Wildly successful chick lit mystery writer Kimberlee Kalder is the guest of honor at an exclusive writers' conference at Dalmorton Castle in Scotland. But the fun ends when Kimberlee is found dead at the bottom of the castle's bottle dungeon. Who didn't want to see prima donna Kimberlee brutally extinguished like one of her ill-fated characters? It's up to Detective Chief Inspector St. Just to track down the true killer in a castle full of cagey mystery connoisseurs who live and breathe malicious murder and artful alibis...
About the Author
Winner of the Agatha Award for Death of a Cozy Writer, which initially won the Malice Domestic grant, G.M. Malliet attended Oxford University and holds a graduate degree from the University of Cambridge, the setting for her first series, the St. Just mysteries.
Davina Porter was a founding narrator with Recorded Books, and has been narrating audiobooks for many years. She is as comfortable with classic literature, such as Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary, as she is with more modern fiction, like Diana Gabaldeon's Outlander series, or Alexander McCall Smith's Isabel Dalhousie series. She won the 2004 Audie Award for Inspirational Literature, and the 2006 Audie Award for Best Female Narrator.
Read an Excerpt
DEATH and the LIT CHICKA St. Just Mystery
By G. M. Malliet
Midnight InkCopyright © 2009 G. M. Malliet
All right reserved.
"What do you think? Poisoned Pink, or Pink Menace?"
The young blonde woman of whom this question was asked adopted a pose of deep concentration, weighing the matter with all the deliberation of King Solomon presented with two feuding mothers. That the colors under discussion were nearly identical to the naked eye seemed to escape the notice of both women. The manicurist held the two small bottles aloft in the late winter sunlight streaming through the window of the trendy Knightsbridge beauty salon.
"The Poisoned Pink, I think, Suzie," the blonde said at last. "The other is so, like, totally last year. Positively no one in New York would be caught dead wearing it any more. Besides, Poisoned Pink sounds perfect for a crime writers' conference, don't you think?"
Suzie nodded, bending to her task and laying about with an emery board. Give me an old-fashioned romance book any time, she thought. Barbara Cartland, now: There was a woman who knew which way was up with men and all. Lovely hair she had, too.
"I'm getting an award from my publisher during this conference, you see. Did I tell you?"
Only three times.
Kimberlee Kalder, the blonde, paddled the fingers of one elegant, narrow hand in a bowl of soapy water as she lifted one elegant, narrow foot to examine the hand-woven gold brocade of her u900 ballet flats. "And for that and, well, other reasons, I want to look, like, to die for."
So there's another man at the end of all this effort, then, thought Suzie. Thought so.
"Not that I don't always strive to look, like, really hot," Kimberlee went on. "Image is, like, everything in this business, my agent says."
"I'm certain he's right, Miss."
"She, actually. At least, for the moment."
Not really interested, Suzie asked politely, "When's the conference, then?"
"This weekend. I head to Scotland tomorrow. My publisher is treating his most successful-well, in some cases, just his longest-lived-authors to a few days at Dalmorton Castle and Spa during Dead on Arrival."
Seeing Suzie's look of mystification, Kimberlee said, "That's a crime writers' conference held in Edinburgh every year. And, as I say, he'll be handing out a special award to his most successful writer: Me."
"Me," as Suzie well knew, was a favorite word in Kimberlee Kalder's vocabulary. That and "I." She was a big tipper, though-writing must pay bloody well.
"I always wanted to write a book," said Suzie wistfully. "Maybe I will one day when I have time. I'd write about me gran, during the war-"
Kimberlee just managed to stifle a snort of derision, although she didn't bother to hide the contempt that lifted her beautiful, chiseled mouth in a smirk. If she had a pound for everyone who was going to write a book when they could find the time-like they were going to pick up the dry cleaning or something when they got around to it. Really, people had no idea.
Cutting off the flow of wartime reminiscence, Kimberlee said: "No one cares about that old crap anymore. Don't forget-I want two solid coats of the topcoat. Last time my manicure only lasted two days. And watch what you're doing. You've missed a spot."
"Must be all that typing you do," Suzie said quietly. Kimberlee was her least favorite customer and there always came a point in their conversations when Suzie remembered why.
"What, me? Type?" said Kimberlee, as if to say, I? Slaughter my own cattle? "I guess you've been looking at my publicity stills. 'The Famous Writer at home, fingers poised over her laptop.' But I have people who do all that. I mostly just dictate."
Really? thought Suzie. So what else was new?
News item from the Edinburgh Herald, by Quentin Swope:
Book lovers wait in thrilled anticipation of this week's Dead on Arrival conference, where fans and would-be authors gather to meet their favorite crime writers-in the flesh. Said writers will also be signing their books "by the hundreds," conference chair Rachel Twalley tells this reporter.
Among conference highlights is the anticipated appearance of hot young newcomer Kimberlee Kalder, who burst onto the crime-writing scene last year, quickly climbing the charts with her runaway "chicklit" hit, Dying for a Latte. Kimberlee will be fêted before and during the conference by her Deadly Dagger Press publisher, Lord Julius Easterbrook, who must be thanking his lucky stars for leading him to Kimberlee. She may single-handedly have revived his moribund family publishing house.
Other Dagger authors invited to push out the boat at Easterbrook's exclusive gathering at Dalmorton Castle include Magretta Sincock, Annabelle Pace, and Winston Chatley-the stars of yesteryear. Rumor has it top agents Jay Fforde and Ninette Thomson, and American publicist B. A. King, are also on the guest list, along with ex-pat Joan Elksworthy, author of a detective series set in Scotland, and American spy-thriller novelist Tom Brackett. Also look out for newcomer Vyvyan Nankervis- a little bird tells me she's really Portia De'Ath, a Cambridge don, and the author of a delightful series of Cornish crime novels.
But it's our little Kimberlee who is stealing the other crime writers' thunder. Definitely, a publishing force to reckon with!
Jay Fforde had come to the conclusion that the invention of e-mail signaled the imminent demise of mankind. Even though his agency Web site stated explicitly "No E-mail Queries or Submissions," every day his network server was nearly shut down by some berk trying to send him a 150,000-page manuscript by attachment. The ones that made it through went straight into his little electronic trash bin, unread. Even after fifteen years in the business, Jay was amazed at the number of people out there tapping away at manuscripts-each one, of course, a potential best-seller, according to its creator.
The phone rang. A carefully screened call had been allowed through the bottleneck by Jay's assistant. Jay picked up the instrument, first pausing to fling back a strand of the longish, sun-streaked fair hair that flopped in accepted head-boy style from a center part on his patrician skull. Many thought his wide-set eyes, high cheekbones, and sulky expression held a suggestion of Byronic decadence, a thought Jay liked to cultivate.
"Jay," came a confidant, female voice. A trace of an American accent flattened what would once have been called BBC English, before regional accents became the new Received Pronunciation. Immediately Jay sat up a little straighter. The voice of a beautiful young woman who happened to be a wildly successful, selling-in-the-millions author was a potent combination for any agent.
"Kimberlee?" he said. Frightful name; it must come from her American side. Well, no one was perfect, although Kimberlee came close. "What a delight to hear from you. How was the rest of the holiday?"
His assistant appeared in the doorway, carrying a sheaf of manuscript pages. Jay impatiently waved her away, miming for her to close the door behind her.
"... Bahamas are not what they were, but still-you should see my tan," Kimberlee Kalder chirped on. "I just heard you'll be at Dalmorton. How wonderful of Julius to include you. Of course, you rep what's-her-name, don't you?"
"Magretta Sincock? Yes. For a short while longer, at least."
"Yes. Damned shame about her books and all, but tastes change, and poor Magretta will keep turning out the same old thing. I mean, seriously, how many women can there be out there married to some guy who-surprise!-turns out to have shoved his three previous wives overboard during their honeymoon cruise? Anyway, Easterbrook thought it would be a good opportunity to mix business with a little pleasure."
"Good," she said, lowering her silky voice to a purr. "I do think it's time you and I had a serious discussion, too, don't you?"
Jay's heart took flight at the words. If he could land Kimberlee Kalder as a client, well ... He'd be running the agency in a year. The Troy, Lewis, Bunter, and Hastings Agency would become the Fforde Agency at last. And he could ditch his other clients, beginning with Magretta. Who would need them?
Reluctantly, he tore his mind away from empire building. Kimberlee was saying something about train connections and reservations at the castle.
"You'll have to call today if you want to get near the castle spa," she told him. "They'll be booked solid from the moment this crowd of scribblers arrives."
"I'll tell you what, Kimberlee. Why don't I book a massage for you while I'm at it? My little treat, courtesy of the agency. I insist. What's that you say?" He picked up a pen and jotted notes as she talked. "All right. So that's a black mud envelopment treatment, an Aromapure Facial, a hydro pool session, and a sun shower treatment." Feeling like a waiter, he asked, "Will there be anything else?"
He rang off awhile later, Kimberlee having run out of special requests. Almost simultaneously, the door to the outer office swung open again.
"That was Kimberlee, wasn't it?" said Laurie. "She wouldn't identify herself, but the bossy tone is unmistakable."
"Yes. She's ready to dump Ninette and come over to the dark side."
"I suspected as much. You can tell her for me you can catch more flies with honey-"
"Before I forget, call Dalmorton Castle, will you, and book her into the spa for these treatments." He handed her the list. Laurie glanced at it and sniffed.
"She doesn't want much, does she?" Laurie tucked the list in her pocket and began tidying his desk, gathering files, tapping papers ruthlessly into line against the antique mahogany wood.
"If you move that you know I'll never find it again," said Jay.
"That's what I'm here for, Jay. To find things for you."
Jay smiled absently. Laurie always made him think of the redoubtable Miss Lemon, Hercule Poirot's fiercely competent secretary, foil to the well-meaning but dim Hastings. She placed a stack of papers before him.
"Magretta's late again with her rewrites. She's getting worse, I think."
Jay was pulled back from a daydream of yachts, Caribbean beaches, and ski chalets in Val Claret. He sat up, shoving the stack of papers to one side.
"Give her a few more weeks," he said. "It doesn't matter anymore, does it?"
A few blocks to the west, Ninette Thomson was worried. Kimberlee Kalder, her megastar client, as she supposed they would say in Hollywood, was sending out all the well-known signs of a writer in flight to a new agent. Increasingly ludicrous demands-an espresso machine, for God's sake-temper tantrums, insistence on impossible terms from her British and American publishers for her next book, overturning all the carefully negotiated-and extremely generous for an unknown author-terms of the contract Ninette had painstakingly organized for her. Demanding Ninette take the new book when it was ready to a larger publisher, despite a contract option that stipulated she could not do precisely that.
Honestly, thought Ninette. It was worse than dealing with the commitment-phobic, hormone-blinded male. You always could tell when they had one foot out the door, headed for another woman's bedroom, if you knew the signs. Which Ninette, fifty-four and the survivor of countless "summer" romances, felt certain she did.
She stood, stretching the tension from her shoulders. She had to get home and pack for this castle fandango. Good of Easterbrook to include her, really, although she knew Kimberlee Kalder was the only reason. She, Ninette, certainly wouldn't have been invited for the sake of a Winston Chatley or a Portia De'Ath. She turned away from the large, modern desk that stood in front of the floor-to-ceiling window in her office. More and more, Ninette had started working from home-less temptation to frequent the wine bars that way-but she remained reluctant to give up the fantastic view and, more importantly, the prestigious address of her London office. Sometimes the only indicator of a good agent that a writer had to go by was the address. But the expense! The expense would have driven her down and out long ago if that wonderful manuscript of Kimberlee Kalder's hadn't shown up in her slush pile two years ago.
Wonderful, she reminded herself, meaning saleable, meaning marketable, meaning the only things that mattered in today's publishing climate. Every day Ninette turned down manuscripts that were wonderful-wonderfully written, insightful, sad, funny, groundbreaking, heartbreaking, whatever. And not one of them met the blockbuster, plot-driven standards that were becoming the byword of the industry: less character, more plot.
Fewer and fewer publishers were willing to take a chance on an unknown writer. But Ninette, after years in the business, could sense a best-selling winner, and had persuaded Easterbrook to take that chance on Kimberlee.
The last truly fine writer she'd taken on, knowing for certain she'd never make a fortune, but not caring, had been Portia De'Ath, who was now selling at a decent little clip. Winston Chatley once fell into the same category ...
But it was Kimberlee, damn it all, who was paying the bills.
Now the silly, greedy little twit thought she could do better. Imagined a different agent, a different publisher, would bring in even more than the ridiculously large amount the first book had brought her already.
Kimberlee Kalder suddenly thought she didn't need her, Ninette Thomson.
Well, we'll just see about that now, won't we?
Winston Chatley was having tea with his mother in their narrow row house in a small, hidden mews in Chelsea. The fashionable part of Chelsea had grown up around them, leaving them stranded like shipwrecked survivors clinging to a valuable piece of real estate they couldn't afford to sell. Winston thought of them as on an island of desperation surrounded by a sea of clamoring, mobile-phone chatting yuppies.
Where would we move? Winston would ask his mother when the subject arose.
Somewhere smaller, in the country, Mrs. Chatley would reply, in her increasingly vague way.
You need to be near the best treatment available, not stuck in some backwash village, Winston would say. Besides, I like the city.
We'll manage, then.
They had had the identical conversation so often it amounted to a comforting ritual. For his mother, Winston suspected it was just that.
Winston worried he'd need home care for her eventually. For him the best thing-maybe the only good thing-about being a writer was that he was home most days. But she was fast reaching the stage where she'd have burned the house down if he didn't watch her constantly. What really needed to happen was for Winston to sell the house, use the proceeds to put her in a home, and use whatever was left over to buy that remote country cottage.
The idea had never seriously settled on him and would have horrified him if it had. This house was all she knew of home, of warm familiarity. It would kill her to be moved.
And so they circled around the topic. But today, his mother reverted to another familiar line of questioning.
"So, how is the new book coming?"
If there is one question a writer fears more than any other, it is that, for the answer calls upon more skills of invention and creativity than the actual writing of any book.
Excerpted from DEATH and the LIT CHICK by G. M. Malliet Copyright © 2009 by G. M. Malliet. Excerpted by permission.
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.
Table of Contents
ContentsPart I: England....................1
Part II: United States....................22
Part III: Scotland....................28
Alive on Arrival....................34
At Third Sight....................58
A Sight to See....................76
It Was a Dark and Stormy Night....................83
The Game's Afoot....................110
Practicing to Deceive....................120
In the Library....................140
In the Garden....................150
In the Presence....................159
Just the Facts....................174
Fit for a King....................193
Don't Be a Stranger....................204
This Just In....................218
I Know Why the Jaybird Sings....................227
Daughter of Time....................256
And Then There Were Fewer....................273
Witness for the Prosecution....................283
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Wonderful colourful characters and very enjoyable read! Looking forward to reading more from this author!