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My fourth (and final?) cozy mystery released from Spyglass Lane Mysteries this month. This comes on the heels of the recent announcement that book two in my Massachussetts Mayhem series, Died in the Wool, is a 2012 Carol Award Finalist.
It thrills me to see that people enjoy this type of novel. Good, clean mysteries have been around since Agatha Christie's time. As a kid, I can remember devouring every Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys book I could get my hands on.
So, for fun, and to celebrate my finaling in the Carol Award contest, I thought I'd give you a sampling of mystery...cozy mystery! This excerpt is taken from The Trouble with Mary, and it's available now!
Crazy Cousin Mary was dead. No doubt about it.
Her black Converse tennis shoes stuck out from under the rusty old truck she drove—an International Scout with the back end sawed off. Above the wheel well she had spray-painted “La Bamba” in bright yellow letters.
“Who found her?” Clare’s voice shook as she bent to examine the axle Cousin Mary’d been working on. The roaring in her ears drowned out the hum of the cicadas.
“Elmer Lee.” Sheriff Tucker Jones jerked his thumb toward the squatty, rundown shack next door. “Said he heard a noise and come a runnin’.”
It would have to have been a noise since Elmer Lee was blind. Clare shook her head. “Poor kid. Is he inside?”
“Yep. I figured it best he not be around when the coroner arrives.”
The coroner. Clare swallowed hard and wiped her sweaty palms down her pant legs. “What do we need him for?”
“Now, Clarice, I know you and Matt Walker have a history—”
“It’s Clare now.” She blew out a breath. “Besides, it’s not about that, Tuck. I just want to know why we need him.”
Tuck took his time pushing a wad of tobacco around in his mouth. “Cousin Mary was alone when she died. Even in Chickipin, that means the coroner.”
Everyone in the tiny coastal town of Chickipin, Louisiana, called Mary ‘cousin,’ even though Clare and her mother were the only people who admitted any relation—which was why Clare’s old, high school friend, Tucker, called her seconds after he called the coroner. She sighed and stood upright, the muscles in her back protesting. As a paralegal, she’d built enough case files to know he was right. “Okay. So we wait for Matt. Then what?”
Tuck spit out the tobacco and replaced it with a blade of torpedo grass. “You’ll be free to make whatever arrangements you need. Sure am glad you was home from Baton Rouge when it happened.”
Clare’s gaze shot to the tips of her boots. “Um. . .it wasn’t a chance visit, Tuck.”
Driven by the pounding of her heart, warmth crept up Clare’s neck to her cheeks. If only she’d stopped by Cousin Mary’s place first like she planned, instead of going on to her momma’s. Cousin Mary’s voice had sounded troubled over the telephone, and Clare sensed deep inside that something was wrong, but she’d still taken her time making her way home. She cleared her throat, fighting fingers of guilt. “Cousin Mary asked me to come.”
“Huh.” Tuck grunted, his round belly jumping up and down. “Did she say why?”
Clare shook her head.
He dismissed her concern with a shrug. “Well, regardless, you and your momma are the only kinfolk I figured would see to it. You reckon her Ma and Pa would want her buried by the mayhaw?”
The ‘mayhaw’ was an ancient tree that dominated a hilltop overlooking Broussard Cemetery. Cousin Mary played there as a child and took Clare along soon as she was old enough to walk. Tears burned her eyelids. “Yeah, I reckon they would.”
She ignored the grin he shot her way at the use of ‘reckon.’ Ever since moving into the city, she’d tried very hard to eradicate the signs of her country bred roots. Behind them, an engine growled. She turned, relieved to be spared Tuck’s teasing, to face the man who tormented her dreams.
She blinked and sucked in a breath. For just a moment, she thought she’d got it wrong. Matt drove a Camaro and kept a faded Saints air freshener dangling from the rearview. This was a truck, a four wheel drive, new, and it had lights mounted on top. But then the door swung open and Matt stood before her, stealing her breath with his tight blue jeans and beige, collared shirt rolled at the sleeves.
His low greeting raised gooseflesh on her arms. Matt refused to call her Clare, even as kids. She tipped her head. “Matt.”
“I’m sorry about Mary. I hated getting the call. Glad you were home. Your momma’s gonna need you.”
Tongue dry, she nodded. “Thanks.”
He turned. “Whatcha’ know, Tuck?”
Just like that, Matt was all business. Clare’s heart constricted. Did her presence affect him at all? Did he wonder about her, living one hundred-eighty miles away and working for a lawyer in Baton Rouge? Did he. . .miss her? She swallowed hard and followed him around the truck.
Tuck filled Matt in on the details, the phone call to the police station, his arrival, Elmer Lee’s statement. His deep voice mingled with the sounds of the bayou—tree frogs, buzzing insects, even the rumble of a distant train—all things Clare thought she’d left behind forever. She cleared her throat and interrupted. “Can we move her?” Two male gazes swung to fix upon her, both unbearable in their kindness. She hid her shaking hands in the pockets of her skirt. “It seems wrong to leave her lying in the dirt.”
Matt stepped toward her, his hand outstretched. Her jaw clenched. The sympathy she read in his gaze was worse than his disinterest.
After a moment’s hesitation, his hand fell. “As soon as I finish my report. Shouldn’t be long. It appears pretty cut and dried. Unfortunate accident.”
That about summed up Cousin Mary’s life.
Strange as she had been, Clare’s heart ached to have lost her. She yearned for her vivacious laughter, her wild abandon. She’d been Clare’s closest friend growing up, and remained so, even though Clare was now twenty-six and Cousin Mary was older by nearly ten years. Clare moved out of sight of Matt and Tuck to the driver’s side of Cousin Mary’s truck and knelt next to her body. From this vantage, Clare could see her hand, roughened by work and clutching. . .
A bit of silver glinted in the noon sun.
As far back as Clare could remember Cousin Mary carried a pocketknife. She’d probably been hauling it out to use as a screwdriver when La Bamba fell. Clare touched her fingers, ignoring the dirt and oil that crusted her nails. Already cold. She pulled back in a hurry.
“Tuck, I think we have a problem.” Matt’s voice tumbled over from the front of the truck where Cousin Mary had positioned the floor jack.
“Yeah? What’s up?” Tuck grunted as he squatted next to Matt. Their feet, all Clare could see from where she knelt, raised a small dust cloud under the front fender.
“Did you look at this?”
A mosquito buzzed by her ear. She swatted it away.
“What do you make of it?”
Tuck gave a low whistle that sent chills scurrying up Clare’s back.
“Make of what?” She got up and rounded the truck to join them. Their heads swung to look at her.
“Clare, I’m gonna have to ask you to stay put for a moment.” Tuck jumped to his feet, grasped her arm, and tugged her to the edge of the rickety wooden stairs. Long as she’d known him, that was the quickest she’d ever seen him move.
Bewildered, she cast a glance at first Matt and then Tuck. “Why? What’s going on?”
Rivers of sweat soaked Tuck’s collar. He refused to look at her.
She turned her attention to Matt. “Well?”
Something in his eyes filled Clare with unease. She moved back and groped for the railing, conscious as she did of the splinters that pierced her palm.
He took a step toward her. “Clarice, did Mary have any enemies?”
And with those words, her heart began to hurry.
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