Cynthia Morrow, Author
Cynthia Morrow is a professional musician, conductor, psychologist, and mystery writer. She is a graduate of New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, holds a Master’s Degree in Psychology Arts from Antioch University LA and a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology from Ryokan College in LA. She has spent most of her life working in sectors that are related to all aspects of music and psychology
She has been a Hollywood string player on violin and viola, a singer/songwriter, a composer, lyricist, teacher, and coach. She has written several musicals, with the latest one being a collaboration with her long-time writing partner, Arthur B. Rubinstein.
She is the conductor and musical director of Whidbey Island Orchestra on Whidbey Island in Washington State, where she lives with her husband, Federal Mediator Gary Hattal, her two dogs, and her two cats. She strongly believes in the power of music, love, an inquisitive mind, and having friends who are good eaters.
Unstrung: A Blanchard House Mystery
by Cynthia Morrow
Unstrung: A Blanchard House Mystery
iUniverse, 231 pages, (paperback) $15.95, 978-1-4759-1112-1
(Reviewed: April 2013)
Unstrung is a classic “cozy” mystery in the English tradition, though this one gets its dark and stormy nights courtesy of Kirkland, Washington, and its plot complications from the cutthroat world of classical music. Wait, cutthroat? No. Make that poisonous.
Classical musicians Althea and Grace have ditched session work in Hollywood (and Althea's failed marriage) to open a music school in an enormous house in the Washington woods. Hosting an epic Christmas tea in Blanchard House augurs well for their fortunes, until one of the guests ends up dead. Complications to solving the mystery include several dogs and cats, even more potential human suspects, and Althea's raging crush on the investigating detective, who seems to be returning her feelings.
Author Cynthia Morrow lives in Kirkland, Washington, and is a professional musician. She writes what she knows and does it very well. Althea is a smart, funny narrator. When the detective she likes refers to her roommate as her “partner,” she's quick to correct him to signal her availability, then laughs at herself: “In another second, I probably would have blurted out, “Men! I like men!” Subtlety has never been my strong suit.”
There's a large cast here, but each character (including the cats and dogs) are vivid and distinct, and the whodunit at the heart of the book has many twists and turns. Setting the story in a world many readers haven't experienced makes it that much richer. For all the glamour associated with orchestras, the job itself sometimes means freezing your backside off while trying to do Mozart justice in an unheated church balcony.
Morrow has subtitled this book, “A Blanchard House Mystery.” If she's hinting at the possibility of this becoming a series, it's reason to rejoice. She has created engaging characters, a wonderful setting, and most importantly, the chops to deliver a grade-A read. Encore!
Also available in hardcover and ebook.
Book Talk Interview: Getting to Know Author Cynthia Morrow September 6, 2013
CM: I did graduate from New England Conservatory and spent many years as a violinist, violist, composer, singer/songwriter, and recording musician in LA. I played for all the big stars at one time or another in Las Vegas at the MGM Grand, Caesar’s Palace, in the releif orchestras, which rotate between all the big Strip hotels, and also played gypsy violin in the gourmet dining rooms. You might have seen me as the violist in “The Black/WhiteConcert” with Roy Orbison that PBS regularly uses in its promotional ads, or heard me sing the songs I wrote for “War Games” and “Deal of the Century.” But in the middle of all that, I fulfilled a life-long dream and did an M.A. degree and then a Doctorate in clinical psychology.
CM: Yes, but only in part. I was born and raised in New Jersey, and truly loved Newark, an old, historic city, as well as Las Vegas and Mount Charleston in Nevada. I lived up in the mountains in a log cabin where I cut, split and hauled my own firewood as my only source of heat. I’ve lived in the most beautiful and sophisticated parts of Los Angeles; the Hollywood Hills, Malibu and Playa del Rey. Of course, I loved being in Boston when I was at conservatory, which made me a life-long Red Sox fan, and now I’ve been in the Seattle area for the last 13 years.
CM: Years and years. Records, TV, and film scoring in Hollywood were a big part of my life. I played ballets and operas and stage shows as well, four and a half hears as principal violist of “Phantom of the Opera,” and countless others. Certainly, creating music and collaborating with some of the best musicians and composers in the business had a tremendous impact on me. I was really lucky with my timing. I got to know and work with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Shirley McClain,Cher, Celine Dionne and literally hundreds of other amazing entertainers. Music is very much a universal passport, one that’s taken me to Mexico with Johnny Mathis, and Canada, Japan, and even Korea, where I won the Bronze Prize in a World Song Festival. I even had a role as Pilar, the strolling violist in “The Bold And The Beautiful.”
CM: It’s hard to say. So much, really. I loved playing and recording serious classical music with my duo partner Carolyn Osborn in our violin/viola group “Luminarias,” and playing in excellent string quartets, and being a founding member of the viola quartet “Gaia.” I must tell you, though, that I loved singing jazz in Boston and playing strolling violin for the Queen of England just as much.
CM: Ah. I wanted to be a psychiatrist from the time I was about five years old, but the thought horrified my family, not that being a professional musician was much better, but at least I was able to get a full scholarship for that, so there we were. But, you know, after years of a very fulfilling career in music, I still had the psychology bug, so I went back to graduate school. For a number of years in LA, I had a private clinical psychology practice under the world’s best supervisor, Dr. Isaac Berman, and worked with a lot of schizophrenia and Tourette Syndrome patients, particularly children.
CM: If you must know, I fell in love. My husband, Gary Hattal, is a Federal Mediator who was divorced and living in Washington DC when I met him. He was visiting his parents in LA, luckily for me, and wound up at my gym. It turns out that he has a lovely daughter who had moved to Seattle with her mother, and he’d been flying across the country every other weekend to visit her. Soon Gary and I were also flying across the country just to see each other. Madness, right? We realized pretty quickly that the best solution to this dilemma was for us to get married and move up to Seattle together. It was a fabulous decision. Now I get to divide my time between writing and teaching talented young musicians to play violin or viola. That’s something that, as a dedicated performer, I never thought I’d enjoy, but I was wrong. I love it.
CM: Of course, as a shrink my first inclination is to ask you how you think it does. But really, I’m not quite that obnoxious. (Laughter.) Through my writing process I’ve learned that while I consciously create my characters, they access parts of my subconscious and, in their own voices, go in their own unexpected directions as they evolve.
CM: The answer is no, and yes. Altheais her own woman, although she and I do have a lot in common. As to your second question, anyone who has ever stayed overnight in our home can tell you that yes, I do take screamingly ice cold showers. I’ve been told that it’s not endearing, especially the first time people hear it. The word “blood-curdling” comes up often.
CM: Agatha Christie was the first mystery writer I ever read. One summer in Maine, when I was teaching music and living in an old farmhouse miles from anywhere, I read all of her books and guessed the killer every time by carefully following the clues that she’d brilliantly dropped for her readers. It was good training. I also love Mary Daheim, and Robert B. Parker, Jacqueline Winspear, and Alexander McCall Smith. I’m a huge Edgar Allen Poe fan as well.
Honestly, I love writing these stories because I’m always surprised at what just pops onto the page, what springs from my own subconscious mind. It’s a fun form of self-analysis, and if other people enjoy reading my books, which I hope they do, so much the better.
CM: Thank you so much. I’ll keep writing, then.
BT: You do that.