ARC Review: Death at the Selig Studios by Frances McNamara (Emily Cabot Mysteries #7)


DeathAtTheSeligStudiosCoverOfficial Synopsis from Goodreads: The early summer of 1909 finds Emily Cabot eagerly anticipating a relaxing vacation with her family. Before they can depart, however, she receives news that her brother, Alden, has been involved in a shooting death at the Selig Polyscope silent movie studios on Chicago’s northwest side. She races to investigate, along with her friend Detective Henry Whitbread. There they discover a sprawling backlot, complete with ferocious jungle animals and the celluloid cowboys Tom Mix and Broncho Billy. As they dig deeper into the situation, they uncover furtive romantic liaisons between budding movie stars and an attempt by Thomas Edison to maintain his stranglehold over the emerging film industry. Before the intrepid amateur sleuth can clear her brother’s name she faces a serious break with the detective; a struggle with her adolescent daughter, who is obsessed with the filming of the original Wizard of Oz movie; and threats upon her own life.

Genre: Historical Mystery
Setting: 1909 Chicago

***I received an eARC copy of Death at the Selig Studios from the publisher, Allium Press***

*** this post contains affiliate links ***

Review: What a mystery! This was a fascinating historical mystery with wonderful tidbits about Chicago’s movie history. I spent a lot of time looking items up online as so much of what was mentioned in this book was new information for me. Death at the Selig Studios by Frances McNamara is a ton of fun. When a murder happens at the Selig Polyscope Company, Emily Cabot (now Chapman) is involved in trying to solve the murder. While the murder and the sleuthing felt at times a bit frustrating or predictable, other times I was completely surprised and concerned for our heroine’s safety.

As there is rarely just one murder in mysteries like this, there are multiple murders that happen here, and one of the murders is quite seriously one of the more unique and, uh, scary that I’ve ever read. I don’t mean that the book is gruesome, it absolutely isn’t, but rather the murder was just very suspenseful! As this book revolves around the early movie industry and working with animals in the movies, lets just say that animals are involved and I can’t recall ever reading another mystery with this particular cause of death in it before. I don’t want to reveal too much, as I really was surprised when it happened, and I wouldn’t want to spoil anything!

As animals come into play in this murder mystery, one particular scene involving the shooting of a lion on camera was exceedingly hard to read. There was an early mention of this happening, and I kind of glossed over it thinking, “oh, they must mean shoot as in take film of”. Nope. And while my modern sensibilities were totally shocked and angered over this treatment of a magnificent lion, our heroine, Emily, doesn’t ever really feel this outrage for the animal. Which is likely completely in line with the thoughts of the time. So instead of feeling anger towards Emily, I could appreciate the way Frances McNamara has given her a realistic thought process for the time she lives in.

As Death at the Selig Studios is the seventh book in the Emily Cabot mystery series, you don’t have to read all of the previous entries in order to enjoy this one. You may miss out a bit on her family history and connections, but the star of the story here is the historical setting and the fascinating detail. Be sure to read the afterword at the end of the book, where McNamara details which of the characters are real people and which are invented for the book. I’m glad I didn’t know which ones were real prior to reading the book, as that may have affected how I looked at the characters and how I worked the mystery out. It’s unlikely for authors to have a real person be the murderer in books like these, so it was good to not know who was invented and who was real.

In terms of the mystery and whodunit, I figured it out about 10 pages before our heroine did, so I got a bit frustrated when I thought she was making some dangerous moves. But all in all, Death at the Selig Studios was a lot of fun, and I had no idea Chicago played such a large role in early movie making. I definitely recommend this to those who enjoy historical mysteries, and to those who are interested in movie making history. I was quite fascinated by this book and all of the history and am looking forward to the next Emily Cabot mystery!

Bottom Line: Full of fascinating historic detail. I couldn’t put this one down!

LINKS ***the Amazon link is an affiliate link which means I receive a small commission if you click the link and make a purchase***

Author Website
My Review of Death at the Paris Exposition, book six in the series

Does this sound like a fun read? Were you aware that the first movies were made in Chicago before the industry moved out to Hollywood?

And what do you think of the book’s cover? I’ve got mixed feelings about it. On one hand, it is so different from other covers that are out there, that it really grabs one’s attention! But on the other hand, it looks a bit cheesy, and I wasn’t sure what genre the book was when I first saw the cover.



9 thoughts on “ARC Review: Death at the Selig Studios by Frances McNamara (Emily Cabot Mysteries #7)

  1. I think the cover looks like something you would see on a free religious book you get stuffed in your mailbox. I wasn’t aware that shot films in Chicago. Any specific area in Chicago? When I was reading Behind Her Eyes, I figured out what was going on JUST before it happened. Because I was listening to an audiobook, I couldn’t go faster to confirm my suspicions! Agonizing!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes – totally agree about the religious book cover!! I also had no clue that films started in Chicago and then moved out to Hollywood (better weather so they could shoot outside year round). I don’t think there was anything famous – as these were more of the silent films. The history is actually quite fascinating. The publisher, Allium Press, is based in Chicago and publishes books set in Chicago. I’ve reviewed a few books for them, and each one has had fascinating historic detail about Chicago that I hadn’t heard of before. This series is one that I haven’t read all the earlier ones of, and I haven’t noticed myself missing out on stuff – just the various different references to earlier cases and different family things.


          1. Do you know Samantha Irby’s work? First, she was famous for the blog Bitches Gotta Eat. Since then, she’s published two books, Meaty and We Are Never Meeting in Real Life. Her first book, Meaty, was just re-released by the same press that did her second book. It was originally published 10 years ago by a small press in Chicago. Apparently, it was full of typos and one story abruptly ends because the rest accidentally got deleted!

            Liked by 1 person

  2. The lion shooting would tend to put me off, although I do appreciate when an author doesn’t try to project modern sensibilities onto historical characters. Not sure about the cover – it wouldn’t attract me enough to make me pick the book up and read the blurb, I think.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, when I first saw the cover I wasn’t sure what was going on!! I was thinking maybe it was a bizarre romance book? But it sure is different from other mystery covers out there.
      Yeah, the lion thing totally threw me. I was not expecting that at all, and while I know that early movies (and sadly some of the more modern movies) have involved animal cruelty, I was still totally taken aback when that scene happened.

      Liked by 1 person

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