Kill 'Em with Cayenne, a brand new finger-lickin’ good mystery from Gail Oust, featuring small-town Georgia spice shop owner Piper Prescott, a smart and spunky amateur sleuth.
Spices are flying off the shelves of Spice It Up!, and Piper Prescott couldn’t be happier. It’s that time of year again—time for the annual Brandywine Creek Barbecue Festival. Soon contestants and BBQ aficionados from all over the Southeast will converge on the town. Many of Brandywine Creek’s citizens plan to participate in the week-long festivities and are busily concocting savory rubs and sassy sauces. Among the locals vying for the grand prize are Becca Dapkins and Maybelle Humphries. The women have been arch enemies ever since Buzz Oliver dumped Maybelle after a thirteen-year courtship and started seeing Becca.
When Becca’s body is found near one of the festival booths, bludgeoned by a brisket, Maybelle becomes one of Chief Wyatt McBride’s top suspects. Determined to help clear her friend’s name, Piper begins her own investigation, much to McBride’s consternation. As the festival draws closer, will Piper and Reba Mae be able to find the real killer and clear Maybelle’s name? Will Piper make it to the annual shag contest with Doug Winters, the mild-mannered vet she’s been seeing? And, who will win the BBQ cook-off?
About the Author
The author of the Bunco Babes mystery series, GAIL OUST is often accused of flunking retirement. Hearing the words "maybe it's a dead body" while golfing fired her imagination for writing a cozy. Ever since then, she has spent more time on a computer than at a golf course. Kill ‘Em with Cayenne is the second novel in her Spice Shop mystery series. She lives with her husband in McCormick, South Carolina.
Read an Excerpt
Kill 'Em with Cayenne
By Gail Oust
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2014 Gail Oust
All rights reserved.
"Change is a good thing, right?"
I wasn't quite sure how to respond to my BFF's question. Sometimes change wasn't either good or bad, it was just change. And I ought to know. Ask anyone in Brandywine Creek, Georgia, and they'll tell you Piper Prescott was the Queen of Change. Not only had I divorced the low-down lying skunk I'd been married to for over twenty years, but I traded being a country club wife for proprietress of a fledging business, Spice It Up!, in a building older than Methuselah. Since a certain cute veterinarian arrived on the scene, I'd also abandoned all thoughts of entering a convent in order to avoid further contact with the opposite sex. When it came to change, I could write a book.
"Well, girl, don't just stand there; say somethin'?" Reba Mae pirouetted in front of me. "Do you like my new do or don't you?"
I set aside the yogurt I'd been eating before Reba Mae burst through the door. Reba Mae owned and operated the Klassy Kut. "The best little ol' beauty shop in the South," as she liked to tell folks. One of her favorite pastimes was changing hair color. "It's s-so ... so ... black," I stammered.
She smoothed her fringe of bangs. "The box called it Bewitched."
Canting my head, I studied the transformation more closely. Yesterday she'd sported magenta locks. Today her hair was dark as a raven's wing. Regardless of her adventures in Crayola-land, Reba Mae Johnson is a striking woman. At five foot seven, she towered over my petite five foot two even without the high heels she favors. Platforms, wedges, stilettos, bring 'em on.
"Bewitched, eh? If I meet up with Dracula, I'll tell him where to find you."
"Seriously, hon, is it too much?" she asked.
"No, no," I said. "It's edgy ... striking." The style with its shaggy bangs, cheek-hugging wisps, and mold to the nape was sort of punk-meets-pixie.
"I was aimin' for sophisticated."
Sophisticated? You could cut my tongue out before I'd tell her she'd missed her target by a country mile. Reba Mae, bless her heart, was about as "sophisticated" as Minnie Pearl. She'd once confessed over margaritas that the only time she'd ever left Georgia was to attend a stylist convention in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Call me a snob, but family vacations on pristine beaches aside, I have trouble equating a place that hosts a biannual Bike Week with cosmopolitan. Harley-Davidson gear is hardly my notion of haute couture.
"It's just going to take some getting used to, is all."
"Reba Mae? That you?" We turned to see Maybelle Humphries, manager of the Brandywine Creek Chamber of Commerce, push through the door. "Why, I didn't recognize you," Maybelle gushed. "That new look of yours puts me in mind of a gypsy."
"Gypsy ...?" Reba Mae looked crestfallen. "I thought it made me look chic."
"'Chic,' that's the word I wanted," Maybelle hurriedly corrected herself as I tried to hide a smile. "I always admire your sense of style, Reba Mae. You're never afraid to experiment. Take me for instance. I've worn my hair this way since high school."
In Maybelle's case, change might be just the ticket. Her salt-and-pepper bob looked like a do-it-yourself scissor job over a bathroom sink. Maybelle was sweet as they come but outwardly as plain as vanilla pudding.
"Fess up, Piper," Reba Mae said. "Aren't you even a teensy bit tempted to try a new look? With your fair skin and green eyes, you'd make a fabulous blonde."
"Thanks, but no thanks." I tucked a wayward red curl behind one ear and changed the subject. "What brings you here, Maybelle?"
"These are hot off the press." She plunked a pile of brochures on the counter next to my antique cash register. "It's that time of year again—the Annual Brandywine Creek Barbecue Festival. Mayor Hemmings wants all you merchants to pass out flyers to customers."
Picking one up, I read it out loud, "'Blues concert, street dance, fireworks, shag contest.'"
Reba Mae's eyes lit up. "Shag contest?"
Maybelle nodded. "The mayor persuaded the town council to approve funds for a shag club in Myrtle Beach to come and show us how it's done."
"Sign me up," I said. "I've always wanted to learn how to dance the shag."
Reba Mae perched on the counter and swung one long leg over the other. "The shag's considered the official dance of South Carolina. I learned the basic steps years ago, but could stand a refresher course."
"According to the brochure the group sent, it's a cross between swing dancing and the jitterbug," Maybelle said.
Reaching for the half-finished yogurt, I scooped up a spoonful. I felt proud of myself for adding crystallized ginger to the granola topping I concocted. It added a sweet, citrusy note. "Are you entering the cook-off this year?" I asked Maybelle.
"The Chamber's kept me so busy, I haven't had time to perfect a decent Cajunstyle rub."
"As long you're here, Maybelle, take a look around. I got a new shipment of chili powders that might inspire you. Feel free to browse."
"I'll do just that." She took one of the little wicker baskets I kept on the counter for customers' use and wandered off.
Reba Mae glanced at the regulator clock on the wall. "Wish I had time to browse, but I got highlights waitin' on me."
She'd no sooner left when two gentlemen I'd never seen before strolled into Spice It Up! The pair paused just inside the door. They stood there, unsmiling, for such a protracted moment that I began to feel jittery. Who were they? The board of health? Had someone reported me for keeping a dog on the premises? I darted a look over my shoulder and sighed with relief. Casey, the little mutt I'd rescued, snoozed peacefully behind the baby gate erected across the storeroom. Casey's bladder was worse than his bite. His most serious offense thus far was peeing on a customer's very expensive Ferragamo sandal. In my humble opinion, it couldn't have happened to a more deserving person.
At last, the taller of the men strode forward and stuck out his hand. "Tex Mahoney."
I set my now empty yogurt carton on the counter. Before returning the handshake, I swiped my hands down the sides of my sunny yellow apron with "Spice It Up!" embroidered over a red chili pepper. "Piper Prescott."
"Nice place you have, ma'am." The man's deep voice had a definite twang that suited his rough-and-tumble appearance. He was tall, rawboned, with a weather-beaten face and mop of brown hair gone mostly gray. The elaborate silver belt buckle he wore was befitting a rodeo champ. Only things missing to complete his Western ensemble were spurs and a six-shooter.
"Thank you, Mr. Mahoney," I said. "Are you in town for the barbecue festival?"
"Yes, ma'am, I am. And, please, everyone calls me Tex."
"Are you looking for anything in particular, Tex? You'll see that I carry a wide range of spices. Everything from A to Z."
The second man stepped closer. "Z ...?"
"Z for zedoary, also called white turmeric," I said to Mr. Fancy Dresser. "In its powdered form, zedoary is a common addition to curries."
"I'm impressed," he said with a thin-lipped smile. "The lady knows her spices." The complete opposite of his companion, this man was a natty dresser in a striped short-sleeved button-down dress shirt with a horsey logo and dark pants with a razor-sharp crease. He had a sturdy, compact build, eyes the color of mud, and a gleaming bald head.
"My livelihood depends on it, Mr. ..." He reminded me of an actor, but I couldn't recall a name to go with the face. Maybe Yul Brynner, the star of one of my favorite musicals, The King and I? No, I decided with a shake of the head, not Yul. The name would come to me ... eventually.
"Porter." He extended his hand. "Wally Porter, certified master barbecue judge."
We shook hands. I noticed his were smooth, callus-free, the nails buffed. "Nice to meet you," I said.
"Did I hear someone say 'barbecue judge'?" Maybelle asked, coming out from behind a row of freestanding shelves. Shame on me, I'd forgotten Maybelle was in the shop browsing. Not to be be mean, but the woman had that kind of effect on people.
"Yes, you did," Wally said, turning to Maybelle.
Tex gave her a warm smile and, taking her basket, peeked at the contents. "I reckon you must be a mighty fine cook judging by your choice of spices."
Maybelle looked flustered in the machismo-charged atmosphere, so I proceeded with the introductions. "Maybelle not only runs the Chamber of Commerce with the precision of a Swiss clock, but she's one of the finest cooks in the county."
Embarrassment turned Maybelle's usually sallow complexion into a becoming shade of pink. "Piper's too kind," she said, dismissing the compliment with a wave of her hand. "I take it you two gentlemen are well acquainted?"
"Our paths cross from time to time on the circuit," Wally explained.
"Are you one of the judges, too?" Maybelle asked Tex.
"No, ma'am. I'd druther be on the cookin' end than the judgin'. I'm always experimentin' with various rubs and sauces. Tryin' to find the perfect combination of spices."
"Tex happens to be a champion pitmaster," Wally told her. "Quite by chance, we both happened to arrive in town early for a little relaxation before the festivities begin in earnest."
I removed the items from Maybelle's basket—juniper berries, star anise, and Szechuan peppercorns. "Have you found a place to stay yet?" I asked the men. "If not, I can recommend a nice bed-and-breakfast."
"The Turner-Driscoll House?" Wally unfastened the lid on a jar of Grenadian nutmeg, sniffed, then nodded his approval. "Tex and I just checked in. Mrs. Driscoll—Felicity—said she was expecting her final guest to arrive shortly."
Maybelle handed me her credit card. As I started to run it through my machine, I noticed she was staring at a figure in the doorway. Maybelle's features contorted with dismay. I followed the direction of her gaze. A woman dressed head-to-toe in pink had her hand on the knob about to enter Spice It Up!
Uh-oh, I groaned silently. Here comes trouble.CHAPTER 2
Becca Dapkins, pretty in pink, breezed through the door. "Hey, Piper."
"Hey there, Becca," I said, pinning on a smile.
Wally's and Tex's heads swiveled to view the new arrival. Both men drew themselves taller and did the gut-sucking thing males often do when around an attractive female. And though it grieved me to admit, Becca was attractive. That is, if one harbored a soft spot for barracudas. As usual, every dark hair on Becca's head was in place, her makeup artfully applied. While Maybelle's shape resembled that of an ironing board, Becca's was soft and curvy beneath the frilly blouse and flowing skirt.
Maybelle remained silent, choosing to glare at the woman she'd known since high school. Can't say I blamed Maybelle, considering their history. Becca Dapkins had stolen Maybelle's man. That would be enough to rile any red-blooded woman.
Becca turned the full wattage of her smile on the two men watching her with interest. "You gentlemen must be new in town. I'd remember you if you'd dropped by my office at the water department. I never forget a face. A God-given talent, according to my grannie."
"Wally Porter, senior barbecue judge." Wally inclined his bald head. "I'm looking forward to spending some time in your quaint little town."
Not to be outdone in the gallantry department, Tex stepped up to the plate. He tipped an imaginary Stetson. "Tex Mahoney at your service, ma'am. Like Wally, I'm here for a little R and R before it's time to fire up the grill."
"Better be prepared for some stiff competition, Tex." Becca wagged a finger with a nail lacquered Pucker Up Pink. I recognized the shade instantly 'cause my toes were painted with the same bright color.
"What category are you enterin', Miss Becca?" Tex asked.
"Taster's Choice," she replied without hesitation. "It's the one where pro or amateur, all contestants are equal. The public gets to decide the best of the best."
Wally rocked back on the heels of his polished loafers. "That's quite an ambitious plan. The winner of Taster's Choice walks away with not only a trophy but a sizeable check."
"Oh, come off it, Becca," Maybelle snapped. "That's the most ridiculous thing ever to come out of your mouth. Unless a recipe calls for cream of mushroom soup, you can't cook well enough to keep a sparrow alive."
"Cream of mushroom soup ...?" Tex looked horrified at the notion.
Becca whirled to confront Maybelle. "No, not soup. I happen to have a secret weapon that will put my brisket head and shoulders above the rest. Just you wait and see."
I didn't like where this conversation was heading. Attempting to divert open warfare, I slid a charge slip across the counter. "Um, sign at the bottom."
Ignoring the hint, Maybelle planted her hands on her narrow hips. "Mr. Porter," she said, her tone clipped. "I advise you to keep an eye on this woman. She's got a whole bag of tricks up her sleeve. No telling what she might do. She's entirely without scruples."
"What ...!" Becca slammed a knockoff designer bag on the counter with enough force to make her charm bracelet jangle. Her red face clashed with her frilly pink blouse. "Maybelle Humphries, what the devil are you implying?"
"Here's a pen." I offered Maybelle a ballpoint, trying to hurry her out of the shop and avert bloodshed.
My suggestion went unheeded. Maybelle was too incensed to back down. "I'm not implying anything," she said. "I'm simply telling it like it is. You're a sneaky, conniving bitch."
Wally and Tex followed the confrontation between the women like spectators at Wimbledon. Venus and Serena—change that to Becca and Maybelle—continued to lob insults with ease and precision.
"Admit it, Maybelle." Becca moved into Maybelle's space. "You're jealous Buzz picked me, not you."
Maybelle blanched as the barb hit home. "We'd still be engaged if you hadn't set your sights on him. He'll come around once he's wise to your ways."
"Over my dead body," Becca sneered.
"Ladies, please ...," I tried again. Soon I'd be dialing 911 to report an assault and battery.
"You deliberately lured Buzz away from me," Maybelle charged.
"So what if I did?" Becca fired back. "If you can't get a man to marry you after twelve years, then you don't deserve him."
"Thirteen," I corrected.
"Thirteen?" Tex and Wally chorused.
I nodded confirmation. "Maybelle and Buzz dated eight years and were engaged for another five before he broke it off."
"I'd like to meet this Buzz," Tex commented to no one in particular. "He must be quite a guy."
"We were making wedding plans when this homewrecker showed her true colors." Maybelle made a supplicating gesture and addressed first Wally, then Tex, as though they were the judges in her personal court of appeals. "Day and night, this brazen hussy started calling the pest control business where Buzz works. Always asking the boss to send Buzz. First, it was to check for termites. Then, she wanted him to spray for spiders. After that, she claimed she found a wasp's nest. Before I knew what was happening, she was feeding him pork chops cooked in cream of mushroom soup and Tater Tot casserole."
"Hmph!" Becca snorted. "Buzz is a grown man. He needs a real woman in his life—not a mother."
Maybelle's scrawny hands bunched into fists. "So help me, Becca Dapkins, I've half a mind to slap you upside the head."
"Lay one finger on me, Maybelle Humphries, and I'll have you arrested so fast it'll make your head spin."
Rounding the counter, I wedged myself between the two women. Sheesh! I felt I'd blundered into a taping of The Real Housewives of Brandywine Creek, albeit neither Becca nor Maybelle was a housewife. I handed Maybelle her purchases. "Here," I said. "Go deliver those flyers you brought along."
Maybelle snatched the sack from my hand, then grabbed the brochures from the counter. "I meant every word I said," she flung at Becca as she stormed out.
An excruciating loud silence followed her departure. At last, Tex cleared his throat. "I'll see if I can find Miss Maybelle and calm her down," he said, and headed out the door after her.
Unperturbed, Becca glanced at her watch with its pink leather wristband. "My break's nearly over. Unless I hurry, I'll be late getting back to work. I'll come another time, Piper, to pick up the things I need."
"Sure thing," I said. Next time she came, I'd take great pains to make sure Maybelle was occupied elsewhere.
Excerpted from Kill 'Em with Cayenne by Gail Oust. Copyright © 2014 Gail Oust. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Dollycas’s Thoughts The annual Brandywine Creek Barbecue Festival takes a significant turn when Barbara Quinlan nee Bunker comes home to visit and introduces herself as “Barbie-Q” and tells everyone she is there to film the festival for her new television shoe Some Like It Hot. That doesn’t sit well with Becca Dapkins at all. Becca and Barbie have a past and it wasn’t good. In fact Becca’s relationship with many residents of Brandywine Creek isn’t good. When Becca’s body is found the suspects should be many but Piper’s friend, Maybelle Humphries, becomes the prime suspect. This puts Piper hot to start investigating with an assist of Reba Mae. Add this to all the other festival fun and things get really spicy! Gail Oust second Spice Shop Mystery marks the return of the characters we liked from the first book. She also introduces us to some very interesting characters in town for the Barbecue Festival especially Miss Barbie-Q. Piper’s dog, Casey, led Piper to the discover Becca’s body, but I don’t think he liked the references to becoming a cadaver dog :) The plot of the mystery is very creative and something I wasn’t expecting was the missing ingredient that brings the whole murder recipe together. I wish the romance between Piper and local vet Doug had a little more heat. I think she needs to explore the options she may have with Police Chief MacBride. I am already looking forward to the next Spice Shop Mystery!
My first experience with this author. Won't be my last. I developed quickly an affection for the primary, continuing characters. Cleverly plotted mystery, too. Not obvious but not a black box ending, either. I would recommend this to mystery and cat lovers.
I really enjoyed Rosemary & Crime, the first book in the Spice Shop Mystery Series so I knew I had to return to Brandwine Creek and see what Piper Prescott and her gang were up to now. Piper’s been very busy at her shop, Spice It Up, and now she’ll be even busier. It’s time for the yearly Brandywine Creek BBQ Festival and the town will be filled with strangers coming to compete. Many of the locals will be competing too. You can sense trouble brewing when Becca and Maybelle both enter the contest. These too have no fondness for each other and have been bitter enemies since back in middle school. Trouble boils over when Becca is found dead and Maybelle becomes suspect number 1. There are many things I look for in a cozy mystery. A fun title. Colorful cover art. Loveable, laughable characters. A well developed location for the story. A dastardly, elusive villain. And sweet, teasing romance. I wasn’t disappointed with this book. Kill ‘em with Cayenne. How could I resist that title and it connects to Piper and her shop, Spice It Up. The cover art is simple, yet charming and I’m wondering if the spilled spice represents the murder. Quite creative. I’d pick it up if I happened to spot it on a shelf. The characters are many, with colorful names, and their personalities are easily distinguished. You have the good, the bad, and the ugly. The villain is not who you’d expect so the mystery is sustained til the end. The town of Brandywine Creek is just what you’d expect in a small town. I live in one and felt quite at home. We have a lot of festivals and BBQ and chili cook offs are huge here in the south. The romance is sweet and just becoming teasing. I do wonder whether Piper and Sheriff Wyatt McBride will spice it up in the next book. This is a cozy mystery series for all fans of the genre. You’ll love the characters, boo the villain, and become enchanted with the colorful town. It’s all good, clean fun. And there are some yummy recipes included at the end of this book that you might want to try for yourself.
I was sent an advanced reading copy of KILL ‘EM WITH CYENNE in exchange for a review. That being said, I’m thrilled I was given the chance because I really liked this book! Now I need to go back and read the first book in this Spice Shop Mystery series, ROSEMARY AND CRIME. I found protagonist Piper Prescott to be very witty and enjoyable, and I loved the story being told through her narrative. The supporting characters in this southern cozy are well done and perfect for the setting. Ms. Oust wastes no time getting to the ‘finding of the body’ in this book, which ensures you’ll never have the chance to become bored. There are plenty of plot twists and turns to keep you guessing until the exciting reveal. Included at the end of the book is a Guide To Peppers and three mouthwatering recipes. Spice up your library with KILL ‘EM WITH CAYENNE. You’re sure to savor it as much as I did!
Reviewed for Read Your Writes Book Reviews by Kim Kill ‘em with Cayenne is the second book in Gail Oust’s A Spice Shop Mystery Series. Told in first person from the point of view of Piper Prescott, it kept me entertained from the beginning. Gail is a new author to me, and I loved that I was able to pick up this book and not feel lost in character interactions and dynamics. I liked the fact that the murder of Becca Dapkins happened quickly in the book. Oh no...Does that make me a bad person for wanting someone to die? But after that, there really isn't a whole lot going on. The town of Brandywine, Georgia is preparing for it’s annual barbecue festival. There are what seem to be little meaningless crimes going on. But you have to wonder if these crimes are something more. While the death of Becca is shocking, the list of potential killers isn’t. Becca, who worked in the office of the town’s water department, wasn’t really a well-liked woman. She was the type of woman who saw a man she wanted and set out to get him. It didn’t matter to her if he was available or not. The likely suspect is Maybelle Humphries, who happens to be a friend of Piper’s. With the motive of Becca stealing her man and no alibi, Chief Wyatt McBride is looking at Maybelle as the killer. Not wanting Maybelle to go to prison for a crime she didn’t commit, Piper starts to look for clues and other suspects on her own. This, of course, puts her at odds once again with the sexy and charming homegrown Chief. Generally, in cozies, I find that the life of the protagonist is put in jeopardy several times throughout the book. That wasn’t the case with Kill ‘em with Cayenne. Piper’s life is on an even keel. For the most part, she’s just going on with her daily life. Unfortunately, that involves having to deal with her 16 going on 25-year-old daughter, her cheating ex-husband, and the annoying homewrecker, who her husband happens to be marrying. I think really one of my favorite things about the book were the red herrings. I will admit to going around in circles, trying to figure out who murdered Becca and why. I didn’t find the climax to be overly dramatic, but it was perfect. I could honestly care less about spices (no offense to Piper and her shop Spice it Up!), but I’m not much of a cook. With that said....I’m really glad I read this book and I’m looking forward to more books in this series. Psst Gail....Chief Wyatt McBride seems to be a whole lot more fun than dull vet Doug Winters. The romance girl in me is on pins and needles waiting to see if Chief McBride is going to make a move or not. **Received a copy from the author in exchange for an honest unbiased review.**
Emily sat lazily on the couch, skimming Netflix. Her blonde hair was in a messy bun, and she wore an oversized white shirt and joggers.