Maggie has her work cut out for her helping Renée Alvarez organize her property management office. Though the condominium complex boasts a prime location on the shores of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, aging buildings and the high-maintenance tenants have Renée run ragged. But Maggie's efforts are complicated when her sons attempt to rescue a badly injured man who crashed his ultra-light on the coastal cliffs.
Despite their efforts to save him, the man dies. Maggie's family members become the prime suspects in a murder investigation and the target of a lawsuit. Her instincts say something's out of place, but solving a murder won't be easy. Maggie still needs to manage her business, the pushy press, and unwanted interest from criminal elements. Controlling chaos is her specialty, but with this killer's crime wave, Maggie may be left hanging . . .
"A skillful amateur detective with an impressive to-do list."
-Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW, Address to Die For
Read an Excerpt
Packing for a vacation on the central California coast means packing for weather extremes. While the average temperature in June ranges from a comfortable sixty-five to seventy-five degrees, summer daytime temperatures can plummet to fifty degrees or climb into triple digits — sometimes within a 24-hour period. On a typical summer day you're less likely to need your bikini than a warm coat.
From the Notebook of Maggie McDonald Simplicity Itself Organizing Services
Monday, June 17, Late morning
"Mom, you sure those directions are right?" Fourteen-year-old Brian leaned over the back of the front seat. His sixteen-year-old white-knuckled brother David clutched the wheel and peered into the fog bank. "GPS says this road runs straight into the ocean." David lifted his foot from the accelerator and hovered it over the brake. The car slowed to a creep. "Seriously?" he said with a hint of panic in his voice. "I can't see a thing. Let me know if your feet get wet and I'll start backing up."
"You're doing great, David," I said to my newly permitted driver. "Up here on the right, you'll turn and take a narrow road out to the condos."
"Narrower than this?" David's voice squeaked a tiny bit as he tried to keep an eye on his mirrors, his speed, the fog-obscured road ahead, and the deep drainage ditches on either side of a road barely wide enough for two cars. The speed limit was 40 mph. The speedometer hugged 25. Luckily, there was no traffic on the rural road flanked by fields growing strawberries, artichokes, lettuce, and Brussels sprouts.
As we approached the turn, the fog lifted. David easily navigated the narrow bridge over the slough.
"Blue heron!" shouted Brian as one launched itself from a dead log partially submerged in the slough. With a few pumps of its massive wings, it disappeared behind the ridge separating the farmland from Monterey Bay.
I rolled down my window to appreciate the cool salt air. We'd left oven-like temperatures behind us when we'd left the Bay Area less than an hour earlier.
Our golden retriever Belle shoved her nose between the headrest and the window frame for a sniff. Santa Cruz County was home to some five hundred species of migratory and resident birds. She appeared to be smelling and identifying each one.
"Ultralight!" shouted Brian again, pointing out the back window.
"That hang-glider thing?" I asked, locating a lime green and shocking pink oversized kite that looked much like a committee had tried to reverse-engineer a dragonfly. It roared above us.
"They're like hang gliders with engines," Brian explained. "You don't need a pilot's license to operate them."
"Don't even think about it," I said in response to the note of anticipatory glee in his voice. "Ultralight aviation is not included in our summer plans."
"It could be ..." Brian began.
"Nope. Not while I'm your mother." I squinted at the aircraft. "Is it supposed to fly like that? All wobbly?" A sharp explosive sound echoed through the hills. "Or is there something wrong with the engine?"
David ended our discussion when he pulled the car onto the gravel shoulder immediately after we drove over a second small bridge. Flexing his hands and fingers, he turned to me. "Can you drive? That last bit was nuts."
As we changed seats, I shivered. The condominium resort complex was only three miles from the nearby agricultural town of Watsonville, but I heard no cars or other sounds of people or civilization. Water lapping in the slough, the screech of a red-tailed hawk, and the crashing waves of the still unseen Pacific were the only sounds I could identify. A brisk wind coming from the ocean, refrigerated by the sixty-degree temperature of Monterey Bay made my summer outfit of shorts and a T-shirt seem ridiculous. I grabbed a sweatshirt off the back seat and put it on quickly before taking a deep breath and restarting the car.
There was no going back and no way I wanted to. The boys were looking forward to their summer vacation at a beach resort, days filled with surfing, skimboarding, hiking, and doing odd jobs. I was committed to helping the condo association management through a contentious transition. The new manager, Renée Alvarez, was a cousin of my best friend, Tess Olmos, who had vouched for Renée's honesty and work ethic.
In exchange for the use of a condo and a small stipend, I would use my professional organizing superpowers to help. The plan was to organize office storage and files, and compile a history of the complex. If time allowed, we'd clear out a few neglected units whose owners had long since abandoned them, unable to sell them or keep up with the taxes, mortgages, and association fees following a market downturn.
It was an idyllic proposition, and I'd agreed to it readily. My husband Max planned to join us every weekend. During the week, he'd commute from our home in Orchard View to his engineering job in Santa Clara while juggling the supervision of several home-remodeling projects that would be easier for construction workers to tackle while the boys and I were out of town.
As we approached the visitor gate, the fog rolled back in, a gust of wind shook the car, and Belle growled. I shivered, but this time it was due to trepidation rather than the chill. I eased the car forward, fighting off the sudden sense that I was heading into unknown and possibly dangerous territory. I shook off the feeling. Nonsense. Just because a few of my recent jobs had led to serious trouble for my family and friends didn't mean I was the professional organizer's version of Typhoid Mary. Heebie-jeebies aside, I had every reason to believe we were starting our best family vacation ever.
"Good morning," said the guard, leaning through the drive-up window.
"I'm Maggie McDonald," I said. "Renée Alvarez is expecting us. She said she'd leave a key here in the office."
The guard smiled. "Are you an owner?"
"No, no. I'm working for Renée and the homeowner association this summer. She's giving us the use of a three-bedroom condo. She said she'd leave the key and information packet here for me."
"I'm afraid that only owners are allowed to bring dogs, though I can recommend several good local kennels."
Belle snorted, and I couldn't have agreed with her more. Part of the attraction of taking this underpaid job was the prospect of allowing our golden retriever the freedom of swimming in the ocean and chasing waves, tennis balls, and birds she'd never come close to catching.
"I think Renée said she'd asked the association to make an exception. Is she available at the moment? We can check with her."
A pickup truck pulled up behind me, and I became conscious of holding up traffic. The security guard must have felt the same way. "Tell you what. Pull your car around to the parking spaces. Maybe the boys can walk your dog while you and I straighten this out with Renée."
I followed the instructions. Brian and David took turns holding Belle on a leash outside the building while I sorted out our accommodations. The guard, who had introduced himself as Vik Peterson, handed me a dog biscuit bigger than my hand. "You've got a beautiful pup there," he said, nodding toward the door, outside which Belle sniffed bushes and barked at a rabbit. "Please give her this cookie with my apologies for the confusion. I'll give Renée a ring."
Again, I followed instructions, cheered by Vik's upbeat demeanor and attentive customer service.
"What's up, Mom?" Brian asked as I joined the boys outside. Belle snuffled my hand and took the biscuit. "Are they trying to cancel?"
"I don't think so. The guard is calling Renée right now."
"Should we phone Tess?" David asked. "She set this up, right?"
David was correct, as usual, but I wasn't worried. "Working with a new client can be a bumpy road. If they didn't have a few organizational problems, they wouldn't need me, would they?"
I glanced into the guard station, and Vik waved. When I opened the door, he held up a key.
"I've got the key to your unit," he said, looking triumphant. "I still haven't reached Renée, though." He glanced at his watch.
"She's usually the first one here, well before seven o'clock. But her chief lieutenant and head of maintenance says you can go ahead and get settled in."
"Great! Thanks. And Belle?"
"Sorry, no. You wouldn't believe the number of complaints I'd get if I admitted a visiting dog without Renée's say-so."
"I guess we could get groceries and come back, but if Belle doesn't have access, it will sink the deal for me."
"Dogs are welcome at the state beach down the road. You passed it on the way in. You could hang out there while you wait to hear from Renée."
I thought for a moment, considering.
Vik barreled on as though I'd already approved the plan. "Do you have a cell number you can give me? I'll get in touch as soon as I hear from her. I hope she's okay. It isn't like her to be even a few minutes late."
"Do you know where she is? I was under the impression she spent more time on site here than she did at home."
Vik checked his watch and frowned. "Could be anything. There's a first time for everything." He pushed a notepad and pen toward me.
I handed Vik my business card and thanked him again. We all climbed back into the car and were about to set off when Vik opened the office door and called out.
"Your unit is in Building F. Fourth building from the north end of the complex. It's a short hike from the state beach if you want to check it out."
I saluted and put the car in reverse. After a small false start, it looked like the tide was starting to turn on our adventure.
* * *
The boys had changed into their wetsuits in the picnic area of the state beach. Now they were boogie boarding while Belle chased them and tried to catch waves in her teeth. I checked my phone and my watch. If I didn't move I'd be lulled to sleep by the sound of the waves. I told the boys I'd walk down to the Heron Beach Resort property to check out our unit.
Brian and David had been thrilled when I told them they'd each have their own room for the summer. Our typical Spartan vacation budget meant they normally shared a tent or a room — with mixed results. When one wanted to sleep in, the other would be anticipating a dawn fishing trip. I'd enjoyed summers of overhearing laughter as they whispered to each other past lights-out. Rumbling older voices now conversed well into the night, replacing those early giggles. Mostly, they got along. But proximity also brought fights. Hurt feelings erupted regularly, particularly when they were tired. The three-bedroom condo was a luxury we'd all enjoy.
According to Tess, a third-floor ocean-view unit meant we'd wake up to share our breakfast with chance sightings of surfing dolphins, breaching whales, and playful seals and sea otters cavorting in the waves just steps from the building. It was my idea of paradise.
Wooden staircases over the dunes marked the beach-side entrance to each condo building, and I counted them off until I spotted the sign to Building F half-buried in the dune grass. I climbed the steps and looked for our unit. But when I took the stairs to the top level, the numbers were higher than I'd expected. I checked the key and the unit number again. There was no third-floor, ocean-view unit that matched the key Vik had given me.
I trudged down the stairs, discouraged. Had Vik handed me the wrong key? Had Renée misrepresented the promised accommodations? Had a problem developed that she'd neglected to warn me about? Until Renée surfaced, there was no way to know.
Still, while the third floor would have been a dream, all of the condos were steps from the beach and within earshot of the waves. Living on a lower level would make it easier to unload the car, bring groceries in and out, and keep up with Belle's bathroom needs. I tried to stay positive.
I hunted the shaded lower floors for the apartment number and found it on ground level, where the view would offer beach grass instead of open water. Disappointed, I quickly tried to adjust my attitude. Beach access was beach access. And most of the time we were indoors we'd be asleep. On the first floor, I wouldn't have to worry that the boys' clomping feet would disturb downstairs neighbors.
But as I unlocked the deadbolt and pushed open the door, I feared we'd have to contend with something far worse than a second-rate view. The smell alone had me gagging, and that wasn't the worst part.CHAPTER 2
This tip is a bit of a stretch for a professional organizer, but as a mom, I celebrate the efficiency of wetsuits, pioneered locally to increase year-round ocean access. The Pacific in Northern California is bitingly cold. While wetsuits may seem pricey for vacationers, their value should be measured by the recreational time they allow. Rentals are sometimes available. One caveat: mashing small kids into wetsuits is a chore. For kids, buy wetsuits at least one size larger than what is likely to be suggested by surf-shop personnel.
From the Notebook of Maggie McDonald Simplicity Itself Organizing Services
Monday, June 17, Early afternoon
A quick look round while holding my breath confirmed my initial impression. The now-empty condo had once housed a chain smoker and a slob. Flies circled plates half-filled with food. Untended garbage pails swarmed with maggots. The stench was overwhelming. Dust covered every surface. Piles of clothes or lengths of fabric lay jumbled at one end of a grubby sofa. Packages of fiber fill spilled from a cardboard box. Styrofoam balls and safety pins mingled with dust bunnies under the coffee table. Someone was a crafter, but this apartment was no vacation rental.
Based on the smell and my past experience, I hunted for a dead body. Relieved to discover that the flies were chowing down on a rotting hamburger, rather than a corpse, I left as quickly as I could. I sat on the steps facing the ocean, sucking in fresh salt air to clear my lungs and calm my breathing before phoning Renée.
Was this the last straw? It came close. The apartment didn't meet expectations in any way. Not in size, location, or basic standards of cleanliness. If this dreadful condo was any indication, the rental association needed to attend a customer-service boot camp. Renée was in way over her head and the organization's problems were more than I wanted to tackle.
I was surprised the neighbors hadn't complained about the stench from the apartment's rotting garbage. Or maybe other owners and visitors had protested and management had failed to respond. Renée still hadn't phoned me back. No part of this situation made any sense, and I wondered how hard I wanted to work to untangle the mess. I had plenty of customers at home I could be working with.
I looked up and down the beach for Belle and the boys, wondering how I'd break the news to them that our summer plans had tanked.
I couldn't spot them anywhere, but my cell phone chirped before I had a chance to wonder where they could have wandered.
"Mom!" Brian yelled when I answered the phone.
"Call 9-1-1. We're okay, but this guy is in bad shape ..." He wheezed, struggling for breath.
"Are you and David okay? Who's hurt?"
"Hurt doesn't cover it. We need an ambulance. Maybe a helicopter. It's that guy we saw with the ultralight. He crashed."
"Where are you?"
"I don't know. I don't know any of these landmarks. We're up in the cliffs where it's really steep, maybe half a mile north — towards Santa Cruz from the state park."
"Are you near a lifeguard station? What can you see?"
"Mostly ocean and strawberry fields."
"Did you try 9-1-1?"
"Of course," said Brian. "I had a terrible connection. You may need to call on a landline. I don't know if I got through. There was no voice response from their end. I told them everything I could anyway, in case they could hear me."
"I'll be right there."
"Call for help first, Mom. This guy" — His voice broke. "He may not make it."
Brian ended the call before I could ask more questions. I dialed 9-1-1 and waited, wishing I knew whether Santa Cruz County 91-1 connected locally. Early on in the history of cellular phone use, emergency calls from mobiles were answered by a centralized dispatch system in Sacramento — two or three hours distant. All law enforcement operations had realized the problem with that scenario immediately, but I didn't know whether changes had been made across the state.
"Santa Cruz County Sheriff," the dispatcher said. "What is your emergency?"
I gave the deputy my name and location and asked if he'd received a call from Brian McDonald about a severely injured ultralight pilot who'd crashed on the cliffs near Sunset State Beach.
"Units are responding."
"Is there anything else you need to know? My son asked me to call and follow up because he had a bad connection."
"Can you pinpoint the location?"
"I'm not with them," I explained. "My son said it's very steep and first responders might need a helicopter to reach the injured man in the cliffs about half a mile north of Heron Beach" —(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Cliff Hanger"
Copyright © 2019 Mary Feliz.
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
Maggie McDonald and her two sons Brian and David head to a resort in Monterey Bay for the summer. Maggie's friend Tess recommend her to Renee the manager of the resort to help her organize and get the office in some sort of order. Sounds perfect it is a work "vacation" and the boys and their dog Belle can enjoy the beach and sun and her husband Max can come on weekends .. what could be better. Well to start off Renee is not there to meet her at the gate to let her in the gated resort and the guard will not allow Belle in. While Maggie tries to sort this out the boys go to the beach and Maggie heads to the condo that is supposed to be theirs for the summer. The condo smells horribly and it not the 3 bedroom promised and when she gets a frantic call from the boys to help as there has been an accident on the cliffs and an ultralight flyer needs medical assistance. Maggie calls 911 and rushes to join the boys on the cliff. The young man Jake Peterson eventually dies and the boys are sued by the grieving parents implying the boys did something wrong in assisting Jake that day. This gets the whole family in solving mode and Max comes down and helps in the investigation. There was a lot going on in this small community and Maggie did call in reinforcements such as Nell their attorney and eventually Stephen comes to help as Maggie suspects that drug smuggling is going on in the area and perhaps Jake stumbled onto something and was silenced for it. This was a good entertaining mystery and the 5th in this series. This story can be read on its own but I think the fact that if you have followed this family before it helps put everything in perspective. Recommend.
Cliff Hanger by Mary Feliz is the fifth A Maggie McDonald Mystery. Maggie McDonald along with her two boys, Brian and David are heading to Monterey Bay for the summer. Maggie has been hired by the management of the Heron Beach Resort to help the new complex manager, Renee Alvarez organize the office and the payment includes a condo for the summer. David and Brian notice a downed ultralight aircraft pilot and quickly contact emergency services. The distraught family lashes out by filing a lawsuit against the boys and has them the target of an investigation by local law enforcement. The family rallies their resources and begins a deep dive into the victim’s life. After noticing some suspicious activity at night, Maggie believes there is some foul play afoot. I thought Cliff Hanger was nicely written, moves along at a steady rate and is just the right length. While Cliff Hanger is the fifth book in the series, it can easily be read alone. The characters are established, and I find them relatable. Maggie has a good relationship with her two kids, and they have gotten the sleuthing bug from her. The complex crime was not what you typically find in a cozy mystery (I do not want to share too much and spoil it for you). It is multifaceted with a handful suspects and misdirection. The family certainly came up with some unique theories regarding the crime. The action kept the story moving forward toward the conclusion. There is a good wrap-up that ties up the loose threads. I enjoyed the authors vivid descriptions especially those of Monterey Bay and the sea life (a blue whale and dolphins). It was interesting to learn about ultralight aircraft and the regulations for them. I enjoyed Maggie’s handy tips at the beginning of reach chapter to help people prepare for trips. I thought they were clever, helpful and easy to implement. Cliff Hanger has an uplifting adventure with two teenage sleuths, stunning sea life, a malodorous condo, disorganized records, and one weary and worried woman.
Political Dissertation is Not a Cozy Mystery This author captured the California mindset perfectly. I grew weary of the continual Grandstanding about the environment, traditional vs organic farming methods and the problems of immigrant farmworkers. I don't read political dissertations for entertainment. Which is too bad. The plot of the story was very good and so was the rest of the book. But, I had to put it down because half of every chapter was political. I read half of the book. I won't read any more off this author's work. I received this ARC book for free from Net Galley and this is my honest review.
Cliff Hanger is the very welcome 5th novel in the Maggie McDonald Mystery series. We see the unique world of ultralights as well as property management and professional organizing. Maggie, as a professional organizer, gives clear and helpful guidance, with each chapter opening with a tip on vacationing on the California coast. Maggie, her family, and friends are a very likeable, close-knit group who help each other even as they enjoy each other’s company. The mystery is very challenging and the setting of Monterrey Bay is absolutely gorgeous! Maggie’s best friend, Tess, introduces her to her cousin Renee, whose new office is in desperate need of organizing. She is managing a beach resort/ condo group. She is next in a series of managers over a two-year period. This one has been way out-of-hand, with dusty cartons of files everywhere and long-delayed maintenance needed. Maggie will have a condo in this beautiful waterfront complex to live in with her two sons for the summer and her hubby will visit on weekends. The first condo she is given the key to reeks. It is full of garbage, rotting food, and bugs. While she finds that mess, her sons go exploring and are horrified to see the crash of an ultralight and its pilot, Jake Peterson, a local researcher and grad student. They go up the cliffs to see if they could help and called Maggie to call 911 as Jake is badly hurt. The EMT’s at the scene are very complimentary of Brian and David, her teen-age sons, and how they stay with Jake. They are curious about something Jake said, trying to understand his words about the propeller and a possible name. The next morning, the boys’ pictures are in the paper as having helped rescue a local hero. Unfortunately, Jake died that morning after what was thought to be successful surgery. They are curious about what caused the crash, as they heard how meticulous Jake was when inspecting his ultralight or any of the planes he worked on. They explore the area and see something that leads them to wonder if Jake saw something he shouldn’t have. It takes them on an adventure that includes the possibility of local drug dealers, the cartel, and farmers who may be hiding more than seeds and berries in their buildings. When Maggie and the boys are threatened, she calls in the troops – their friends at home in Orchard View with excellent police and military experience. Their friends are good as gold, taking Maggie, husband Max, and the boys seriously. They work well with local law enforcement. Maggie encourages herself through these trying circumstances with such cues as how to stay in the moment. This is the first time I recall reading about ultralights in a cozy mystery. Plot twists confounded me, and it was hard to know who could be trusted. There are several suspects. There is also concern that Jake’s parents want to take Maggie’s sons to court, as they feel the boys must have injured Jake further when trying to help him and caused his death. While there is humor, there is also serious investigation. This complex cozy includes several surprises, including who the bad guy(s) might be. I highly recommend Cliff Hanger to all who enjoy well-written cozy mysteries, interesting careers, goldens, and good friends. From a thankful heart: I received a copy of this ebook from the publisher through NetGalley, and this is my honest review.
Maggie McDonald has scored job that will allow her family to enjoy summer at the beach. Her teenage sons are looking forward to learning to surf and having fun while Mom helps the property manager organize the office and business. But things don’t quite work out as planned when they arrive and are not permitted on the property until the boss, who can’t be reached, approves their dog being on the grounds. While waiting for an update, Maggie and the boys head to the local state park beach to kill some time. While Maggie goes to check out the property, the boys find a local man who has crashed is motorized hang glider. The boys call 911 but lose the connection and call Maggie. The rescue team arrives and praise the buys for their actions and take the man to the hospital. When the man dies, his family accuses the boys of causing his death, so Maggie calls in her friends from home to help find out what happened and who truly caused the accident. This is the first book in the series I have read and, while there were references to working with their friends on past issues, the story works well as a stand-alone. I truly enjoyed the solid whodunnit and the well developed characters. I will be adding the previous books to my reading list.
Cliff Hanger by Mary Feliz is the fifth book in A Maggie McDonald Mystery series. Maggie and her boys are heading to Monterey Bay for a job. Maggie is helping to organize a resort and in exchanged they get a three bedroom unit on the beach along with a small salary. This is a working vacation that started off badly, then went from bad to worse. With the boys assisting a young man who crashed his Ultra-Light, and calling 911, they are temporary heroes. When the young man dies, they are being questioned and possibly sued by the family for causing his death. Everyday of this job brings another disaster. Cliff Hanger was a well-written story that moves at a good pace. It is the fifth book in the series, but can easily be read as a standalone. I have read all the books in this series and have enjoyed the development of the characters as well as the fact that the boys have grown up with the stories. They are older and actively involved in the investigations. Because this book was not in their hometown, some of the characters that I have enjoyed in previous books were not in this one, but others did make a guest appearance. This story has a complicated storyline with multiple suspects, many red herrings and lots of questions. I love all the scenarios that the boys come up with while trying to figure out what is happening. Although there appear to be many smaller crimes, the main one is the death of Jake, the ultra-light pilot. The action kept the story moving forward to a satisfactory conclusion that ties up all the loose ends. I enjoy Mary Feliz’s descriptive writing. I could almost visualize the animals and sea life that were seeing from the beach. I like Maggie’s handy tips at the beginning of each chapter. Being a professional organizer, you would expect these to be organizing tips, but they are more than that. Based on the setting and situation in each book they vary, with these ones all about preparing for a beach vacation. Overall, this was a fun cozy mystery with a bit more adventure and complications. It took the whole family to solve this one and I look forward to seeing what is next for Maggie and her family. I definitely recommend this book and series to those who enjoy a good, clean, yet intriguing mystery. The publisher generously provided me with a copy of this book upon request. The rating, ideas and opinions shared are my own.
Maggie thinks she's gotten a great gig- in return for organizing an office, she will be able to use a condo in Monterey for the summer. She's got her sons Brian and David with her, while her husband Max plans to visit on weekends. Unfortunately, things are what she was expecting- the condo is a mess- and while she tries to sort that out, her boys rush to help an ultralight pilot who has crashed. Sadly, he dies and his distraught parents want to blame them- so they sue. This is regrettably, entirely possible. Things are not, of course, what they seem and Maggie and Max discover so much more about what's been going on in the area than they ever wanted to know. Thanks to Netgalley for the arc. These novels (and don't worry- you'll be fine with this as a standalone) always feature some interesting facts along with the good characters. A good cozy read.