There's no pussy-footing around murder . . .
It's never too late to kick up your heels. Just ask Tina, Janice, Pat, Mary Louise, and Gini--aka the Happy Hoofers. After posting a video of their tap-dancing routine on the Internet, the leggy ladies find themselves booked to perform on a Russian river cruise up the Volga from Moscow to St. Petersburg.
But when murder cuts in, the five fabulous friends find it's not so easy to tap their troubles away. A crew member has been killed, and a passenger is missing. With a killer on board, the Hoofers need to watch their step. But with a little fancy footwork, these soft-shoe sleuths may get a leg up on a killer who's cruising for a bruising. . .
Includes Travel Tips And Tasty Recipes
"A fun book! Travel tips, mystery, and recipes (and oh, are they good). What could be more delicious?" --Carole Bugge, author of Who Killed Blanche DuBois?
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Chorus Lines, Caviar, and Corpses
A Happy Hoofers Mystery
By Mary McHugh
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2014 Mary McHugh
All rights reserved.
Keeping On Our Toes
It all started when Mary Louise decided we needed to exercise. We are five close friends, who've all managed to stay fit over the years. Still, when we moved into our fifties, we knew we had to watch what we ate and become more active.
We considered all the ways there are to exercise. What we really loved was dancing, especially tap dancing, so we took a class and worked out some routines. Before long, we were asked to perform at a local senior center ... and then at a community service luncheon ... and one gig led to another. Pretty soon the word was out about the fabulous five fifty-somethings with the high kicks, smooth moves, and bright smiles. Our video on YouTube got hundreds of hits.
Who knew we'd get to be so good that someone would hire us to dance on the Smirnov, a Russian ship sailing up the Volga from Moscow to St. Petersburg? That we would encounter a stern German cruise director named Heidi, a disgruntled British chef who loved to drink but wasn't fond of cooking, and a motley crew that never did master the art of graceful service?
We thought we would eat some good food, meet some nice people, see things we'd never seen before, and get paid for it. What could go wrong?
Plenty, as it turned out. If I'd known ahead of time that we'd get mixed up in a couple of murders and that my own life would be endangered on this so-called pleasure trip, I would have stayed happily at home in Champlain, New Jersey, commuting to New York to my job as a travel editor at Perfect Bride magazine.
Let me tell you a bit about us.
Just briefly, there's me, Tina Powell, who for better or worse is the leader of our little group because I'm the most organized. Like our whole gang, I'm in good shape because of our dancing. I weigh 110 pounds and am 5'4" tall. I don't mention that I'm over fifty to strangers because I can read their minds: Drives a gas-guzzling SUV. Wrapped up in her kids. Belongs to a book club that reads Jane Austen and never gets around to discussing the book. Botox." I loved telling my coworkers at Perfect Bride magazine, where I'm the travel editor, that my friends and I were hired to dance on a cruise ship in Russia. Their usual reaction was, "You mean they're actually going to pay you?" I would just nod and smile. Besides dancing on this trip, I'm also writing an article for newlyweds who might want to honeymoon on this cruise.
Janice Rogers is an actress and director of shows in community theaters in our town. Since her divorce, she's been busier than ever, especially after her daughter went off to college. She's tall and blond and has an unlined face that never seems to age. Her skin has a glow that makes her look far younger than she is. When we ask her how she keeps her complexion like that, she says, "Neglect. I only wash it once a day. Soap is bad for your skin." She is a fierce friend, always there when you need her. I met her when she moved next door to me just after she and her husband split up.
Janice has long legs and, in black tights, they are stunning. "The legs are the last to go," she says. Actually, we all have great legs—it's just genetic, nothing we did or didn't do. And black stockings hide a multitude of sins.
Pat Keeler, a family therapist, our mother hen, watches over us. She's on the phone whenever she thinks it's necessary to make sure we're all right. She always remembers the tap routines. If we forget, we just look at Pat and do whatever she's doing. She is our rock. Her face is beautiful, with a few worry lines on her forehead. She's usually very serious, but when she smiles, it warms all of us. She's taller than the rest of us. Oh, and she's gay. It's just a fact of life with her. She doesn't flaunt it or hide it. Many of her clients are gay; she understands what they're going through. The rest of us are straight. Pat helps us with our problems too.
Mary Louise Temple has been my closest friend for over thirty years. We met when we both worked at Redbook magazine and became best friends. She has one of those Irish faces, with porcelain skin, dark hair, and blue, blue eyes. She somehow managed to keep a great body after three children and she thinks if you're not Irish, you should at least try. She's the only one who still has a husband, George, who believes it's his job to correct all the mistakes her parents made when they were bringing her up. I never could find any mistakes.
Finally, there's Gini Miller, a fierce redhead with a temper to match. She's a prize-winning documentary filmmaker, small and pretty. She's divorced. "We just wanted different things," she says of her ex-husband. "He was happy sitting on a couch with a beer watching football." She wanted to see the world. She filmed an oral history of the people who lost their homes in Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. She made a documentary about an orphanage in India, where she fell in love with a little girl she hopes to adopt when regulations ease in that country.
We call ourselves the Happy Hoofers—that's with an f.
I love these women. The easy intimacy that the five of us enjoy has certainly helped to prepare us for life after fifty. We've been through everything together—miscarriages, sick children, husbands' affairs, cancer, widowhood, teenagers, divorce. None of us could have done it without the other four cheering us on, lending a shoulder to cry on, saying just the right words to make everything better.
We are all different, all great-looking, and fierce friends forever.CHAPTER 2
Cruising and Schmoozing
I knew this wasn't going to be one of your Love Boat cruises the minute I opened the door to our cabin.
"Mary Louise, look at the size of this room! How can we change into our costumes in here?"
"Wait until you see the bathroom," she said. "There's no bath and I'd hardly call it a room. If we hadn't dieted ourselves into near nonexistence, we wouldn't be able to wash during the whole trip."
I looked over her shoulder and groaned. There was a basin, a toilet, and enough floor space for a very small three-year-old to take a shower.
"Where's the shower?" Mary Louise asked.
"I think you take the faucet off the basin and hang it on that hook up there, pull this curtain around you, and very carefully take a shower without breaking any of your movable parts."
"This is ridiculous," she said. "There's only two feet of floor space between the beds to change our clothes in. We'll have to dress in shifts."
"Too bad—I forgot to pack mine," I said, and we fell on the narrow beds laughing hysterically.
"Remind me again why we decided to take a Russian river cruise," she said.
"Because somebody actually hired us to tap dance on a ship sailing from Moscow to St. Petersburg," I said.
"What were they thinking!" she said.
"What were we thinking?" I said, and that set us off again. We couldn't help giggling at the absurdity of this whole situation. We've been friends for such a long time, we can read each other's thoughts. Ever since we met at Redbook magazine, where we both worked as editors before we were married, we've been good friends.
We've helped each other through babies—three for her and two for me—marital fights, and musicals at the community theater where she and I danced and sang our way to local stardom and total disdain from our teenagers. And the death of my husband a year ago. I could never have made it without her.
Now, at the age of fifty-two (Mary Louise) and fifty-three (me), we are on another adventure with our friends Gini, Janice, and Pat.
"Remember that time we drove across the country with Gini and Pat in that old Pontiac?" Mary Louise said. "Some of the places we stayed had smaller bathrooms than this."
"Can you believe we were still friends after four weeks crammed into that ten-year-old car, with a water hose that leaked—"
"And we patched it with bubble gum! You always had to sleep on the rollaway because you were the smallest, Tina. You must have weighed ninety pounds in those days. What do you weigh now?"
"None of your business. Why do you think I took up tap dancing? Let's see if we can unpack our stuff."
"Wait," said Mary Louise, pulling an aerosol can out of her tote bag. "Let me spray the drawers with Lysol first. You never know what might have been in there."
"OK, Ms. Germ Freak," I said. We often tease Mary Louise about her fastidious habits. She's the only person I know who actually sings the entire "Happy Birthday" song while washing her hands.
After unpacking in our crowded little stateroom, somehow finding room to put everything, we collected our friends and headed out to get some breakfast.
* * *
The Smirnov's dining room was a bright and cheerful space, with windows all around. The tables were set with linen tablecloths, blue and white china, crystal glasses, and sparkling silverware. Comfortable yellow wicker chairs complemented red roses, freshly cut and fragrant in a vase in the middle of each table. We sat at a round table for five and waited for a waitress to come and take our order.
Gradually the other tables filled up, but there was still no one to take our order. A little jetlagged and really hungry, I waved to a large dark-haired woman wearing some kind of naval uniform, who seemed to be in charge.
She strode over to our table and said in a deep voice, "Ja?" Her highly polished shoes seemed oversized as they reflected the light.
Hmm, I thought. A German wearing a uniform on a Russian ship? Oh well, just play along.
"Hello," I said. "We were wondering if we could get some breakfast."
"May I see your room keys?" she said, not smiling, looking at us as if we somehow turned up on this ship illegally.
We handed her the little cards that opened our doors and she nodded.
"Ahhh. You are the entertainment," she said. "You dance, ja?"
I almost saluted but stopped myself in time.
"Yes, we are the Happy Hoofers and we're really looking forward to this cruise." I hesitated and then timidly asked, "Could I ask who you are?"
She looked annoyed, as if we should certainly know who she was, and said, "I am Heidi Gorsuch, the ship's director of activities. You vill dance tonight after dinner, yes?"
"We're looking forward to it," I said, dredging up my best party hostess smile. "We're so glad to have the chance to perform on your lovely ship. Is there anything else you would like us to do before our performance?"
"We could do lap dances for all the men on board," Janice said, and I could see she was just getting warmed up.
I faked a laugh and glared at Janice. "Oh, Ms. Gorsuch, she's just joking. We thought we'd mingle with the other passengers and get to know them. Sort of goodwill tap dancers."
"Is gut," she said, and I could swear she clicked her heels together before moving to the next table.
"Good going, Tina," Gini said. "We're stuck on a Russian ship with a cruise director who talks like a drill instructor, a cabin the size of a broom closet, and no food in sight."
Gini always says exactly what she thinks about everything.
"Relax, Gini," Pat, our peacemaker, said. "We just got here. Things will get better. Don't make such a big deal about it."
"Listen, happy face, I'm tired and hungry and in no mood to—"
"You want food," a sullen, blond waitress said, appearing from nowhere. Her name tag identified her as Olga.
"Do you have a menu?" Janice asked, smiling as only Janice can.
"No menu," the waitress said, and was about to leave.
"Please," I said. "How do we get something to eat?"
She pointed to a long table on one side of the room that was now covered with food and platters, baskets and samovars.
"You go get what you want," she said. "You want drink?"
"I'd like some orange juice," I said, and my friends ordered the same.
"Could you put a little vodka in mine?" Pat asked.
Olga looked at her as if she had ordered a hit of heroin, then walked off.
We got in line at the buffet table, which was loaded with croissants, muffins and breads, scrambled eggs kept warm in a metal container, jams and butter and bacon, sausage, and waffles. A man stood behind the table ready to whip up any kind of omelet you wanted.
I was behind a woman wearing a pale pink sweater over a rather plain beige dress. Because I have this habit of talking to people wherever I go—it used to drive my husband Bill crazy—I said to her, "Looks really good, doesn't it?"
She didn't turn around, but said with a very pronounced British accent, "I'mnotveddygoodinthemorning."
"Excuse me?" I said, leaning forward to hear her better.
She exhaled a long-suffering sigh, and said more slowly, "I'm not veddy good in the morning. Pahdon me." She picked up her plate of toast and a boiled egg and walked to her table.
I felt boorish, crass, like an ugly American.
"I see you're making friends in your usual effective way," Mary Louise said, laughing.
"Oh, shut up," I said, recovering my dignity and asking the man behind the table for a salmon omelet.
We were just digging into the first food we had eaten in twelve hours when a loud whistle startled us and made us turn. Heidi, lips still pursed from her ear-splitting signal, stood at the front of the room.
"Gut morning," she said, clapping her hands together like the principal in a boarding school and arranging her face in what I'm sure she hoped was a smile.
"Velcome, velcome," she said in a loud voice to the startled passengers. "I am Heidi, your cruise director. Ve haf many fun things planned for you on this cruise and you vill enjoy them. Please ask me if you have questions. Our Russian crew will do their best to help you, but they sometimes have trouble with the English. Some of them are just learning their jobs. I'm sure you will be patient with them." From the look in her eye, I was sure she was giving us orders, not asking for our cooperation.
"I vant first to introduce our captain. Captain Kurt Von Schnappel."
A tall, grim-faced man with gray hair in a dark blue naval uniform stepped forward and surveyed the crowd in front of him. I couldn't help feeling that he disapproved of us and that saying hello was a distasteful part of his job.
"Guten morgen," he said. "Enjoy your voyage." He gave a slight bow and left the dining room. That was it. No friendly welcome. No "glad to see you." I assumed we wouldn't be getting an invitation to sit at the captain's table anytime soon.
Heidi watched him go, then motioned to the white-suited crew members. They stepped forward, their hands folded, looking down at the floor.
"Oh dear," Gini said under her breath. "What have we done?"
"Now I vould like to introduce the crew to you. First is Sasha, who is in charge of the dining room."
Sasha stepped forward, his eyes darting wildly from side to side, desperately searching for a way to escape. His uniform jacket was buttoned crookedly, leaving one side longer than the other, and his shirt tail was untucked in the back. His hair stuck out all over his head as if it were trying to escape. Surely no older than twenty-five, he looked as if he couldn't be in charge of a falafel stand on a street corner in New York City, let alone a dining room on a cruise ship.
"Next ve haf our chef, Kenneth Allgood from England, who comes to us highly recommended. He vill prepare many delicious Russian meals for you—but with a British accent—and you vill enjoy them."
"A British chef on a Russian ship," a man in back of us muttered. "What's his specialty—Spotted Chicken Kiev?"
I turned around and saw a handsome man about my age, with dark hair graying at the temples, at a table near us. He looked like a golfer in his seersucker slacks and short-brimmed cap. I smiled at him and he smiled back.
The chef stepped forward unsteadily, a cigarette dangling from his mouth, wearing filthy whites with a toque perched on top of his greasy hair. He looked about twenty-eight years old. He glared at the passengers.
"Geeez," Gini said in a low voice. "His mother must have been Typhoid Mary."
Excerpted from Chorus Lines, Caviar, and Corpses by Mary McHugh. Copyright © 2014 Mary McHugh. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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
The Happy Hoofers are a group of friends, who are 50-something female tap dancers, who are offered the opportunity to part of the entertainment on a cruise. There's murder, danger, and intrigue. The ins and outs of the friendships help keep you interested. The mystery is a bit black and white, and sometimes a little bit preachy, but the important part is that it's a legitimate mystery and the main characters seem real.
This book has great characters who lead us on an interesting journey. The plot is a little confusing, but not to the point of distracting from the fun. Good reading for beach, on the bus, or while waiting for you number to be called.
4 STARS This is the first book in a fun new series about 5 middle age women who are dancers. This is exciting, murder mystery, lots of action, travel in Russia on a river cruise. I really liked the characters. I am already starting to read the next in the series. The Happy Hoofers are Tina, Janice, Pat, Mary Louise, and Gini. Tina is the leader and the main character for the Chorus Lines, Caviar and Corpses. The ladies are good friends and a little bit of everything. Their dancing was put up on the internet they were invited to dance on a cruise. The Russian cruise was not what they expected. The cabins were crowded, the food was terrible, the chef was murdered. They made some good friends too. Lots of humor about British chefs. The setting was on the Volga river from Moscow to St. Petersburg. It made the sites tempting to go see. The mystery was good I did not guess who the murder was. Tina was attacked and used her brain to get away from him. I liked the Happy Hoofers and want to see more of them in the future. I bought this ebook on Amazon.
Did not hold my interest.
Author Mary McHugh did a great job with this first book in a new series. An enjoyable story, with a good mystery. If you’re looking for a different type of cozy, look no further. While CHORUS LINES, CAVIAR, and CORPSES is a “traditional” mystery, being set on a Russian river cruise gives this story a fresh feel . This was a quick read, with a good plot. I had a lot of fun with Tina, Janice, Pat, Mary Louise, and Gini, the ladies of the Happy Hoffer. Well, let me make that a little more clear. I had a lot of fun reading their story. I would not have wanted to be on their cruise with them. Murder is just one, and admittedly the worst, thing that happens during their trip. Things just seemed to keep going wrong for these ladies. Ms. McHugh also includes some helpful travel tips at the beginning of almost every chapter, and a few recipes throughout the book.
Felt like I was in Russia.
bought for my mother, i havent read it but she liked it
Too many characters with little depth. Plot line weak
And dull description could have been any where. Really a mishmash cf sub genres combo that didnt work out well. Just received a ad for viking river cruises to st peterbergs cheapest room double was 3000 on special doubt if that kind of entertainment included flight to and ship a couple balalikas players of stewards more likely
Mary McHugh begins a brand new cozy mystery series with the introduction of “The Happy Hoofers”. Who exactly are the Happy Hoofers? They are a group of friends in their fifties who love to tap dance – Tina, Janice, Pat, Mary Louise and Gini. Looking to do some exercising, they learned to tap dance and were soon doing actual performances at local community centers. A Russian cruise ship saw their video on You Tube and hired them to perform. The women happily accepted. However, this was not the type of cruise their friends all raved about. This one had horrible food with a crew that knows nothing about friendly customer service. It should come as no surprise when a crew member is murdered. The women find themselves trapped on board with a killer. I loved “The Happy Hoofers” immediately. What a fun group. This mixes some of my favorite things in one book – a cruise ship setting, a group of friends, and a murder mystery. What could be better? This book moved along at a fast pace and had engaging characters – some nicer than others, of course. Add those things to a great setting and it’s off on a wild adventure with a very interesting cast of characters. I’m very excited to see that there is another book in this series and this time the women are off to Spain. I’m looking forward to reading all about it, but we have to wait until March 2015. FTC Disclosure: The author provided me with a copy of this book to review for this blog tour. This did not influence my thoughts and opinions in any way. All opinions expressed are my own.
Dollycas’s Thoughts Meet the Happy Hoofers: Tina is leader of the group. She keeps everything organized. She is the Travel Editor at Perfect Bride magazine. Janice is an actress and director in community theater. She is divorced with a daughter in college. Pat is a family therapist and the mother hen of the group. Mary Louise and Tina have been friends for over 30 years. She has 3 children and a very trying husband named George. Gini is a redhead with a temper to match. She is a documentary filmmaker and while making a film in India fell in love with a little girl she hopes to adopt. They are “all different, all great looking, and fierce friends forever.” They also all love to tap dance. What started out as exercise to keep their 50-something bodies in shape has taken off and landed them a gig on a Russian Cruise as the headline entertainment. Let’s just say it is quite an adventure with a drill sergeant like cruise director, a British chef who can’t cook worth a darn, and accommodations built for extremely small individuals. When the chef ends up dead no one is really surprised but is bad food something that would drive someone to commit murder? Mary McHugh has penned quite a mystery. Unlike other cozy mysteries the Happy Hoofers really do not do much investigating they just seem to find themselves in dangerous situations that force them to stick together. When they get separated bad things happen. The Hoofers meet some interesting people cruising up the Volga. Some that are sure to appear in upcoming stories. They visit some beautiful places in Russia but learn quickly they have arrived at the wrong time of year. This tour company needs to use Tina to help them organize things. If I went on a cruise like this it would be my last cruise. It was pretty bad before any of the corpses showed up. The Happy Hoofers were definitely the best thing about the whole adventure. Put on your dancing shoes and get ready to tap your tours with these ladies Moscow to St. Petersburg. This is a great start for this series.