PRAISE FOR HY CONRAD
“The mother/daughter sleuths are witty and quirky, and reminiscent of Miss Marple.”
—RT Book Reviews, 4 Stars on Death on the Patagonian Express
“Smart, snappy dialogue and fun, likable characters.”
—Library Journal, starred review on Toured to Death
“An absolutely wonderful mystery, served just the way I like it—with heart and humor.”
—Tony Shalhoub, star of TV’s Monk on Toured to Death
About the Author
The Amy’s Travel Mystery series has given Hy the chance to combine a mystery career with his love of travel, which started with a European tour in high school and now includes seventy countries, not counting airport layovers. He also loves listening to other people’s travel stories, as long as they realize it might all end up in a book.
When not killing people or checking luggage, Hy splits his time between Key West and Vermont. No matter where he is, he can be found on his website, hyconrad.com.
Read an Excerpt
Death on the Patagonian Express
By Hy Conrad
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2017 Hy Conrad
All rights reserved.
Two months earlier ...
Amy gazed out at the lazy, uncommitted snowflakes, then reluctantly returned her focus to the overheated confines of the Village Gastropub.
For as long as she could remember, since her kindergarten days, when she'd first learned to order from a menu, this space had belonged to Tony & Bill's, a dusty Italian eatery revered for its unchallenging menu and unchanging prices. Now it had been turned into a trendy, faux casual café, with burnished redbrick walls and a polished bar and featuring Kobe beef burgers and white truffle mac and cheese.
She was sitting alone at a window table for three — not physically alone, since her mother was seated just opposite her. But for all practical purposes. "You're like a teenager," she complained and got no reaction. "Hello?"
Fanny readjusted her reading glasses but did not look up from her phone. "Just doing some tweeting. My public expects it of me."
"Since when do you have a public?"
"Aren't you being a tad jealous of Trippy? You shouldn't. I love both my girls equally."
It was a joke. But Amy couldn't help seeing the truth underneath.
She had never been impetuous, unlike Trippy. She had always thought too much about what could go wrong. She had just begun to overcome this trait, one that she'd inherited from her calm and passive father, when the violent death of her fiancé, Eddie, plunged her back into her quiet, unadventurous existence.
This had been three years ago, and Fanny had tried everything to bring her daughter back into the world of the living. The eventual solution was to start a business together, a travel agency focusing on exotic, action-filled vacations. Amy would be forced to face people and problems again and would be rewarded by going around the world. Travel had been her and Eddie's mutual passion. And Amy's Travel, a cute little storefront on Hudson Street, was founded as a living tribute to their life together, the life they'd almost had together.
In retrospect, it wasn't the best business plan. The Internet had nearly destroyed the brick-and-mortar agencies. And the fact that Amy's Travel periodically showed up in the news in conjunction with murders and arrests worldwide didn't make things any easier.
The saving grace had turned out to be TrippyGirl, a modest blog that Fanny had come up with on her own, featuring the fun-loving, carefree girl that Amy wasn't. Almost without knowing it, the Abels had a viral smash, allowing them to sell ad space and drive traffic to a myriad of other travel sites. In some ways, Trippy had become an alter ego, the fearless daughter that Fanny could approve of without hesitation. Without the daily fights over everything that actual mothers and daughters fought about.
Fanny returned to her tweets, thumbs flying. Amy retaliated by taking out her own phone and pressing the Facebook icon. She scrolled down through the array of cat videos and political calls to action and selfies featuring people she barely knew. "Oh, my!" she exclaimed a few seconds later. Her tone was shocked and sad and genuine enough to make Fanny look up.
"Oh, your what?"
"You remember Danny D'Angelo from high school?"
"Of course. Danny Angel. You had a crush on him."
"No, Mother, you had a crush on him."
"Well, the boy was adorable, and he knew it. A very high opinion of himself. What's he doing? Starring in a movie?"
"Danny D'Angelo died," Amy said, scrolling farther, trying to piece together more information from the Facebook comment section.
"Oh, that's horrible," said Fanny, hand to her heart. "The poor family."
"He was on a vacation somewhere." Amy read the next part twice and even then paused before saying it. "Apparently, Danny was killed by a mirror."
"By a mirror? That's ironic. Mirrors were always his friends."
"Must be an AutoCorrect error."
"Did he like younger women? Maybe he was killed by a minor."
Amy was still scrolling when the last person in their party arrived. "Sorry I'm late," she said. "So great to finally meet you." What looked like a sixteen-year-old girl stood there, smiling anxiously as she whipped off her plaid Eskimo parka and her knit winter cap. She was dark and short, rather waiflike, with curly hair and shining teeth that seemed a size too big.
"Great to finally meet you," echoed Amy. Both Abels rose for the obligatory hugs and air kisses and general assurances that everyone looked wonderful. During all of this, Amy slipped her phone off the table and glared until Fanny did the same with hers.
It was odd that they'd never met Sabrina before. But that was the way it was. You could communicate a dozen times a day, gush over their children or fiancés, and donate money to their next 5K run without ever physically meeting. You could find out how they reacted to a midnight e-mail sent after you'd had one too many glasses of chardonnay. As far as Amy had been able to tell, Sabrina Marx was quite a nice person — energetic, personable, willing to share, even by Fanny's intrusive standards. But, surprisingly, just a kid.
Book editors were getting younger, Amy knew, a result of low pay and the changing dynamics of publishing. But still. It was hard to look at this youngster and not ask what subject she was majoring in.
"Banyan Press is so excited about TrippyGirl's World," Sabrina assured them. "We've got contracts lined up with Audible and the Literary Guild. We even have some top-notch travel writers wanting to review it. The crossover potential is going to be super."
"Real travel writers?" Amy asked, trying to sound more excited than frightened at the prospect.
"For real. Todd Drucker from TD Travel."
"You mean the magazine's owner and editor? That Todd Drucker?" Amy knew of him, of course. This was the man who had, in the past decade, taken the world of travel writing up a good five notches, the single biggest force in making exotic travel part of the mainstream. And, according to all reports, not a very nice or forgiving guy.
Sabrina grinned at her coup. "Uh-huh. As soon as we did our first press release, he was all over us about a review copy." She dumped her coat into a nearby chair, settled in, and raised a hand to catch the waiter's eye.
"Imagine that," Fanny gushed. "A big-time writer reviewing a book made of my little blogs."
The personal pronoun (singular) hung in the air as their waiter stepped up, introduced himself (Bradley), and took their orders for three iced teas, passion fruit and mango. Amy tried to secure a plain iced tea, but passion fruit and mango was as close as the Village Gastropub was willing to go.
Last year, when the publishers first started calling, Amy had emphasized that the TrippyGirl blogs were a collaboration, with her mother taking Amy's real-life escapades and embellishing them. They had labeled the work faction, like a nonfiction novel, which in hindsight was probably being generous. For example, the blogs about the Taj Majal murder were largely true, while the ones sent from the Trans-Siberian Express were entirely made up. The editors had to understand that TrippyGirl was not Amy Abel, and this was not a memoir. After hearing this disclaimer, several publishers had lost interest, but not Banyan. Or maybe Banyan just hadn't wanted to hear. All they'd heard was that Amy and Fanny had a blog with an avid readership of over a million and growing.
Sabrina waited until the waiter had recited the lunch specials and retreated. "You write the blogs together?" she said, phrasing it as a question.
"Of course," said Fanny.
"Actually, no," Amy said, clarifying. "I read the drafts and make suggestions, but Mom does the writing. It's her style that everybody loves."
"I understand," said Sabrina in a tone that said she didn't. "But photos of you are on the site, Amy. That leads people to believe you're at least a coauthor."
"But I'm not TrippyGirl. No one is."
"I understand," Sabrina repeated. "But when you post a photo of yourself on a train in the snow ..."
"That was a PATH train in New Jersey during that December blizzard."
"That was some blizzard," Fanny recalled. "I couldn't get out of the house."
"But you used it to illustrate a blog set in Siberia, if I'm not mistaken." Sabrina stopped a moment to think. "Why didn't you use a photo from your trip to Siberia?"
"Her camera was stolen," said Fanny.
"I was never in Siberia," Amy said, clarifying some more. "That part of the book is more fiction than the rest. Again, we don't claim that the blog is real, and everyone seems fine with it."
"I understand, too. But when you show yourself in these settings, that's what people imagine. What I imagine. No one wants to find out that Trippy is — no offense — some older, stay-at-home mom who's making it all up. That's not your image."
"Ooh, boy," muttered Amy.
Sabrina must have heard. "No offense," she repeated with an anxious smile. "I mean, if it was Amy exaggerating the facts ... well, that's one thing. Kind of an irreverent, young thing."
"Upper end of young," Fanny pointed out.
"And," continued Sabrina, "Amy is this world traveler who's known for getting into weird scrapes."
"Right. So what am I?" demanded Fanny. She kept her gaze steady, straight in the eyes, and her voice low. "Some troll under a bridge? Some deformed, old Rumplestiltskin who sits in a dark corner and spins the worthless straw into gold?"
"No, no, no." The young editor almost physically backtracked, holding out her hands as if to brake Fanny's momentum. "I'm so sorry. Please. Fanny, you're wonderful. I love your style. And you're not a rumple ... whatever." She made a helpless, childlike face. "What is that, exactly?"
"Rumplestiltskin?" Amy couldn't believe it. "A fairy-tale character. You never heard of Rumplestiltskin?"
"I don't see many Disney movies," Sabrina admitted.
"Not all fairy tales are made into Disney movies," Amy said. "Didn't your parents ever read to you?"
"Not about Rumplestiltskins."
"It's a classic. How could you not know ..."
"I think you're missing the bigger picture," snarled Fanny through clenched teeth. "The bigger picture is that you're embarrassed by me, aren't you? You are. I'm the real TrippyGirl, and my own editor is embarrassed."
"Amy and I are not embarrassed," pleaded Sabrina. "But public perception is everything."
"I'm not embarrassed at all," said Amy. Sabrina didn't have to go home and live with this. "Let's change the subject, okay?"
Somehow, they made their way through their hour plus at the gastropub intact. Amy, Fanny, and Sabrina all managed to call a truce and order their salads from Bradley. Like a mother at a bedside, Fanny informed their child editor of the whole Rumplestiltskin fable, and they all could agree that (a) the king was a jerk for wanting a wife who could spin straw into gold, (b) the peasant girl was irresponsible for agreeing to give up her firstborn child to some trollish dwarf named Rumplestiltskin, and (c) being saddled with that last name alone would wreak havoc on any child's self-esteem, not to mention being given up by your mother and raised by a dwarf in a cave, which luckily never happened. And if the peasant girl hadn't lucked out and guessed the dwarf's name, how the hell was she planning to explain the whole thing to the baby's father, the king? All in all, a very unsatisfying, un-Disney tale.
The lazy snowflakes had stopped by the time mother and daughter stepped out onto Bank Street and headed toward the Barrow Street house. Neither said anything during the six-block walk, and Fanny did not do any TrippyGirl tweeting along the way, which was probably a good idea, Amy thought, given her almost combustible state of mind.
Their silence lasted until they got into their separate apartments, Fanny on the lower two floors of the Abel brownstone and Amy on the upper two. Amy went immediately to her greenhouse office on the top floor rear and brought her computer out of its sleep mode. A few minutes later she came down the three flights and found her mother in the rear garden, in a corner next to the wall, out of sight of the upper-floor windows.
"I'm not even going to mention the fact that you're smoking."
"Too late," said Fanny. She took one long, last inhalation, then dropped her stub onto the gray slate tile and ground it under her heel. "The dwarf in the dark corner smokes. What can I say?"
Amy took a deep, sighing breath. The smoking argument could be left for another day. "Mom, you know I'm on your side. You created Trippy. She's you."
Fanny blew out the smoke in an even stream. "The me I wanted to be forty years ago maybe, before I settled into being this old stay-at-home mom. Not that I'm blaming you for putting me in that position."
Amy lowered herself onto one of the metal garden chairs. It was still wet from the melted snow, but she hardly noticed. "First of all, what does Sabrina know? She's a teenager. And second, that's still you. I don't joyfully run into the face of danger, not on purpose. But Sabrina was right. We do have to start being careful about Trippy. That's what she meant."
"I know what she meant," said Fanny. "Your adventures are exaggerated and fun. Mine are made up and desperate and sad."
"Now you're being maudlin."
"Desperate and sad and maudlin, right." She tapped her skull. "Duh. How could I have left out maudlin?"
"Okay. Changing the subject now." Amy stood, the wet chair finally beginning to annoy her.
"That's right. Change the subject."
"I'll do my best." She paused dramatically. "I found out how Danny D'Angelo died."
"Oh?" Despite herself, Fanny was curious. "Was it a full-length mirror? They can be dangerous."
"Apparently, he was on a motor scooter in Old San Juan, in Puerto Rico."
"Was he checking his hair in the rearview mirror? Because you have a tendency to do that, too."
"No. He was riding down a very narrow street, trying to pass a bus. He got clipped by the bus's rearview mirror and landed on his head on the cobblestones."
"Poor Danny." Fanny stared off into the distance as the news of the tragic, random accident slowly sank in. Then she brightened. "You know, I think I can use this. Change Danny's name and make him Trippy's old high school flame." Her excitement grew as she spoke. "He's riding down an old narrow street, on his way to see her for the first time since graduation. Meanwhile, Trippy's in that same fateful bus, looking casually in the rearview mirror, when she sees Danny in the mirror. Her heart leaps. Danny! He comes closer and closer to the mirror. And then bam ... What a scene! Is that near enough to the truth for you?"
Amy didn't know what to say. "Fine."CHAPTER 2
Over the next few days, Amy spent more time than usual at Marcus's, dropping by every evening after her workday and hanging out until one of them got hungry enough to pull the take-out menus from the wicker basket under the TV. It was a small two-bedroom, a third-floor walk-up in a brownstone just off of Sixth Avenue. The whole place was a little cramped and shabby. But for Amy it had the distinct advantage of not being home.
"I like this," Marcus said on the third evening in a row, as they lounged, cradled in each other's arms, with just enough of his right arm free to work the remote. He was flipping through the Time Warner channels, not really paying attention. He gave up and pressed the OFF button.
"It's so nice when Terry's not here," Amy said and snuggled a little deeper. Terry was Marcus's roommate and had been surprisingly absent during these blissful, long evenings.
"I think Terry and Fiona are getting serious," Marcus whispered in her ear.
"That's good." Amy was grateful that Terry was otherwise occupied, but she always felt a twinge of jealousy when other people were getting serious in their relationships and she wasn't.
"Not so good, maybe," said Marcus. "Or maybe very good."
Amy lifted her head half an inch from the warmth of his chest. "What do you mean?"
"I mean Fiona has two roommates. And this apartment is legally in Terry's name."
"Yes, of course." She had known this fact and what it meant. It was an essential part of a larger discussion that they'd been having for almost a year now.
Amy and Marcus's relationship seemed to have two settings, high and low. High was full of adrenaline and passion and arguing about how to get out of one scrape after another, usually involving a murder. Low was most of the time in between, the months in which Marcus retreated into his unknowable self, and Amy had the time to look closer at the infuriating man who could lie even better than her mother and feel even less remorse. True, they were never big lies — details about his past or what he'd done yesterday. But they always wound up putting some emotional distance between them.
Excerpted from Death on the Patagonian Express by Hy Conrad. Copyright © 2017 Hy Conrad. 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.
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