Seven Kinds of Death Summary
by Kate Wilhelm

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Seven Kinds of Death

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

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SEVEN KINDS OF DEATH opens by introducing Toni Townsend, a sculptor, and Victoria Leeds, a book editor. They strike up an acquaintance while traveling by train, and Leeds manages later to get Townsend admitted to a prestigious artist’s colony run by sculptor Marion Olsen.

The book takes its title from Olsen’s best work of art. The main action of the story begins at a party celebrating a touring exhibition of her work. Leeds shows up for the party with Paul Volte, an art writer and former boyfriend, causing speculation about whether they might be trying to get back together. Leeds disappears mysteriously before the party. While searching for her, Olsen and other partygoers discover that most of Olsen’s work, crated up to go on tour, has been vandalized. Soon after, Leeds’s body is discovered in a condominium complex being constructed by Max Buell, Olsen’s latest husband. Leeds is suspected immediately of vandalizing Olsen’s artwork during her absence from the party, introducing revenge by Olsen as a motive for her murder.

Constance Leidl, an amateur detective, received her invitation to the party in the form of a note from Olsen stating that she was in desperate trouble and needed to talk to someone she could trust. Before Leidl can find out the source of this trouble or begin an investigation into the vandalism and murder, Charlie Meiklejohn, her partner, arrives. They are hired by Buell when Olsen becomes the primary suspect in Leeds’s murder. Leidl and Meiklejohn try to prove Olsen’s innocence while the police investigation zeroes in on her as a suspect. All of the evidence points to Olsen as the murderer, but Leidl and Meiklejohn uncover discrepancies that they believe indicate her innocence. The mystery is solved in a rapidly paced climax involving a seance.