious depletion of our natural tendency to disbelieve, Too Dead To Swing is an enjoyable if placid evocation of some aspects of the period.
-- Carl Brookins, Reviewer
reviewingtheevidence.com - April 2002
"It Rang True To Me"
Katy Green was a professional musician; she could play either alto saxophone or violin, swing or classical. Originally from New York, she¹d recently gotten a job in California. The band engagement was finished and Katy was now living at the YWCA while haunting the musician¹s union hall in an effort to get a gig and make enough cash to move back east.
While killing time on the Santa Monica boardwalk one Sunday she meets an old lover, band leader Ted Nywatt. Ted has accompanied one of the members of his all girl band to the shore where his friend has an accident that puts her into the hospital. This was an unlucky break for Lois (a violinist), but lucky for Katy who takes her place as an Ultra Belle. Katy has to move fast to learn the music and get fitted for costumes, as they are leaving the next day on a tour by train up the California Coast from L.A. to San Francisco.
Of course as the train progresses from gig to gig, and city to city, more and more mysterious things occur. Katy, who apparently had helped solve a similar crime previously, works hard to solve this one before there is no band left.
This book was quite a treat to read. Mr. Glatzer seems to have done his homework regarding the era just before the US enters the Second World War -- at least it rang true to me. Since I was born just two years after the this book takes place I have always tried to read and learn as much about the pre-World War II and World II era as I can. I am definitely not an expert, but often wince when a writer doesn¹t take the time to research his material; too obvious an error can ruin an entire story. It was an era with much stricter dress codes and rules of behavior. Nineteen hundred and forty was also a time when it was even more difficult than it is presently for a woman to make her way as a band musician in any role other than singer.
In Too Dead To Swing, there are a large number of characters to keep track of, and of course in a book this size not a lot to time for the author to flesh them out. However, since the main character is just meeting the other band members, and since the whole story takes place in the course of just seven days, the reader learns as much about each person on this journey as one would if actually traveling with strangers for so short a time.
It is interesting that Hal Glatzer first wrote, produced, and distributed this mystery as an audio play performed by professional actors. This could be also the reason that one gets no fuller picture of what drives the protagonist than one would in a short story or novella. Additionally the settings, crimes, clues and red herrings are typically those that would entertain and work well if performed on a stage. It has been my experience that books written based on a movie or play, instead of the other way around, can be heavy going. However, having said all that, this novel still seems to break that stereotype. I sincerely hope the author continues with the series and in a future book he fleshes out Katy's character, allows us a closer look at her life and what led her to a career as a professional musician.
-- Martha Hoplins, Reviewer
TheBestReviews.com - March 12, 2002
"The Characters Make The Plot Swing"
In 1940, violinist Katy Green seeks work as a musician with the big bands, but her gender limits her opportunities regardless of her talent. She finally gets a big break when someone murders the violinist of the all-female Ultra Belles. Katy's former boyfriend and bandleader Ted Nywatt hires her as a replacement.
As the band makes a train tour of hot spots in California and Nevada, someone murders more members of the Ultra Belles. Unable to resist, Katy begins her own investigation into the rising homicide count that appears to be a serial vendetta before the killer adds her to the list.
Too Dead To Swing is an exciting 1940s who-done-it that is as much history as it is mystery. The ambiance of the times, especially that of a traveling all-female big band, enables the audience to see first hand what a musician's life was like on the West Coast just prior to America's entry into World War II. The characters make the plot swing as readers observe the locker room banter while riding the Pullmans with the band. Hal Glatzer provides a wonderful tale that historical novel buffs will relish though mystery fans will find it entertaining too. Though much more expensive, the audio version of this novel is even better as one will feel transported into a different era.
-- Harriet Klausner, Reviewer
I Love A Mystery - April-May 2002
"Don't Miss the Second Ending!"
If you're into nostalgia, remembered or learned second hand, you'll love this book. Especially if you lust for the good old days of traveling on the stars of the rails, The Zephyr and Starlight, luxurious Pullmans with dining cars to rival the Orient Express and club cars with bars, pianos, etc. Author Hal Glatzer's forward explains how he became the "chosen one," inheriting the story material from neighbor Hannah Dobryn. Upon her death at age ninety-six, she left said material to Glatzer with instructions to update the heroine/amateur detective and get the stories published. Thus was born, Katy Green.
The time is the 1940's and musician Katy Green is out of work in LA when she runs into old flame and fellow musician Ted Nywatt. He has a new all-girl band that plays swing and some unusual arrangements of his. She has accompanied him onto the pier when a commotion breaks out at the far end. They move to the spot to discover that Lois, a member of Ted's band, has fallen over the railing into the ocean. Lingering at the place where Lois went over, Katy finds a hat pin with a ball on the end and sees a large picture hat floating in the water near Lois. Lois remains in the hospital and Katy takes her place on the tour that will last five days. Katy is introduced to the seven band members, plus a publicist from Consolidated Music who arrives to handle their lives.
We have a pastiche of female bitchiness, a suspicious husband and a pest of a fan. After the first murder, in which another hat pin turns up, we add a lovely assortment of hand-holding detectives to color the scenery as the band swings its way up to Northern California to play their gigs. A neat touch is an illustrated post card depicting the California areas they are going to as the heading for each chapter.
Glatzer has the dialogue and feel of the time period down pat. And a word to the wise --- don't miss the second ending!
-- Manya Nogg, Reviewer
themysteryreader.com – May, 2002
"A fast-paced, fun read"
The Poisoned Pen - June 2002
"Breezy and bold as brass"
It’s 1940. Musician Katy Green lucks into a dream gig, playing with the all-girl Ultra Belles. Their tour travels by Pullman on luxurious and famous trains running from LA to Santa Cruz, Tahoe, and on to San Francisco.
So what if the songwriter who formed the Belles is Katy’s ex, a notorious Casanova? And so what if half the woman in the band are quarreling?
But Katy can’t ignore the growing realization that someone is out for blood....
Breezy and bold as brass, capturing the heyday of swing.
-- Barbara Peters, Reviewer
Jekyll's Golden Islander - April 25, 2002
"A subtle clue here and there"
Opportunities for female musicians aren't all that great in the 1940s so Katy Green, who plays both violin and also saxophone, is excited to get a fill-in role with the Ultra Belles, an all-female swing band that is touring California.
The organizer, Ted Nywatt, a songwriter, is a ladies' man who counts even Katy as one of his former sweethearts, but his current gal, Eileen Wheeler, is nothing but trouble. Katy tells Ted he's a man who loves women, even the ones he's not in love with any more.
And when bandmembers start dying, Katy suspects a murderer is loose, but is it a jealous band member, a former Nywatt lover or a disgruntled fan? While she looks for a killer, Katy must also confront the resentment from her fellow band members, some of whom think she could be the killer.
Glatzer takes the reader down memory lane with telling details of life on the road for female performers, while he teases the reader in a search for a killer with a subtle clue here and there."
-- Anna Ashwood Collins ("Crime By Collins"), Reviewer
The Historical Novels Review - May, 2002
"More than a detective story"
This may be unique. Here's a mystery novel based on an audio-play, which I haven't heard but as a fan of Old Time Radio, I'd love to. More than a detective story, this should appeal to fans of the big bands of pre-war 1940s as well, as murder stalks the all-female Ultra Belles as they wind up a tour of California by train.
Telling the story is violinist Katy Green, who doubles as both saxophonist and sleuth, as the occasion arises. Women didn't get much respect as musicians in those days, nor jobs, except as singers, or in bands that were all-girl only. Glatzer knows the music of the period, and re-creates to perfection the camaraderie and the pent-up frustrations of life on the road -- not to mention the magic of moments when everything falls together on the bandstand, making it all worthwhile.
The mystery itself is enjoyable but not to be taken too seriously. One cannot imagine the tour continuing ever onward to the next engagement, if members keep falling by the wayside as they do here. But if the somewhat worldly but still charming Katy Green is ever involved in another case, or her first brush with solving a crime is told, I'll be among the first in line to read it.
-- Steve Lewis, Reviewer
BookCrossing.com - September 12, 2002
"Let the Cat-Fights Begin!"
What a trip down Memory Lane to 1940, both for those who've been there, and those who haven't, like me. This is the story of an all-girl band, touring California by train from LA up to Santa Cruz (the Coconut Grove Ballroom), then Oakland, Sacto, and Tahoe and back to SF. Murder happens in an upper berth (there's a map of the Pullman included) and feisty Katy Green, freelance sax and violin, has to sort it out before the murderer silences her! At the start of each chapter are vintage postcards of the Ultra Belles' next stop. And there's even a cast of characters, for those who haven't seen this since their last Agatha Christie. Let the cat-fights begin!
coziescapersandcrimes.com - November, 2002
"Katy makes an interesting and tenacious protagonist"
She takes an afternoon off to go to the beach at
Santa Monica. Since she is low on money, she stands
in line at a hotdog vendor and notices a familiar
male head of hair, the only one not sporting a hat.
He turns out to be a former flame,
bandleader/composer Ted Nywatt, also taking a break.
He is there with Lois, the violinist in his female
swing band, the Ultra Belles. But Lois, sitting on a
pier railing while Nywatt goes for food, ends up in
the ocean, bloody, but rescued. However, she is
hospitalized with difficulty breathing.
With Lois in the hospital, Ted hires Katy to take
over the violinist's gig with the band. She soon
discovers she's in for more than a tour with this
band of diverse and occasionally contentious women.
The band is working its way north by train through
California, touring from Los Angeles to Santa Cruz,
Lake Tahoe and back to San Francisco.
A fair number of the complications come from Ted's
Casanova history and tendencies; others come from
the band members' personalities, beliefs and
However, when someone starts attacking individual
band members on the tour, Katy starts working on
more than learning the arrangements and fitting into
Glatzer first wrote the songs and story of Too
Dead To Swing when he produced it as an
award-winning audio-play in 2000. While the reader
can't hear the music with the printed book, the
lyrics are provided.
The mystery serves the reader well and conveys the
period's flavor language, conventions, culture,
transportation, and trends. The touring arrangements
are more luxurious than most bands got to enjoy, but
since the backer has been explained as wealthy, it's
fun to read of Pullmans on the Starlight, Zephyr and
other trains, instead of struggling by bus. Old
movies might play in the reader's head, not only
"Some Like It Hot," but perhaps also
"Song of the Thin Man," and the old Falcon
Katy makes an interesting and tenacious protagonist
and her first adventure keeps the reader's
attention. It will be interesting to see what her
next gig will be.
-- Virginia R. Knight, Reviewer
What Other Mystery Writers Are Saying . . .
"Too Dead To Swing dances to a different beat and a welcome one. It moves quickly, and its quirky characters and unexpected twists make it a very enjoyable read."
-- Stuart Kaminsky, Edgar Award-winner,
and author of Murder on the Trans-Siberian Express
"Too Dead To Swing is bold as brass, bright and breezy. Katy Green is a swinging sleuth with a sassy attitude. A swell debut by Hal Glatzer."
-- Kate Grilley, Macavity Award-winner,
and author of Death Dances to a Reggae Beat
"Too Dead To Swing" is a delightful and campy romp. The flavor of the 40's is evident in the well-drawn and interesting characterizations. The novel is fascinating, fun and will be a favorite. I'm so glad Hannah gave Hal her manuscripts. I can't wait to read the next Katy Green mystery! Bring it on, Hal! (I mean Hannah!)
-- Nancy Mehl. author of Graven Images and Sinner's Song
"I've always wanted to be a performer. Show business would be my life if only I had talent. :-( But the closest I'll ever come to being onstage is following the musician Katy Green and the Ultra Belles as this all-girl band trains around California playing a series of dates in the year 1940.
"I wouldn't want to be one of the Ultra Belles,
though, because, one by one, the ladies have the
misfortune to be murdered during various stops in
their tour. This edition has special elements
recalling the Forties, like a diagram of the
death-scene railroad car, and postcards depicting
the sunny California of sixty years ago. Too
Dead To Swing has a wonderful feeling for the
era, and I hope to read more Katy Green