Lila is showcasing some of her biggest authors at a bridal expo. But when the joyous event turns deadly, she’ll have to figure out who penned the perfect crime...
The Novel Idea Literary Agency has planned a wedding-themed week for Inspiration Valley, celebrating not only North Carolina’s best vendors but also some of the agency’s most popular bridal books. The fact that Lila can use the event to plan her own impending nuptials is just the icing on the cake.
But wedding bells turn to warning bells when Lila finds a dead man facedown in the frosting. Soon it’s discovered that the victim was connected to several Novel Idea authors, all of whom quickly become suspects in the case. It’s up to Lila and her fellow agents to find the real killer before one of their clients winds up scribbling stories from behind bars...
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I loved wintertime in the quaint hamlet of Inspiration Valley, especially when it snowed, which wasn’t often. Our little village, with its neat clapboard cottages and brick-front businesses, was nestled deep in North Carolina’s Balsam Mountains, which protected us from the moist southern winds and kept us dry for most of the winter months. But today, snow was falling in big silver flakes, blanketing the ground like a loosely crocheted afghan and giving the Valley the magical appearance of a freshly shaken snow globe.
“Don’t worry, everyone. This snow isn’t going to damper our week,” my boss, Bentley Burlington-Duke, founder and president of Novel Idea Literary Agency, declared from the driver’s seat. We were returning to the Valley after picking up a couple of authors from the airport located in nearby Dunston. Tomorrow was the opening day of our agency’s weeklong event, Booked for a Wedding, which was to feature a unique combination of literary and bridal events. “Neither rain, nor sleet, nor this darn snow will keep our agency from holding every single event this week. We fully intend to make sure the show goes on no matter what. Isn’t that right, Lila?” she added, throwing me a resolute look.
I nodded and turned toward the murmur of chuckles Bentley’s string of mangled clichés brought from the two authors in the backseat. Bentley was a keenly determined businesswoman. Leave it to her to think she could control everything about this week’s schedule, including Mother Nature.
“I can’t wait for things to get started,” said Jodi Lee, author of The Billionaire’s Bride. “What a brilliant idea to combine a bridal expo and books.” Her compliment brought a murmur of appreciation from Bentley, who loved it when someone recognized, and acknowledged, the brilliance behind her marketing schemes. And brilliant she was. When I joined Novel Idea Literary Agency a couple of years ago, I was intimidated by her authoritative presence. But since then, I’d come to admire her tenacious drive and sharp business instinct, which had helped scores of authors realize their dreams.
“Not me. I’m so nervous,” admitted Lynn Werner, my client who was a new author with the firm. “Especially for my presentation. I’ve never really talked in front of a crowd before, or read my work out loud to anyone.”
“You’ll be fine,” I assured her. “We’ll practice a few times before your talk.” I’d just signed her the previous summer for her novel, Murder and Marriage, which had been retitled Wed ’til Dead. I thought the snappy title was the perfect fit for her cleverly written cozy mystery. “Besides,” I told her, “everyone’s going to love it. I think it’ll be a big seller.”
“Think?” Bentley bellowed. “Novel Idea only represents successful books. Wed ’til Dead will be a bestseller. That’s what this week is all about, Lynn. Getting your name out there in front of readers’ eyes. That way, when your book does release, you’ll have a ready-made audience.”
Lynn quickly tucked a strand of brown hair under her stocking cap and let out a nervous sigh. I felt for her. Most authors experienced newbie jitters. It wasn’t easy putting your work out there for everyone’s judgment. And public appearances were just one more intimidating task for most writers. Mostly because, by nature, authors tended to be introverts. But it was a necessity of the business, especially for an unknown author like Lynn. She needed to build name recognition before her novel was released this spring.
“Oh, don’t worry about a thing,” Jodi said, waving her mittened hand through the air. “You’ll get used to public speaking. Besides, book readers are some of the friendliest people around. You’re going to have a blast this week.”
I smiled appreciatively. Her kind words seemed to put Lynn at ease. Jodi, a bestselling romantic suspense author, was represented by my coworker, Flora Merriweather. Flora had sung her praises: “She’s the easiest client ever, always so positive and upbeat, easy to work with . . .” Now I could see what Flora meant. I’d only just met Jodi, but I already liked her sunny attitude. Even her choice in outerwear, a cheery pink puffy jacket topped off with pom-pom toboggan in fuchsia with purple snowflakes, was bright and cheerful.
“We’ve booked you both rooms at the Magnolia Bed and Breakfast,” I said, steering the conversation in a different direction. “I think you’ll both be comfortable there. It’s a lovely old Victorian on the edge of the village and the owner is such a gracious hostess.”
“That sounds wonderful,” Lynn replied. “I don’t remember it being open when I lived in the area.”
Bentley glanced in the rearview mirror. “When was that again?”
“It’s been about five years since I moved to the coast. I actually used to live in Dunston. I haven’t been back since I left.”
Bentley nodded, carefully maneuvering the vehicle over the snowy pavement as we turned onto Sweet Pea Road. “In that case, the Magnolia probably wasn’t open when you were here. Cora Scott—that’s the owner—only opened a couple of years ago after several years of remodeling. She put a substantial amount of money into it, too, but I think she’s making a good return on her investment. The place is constantly booked.”
“Is that it?” Jodi asked, pointing to a tall domed turret peeking above the trees. She followed up her question with a long “Awww” as we rounded the corner and pulled up to what we locals sometimes referred to as “The Grand Lady.”
“I can see where it gets its name,” Lynn commented, staring out at the pink and white exterior of the home. “It reminds me of the blossoms on the magnolia tree in my mother’s backyard. Such a gorgeous pink color. It’s exquisite.”
My thoughts traveled across the same lines, and I realized how lucky the town was that Cora had swooped in and rescued the place. In the 1970s, during the Illumination Valley days, when our town was a haven for nonconformists and freethinkers, the historic Victorian was occupied by a group who let the place fall into disrepair. Then, after a couple of decades as a multi-rental unit, it was left abandoned for several years. Luckily, Cora came onto the scene and painstakingly restored its original glory with three stories of repaired white spindle work, freshly painted gables and turrets, and new carved pillars on the expansive front porch. And that was just the outside!
We’d just started unloading luggage when the front door popped open and Cora Scott came bustling outside to greet us. “Welcome, welcome!” she called out, making her way down the small walk that connected the side carport to her front door. “I’m so glad you made it okay. Especially with this dreadful weather. How were the roads?” But before we could reply, she turned to our guests. “Let me help you with your bags. You two must be the authors I’ve heard so much about.”
“Excuse me,” I said, apologizing for my bad manners. “Cora, this is Lynn Werner and Jodi Lee. Ladies, this is Cora Scott, your charming hostess for the week.”
Cora’s deep brown eyes gleamed warmly as she shook their hands. A sturdily built woman, Cora had strong features that would have looked harsh on anyone else, but her sweet personality softened her face and made everyone around her feel instantly at ease. “Come in, come in,” she said, motioning for us to follow her toward the house. “I’ve got a pot of tea on. Just the thing to warm you.”
Once inside, she hung our coats in the front hall closet. Then she directed Bentley and me to the kitchen while she led the authors around the corner to where a small elevator was located. Cora had possessed the foresight to install it during renovations, knowing that two flights of stairs might not be easy for her guests to manage, especially with luggage.
I’d been in the Magnolia Bed and Breakfast a handful of times, but the magnificence of its intricate woodwork and ornate furnishings never ceased to impress me. Admittedly, though, there was a certain heaviness to it all that made me glad for the simpler lines of my sunny cottage on Walden Woods Circle. Still, as I followed Bentley’s determined footsteps toward the kitchen at the back of the house, it was hard to resist the urge to stop and ponder the magnificent details of the antique book stand that held the guest registry or the skilled needlepoint design on a nearby Rococo armchair.
“Pam!” Bentley gushed as soon as we entered the kitchen. A thin, dark-haired woman rose from the kitchen seating area and grasped Bentley’s outstretched hands. They exchanged a series of cheeky air kisses and traded comments on how great each looked. Bentley adored Pamela Fox. Her popular erotic series, The Reluctant Brides of Babylon, had hit the top ten of the New York Times bestsellers list last year, which succeeded in propelling Pam to the top of Bentley’s list also.
We settled into the padded seating built into an octagon area formed by the large turret that ran up the back side of the house. The nook was surrounded by windows framed in pretty yellow and blue fleur-de-lis valances that matched the padding on the built-in benches. To me, this was the best feature of the home: a bright, sunny spot for guests to lounge with a cup of coffee. Much more comfortable than the adjacent formal dining area with its dark oak table and thick Oriental rug of burgundy and forest green.
“I hope you slept well last night,” Bentley said to Pam, serving herself from the antique tea set arranged in the middle of the table. I skipped the tea but snagged a roll.
“Everything has been just wonderful,” Pam said, cringing at the sound of hammering coming from the opposite side of the kitchen. “Except for that.”
“What is that?” Bentley asked, twisting her head to locate the source.
Pam covered her ears lightly. “Apparently the owner is having some shelving put up in the pantry. She mentioned it yesterday when I checked in; I just never expected it to start so early in the morning.”
I glanced at my watch. It was nearly ten o’clock here, but Pam arrived yesterday from California, which meant it was really only seven o’clock her time. Poor thing. I leaned in and raised my voice over the pounding. “The last of the authors just arrived,” I told her. “They’re getting settled but should be down in a minute. We wanted to make sure you’re introduced before we leave. But someone will be back around twelve thirty to pick you up for today’s meeting.” Bentley had set an organizational meeting for one o’clock at the James Joyce Pub. There would be over a dozen authors participating in the week’s events, so organizing and keeping track of everyone was going to be a challenge.
“I’m looking forward to meeting everyone,” Pam practically shouted. The noise coming from the pantry seemed to be growing louder. “There’s only a few of us here; where are the others staying?”
“At Bertram’s Hotel,” Bentley replied, her lips tight with annoyance. “It’s not as nice as this place, but it certainly might be quieter. Maybe we should consider moving you there.”
As if in response, the hammering suddenly ceased. Pam tipped back her head and chuckled. “Bertram’s Hotel? Like in the Agatha Christie book? No thanks! If I remember correctly, things didn’t go all that well for the guests at Bertram’s. So, I think I’ll stay here. At least we know there won’t be any dead bodies.” She pointed toward the pantry. “Unless Mr. Hammer Happy wakes me up again at some ungodly hour tomorrow.”
We all laughed. Just then Cora came into the kitchen with Lynn and Jodi on her heels. “Make yourselves comfortable, ladies. I’ll get some fresh tea.” She started rifling through the kitchen cabinets as Bentley made a round of introductions. Just as I’d hoped, the ladies seemed to get along well, instantly settling into a comfortable conversation about their hometowns and the books they liked to read. Vicky Crump, our ever-efficient office manager, had asked my opinion when she was setting up accommodations for everyone. During renovations, Cora had combined two of the bedrooms into a large living suite for herself, leaving three spacious en suite rooms to rent to guests, so I’d specifically asked that these three authors be placed together. I wanted Lynn to have the experience of being around more seasoned authors. It looked like I’d chosen the right mentors for her.
“I’ll have you know,” Cora started, setting the teakettle to boil on the stove, “I plan on attending all the events this week, even the wine tasting.” She let out a little giggle as she uncapped a glass jar and started measuring loose tea into a diffuser. “Good thing I got my tickets when I did; I hear all the events sold out.”
Bentley rubbed her hands together and smiled. “That’s right. Undoubtedly it will be another successful venture for our agency.”
To some, Bentley came off as overconfident, brash even, but in my mind, she’d earned the right to pat herself on the back. Before Bentley arrived, the town’s businesses had all but dried up during a hard-hitting recession. When she relocated her literary agency from New York to our humble village, it sparked renewed interest in the area. Soon all the businesses jumped on the bandwagon, changing the town’s name to Inspiration Valley and adopting literary-themed names for many of the small shops. Now our agency’s events drew crowds from all over the country.
Just then the racket started up again, pulling me from my thoughts. “Oh my goodness,” Cora said. “I didn’t realize just how much noise this project would make. Let me ask him to take a little break while we enjoy some tea.”
“No more for us,” Bentley said, standing and glancing at her watch. “We’ve got to get over to the Arts Center and make sure things are on track there.” We were holding most of the events at the Marlette Robbins Center for Fine Arts, a large facility recently built on the edge of town.
Cora nodded, but still headed off, I assumed to talk to the Hammer Man. I stood and pushed in my chair, resisting the urge to grab another roll for the road, and started following Bentley toward the door. At the last minute, she turned back to the table of authors and donned her business face. “Please know that every single agent at Novel Idea is here to assist you in any way—”
A metallic jingling sound interrupted the start of her spiel. We turned to see Cora leading a handsome middle-aged man our way. He was clad in jeans and a fitted T-shirt and wore a leather tool belt strapped around his waist. As he approached, his friendly smile faded and his eyes narrowed. I turned to see the object of his sudden switch in attitude and saw Lynn staring back with a wide-eyed expression. “Chuck?” she said, a slight tremble to her lower lip.
“Hello, Lynn. It’s been a while.”
My head ping-ponged between the two of them. This must be someone Lynn knew from when she lived in the area, but judging from the look on her face, she certainly wasn’t happy to see the guy.
“Oh, so you two already know each other,” Cora gushed. “Everyone else, this is Chuck Richards. Chuck’s helping me redo the butler’s pantry. It’s one of those projects I never got to when I renovated the rest of the kitchen.” She swept her hand around the room’s antique white cabinetry, granite counters, and state-of-the-art appliances with pride. Who could blame her? She’d done a marvelous job updating, while still maintaining much of the original integrity of the room. Her expression suddenly sobered. “But I am so sorry for the timing. I just hate it that everyone has to endure the noisiness. But Chuck was supposed to have started a couple of days before you all arrived. And”—she offered an apologetic shrug to us while tipping her head at him—“he promised the project wouldn’t take more than a day, two tops.”
Chuck shook his head. “I never promise. I estimate. And my previous job took longer than expected. And, actually, it’s looking like yours will now take two or three days.” He raised his palms upward. “Sorry, ladies, but you’ll just have to put up with the noise a little longer.”
Bentley eyed him pointedly. “I tell you what . . . uh, Chuck. The authors will be out this afternoon at a meeting, so you can make all the noise you want then. But it just won’t do to have them constantly disturbed by this racket for the next couple of days. They’ll need to be well rested and on top of their game for all the events. You could work out a schedule over, say, the next four days around their events so that—”
“I don’t really have time to work out a schedule around your events,” Chuck said, folding his arms across his chest and leveling his gaze on Bentley. “I’ve got other jobs this week and I’m trying to wrap things up because I’ve got a trip planned.” He sighed. “And last week, I took on a contract to do maintenance for the Arts Center. I’m a busy man.”
Bentley cast a furtive look Cora’s way. “Can’t this project wait for a while?”
Chuck shifted and gave her a hard glare. I knew Bentley was just being . . . well, Bentley. She knew no boundaries when it came to making things right for her authors and probably didn’t realize how officious her comments were sounding. Or, maybe she did. It would be just like Bentley to think she could change the handyman’s and Cora’s schedules to better suit her authors.
Cora answered with a shake of her head. “I’m afraid I’m booked solid for the next two months. I wouldn’t know when to get it done.”
Bentley drew in her breath and took a step forward. As quickly as I could, I stepped in and grabbed hold of her arm, while glancing at my watch. “You wanted to stop by the Arts Center to check on the other agents’ progress before heading over to the pub for the meeting, right?” It would be prudent to get her out of there before she said something even more offensive. I gently coaxed her away from Chuck before she could even switch gears to answer me. “Thank you for the tea, Cora. No need to see us out. We can manage just fine.” I cast a waning smile at Chuck as we passed by on our way to the front hall closet to retrieve our coats.
Bundled up and back outside again, Bentley turned to me. “Why’d you usher me out like that, Lila? I had something more I wanted to say to that arrogant jerk in there.”
No doubt. But telling her that she couldn’t boss around someone else’s hired help would only aggravate the situation. So instead I said, “With this snow and all, I know you didn’t want to be late to the Arts Center, right?”
Bentley stood a little straighter. “Absolutely.”
“Then we’d better get a move on.”
“I guess you’re right,” Bentley relented. “Besides, if a little extra noise is the only problem we have this week, then we’ll be in good shape.”
By one o’clock that afternoon we were gathered in the James Joyce Pub, a cozy, wood-paneled bar and grill located just down the street from the agency. The other agents and I often came here for business lunches, finding it easier to hash out contract details or divvy up assignments for upcoming author events over a pitcher of ale and a hearty bowl of Irish stew.
Today, I was seated at a table with my friend and fellow agent Flora Merriweather, who was raving about the shepherd’s pie. “You should really try this, Lila. The crust is just so flaky, and the meat . . .” She took a quick bite and rolled her eyes. “Mmm . . . so tender.”
Next to her, Jodi nodded in agreement. “It is divine. Does everyone in this town cook this well? The rolls Cora served with tea this morning were out of this world.”
“I’d say,” agreed Pam. “If I keep eating like this, I’m not going to fit into my jeans by the end of the week.”
I squinted at her slim figure and sighed, wondering if she seriously ever had to worry about her weight. “I believe Cora orders those from the Sixpence Bakery. Nell, the owner, makes wonderful baked goods. But Cora is a good cook in her own right; she’s . . .” My voice trailed off as I noticed that Lynn was only picking at her food. She’d hardly said a word since we’d arrived. “Is your food okay, Lynn?”
Her head popped up. “What?” Then, noticing that everyone was staring, she sighed and put down her fork. “I’m sorry to be such a downer. I have something on my mind, that’s all.”
I wanted to ask if that something, or rather someone, was the handyman whom she’d seemed to recognize earlier that morning, but Bentley’s voice interrupted. “Excuse me. If I can have your attention, please. Welcome, authors, to Inspiration Valley and to Novel Idea’s exclusive event, Booked for a Wedding. I’m proud to announce that, thanks to my hardworking agents, this week’s events are completely sold out!”
A round of applause erupted across the room. Bentley glanced over the rims of her bejeweled reading glasses and signaled toward our sports and screenplay agent, Zach Cohen, who stood and scooped up a thick stack of papers. “I’m sending around an itinerary of this week’s events,” Bentley continued. “Please take note of your assignments.”
I smiled and accepted my copy of the itinerary from Zach and glanced over the schedule. The sheer number of vendor booths and events scheduled for this week was dizzying. Thank goodness, the other agents and I had been able to convince Bentley to bring in an expert organization to help us coordinate this venture. Not that convincing Bentley was an easy task. True to her nature, she’d wanted the agency to take on the entire expo alone, but after a lot of arguing, and a threatened mutiny, Bentley wised up and hired Southern Belles Bridal Company, a professional wedding exposition group out of Raleigh. Their people brought with them their own nationally based exhibitors and a professional setup team to help transform the Marlette Robbins Center into a professional venue. However, the best part of the package was the ability to add our own local flavor to the event. In addition to the plethora of national vendors and keynote speakers, Southern Belles Bridal sent one of their reps, Ms. Lambert, to act as a local liaison for our own business community.
As if on cue, the pub’s door swung open and Ms. Lambert rushed in on a wintery blast of cold air, brushing snow from the faux-fur trim of her maxi coat. She shot Bentley an apologetic look and immediately headed for an empty chair at the head table. Jude Hudson, our agent representing thrillers and quite the lady thriller himself, immediately stood and pulled out her chair.
Bentley cleared her throat and continued, “Tomorrow is opening day and will commence with a meet and greet reception. There will be vendor booths set up throughout the Arts Center. We’ll also have a table near the entrance stocked with your books for customers to purchase. Each one of you will have your own table, which our agents have already set up with everything you’ll need to sign books as well as plenty of promotional materials to hand out to prospective readers. Remember, people, this is your chance to connect with your readers and sell your books.” She paused for a second to shuffle papers. “In the queue for tomorrow’s schedule is a reading from renowned author and local psychologist Dr. Sloan Meyers. She’ll be reading from her blockbuster hit, Strong Women: Strong Marriages.”
Everyone began clapping, their eyes drawn to the table where Dr. Meyers sat with Franklin Stafford, our nonfiction agent. He had several authors to keep track of this week, including a popular author of wedding craft books and a woman who’d written a top seller about budget-friendly weddings.
Bentley adjusted her glasses and continued, “Then, on Tuesday night, the main attraction will be our display of unique wedding cake creations from both local and statewide bakers.”
“Yes, that’s right.” All eyes turned to Ms. Lambert, who’d stood and was now addressing the room in her sweet southern drawl. “And everyone in attendance will have a chance to taste these marvelous creations, too.”
Bentley took a couple of steps forward, removed her readers, and leveled her gaze on the woman. “Thank you, Ms. Lambert,” she said tightly. “Everyone, this is Ms. Trudy Lambert. She’s the local coordinator from Southern Belles Bridal Company. Her organization is responsible for the wonderful setup you’ll see later at the Marlette Robbins Center for Fine Arts.” Bentley paused politely while everyone clapped for Ms. Lambert. “And right before the cake display and tasting”—she nodded toward the coordinator, who took the hint and sat back down—“patrons will be treated to a reading from one of our newest clients, Lynn Werner.” Bentley pointed our way. “Ms. Werner is a promising writer of cozy mysteries. We thought her reading would appropriately accompany Tuesday’s cake theme, since the murder victim in her mystery was found facedown in a wedding cake.”
A chorus of spirited laughter broke across the room along with an enthusiastic round of clapping. Poor Lynn, not used to so much attention, shrank back in her chair, her face flushing. But she didn’t have to endure the scrutiny for long, because a series of sharp yaps and high-pitched whimpers sounded from the other side of the pub’s front door. Zach hurried over to investigate, opening the door and allowing a little brown and white dog to dart inside.
“Zach!” Bentley started to admonish, but stopped when the dog came to her side and pawed at her legs, whimpering and shivering. I held my breath, thinking surely Bentley would be upset that the pooch was pawing her designer trousers, but instead my usually fastidious boss bent over and rubbed her hand between the dog’s fluffy ears. “Well, who do we have here?” she cooed. And then, “Oh my goodness, you’re so cold. You poor thing.” I watched in amazement as she squatted down lower, repositioned her readers on her nose, and leaned in to examine the dog’s ID tag. “Olive. What a cute name.”
Olive? That sounded familiar. Then I remembered that I’d seen this dog last summer at the pet shop down the street. Of course, it was just a puppy then, but how many Cavalier King Charles spaniels named Olive could there be in this town?
“Lila!” Bentley called out. “Go find this cutie pie’s owner. This sweet little thing shouldn’t be out in this snowy weather. We’ll keep her here until you get back.”
Cutie pie? Sweet little thing? That was a shocker. Bentley never used endearments. Who’d have thought our can’t-keep-a-houseplant-watered, all-business boss would ever have a soft spot for animals? And a dog inside a restaurant? I wasn’t sure how that was going to go over with the James Joyce Pub people. I shot a furtive glance at Flora, but she simply shrugged and offered to have the waitress keep my plate warm for me. So I slipped back into my coat and headed out in search of the dog’s owner.
* * *
MY BREATH CAME out in sharp white bursts as I made my way up and down High Street, searching for anyone who might have lost a dog. I wasn’t having much luck. Determined, though, I continued walking, passing by Sherlock Holmes Realty and the Sixpence Bakery. When I reached the corner, I decided to cut through the town’s small center park, pausing for a second to admire the Nine Muses fountain. Even though the water had been drained in anticipation of colder weather, the fountain, with its nine beautiful goddesses, was still awe-inspiring. Today, the goddesses seemed to have dressed for the weather, the snow making it appear like they were wearing white shawls and fluffy caps.
Then, as I gazed in wonderment, the sun peeked out from behind a cloud, causing the snow to sparkle like diamonds. Like magic, their shawls and caps were transformed into dazzling sequined attire, fit for a wedding party. I couldn’t help but let my mind wander to visions of my own dazzling yet-to-be-chosen wedding gown—maybe I’d find the perfect one this week! Along with my work duties, I hoped to get a lot of personal wedding planning done with my best friend and our local barista, Makayla. To our delight, we’d both become engaged just last summer. Which made planning our weddings double the fun.
On an impulse, I opened my cell and called my fiancé, Detective Sean Griffiths. I apologized for calling him at work, but he said he was glad to take a break from his paperwork. He was immediately concerned whether I was calling because of still feeling blue. Ever since Christmas break ended and my son, Trey, had headed back to UNC Wilmington, I’d been a bit in the dumps. “If you’re thinking about Trey, don’t worry, Lila. I’m sure he’s doing fine. Besides, it’ll be spring break before you know it and then he’ll be back and eating you out of house and home.”
I laughed. So true. Trey had recently developed an interest in cooking, and his new hobby had taken its toll on my food budget. “Actually,” I said, “Bentley’s got us all hopping enough that I haven’t had time to worry as much about Trey.” Then I told Sean about my hunt for the wayward dog’s owner, and he suggested calling the pet store, where I’d seen what I thought might be the same puppy last summer. If it was the same dog, they might have records on the buyer.
But I didn’t need to call. I glanced across the street and noticed the lights were on at All Creatures, Feathered and Furry. The store wasn’t usually open on Sundays, but it looked like the owner, Matt, might be in doing a little extra work.
“Hello, Matt?” I called out, entering through the shop’s main door. The place appeared to be empty. “Matt?”
Somewhere in the back of the store I heard a soft swishing noise. I made my way down the cat toy aisle, my eyes catching here and there on new little treats I’d love to buy for Eliot, an orphaned cat our office manager, Vicky, had introduced to the agency last summer. “Matt?” I called out again. “It’s Lila.”
“I’m back here,” he answered.
I finally found him in the back corner of the store near the puppy and kitty area. He was stooped over sweeping up water and broken glass. Pieces of splintered wood and sea coral littered the floor around him. “Oh no! What happened?”
He stopped sweeping and glared up at me. My stomach gave a little lurch. With his larger-than-a-linebacker size, Matt was an imposing figure under any circumstances, but I’d never seen him look angry before. It was more than a little intimidating. “I’ll tell you what happened. That menacing little mutt killed half my fish. Look at all this damage! Do you know how much this setup cost me?”
“Olive?” I asked, my eyes roaming to what must have been a very large saltwater aquarium. It looked like the stand had been tipped over. “You think Olive did this?”
“Well, what should I think? I’d just come by to check on a few things and when I opened the door that dog shot out of here like a bat out of hell. Come over here,” he said, leading me to the area where he kept puppies. “Look at this.”
I’d always liked the way Matt set up his shop. He housed only a few animals at a time, all of them “last chance” animals brought in from shelters across the state. He kept the dogs in a large, open pen where they could trot around and play together. “I’ve only got one cat and two other dogs right now. They’ve been going home with me in the evenings and on the weekends, but Olive . . .” His voice trailed off as he shook his head and pointed down at the doorframe, which looked like it’d been attacked by a shark. “That darn dog’s chewed it to the point where I can’t even get the door to shut anymore. That dog’s such a pain in the—”
“I’m sorry, Matt. This looks like a huge mess. It’s hard to believe that one little dog could do this much damage.”
He shook his head. “You don’t even know the half of it. You should see what she did to our house last time I took her home. My wife is still upset about it. You know, I’m glad that dog is gone. For all I care, she can fend for herself out there on the streets!”
I had to keep from laughing at the absurdity of this statement. When I first met Matt I was taken aback, alarmed even, by his imposing physical stature, immediately thinking of Lennie Small, Steinbeck’s lumbering character in Of Mice and Men. Not a good thing, since Lennie often killed the animals in his care. But as I’d come to know Matt, especially the uncanny rapport he had with the animals in his store, I’d begun to think of him more like Lofting’s Dr. Dolittle. Admittedly, I sometimes caught myself wondering if Matt actually did possess a secret ability to talk to animals. But one thing I knew for sure: He cared. He cared for every animal he ever came across, and Olive was no exception.
“Oh, is that so?” I bantered back. “Are you sure you don’t care about what’s happened to her?”
He suddenly looked concerned. “Why? Do you know where she is?”
“Thought you didn’t care.”
He shuffled a bit, the corners of his lips tugging into a little grin. “It’s just that it’s hard telling what type of trouble she might get into. I’d hate for her to bother anyone else.”
“In that case, you should probably know that she’s at the pub.”
His eyes popped open. “At the pub? You mean outside the pub, right?”
“Oh for cryin’ out loud!” He threw up his hands and headed straight for the door, pausing only to grab his jacket off the front counter. “I swear, this dog is going to be the death of me,” he mumbled.
I bit my lip to keep from laughing and followed, struggling to keep up with his long-legged pace as we made our way back to the pub. When we got there, the authors were out on the curb, loading into the large SUVs Bentley had rented for the week to shuttle them around town. A man on a mission, Matt elbowed his way through the crowd and into the pub with me on his heels.
To my surprise, Bentley was still there, sitting in a chair with the dog on her lap. Franklin and Flora were there, too, both of them fawning over Olive. “There you are, Olive,” Matt said, reaching down for the dog.
Bentley pulled Olive a little closer. “Aren’t you the man who owns the pet store?”
I stepped forward. “Matt, this is Ms. Bentley Burlington-Duke, owner of Novel Idea Literary Agency. Bentley, Matt Reynolds.” I introduced Flora and Franklin, too, while I reached down and scratched between willing ears. “It seems Olive escaped from the store earlier. Matt’s been looking everywhere for her.”
Matt shot me an appreciative look and reached again for the dog. “I can take her now. Thank you for keeping her safe, Ms. Duke.”
“Bentley, please.” My boss smiled warmly at Matt but made no move to hand the dog over.
Matt dropped his hands and shuffled awkwardly. Flora and I exchanged a surprised look. This was the calmest we’d seen Bentley in almost a month. Even though we’d brought in a professional service to facilitate the wedding portion of Booked for a Wedding, there was still a lot of ground to cover just preparing for and managing the authors and their tasks. Not to mention that Bentley and Ms. Lambert, the coordinator from Southern Belles Bridal Company . . . Well, let’s just say there were one too many lionesses in the den. All this, plus the unexpected snow, made for a lot of stress. But watching Bentley now, nestling the sweet little fluff ball of a dog, you’d think she didn’t have a care in the world.
“You know,” Franklin, our nonfiction expert, said, “just last year, I signed on the most wonderful author. He wrote this book about how dogs improve our lives.” He adjusted the cashmere scarf tied around his neck. Franklin was the most senior agent at Novel Idea and a true southern gentleman at heart. I noticed that his normally fluffy gray hair was tamer than usual and his matching mustache neatly trimmed. He must have made a trip to the barber in preparation for this week’s events. “Just a marvelous book,” he continued. “And if I remember correctly, he’d cited many professionals who claim that owning a dog reduces stress. Even helps lower blood pressure.”
“That’s right,” Bentley concurred. “I remember that book. What was its title again?”
“Get a New Leash on Life,” Franklin said, tipping his chin up slightly. “A bestseller, of course.”
“Of course,” Bentley resounded.
“I completely agree with that theory,” Matt stated. “Except when it comes to Olive. You see, Olive is a handful, I’m afraid.”
“A handful?” Bentley narrowed her eyes. “What do you mean? She seems perfect to me.”
“She usually does. It’s only after you get to know her that her true personality shines through. In fact, she’s been returned twice now.”
“Returned?” Bentley clutched Olive little tighter. “Whatever for?”
I eyed the pup, thinking about the chewed doorframe and the demolished fish tank. I knew why. Despite her sweet face and innocent brown eyes, this adorable little spaniel was a tornado of destruction.
Then I heard Bentley saying, “I think I’ll volunteer to be her foster mommy this week. I’ve been under a lot of stress lately, and if what Franklin says is true, this little pup will be good for me.”
Matt drew in a deep breath. “You might want to reconsider. Olive’s not at all the typical Cavalier King Charles spaniel. She’s needy, demands a lot of attention, and barks and whines when she doesn’t get her way.”
Bentley held the dog at arm’s length and stared into her deep brown eyes. “Well, I can see why she would. She knows she’s too adorable to be ignored or not get her way, don’t you think?”
No one answered. Flora and I looked at each other, both of us no doubt thinking the same thing: It seemed that Olive and Bentley had a lot in common.
As soon as I opened the truck’s door Monday morning, I was affronted by a blast of heat and about a hundred decibels of Patsy Cline’s soulful voice. “Loud enough, Mama?” I asked, shoving aside a couple of full grocery bags and climbing into the passenger side of her 1970s turquoise pickup truck.
“What’s that, darlin’?” she shouted.
I reached over, turned down the radio, and settled back into the seat with a sigh. “Nothing. Good morning, Mama.”
“Good mornin’, sug. Beautiful outside, isn’t it? Looks like someone shook a white bedsheet over the world.”
I smiled, thinking she’d just come up with the perfect analogy. “I don’t think I ever remember it snowing this much in the Valley.” The tires crunched over the packed road as we pulled away from the curb. I waved at my neighbor, Mrs. Bailey, who was outside sweeping snow off her front steps. “Thanks again for the ride, Mama. I wasn’t sure how the Vespa would handle on these roads.”
“Don’t mention it. Needed a few things from the store anyhow.”
I glanced into one of the paper bags from our local grocery store, How Green Was My Valley. “Looks like you’re cooking for a crowd. Are you having a party or something?”
She chuckled tightly, her eyes darting my way for a second. “A party? Why, no, sugar.” Another chuckle. “I’m just workin’ on a few recipes, that’s all.” She chuckled a little more, which was one too many chuckles. I narrowed my eyes, wondering what was going on, but thought better than to ask. As busy as my schedule was this week, it might be better not to know.
She tapped a container on the seat. “Made a little too much banana bread yesterday. Thought you and the other agents might need some extra fuel to start your busy week.”
I snatched up the container and thanked her. Mama made the most amazing banana bread in the world. In fact, “amazing” was the word people used to describe everything about my mother, including her special gift. “Do you have a busy workday planned?” Mama, or the Amazing Althea as most people called her, earned her living as a psychic advisor, specializing in tarot cards and palm readings.
“Reckon I will. That’s not my prediction, mind you. I’m just goin’ on what Flora told me.”
“Flora?” What was she talking about?
“That friend of yours from the agency.”
I drew in a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “I know who Flora is. What does she have to do with your work today?”
The back tire slid a little as Mama downshifted and made a turn onto one of the snow-packed side streets. “She didn’t tell you? I’m working at the expo all week.”
“I’ll be helpin’ one of the authors, Pam somethin’ or another. Flora said her books have a fortune-teller in them. Said that’s why the books are so popular. Seems Pam’s readers are fascinated with people like me. People with the gift.” She lifted her head slightly. “Anyway, Flora thought it would be interestin’ if I sat at Pam’s table and offered readings to folks, kind of like I was the fortune-teller in the books.”
“Have you ever read one of Pam Fox’s books?”
Mama shook her head. “Can’t say that I have. But they must be good. She’s a bestseller, right?”
“Uh-huh.” I pressed my lips together, trying not to crack a smile. Yes, Pam was a bestseller, but I wasn’t sure it was the fortune-teller that kept people turning the pages as much as the hot romance. Nonetheless, I had to admit, Flora was a genius. Bringing to life one of Pam’s characters? Well, that was simply brilliant. Readers were going to be drawn to Pam’s table like flies to honey. Although I wasn’t sure I liked the idea of my mother being put on display in such a manner. “You’re not going to be wearing a costume, are you?” Hopefully Flora hadn’t decided to dress her up like a snake charmer.
“A costume? Why would I need a costume?”
Thank goodness. “You don’t. You’re perfect just the way you are,” I said, glancing across the seat. Underneath her long parka and fur-lined boots, I knew she was more than likely wearing her normal attire: an ankle-length skirt well suited to her tall figure, paired with a flowing blouse in a rich hue of either purple or gold—majestic colors, according to Mama. Today she’d taken extra care to tie her long silver hair back in a braid and accent her wrists and fingers with turquoise jewelry.
She adjusted the knob for the defroster and said, “Startin’ a new life with someone can be unsettlin’ for a lot of people. Maybe something I tell one of the brides might bring a little comfort for them or keep them from makin’ a terrible mistake.”
I sat a little straighter. “A mistake? What do you mean?” But I knew what she meant. I thought back to my own wedding, when Mama came rushing in at the last moment, a tarot card in hand and a dire warning on her lips. “Don’t marry him, sugar,” she’d warned. “He’s going to break your heart. It’s right here in the cards.”
“You can’t do that, Mama. Even if you get a bad reading off someone, you can’t tell them not to get married. That’s not what this week’s all about. It’s supposed to be a positive experience for the attendees.”
“Well, I can’t very well let them go off and make the mistake of a lifetime, now, can I? It’s my duty, after all—the burden that I carry for havin’ the gift.” She sighed dramatically. “Anyway, I’m just the messenger. It’s really the cards that hold the answers.”
I rolled my eyes and wondered if Flora knew what she’d signed up for when she asked Mama to act the part of a fortune-teller. She probably thought that was all there was to my mother’s gift: acting. Not that I blamed Flora. As much as I hated to admit it, I often found myself torn between being skeptical of my mama’s gift and in awe of her uncannily accurate predictions.
I rubbed at the knot forming on the back of my neck. Fortunately, we were pulling onto High Street and the agency was just ahead. “Just drop me at the door,” I told her. “And thanks for the ride.”
Mama carefully maneuvered through the back lot and alongside the stairs that led up to the agency. She put the truck in gear and turned my way. “Say, darlin’, do you have a few minutes?”
I glanced at my watch and then longingly toward the back door of Espresso Yourself, the local coffee shop located just below our agency. I’d hoped to have enough time to pop in, say hello to the owner and my best friend, Makayla, and grab a caramel latte to start my busy day. I sighed. “Sure, Mama. What is it?”
She hesitated. “Oh, nothin’ that can’t wait, I suppose. You go along now. I’ll be seein’ you this afternoon at the Arts Center.”
I leaned across the seat, gave her a quick peck on the cheek, and grabbed my banana bread, which was going to go great with my coffee. “Love you, Mama,” I said, sliding out the door.
* * *
Excerpted from "Off the Books"
Copyright © 2016 Lucy Arlington.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
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
A wedding-themed week. What could possibly go wrong? In Off the Books, Lucy Arlington (a pen name of cozy author Susan Furlong) takes us back to Inspiration Valley where literary agent Lila Wilkins works with a collection of interesting colleagues, deals with her fortune-telling mother and college-confused son, enjoys a variety of local friendships, and is involved with the town’s police detective. In each installment of this fun series, the literary agency helps produce a lavish event of some sort, bringing together vendors and authors around a theme. This time the theme is weddings, especially appealing to Lila since she is planning her own wedding to Detective Sean Griffiths. Visiting vendors and authors, each with an ego and many with secrets and grudges, provide ample suspects in the most recent Inspiration Valley murder, and Lila’s determined questioning and investigating put her in danger. This is a fun read, and it will keep the reader guessing about how the many and varied threads will come together. Happily recommended.
Great Book! This is a great book; this is the fifth book in the Novel Idea series by Lucy Arlington/Susan Furlong-Bolliger. This book can be read as a standalone, but you will want to go back and read the other books. Lila Wilkins is literary agent and works for the Novel Idea Literary Agency. They have planned a wedding themed week for Inspiration Valley and showcasing the authors Lila works with. Lila is excited about the event because it will help her plan her own wedding. What she hadn’t planned was finding a dead man face down in the frosting. Lila and her fellow agents put their sleuthing skills to the test to find out what happened. If you are looking for a great mystery that will keep you guessing until the end then you need to read this book. I am looking forward to reading the next book by this wonderful author. A Review copy was provided to me in exchange for a fair and honest review. The free book held no determination on my personal review.
This is the fifth installment in the "Novel Idea Mysteries" series and by far my favorite of the five. Lucy Arlington has written "the" definitive cozy mystery with this installment. This book stands alone for those that have not read the entire series. The setting is Inspiration Valley in the Balsam Mountains of North Carolina which is described to perfection and a enjoyable part of this lovely cozy mystery . Lila Wilkins, the book’s protagonist character, is one of The Novel Idea Agencies literary agents. She is also engaged to be married in the near future to a local detective, Sean Griffiths. Their romance has been building through the previous four books. Lila and her agency are involved in planning a key wedding event for the area that will include their wedding mystery theme authors as well as bridal events. Lila hope to include some of her own wedding planning during the event as well as showcase her favorite authors. The event occurs during a driving snowstorm which adds suspense to the event from the beginning. The event promises to be a great success as they plan to include cozy mystery authors with wedding theme books to do readings . Some of their best novelists are going to share readings from their current books and sell autographed copies. Some brides-to-be will be able to view gowns, taste elegant cake attend wedding seminars, sip wines or champagne as they meet authors of fiction and non-fiction books with a marriage theme. Lila has a new author who will read from her cozy mystery soon to be published, whose bridegroom gets killed off early in the book. The suspense begins along with the fun of the event and the surprises are many as clues begin to add up. The new author is the prime suspect and Lila must work to clear her name and find the read killer. As a amateur sleuth Lily is portrayed perfectly as she begins to find clues that lead her in different directions. She enlists the help of her agency to assist her which only adds to the fun. The author has written all the characters and situations to perfection with great interest to the reader as each character has a important part to play in the solving of the mystery. The mystery has the perfect blend of suspects and suspense. Each character is perfection and adds to the story. Their is a perfect balance here of plots and suspects which only add to the fun of this book. The writing is fast paced which makes this all the more fun to read from cover to cover. I was unable to put this book down and reading it felt like a great indulgence for the afternoon. I enjoyed the aspect of learning about producing a book and the process authors go through. Its a nice addition to this series to learn more in each book about the protagonists career. I found this book highly entertaining. I loved the descriptions of the Literary agency, the character development and the mystery which will kept me guessing until the end. The location is beautiful and a nice balance to the story. It is somewhere we would all like to visit and the characters are people you wish were friends. I look forward to the next in the series. I highly recommend "Off The Books" for your reading delight.
Inspiration Valley is a wonderful place to live, but be aware that murder has taken up residence here. The authors who arrived for Novel Idea Literary Agency's weeklong event are stunned when they are caught up in a murder investigation. They didn't know that they had a murder magnet in their midst. Lila Wilkins is a literary agent at Novel Idea. She's always in the thick of things. I liked her. She's intelligent, observant and full of spunk. Her sleuthing drew me into the story and kept me reading. I needed to find out who killed Chuck, the handy man. He made enemies easily and with good reason. Who hated him enough to kill him? There are plenty of suspects and potential motives. I was without a clue as to the killer until the surprise twist at the very end. I couldn't figure out who the culprit was. I loved the secondary characters. They added so much drama to the story. Also, the dialogue filled with literary names was amusing. Lila's mama is a hoot. I know who Lila takes after. However, the biggest troublemaker is a small bundle of fur known as Olive. Lucy Arlington just keeps getting better. I love this series (A Novel Idea Mystery).
This is one of my favorite cozy mystery series to read. What more is there to like a cozy town, fun characters, books, mystery and in this book a wedding themed celebration. Once again we get to help Lila try to figure out who killed a man. Just when you think you have it all figured out the author throws you for a loop and you have to think again. The mountains in this book sound like such a great place to visit - without the murder of course. Also in this book we get to learn a little more about Lila's mother which was nice. I liked how the bridal expo was tied into the theme of this book. The writing style flows so that I read this book in just two days. If you are looking for a good book to read on your snow day or rainy day then this would be one that would recommend. This is a part of a series but it can also be read as a stand along but I bet you will want to go back and catch up with the Lila and her friends. I will be looking forward to the next book by this author.
This is the 5th book in this series. I have not read the other books in this series but will definitely go back and read the rest of the series. Lila works for Novel Literary Agency and they are holding a week long wedding themed event. Lila finds some one murdered and works on solving the murder. I thought I had the murder figured out but was wrong. So the author will keep you guessing. This book can be read as a stand alone book but you will want to read the rest of them. I was given this book in exchange for an honest review.
Off The Books is another hit in this enjoyable series. Fans of intelligent and well written mysteries will love this one. The characters are wonderful and fully developed, even the minor ones. Going back to Inspiration Valley, North Carolina is like visiting with good friends. Lila Wilkins is an intelligent protagonist. Her friends and coworkers are a diverse group - from her fortune telling mother to her type-A boss. A wedding expo is the site of most of the action in this one. Enjoy this incredible new release, then do yourself a favor and read the first ones as well!!
‘Off the Books’ is Lucy Arlington’s fifth offering in A Novel Idea Mystery series; to me, it is the best one so far! One can enjoy this as a standalone as well as in sequence with the series. The characters, mysteries, and setting combined are an exciting, intriguing cozy mystery. Lila Wilkins is a literary agent for The Novel Idea Literary Agency, owned by Bentley, a hard-driving Type A+ woman who is highly successful and highly stressed. The agency is preparing for the bridal expo, one of many events they coordinate to highlights their authors and include local businesses. Some of their novelists are going to share readings from their current books and sell autographed copies. Some brides-to-be view exquisite gowns, taste elegant cakes, and attend various wedding planning seminars, others taste wines or champagne as they meet authors of fiction and non-fiction books with a marriage theme. Lila has a new author who will read from her cozy mystery soon to be published, whose bridegroom gets killed off early in the book – and marriage. Lila’s mother, the Amazing Althea, sat with an author and gave palm or tarot readings to those interested. On opening day, Lila finds the new handyman for the arts center, dead in the walk-in fridge, murdered, face down in one of the custom wedding cakes. Lila’s new author, Lynn, is the main suspect, partly due to what is in her novel. The more Lila tries to clear her, the more both her author, and several other people related to the expo, have reasons to want the man dead are revealed. The setting is Inspiration Valley, snuggled into the Balsam Mountains of North Carolina, sounds like a dream vacation waiting to happen. Snow is falling, and some of the authors are put up at the Magnolia B&B featured on the cover. The author paints beautiful word pictures of the area. Lila is an open book; her candor and even insecurities are refreshing. Other characters are defined as required for their roles; their conversations and actions highlight who they are. We learn more about Bentley as well as Lila’s mother, Althea, but see less of her BFF Makayla. Seeing a bit of Bentley’s heart was refreshing even while seeing subtle changes in Lila and her mother’s relationship as a result of conflict. Oh, and I do hope we have opportunity to meet Olive again! The plot had sufficient twists and turns to keep this reader guessing! I was impressed with Bentley’s new attitude towards solving the crime; murder had again touched one of her signature events so it had to be fixed! Lila wanted to keep her word to her fiancé and mother, yet she really wanted to clear Lynn totally convinced she didn’t do it. This story invited me in from the start and didn’t let go until the very satisfying end. I enjoyed how the author used the various aspects of wedding planning with the mystery; the brides had a great opportunity to do more than go through bridal magazines and dart into a store to buy a gown or hire a planner. It was helpful to see various aspects through Lila’s eyes as she began planning her wedding. I highly recommend ‘Off the Books’ to those who enjoyed other books in the series, those who are fans of mysteries that stymie the reader, and appreciate intricacies of family relationships and friends. With a grateful heart, I received a copy of this book from the author for the purpose of providing an honest review. The opinions expressed are my own and no further compensation was received.
Lila Wilkins is looking forward to the upcoming bridal expo, not only to get some ideas for her future wedding to Sean, but also to sponsor several of the Novel Idea Literary Agency's authors. Although she is a little frustrated because Sean still hasn't given her an engagement ring nor has he worked with her to set a date. But this all gets put on the back burner when she once again stumbles across a murder victim and the two main suspects are their own authors. With the reputation of the agency at stake, owner Bentley rallies her employees together and asked each of them to keep their listening ears on and find clues to the murder to exonerate their clients. This is the 5th book in the Novel Idea Mystery series and as with the others, presents a great mystery with clues and interesting characters. I love Lila's psychic mother, her son Trey and his newfound career, and it was also fun meeting Bentley's new adopted pet, Olive, an adorable Cavalier King Charles Spaniel puppy. Although initially it seemed that the only two suspects were authors Lynn and Jodi, Lila soon uncovered several other suspects with equally valid motives, including her mother's new friend. I look forward to the next book in this series to see how the main characters continue to evolve. Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Off the Books is my favorite Novel Idea mystery to date. Lila is written as a believable character...her flaws, insecurities, and emotions make her very likeable and easy to relate to. I loved reading about the latest adventures as Lila and the Novel Idea Literary Agency hold their latest event...a wedding themed event. Lila and her friend are attending events to help plan their weddings while Lila is trying to keep her ears open for clues to solve a murder. The plot twists will keep you guessing until the end. I can honestly say I didn't see the ending coming as it did. I cannot wait for the next adventures of Lila and the gang!
Off The Books is the fifth book in the A Novel Idea Mystery series. Lila Wilkins is looking forward to the upcoming event that The Novel Idea Literary Agency has planned, as it couldn't have come at a better time. Novel Idea is having a wedding themed week. The event will have many vendors covering all facets the bride-to-be will need for her wedding. Also in attendance, will be the agencies author's wedding related books. As the event is about to begin, a repairman, Chuck Richards, to repair a refrigerator before the wedding cakes that are inside are ruined. When Lila, the “murder magnet” as her co-workers call her, goes to check on the repairs, she finds Richards face down in one of the wedding cakes, dead. The prime suspect is Lila's soon to be published author, Lynn Werner, the ex-wife of Richards. Lila soon learns that Richards, wasn't the handiest of handymen and begins to wonder if possibly a former customer was so upset with his work and got their revenge by killing Richards. I always enjoy spending some time In Inspiration Valley and with the staff of Novel Idea, who may have some difference from time to time, but it's at a time of need they will put their differences aside and work together. Would love to see more of the staff at Novel Idea and the enjoyable residents of Inspiration Valley.
The delightful Novel Idea mysteries get better and better with every installment! Author Lucy Arlington aka Susan Furlong has such a fluid way of writing. Her words let you glide through a book at a pleasant pace. OFF THE BOOKS takes readers back to Inspiration Valley, NC where our favorite literary agent, Lila Wilkins is busy showcasing her authors at a bridal expo. Nothing could go wrong with that, right? Oh so wrong. Lila comes across a body who was killed in a way not often (if ever) mentioned in a cozy. Well played, Ms. Arlington! OFF THE BOOKS is a marvelous whodunit of page turning, unpredictable intrigue and fun. Each chapter brought more questions that really kept me guessing. I did not see the ending of this on coming. Wow. The Novel Idea series is a must read for mystery fans! Make sure to check out the back of the book for an excerpt of, REST IN PEACH, Book 2 in the Georgia Peach Mysteries by Susan Furlong!
In Off the Books, Lila is helping prepare for a bridal expo jointly presented by an event organizer and the literary agency she works for. The event no sooner gets started than Lila, already nicknamed the "murder magnet" by some in town, finds yet another corpse. This one turns out to have been murdered in a way suggestive of scenes from two of her agency's authors' books. With A Novel Idea's reputation at stake, Lila's boss decides that the staff of the agency need to band together to find out who the real murderer is. An unusual method of murder and a plethora of suspects kept me guessing until the end, and Lila's personal life kept it interesting as well. I enjoyed getting to know the staff at A Novel Idea and Lila's family and friends, and can't wait to return to Inspiration Valley to learn more about them. I've already picked up book #1 in the series so that I can catch up. I would highly recommend this one to all cozy mystery lovers, or to anyone who has ever thought about publishing a book (or is even a little bit curious about the process). I enjoyed the glimpses into Lila's professional life - enough to give you a taste of a literary agent's life but not bog down the story with too many details. NOTE: I received a free copy from the author in exchange for my honest review.