Summer is sizzling in Vista Beach, the home of computer programmer and tole-painting enthusiast Aurora “Rory” Anderson. The abnormally high temperatures are hard on everyone in the quiet Los Angeles county beach community, especially the city’s homeless population. Residents are doing everything they can to stay cool, including leaving windows open to catch the faintest breeze. Not the best idea when a string of burglaries is plaguing nearby towns.
Still, Rory doesn’t expect to find her neighbor’s body just a few doors down. When suspicion falls on a friend and fellow painter, Rory must discover the truth before the police paint the wrong picture and send her friend away permanently.
“Johnson has crafted a clever mystery with a colorful protagonist. Set along the vibrant Southern California coast, this story resonates with a rich understanding of the artistic as well as the homeless communities. A smooth read!” —Daryl Wood Gerber, national-bestselling author of Grilling the Subject
“A well-crafted tale of betrayal, revenge, and the power of family ties, set in a Southern California beach town.” —Maggie King, author of Murder at the Moonshine Inn
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The sun beat down mercilessly on the residents of the quiet Los Angeles County city of Vista Beach, in the grips of an August heat wave that showed no signs of cooling off.
Rory Anderson closed her eyes and sighed contentedly as cool air washed over her head. Just a few more seconds, she told herself, and she would be ready to get back to work.
"What are you doing?" a voice behind her said.
Rory took her head out of the freezer compartment of the side-by-side refrigerator and turned to face the back door, where Liz Dexter peered through the screen into the kitchen of the single-story stucco house.
Rory unhooked the latch on the screen door and ushered her best friend inside. "It's hot, and I'm desperate. I can only shed so many clothes. Go on, try it yourself."
Clad in shorts and a tank top, the petite woman gingerly poked her head in the freezer. A smile slowly spread across her face. "Wow. That is nice."
"Too bad it's not a walk-in." Rory glanced at the thermometer on the wall. Eleven thirty and already eighty-five inside. When it was this hot, her brain refused to function. She didn't envision getting any more programming done right now. The final tweaks to her conferencing software would have to wait until right before the test run that evening. "I wish it would cool down. I can't work in this heat. Not even an ocean breeze to cool off the house in two whole weeks. I'm almost at the point of installing central air."
"You'd be better off buying more fans or one of those portable units if you can find them. All the air conditioning companies in the area are booked solid. A lot of Vista Beach Realty's clients are on waiting lists, including two of mine. By the time they get around to you, the temperature will have dropped and you won't need it anymore."
"It's times like this I wish I had an air-conditioned office to go to instead of working at home."
"I'm practically living at mine these days." Liz closed the freezer door. As she walked toward the kitchen table, her foot brushed against a small trash bag leaning against the legs of a chair. Empty soda cans spilled out onto the tile floor. She bent down and stuffed them back into the bag. "Looks like you have recycling to take in. Or are these for that homeless friend of yours, the one who hangs out near the pier? What's his name?"
"Kit. It's about time for me to head downtown to give them to him. I promised I'd drop them by today." Rory crinkled her face in worry. "I hope he's doing okay in this heat. He seemed fine when I saw him three days ago, but it's so hot in the sun."
"We can check on him on our way to the mall."
Rory blinked several times and stared blankly at her friend. "The mall?"
Liz put her hands on her hips. "Did you forget about shopping for a new outfit? We're still on for tomorrow night, right?" Her eyes narrowed. "You're not going to chicken out on me, are you?"
"Don't worry, I'll go out with this mystery man you've set me up with." Rory glanced at the thermometer once again. The temperature had risen an entire degree in the short time they'd been talking. "It's ridiculously hot in here. Let's go. We can grab some lunch while we're out." Leaving the fan in the front room running and the windows in the back of the house open, Rory tucked her phone in the pocket of her khaki shorts and grabbed the bag full of cans before they headed out the door to her friend's car.
A block from the beach, Liz turned into a city parking lot and pulled into a space overlooking the ocean. They fed the meter and joined the throng headed down the hill toward the pier. A family pedaled by on the street beside them toward the bike path that ran along the beach, parents on a tandem followed by three helmeted kids on individual bikes.
A head taller than her friend, Rory walked beside Liz as they looked both ways and crossed the path at the base of the pier before stopping to take in the scene before them. Trash bag filled with empty soda cans in one hand, Rory brushed beads of sweat off her face with the other as her gaze swept the area from the benches that lined the length of the pier, facing out toward the beach and ocean, to the nearby cafe that served drinks and snacks. Two people stood in line waiting to place their orders. All of the plastic chairs at the tables that surrounded the hut were filled with customers, none of them the man she was looking for.
"I don't see him. Now I'm really worried. He's always here on Friday. He hangs out on a bench on the pier. That one right there." Rory pointed to the concrete bench closest to them now occupied by a middle-aged couple watching a volleyball game in progress on the beach below.
"He could be working. He picks up odd jobs now and then, doesn't he?"
"He said he would be here. He always keeps his word."
"Maybe it got too hot for him and he moved indoors. Isn't there a cooling center near here?"
"I forgot about that. Let's check it out."
The two walked the short distance to the community center where two rooms had been reserved as a place where residents could escape the abnormally high temperatures and spend the day in an air-conditioned space. They entered the emergency cooling center, poked their heads inside one of the rooms, and scanned the tables and chairs scattered around the area, looking for Kit.
"Granny G's here." Liz nodded toward a table on the far side where Rory's seventy-five-year-old neighbor sat with three other gray-haired women, playing cards. "I guess she doesn't have air conditioning at her place either."
Mrs. Griswold looked up from the cards in her hands and waved at the two of them. Rory waved back. "I don't think anyone on my block does. It's not very common." She made a second pass over the tables and chairs in case she'd missed Kit the first time. "He's not here."
After looking in the other room, they walked to the nearby library where the homeless man often hung out. When they couldn't find him there either, they headed back to the beach. They were almost at the pier when frenzied barking reached their ears.
"That bark sounds familiar. I think it's Buddy, Kit's dog. Sounds like he's on the beach. That's weird. Kit knows dogs aren't allowed on the sand. He never takes Buddy there." With long strides, Rory hurried toward the steep flight of stairs that led from street level down to the sand, forcing Liz to jog to keep up.
From the top of the steps, Rory stared down at the crowded beach where a golden retriever, leash trailing behind, was running back and forth between the water and a group of sun worshippers lying on beach towels. As she watched, a man dressed in a white polo shirt and red swim trunks hurried over and tried to grab the leash, but the dog evaded him, growling when the lifeguard got within three feet.
Rory and Liz ran down the stairs, kicking off their flip-flops at the bottom, and headed toward Buddy and the man. Rory's feet burned as she walked as fast as she could across the scorching sand, heels sinking in with every step, making progress slow. Halfway to the water's edge, she called out the dog's name.
As soon as the retriever heard her voice, he stopped barking and ran toward her.
"This dog yours?" the lifeguard said when she was within earshot.
"He belongs to a friend. I'm worried about him. If Buddy's here, he must be close by." Rory bent down and addressed the dog. "Where's Kit, Buddy? Is he in trouble? Show me."
Seeming to understand, the dog raced toward the water, leading them to the shady area underneath the pier. As they followed, making faster progress once they reached the packed sand, Rory spotted a bicycle leaning against one of the rough concrete posts that supported the pier. White plastic bags full of belongings dangled from every available space on the bike, obstructing her view of the area in front of the post. As she got closer, she spotted bare legs on the sand.
The three of them hurried forward and found a man with a closely cropped beard wearing shorts and a t-shirt sitting against a post, his sandal-clad legs extended out in front of him, waves lapping onto the nearby shore. A sizable lump on his head and a gash on his forearm, he didn't respond when Rory called out to him. With his nose, Buddy nudged his companion's right arm.
While Rory and Liz stood nearby, concerned looks on their faces, the lifeguard knelt down next to Kit, placing his hand on the other man's arm.
"Sir, can you hear me? Are you all right? Can you tell me what happened?"
At the lifeguard's touch, Kit batted his hands as if he thought he was being attacked. Rory released her hold on the trash bag filled with cans and dropped down onto her knees on the sand on the other side of him, next to the dog. She held Kit's flailing arms until he quieted down.
In her gentlest voice, she said, "It's me, Rory. We won't hurt you. We're here to help. Can you tell us what happened? Who did this to you?"
With his last bit of energy, Kit mumbled something, but even when she put her ear close to his lips, all she could make out was "Zoe" followed by a long pause and "find." Then he slumped down and closed his eyes.
Unable to get any further response out of Kit, the lifeguard borrowed Rory's cell phone to call for help, then directed Liz to wait near the steps down to the beach for the ambulance to guide the paramedics to the spot underneath the pier.
"Help will be here soon, but we need to cool him down now," the lifeguard said to Rory.
Under his direction, she borrowed towels from nearby sunbathers and dipped them in the ocean water. She'd barely placed them on Kit's overheated body when a bright yellow truck with the word "Lifeguard" written on the side in red lettering drove across the sand and stopped halfway between the water and the steps. Its two occupants leapt out and, after consulting with their colleague, cleared a path from the stairs to the water's edge, holding back the group of curious onlookers who had gathered on the sand. People leaned over the railing on the pier and stared down at the commotion on the beach below them.
An ambulance screeched to a halt in the parking lot at the base of the pier moments later, and Liz led the EMTs to Kit. Before long, the man was strapped to a board in the back of the truck and driven across the sand to the base of the steps. Between the paramedics and lifeguards, they hauled him up the steep stairs to the waiting ambulance. A uniformed police officer spoke briefly to the two groups before Kit was whisked away.
Buddy tried to follow, but Rory held tightly onto his leash and spoke soothingly to the retriever.
The uniformed officer headed across the sand toward Rory and Liz. After introductions had been made, Officer Carr said, "Are you the ones who found him?"
Rory nodded. "How is he? What did the paramedics say?"
"Did someone hit him?" Liz asked.
"Looks like he was in a fight, all right. He has a pretty nasty bump on his head. I'd say it happened fairly recently. Plus he's dehydrated." The officer looked sympathetically at the two women. "Don't worry, your friend's in good hands," he said in a reassuring voice. "They'll do everything they can for him. What can you tell me about him? We didn't find any ID in his pockets."
"I don't know his full name," Rory said. "Everyone calls him Kit. He never wanted to talk about his past, and I didn't want to pry."
Carr made a notation in his notebook. "How did you two meet?"
"He pushed me out of the way of a car that ran a red light and almost hit me. That was about a month and a half ago." Rory shuddered when she thought back to the SUV that had come within inches of mowing her down in the middle of a crosswalk. "We started talking afterward. I've seen him at least once a week since."
The officer whistled. "Lots of distracted drivers out there. I see it all the time. Sounds like you were lucky he was around."
"I know." If it hadn't been for the homeless man's quick action, she would have landed in the hospital or worse.
He looked over at Liz who was standing nearby, petting Buddy. "What about you, ma'am? Do you know anything about this Kit?"
"Wish I knew something that would help. I've seen him around town, but I've only exchanged a few words with him."
"Did you two see anyone nearby when you found him? Maybe someone talking to him or walking away?"
Rory thought back to the discovery, mentally retracing her steps from the stairs down to the beach across the sand to the water's edge. "Not really. Just the lifeguard and those guys." She nodded toward the beachgoers ten yards away who had now returned to their sunbathing. "The dog was barking and the lifeguard was trying to grab his leash, but no one was anywhere near Kit." She glanced at the beach in the opposite direction. "Not that I could see, anyway. From where I was standing, though, I couldn't see the other side of the pier. Whoever hit him could have walked under the pier across the sand on the north side and blended in with the crowd."
"Was he conscious when you found him? Did he say anything to you?"
"Barely. He mumbled a name. Zoe, I think. There were a couple words before that, but I couldn't make them out. I could hardly hear him. I might be mistaken about the name."
Officer Carr kept taking notes.
"Do either of you have any idea who this Zoe is? A relative, maybe?"
Rory and Liz both said no.
"What about his phone?" Rory said. "Was it in his pocket? Maybe her number's in it."
"Or at least emergency contact info," Liz said.
"He has a cell phone?"
"I've seen him use one. An old flip-phone model."
"We didn't find anything on him. This his stuff?" He nodded to the bicycle leaning against the post. "Maybe his wallet and the phone are in there."
Rory handed Buddy's leash to Liz, who kept the dog occupied while the other two searched Kit's belongings. Neither of the items they were looking for were in any of the bags. The only thing of interest Rory found was a picture of a clean-shaven younger version of Kit with a woman about his age. From the pose, Rory suspected she was his girlfriend or wife. She turned it over. "Me and Zoe" was written in a scrawl across the back. "This is the name he mentioned. At least now we have a face to go with it." She handed the photo to the officer.
"Do either of you recognize her?"
They shook their heads.
"I'll take this, ask around. Someone might know something." He ran his hand through his hair. "Poor guy. I always feel sorry for anyone who lives on the streets. It might be warm and relatively safe here at the beach, but it's not like having a comfy bed to go home to every night."
"Before you leave, can we take a photo of it? We can ask around ourselves, see if anyone recognizes her. She might know about Kit's medical history. I couldn't tell the paramedics anything when they asked," Rory said.
"Good idea." The officer held the photo while they took a picture of it with their smart phones. "Does the dog belong to him? Do you want me to call animal control? They'll put him in a shelter until Kit gets better."
Rory and Liz exchanged glances.
"That's okay," Rory finally said. "We'll take care of him."
"That's fine, but remember, dogs aren't allowed on the beach. Better take him somewhere before someone complains. You know where the animal shelter is, right? I don't want to see him running around town."
Rory nodded. "Don't worry. We'll make sure he has a home. What are you going to do now?"
"We'll do our best to catch the son of ... um ... the person who hit him. Let me know if you remember anything that can help. Thanks for your time, ladies. If I need anything else, I know where to find you." Officer Carr headed toward the group sunbathing nearby and began questioning them.
Rory knelt down on the sand, wrapped her arms around the golden retriever's neck, and placed the side of her face against his. "Don't worry, Buddy," she said softly. "Everything will be okay. Your pal is in good hands."CHAPTER 2
"What are we going to do with him?" Liz nodded toward Buddy. "You're not really planning on taking him to the animal shelter, are you?" she said, the horror unmistakable in her voice.
Rory buried her face in the retriever's fur before standing up. "I don't like the idea of his going to the pound any more than you do. We need to find him a temporary home. I could take him, but I'm worried he won't be happy with me. He's used to constant companionship."
"And I've got a condo that doesn't allow dogs." Liz tapped her chin. After a moment of thought, her face brightened. "I've got it! I just sold a house with a big backyard to a client. Double lot in the eastern part of town. I hear they're looking for a second dog. Buddy will need someone to play with." She handed the leash to Rory so she could make the call.
"Make sure they know it's only temporary."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "A Palette For Murder"
Copyright © 2017 Sybil Johnson.
Excerpted by permission of Henery Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This trip to Vista Beach has the residents in the middle of a heatwave. There are two mysteries in this story, one trying to identify a seriously ill homeless man, the second solving a murder. Rory has befriended a homeless man, Kit and is heading down to the waterfront to give him a bag of cans to recycle. When she and Liz can't find him at any of his usual haunts, they are worried. When they hear barking on the beach, they realize it is Kit's dog Buddy. They run to him and ask him where Kit is. He runs off and they follow, finding him under the dock with a large bump on his head suffering severe dehydration from the heat. An ambulance is called and while waiting, Kit says the name Zoe to Rory before dropping into unconsciousness. Rory is determined to find out if he has any family and who is the mysterious Zoe. There are also several burglaries occurring in the area, and Rory stumbles upon one gone bad. Her neighbour, Willow is dead on the floor of her kitchen with a knife in her stomach. The police do not think it was a burglary and Rory's friend Dawn is accused of the murder and she has asked Rory to find out what she can. Dawn is adamant that she was not involved, although she was at Willow's house the night of the murder. Naturally, it turns out that Willow had a number of secrets, and those kept the pages turning until we reached the end. There were a lot of twists and revelations along the way and the ending, was quite surprising. I enjoy Rory and her friend Liz, but besides them, most of the characters are in and out of the story so not as well developed. Once again, Sybil Johnson included an issue plaguing many cities, homelessness. This added an air of reality to the story and makes you think about how you treat others, what supports are in place for homeless people and what you might be able to do to help. I really enjoyed how both these storylines were brought together at the end. A good, quick read for any cozy mystery lover.
This is the second book in this series I have read. The first one was a bit confusing to me but now that I have a background in the story, this new book flowed well for me. Because of this, I suggest reading the books in order. It will help keep the characters straight and also give you a chance to see the development of the plot line and characters as the story moves rapidly from book to book. It can hot in Southern California where almost no one has air conditioning. I know as I lived there most of my life. The local of the book is a beach side community near LA – I'm kind of reminded of Hermonsa or Redondo Beach. The people in this town are fairly close (which wasn't my experience in LA!) but nice to know there are areas were there is still a small town vibe in such an urban spot. Rory, our sleuth extraordinaire, is keeping tabs on a homeless man she has befriended and is shocked to find him injured under the pier he generally sits on. Trying to find out who did this to him and to find the mysterious “Zoe” he asks about start her off on her journey to solve the crime. She is aided by her friend Liz and the good looking Detective Martin Green. I enjoyed the flow of the story but wish the revelation of the whodunnit was more as part of an investigation rather than something happened upon. This is some that I prefer because I like to solve the crime along with the sleuth. I was provided a digital advance reader copy of this book by the publisher via Netgalley.
Title: A Palette for Murder - Aurira Anderson Mystery Book 3 Author: Sybil Johnson Publisher: 1-31-2017 Pages: 268 Genre: Mystery, Thrillers & Suspense Sub-Genre: Amateur Sleuths; Cozy Mystery; Women Sleuths; Crafts & Hobbies ISBN: 9781635111415 ASIN: B01M74ZIL3 Reviewed For NetGalley and Henery Press Reviewer: DelAnne Rating: 4.5 Stars Strong well developed characters that Sybil Johnson has paired with a thought out plot that uses humor and intrigue to get the reader to fall in love with the scenes and characters in the Aurora Anderson Mysteries. If tis is the first on you have read, din't worry you can read it with little trouble. most of the prior events have enough explanation to keep the reader from being confused. My rating of Palette for Murder is 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Dollycas’s Thoughts Book 3 in this series takes us to California is heat of summer and some thieves are taking advantage of residents leaving their windows open to catch an ocean breeze. Sadly one robbery leaves behind a body. Rory finds her neighbor dead of an apparent attack. Police quickly focus in Rory’s friend Dawn so Rory does a little investigating on her own but she may be painting herself into a corner. What a perfect read while it is winter in Wisconsin. The heat seeped right out of the book and made me feel the warmth and enjoy the breeze. I could almost smell the ocean and hear the waves as Rory chased down clues both in the murder and trying to find out who hurt a homeless man. A man who Rory has sort of taken under her wing. The author really shined with this mystery. Willow, the woman who died, had secrets and quite a past. We keep learning more and more as the story continues and there are some surprising twists that paint quite a picture of who Willow really was. Ms. Johnson set a nice quick pace to this mystery. One that made the book very hard to put down, I did read it all in one sitting. One part even made me shed a tear or two. I really enjoy the characters she has created. Close friends Rory and Liz, not quite Thelma and Louise, but they have a special bond. Rory’s romantic life is still in flux but I do enjoy the way the author is not rushing it, leaving it to evolve naturally and in a very believable way. Of course, there are always those bumps in the road that twist things up a bit. I think I know where she is headed and it is fun to watch it all play out. Each story in this series is better than the last. I hate to think I have to wait a year for my next visit. Thank you Sybil for another perfect escape.
A Palette for Murder is the third installment in Sybil Johnson's Aurora Anderson mystery series. Aurora (Rory) is a computer software designer by vocation and a budding artist by avocation in the seaside Southern California town of Vista Beach. Vista Beach is experiencing an unusual heat wave which is taking its toll on the residents, in particular the homeless. The town has set up cooling centers for those without air conditioning, including the homeless. First the homeless man Rory had befriended when he saved her life is attacked and found under the pier, then Rory's neighbor is murdered. What is common to these two events is that Rory found them both. When Detective Martin Green investigates both crimes, once again Rory finds herself in his company and in his shadow as the crimes are solved. At first there are no suspects for the murder until Rory's friend Dawn is arrested. Dawn pleads with Rory to help find the culprit, little do they know the danger that will follow. With her best friend Liz in tow, Rory investigates her neighbor's murder and ultimately the death of her homeless friend only to discover the link between the two. And when she comes upon the common denominator, it is now Rory who is in peril. Well written with twists and turns that will take you to the very end questioning whodunnit. Although part of a series, this book certainly stands alone. With enough information to place the cast of characters yet no so much as to be redundant to the series faithful, this book is a very good read and I do recommend it.
Murder of a Neighbor We are currently having our first real Southern California winter in several years. (Rain!!! Yeah!!!!) Ironically enough, I have selected two books in a row set during summer heat waves. (I had no idea, I swear!) It was certainly fun to enjoy warmer weather vicariously through A Palette for Murder. Because Vista Beach, California, is right on the beach, not everywhere has air conditioning. After all, it’s only a few days a year that things get hot enough to truly need it. However, a heat wave in the small, Los Angeles County community is making residence leave their windows open in the hope that they can cool off a little. A group of thieves in neighboring towns are taking advance of that. And it looks like those burglars have finally hit Vista Beach. One morning Aurora “Rory” Anderson finds her neighbor Willow dead on her kitchen floor. It looks like a robbery gone very wrong, but the police aren’t so certain. In fact, they start looking at Dawn as a suspect. Dawn has been a good friend to Rory and her family, so when Dawn asks for Rory’s help finding the killer, Rory agrees. As she begins to investigate, she learns that Willow had many hidden secrets. But which one of them lead to her murder? The characters in this book are good; we care enough about them to care about the outcome. I’m definitely rooting for Rory to get her love life figured out, and I really enjoy her best friend. I do feel they could be stronger, but that’s not a reason to skip this series. The mystery in this book is very strong. There are so many secrets and twists along the way that my jaw actually dropped a couple of times. I did figure out the killer a bit before Rory did, but I didn’t mind at all since the ride was so delightful. I had a very hard time putting the book down and finished it up in just a couple of days instead of my usual three. Those familiar with the series will know that Rory is a toll painting enthusiast. It continues to color Rory’s world with Willow having taken some classes in addition to being Rory’s neighbor and Dawn being an instructor. I really enjoy this theme since painting isn’t something that pops up in many of the books I read. Watching how the twists of the plot come together for a logical solution makes reading A Palette for Murder a lot of fun. Fans of the series will be delighted to return to Vista Beach. If you are new to Rory’s world, settle in for a good book today. NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.