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As if the body farm isn't surreal enough, my clothing adds to the absurdity, I'm wearing a full-skirted, white ballroom dress with puffy sleeves that make my shoulders look wider than a linebacker's. Clipped to the bodice is my ID badge, which bears my name, Mattie Winston, and my title, Deputy Coroner. Though I'm still kind of new at this dead body stuff, I'm pretty sure my outfit isn't the sort of couture one would normally wear to a crime scene. But then, who knows? I don't think there's a designer who has tackled this particular niche. I can see possibilities though: shirts and pants with chalk outlines drawn on them, sexy, peek-a-boo blouses with strategically placed bullet holes and knife tears, and, of course, lots of bloodred colored material.
In spite of the macabre scene and thoughts, in a perverse sort of way I'm happy to be here. Five minutes ago I was at a Halloween costume party being bored to tears by "William-not-Bill," an obsessive-compulsive, germaphobic accountant in a Dracula costume. He is a date my friend Izzy fixed me up with, making me wonder what horrible thing I've done to Izzy to earn such retribution. After less than an hour in William-not-Bill's company, listening to him give me a paranoid's primer on how many infectious ways there are to die, I was trying desperately to come up with a plausible plan of escape. Fortunately my beeper chirped and saved me. My relief was countered by a smidgen of guilt when I remembered that work for me meant someone else was dead, but probably not as dead as the date I was on. It was stone-cold, bones-only, well-beyond-the-putrid-stage dead.
I tried not to look too relieved at my reprieve as I snatched my beeper up from the table and gave William-not-Bill an apologetic smile. "Duty calls," I said, feigning disappointment. "I'm afraid we'll have to make it an early night."
William-not-Bill frowned and said, "Darn it. Are you sure you need to go?"
I'd never been so sure of anything in my entire life. "I'm afraid so," I told him.
"I'd really like to see you again. Can I give you a call sometime?"
I would have rather stabbed myself blind with a dull fork and was tempted to say so when Izzy, who is only five feet tall and dressed tonight as the Keebler elf, tapped me on the shoulder.
Aside from being my date rescue, Izzy is my neighbor, my landlord, and my boss. He is also the anti-me: dark where I'm light, short where I'm tall, and male to my female. We do have three things in common however: fat-hoarding metabolisms, fondness for men, and jobs that require the removal of human organs. Izzy removes organs because he's the county's medical examiner. I used to remove organs, or at least assist in the process, inside a hospital operating room, which is where my soon-to-be ex-husband, David, works as a surgeon. But after catching a coworker named Karen Owenby playing with a certain private organ on David, I ditched both him and the job. Now I work with Izzy in the ME's office, and while I still assist with organ removal, the goods aren't as fresh as they used to be.
"Mattie? You ready?" Izzy asked as William-not-Bill pouted like a child.
"Absolutely." I got up from the table and beat a hasty exit-not an easy task given the wide girth of my gown, the two-foot wand I was carrying, and the crown that kept sliding off my head. I left Izzy, whose legs are only a third the length of mine, behind in my wake, along with several broken drink glasses my skirt knocked from tables as I passed. By the time Izzy caught up to me I was standing next to his car in the parking lot, tapping my foot impatiently.
"What's the rush?" he asked. "Afraid a house might drop on you?"
"I'm Glinda, the good witch," I reminded him. "Houses don't fall on Glinda."
"Then why the big hurry? I haven't seen you run that fast for anything other than ice cream in a long time."
"Very funny," I said, giving him a dirty look. "I didn't want to give Dracula a chance to ask for my number again. Though I have to admit his costume was perfect. He spent our time together sucking the life out of me." I shook my head woefully. "I can't believe I let you talk me into dating that bozo. He has a comb-over, for Christ's sake. His only saving grace is that he's tall." This is actually an important asset for me. I hit the six-foot mark at the age of sixteen, which made me a good foot taller than all of the boys for most of my high school years. That, combined with my ample bosom, made me very popular during the slow songs at school dances.
Izzy opened his door, got in the car, and reached over to unlock my side. The car is a fully restored Impala from the sixties. No such thing as automatic locks. Unfortunately, there are no bucket seats either, which means I have to pretzel six feet of me into the same amount of space Izzy uses.
I ripped the crown from my head and threw it and my wand into the back seat. Then I tried unsuccessfully to stuff the skirt of my gown down around me. As we pulled out of the parking lot, I imagined it must look like a giant puff ball was sitting in the passenger seat.
"Give William a break," Izzy said as I spat taffeta. "So he's got a touch of OCD. What's the big deal? It's his attention to detail that makes him such an ace accountant."
"A touch of OCD? I'll have you know he shot his cuffs at least fifty times, straightened the tablecloth a dozen times, and counted how many people were at the party every ten minutes. I can't guess how many times he cleaned all the silverware at the table. And don't even get me started on the fangs."
Izzy conceded with a sigh. "Okay, maybe he's a little anal retentive."
"Doubt it," I snapped back. "He's got his head so far up his ass there isn't room there for anything else. And just how old is he, anyway?"
"Late forties, maybe early fifties."
"That's a bit of a spread, don't you think? He's got to be at least fifteen years older than me."
"I'm twelve years older than Dom."
"That's different. You're gay."
"What's that got to do with it?" Izzy laughed. "Besides, it's not like you were looking for a serious date. You just wanted someone to tote along to make Hurley jealous."
This was true. Steve Hurley is a tall, dark, and blissfully blue-eyed homicide detective that I've known for all of three weeks, ever since I became Izzy's assistant. For me it was lust at first sight, which unfortunately occurred over Karen Owenby's freshly murdered body. Things kind of went downhill from there, particularly after I became a suspect in the case.
"Clearly it was a wasted effort," I pouted.
"Hey, it's not my fault Hurley didn't show up at the party."
With that one sentence, Izzy shot straight to the heart of my misery. I sulked for the remainder of the journey, which was all of three minutes since Sorenson isn't a very big town. When we arrived at our destination, I unfolded myself from Izzy's car like a performer in Cirque du Soleil and stood a moment to let the blood flow back into my legs. Then I reached into the back seat and took out my processing kit.
That's how I ended up here on the edges of suburbia, surrounded by bodies on a Saturday night, dressed like a white witch carrying a large tackle box.
Despite the darkness outside, the yard is brightly lit thanks to Halloween spotlights and the flashing bars atop the cop cars parked in the driveway. At the foot of a huge oak tree off to my right, a man sits strapped into a large wooden chair. On his head is something that looks like an old-fashioned electrocution helmet. Nailed to the tree a foot above his head is a large board that has the words ON and OFF painted on it with a fork-shaped lever clearly placed in the ON position. Wires are running from the lever to the helmet and the clothes on the man appear to be singed.
On closer inspection I see that the helmet is actually a metal mixing bowl turned upside down and the handle on the board is made out of tin foil, but the effect is realistic enough to make me shiver.
On the opposite side of the tree is another body, this one hanging from a thick rope, its face painted a ghastly blue, the body swinging slightly in the night breeze. A third body is half buried in a makeshift grave, its hands and feet protruding from the freshly turned soil. At its head is a gravestone that bears the inscription: WHO TURNED OUT THE LIGHTS?
Four more bodies are strewn about, all of them wearing blood-soaked clothes. One has a large butcher knife protruding from its chest; another has its head lying a conspicuous distance from its body. The third one is missing its arms and legs, though they are lying nearby, and the fourth one is splayed halfway down the steps of the front porch, a glistening trail of blood marking its journey from the front door.
This last body is the one I zero in on since there is a trio of police officers-two in uniform, one in plainclothes-grouped around it. I know most of the cops in town either because they're Sorenson lifers like me, or because we became acquainted years ago when I worked in the ER. I even dated one of them briefly, a sweet guy named Larry Johnson who is the plainclothes officer in tonight's group. I never felt any reciprocal attraction to Larry, but if I had it would have died some time ago when he came into the hospital for hemorrhoid surgery. I was the scrub nurse on the case, and the sight of Larry's jingleberries hanging above his dingle-berries would have put a definite damper on future intimacies.
One of the uniforms in tonight's group is a guy named Al who I've known for a decade or so, but the second uniform is new to me, and he looks like he's twelve. The one face conspicuously absent from the group is Steve Hurley's.
"Hey, where are Sleepy, Sneezy, and Dopey?" Larry yells as Izzy and I approach. Al and the new guy snigger. I realize they have misinterpreted our costumes, mistaking me for Snow White and Izzy for one of my dwarfs.
"I don't know," I say, setting down my scene kit and glancing around the yard. "Where are the real cops?"
"Ouch," says Larry as the other two groan. "Okay, truce."
I turn my attention to the body on the stairs and wrinkle my nose. There is a faint odor in the air, one that tells me this body has been here a while. The weather over the past week or so has been uncharacteristically warm for late October in Wisconsin, with temperatures in the high seventies during the day and the low sixties at night. Normally we'd expect highs in the fifties with frost or snow warnings at night, but this year October decided to go out on a high note. This last gasp of summer proved a delightful treat here in a state where snowblowers are considered a necessity five months out of the year, but it also allowed putrefaction to set in a little sooner than it otherwise would have.
"Do you know who she is?" Izzy asks, using his camera to shoot pictures and video of both the body and our immediate surroundings.
"We're pretty certain it's Shannon Tolliver," Larry says.
One of the advantages of living in a small town is that eventually you get to know almost everyone, if not by name, then at least by face. Here the six degrees of separation are often narrowed down to one or two. I'm at a slight disadvantage because of my last job. Even though working as a nurse in the operating room of the town's hospital allowed me to cross paths with a lot of people, most of them were draped, gowned, bonneted, and drugged into oblivion. As a result, I'm quicker to recognize some people by their navels or knees as opposed to their faces.
Tonight's victim is someone I do know by face, though it's hard to be sure it's her. The body is lying on its back with the feet at the top of the stairs and the head at the bottom. Gravity has done its job. What little blood is left in the body has settled in the head and face, causing gross discoloration and swelling.
"Who found her?" I ask.
Al says, "A couple of trick-or-treaters who got the scare of their life when their parents drove them to this house. The parents rounded the kids up and then called it in on a cell phone."
I grimace. Kids traipsing near our corpse and running hell-bent through the yard means contamination of our scene.
I note two holes in Shannon's torso that appear to be bullet entry wounds, both of them surrounded by the blood-soaked cloth of her blouse. Years of working as a nurse have gifted me with the rather dubious talent of being able to estimate blood loss with a reasonable degree of accuracy. A quick estimate of the dried pool beneath Shannon's body and the trail leading back from it to the house tells me there's a good chance she bled to death.
Squealing wheels sound behind us and, as I turn to see a familiar black car pull up, my heart quickens and a different kind of shiver goes through me.
Hurley. He parks right behind one of the spotlights, forcing me to squint as I search eagerly for his long-legged stride. But something is wrong. The silhouette I see has two heads and way too many arms. For a second I think it must be Hurley's Halloween costume, but it turns out to be something much scarier. It's Hurley walking side by side with Alison Miller.
I feel a pang of jealousy and mutter a curse under my breath. Alison Miller, a photographer and reporter for the biweekly Sorenson Journal, used to be my friend. We went to high school together, and while we never hung out much, we maintained a cordial, if distant, relationship. Our current status is a bit more strained, thanks to her attempts to print a picture of me bare-chested on the front page of the paper a couple weeks ago, and the fact that she has suddenly become the main obstacle between me and Detective Hurley, assuming, of course, that Hurley has forgotten about that unfortunate incident when I barfed on his shoes.
It isn't just the sight of them together that bothers me. I knew they had plans to attend a Halloween party tonight-the same party Izzy and I just left-because I was there a week ago when Alison all but threw herself at Hurley and demanded that he take her. What bothers me is the fact that they never made it to the party but are still together. What were they doing while I sat letting Dracula turn me into one of the undead?
Both of them are in costume: Alison looks disturbingly cute dressed as a genie, and Hurley, rather unimaginatively, is dressed like an Eliot Ness-era FBI agent, though the hat does give him a sexy, debonair, I-want-to-bite-your-lip quality. I give their outfits a quick once-over searching for signs of disarray or a fresh-out-of-the-sack look, but don't find any. It's a mild reassurance at best, and any relief I might feel vanishes when I see the smug expression on Alison's face.
Her camera is slung around her neck and she is holding it with one hand, prepared to take a quick snap if something worthy should present itself. Even in high school Alison always had her camera close by and ready. It earned her the nickname Snapper, a moniker that always made all the boys snigger. Nowadays she's a freelance reporter/photographer and the primary photo source for our local paper, so a camera is still as ubiquitous an accessory as ever. I briefly wonder if she sleeps with it, but as soon as the thought hits my mind, I flash on an image of Hurley naked in bed with her, and my face grows uncomfortably hot.
"Hi, everyone," Alison says with a perky little wave of her hand. She eyes me and Izzy and says, "How cute. Snow White and Doc. What a clever idea."
Before I can correct her she has raised her camera, snapped a shot, and blinded me with her flash.
Excerpted from Scared Stiff by Annelise Ryan Copyright © 2010 by Beth Amos. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted November 26, 2011
I loved the first one and this book (2nd in series) was even better! A couple of times I had to set the book down because I was laughing so hard! I have my mom reading it now and she is enjoying it just as much (I'm 41, she's 73). It can get pretty descriptive with the forensic side of things and while I don't necessarily get into that (it's the reason I don't watch Bones) the book is good enough that I just ignore the gross out aspect. Well written, not obvious outcome, and funny - everything I look for in a book!
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Posted September 11, 2011
I don't write many reviews but when I find an author I love, well I just have to! This is better than Janet Evanovich! Great characters and plot! I will definitely be reading the rest of the series!!!!
2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
When a doctor is accused of murdering his wife, Mattie's insists that he is not the killer and when hunky Detective Hurley gives her the go ahead to investigate, that's when the fun begins. The dialogue and the escapades that Mattie gets into leave you wanting more. It is so much fun watching Mattie get the clues even when she has endures several malfunction.
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Posted July 15, 2013
Posted July 7, 2010
The residents of Sorenson, Wisconsin know each other as the town is very tiny. When Deputy Coroner Mattie Winston discovered her husband Erik cheating on her, she left him and moved into a house owned by her boss and closest friend Izzy. She meets Detective Steve Hurley when Mattie's husband was under suspicions for murdering his girlfriend (see Scared Stiff) and to this day still has a crush on the cop.
They meet again when Izzy and Mattie are called to Shannon Tolliver's home. She is lying face down on her outside sidewalk; shot to death. A witness states that the victim and Erik had a public fight; afterward she tossed him out of their home insisting she wanted a separation. Other circumstantial evidence surfaces and finally enough proof is gathered to make an arrest. Mattie rejects the notion Erik killed his wife in a crime of passion because she finds a letter he wrote to his Shannon just after they split up saying how much he loved her. She pleads her case with Steve before beginning her own investigation, which places her in danger from a deranged killer.
The Mattie Winston mysteries are funny, romantic and complex; blending together into an enticing read. The small town setting makes for a fine background for the "Trick or Treat" homicide as kids walk the streets not expecting to see a real corpse. Scared Stiff is a delightful tale starring a psychopathic villain vs. a dedicated deputy coroner using a taxi to get around (don't ask what her cost is).
1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 27, 2015
Love all the characters human and pet! If you liked Evanovich the you will love the Mattie Winston series. I've read all the series now and am impatiently waiting for the next book to come out.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 27, 2014
Posted July 26, 2014
Must read series! This was a new author for me but once I started reading I couldn't stop. I completed the last book yesterday. Can't wait until January for the next one. A good mystery but not very complex. However, the characters are great ! Their interactions keep you coming back. The humor Mattie Winston brings to the story is engaging.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 6, 2014
Posted June 2, 2014
Annelise Ryan has the ability to make me say oh nasty and laugh at the same time. I love Mattie Winston, she is a girl after my own heart. I could not put this book down! The death scenes are gruesome, but Mattie is a deputy coroner. Luckily, I have a strong stomach and just laughed when Mattie was klutzy.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 13, 2014
Posted May 1, 2013
Buy it You'll Like it!
I truly enjoyed this book so much that I had to read the next one. the characters are real and the story line is riviting.
some of the book needs to be edited for typo's and punctuation. I had to go back a couple times to try to figure out who was speaking.Well worth the cost and worth buying the next one also. I am going to buy the next one also.
Posted April 28, 2012
Mystery and humor! This is serious CSI combined with an irreverent view of an investigation. Mattie is confident of her medical capabilities but new at her investigator job, a bit of a clutz, and emotionally vulnerable, especially in the romance department. In other words, she is thoroughly believable. The mystery holds your interest to the end with many LOL moments along the way. Cottage cheese will never taste the same.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 22, 2012
I just told you xD I do not want to get super muscular. I think females look weird with huge muscles. I just want to get toned.
0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 3, 2011
This was one of those mysteries that offers a bit of humor along with the tragedy. If the reader enjoys the likes of Janet Evanovich, this is right in line. The main character is accident prone, yet witty and smart.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 26, 2011
Posted October 13, 2011
Posted October 5, 2011
Posted October 3, 2011
Seriously I'm not even finished reading this yet and already I have laughed so hard I had tears in my eyes and had to put my Nook down till I stopped laughing. I'm only a 1/3rd of the way thru. The characters are great, the writing is wonderful. Good writing is more important to me than anything. So far the story is fast paced and more than entertaining. I will definitely be reading more by this author.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 1, 2011
I enjoyed this book, it kept me turning pages and kept me guessing. It was good enough that I looked up the author to see what other books she's written, I plan to read them as well.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.