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"Brown mixes laugh out loud observations about the acting life with a witty and intriguing mystery. Consider yourself warned. Oliver Twisted is a fast-paced addictive read impossible to put down until Ivy has caught the killer." - D.E. Ireland, Agatha Award-Nominated Author of Move Your Blooming Corpse
"A fun and rollicking mystery at sea with a delightfully twisty plot and a heartfelt heroine who is as entertaining as she is soulful. I highly recommend this series. More please!" - John Clement, Author of the Dixie Hemingway Mysteries
"This gut-splitting mystery is a hilarious riff on an avant-garde production of 'the Scottish play'...Combining humor and pathos can be risky in a whodunit, but gifted author Brown makes it work." - Mystery Scene Magazine (on Macdeath)
"A definite delight...sit back, wait for the curtain to rise on this one, and then have a whole lot of fun figuring out whodunit." - Suspense Magazine (on The Sound of Murder)
"Ivy is a delight! She's sweet, smart, and a little zany. You'll find yourself laughing out loud as you race through the pages." - April Henry, New York Times Bestselling Author of Lethal Beauty (on The Sound of Murder)
Orphans. Thieves. Murder. And an All-You-Can-Eat Buffet!
When Ivy Meadows lands a gig with the book-themed cruise line Get Lit!, she thinks she's died and gone to Broadway. Not only has she snagged a starring role in a musical production of Oliver Twist, she's making bank helping her PI uncle investigate a string of onboard thefts, all while sailing to Hawaii on the S.S. David Copperfield.
But Ivy is cruising for disaster. Her acting contract somehow skipped the part about aerial dancing forty feet above the stage, her uncle Bob is seriously sidetracked by a suspicious blonde, and-oh yeah-there's a corpse in her closet.
Forget catching crooks. Ivy's going to have a Dickens of a time just surviving.
Related subjects include: cozy mysteries, women sleuths, murder mystery series, whodunit mysteries (whodunnit), amateur sleuth books, book club recommendations, humorous murder mysteries, private investigator mystery series.
Books in the Ivy Meadows Humorous Mystery Series:
• MACDEATH (#1)
• THE SOUND OF MURDER (#2)
• OLIVER TWISTED (#3)
Part of the Henery Press Mystery Series Collection, if you like one, you'll probably like them all...
Cindy Brown has been a theater geek (musician, actor, director, producer, and playwright) since her first professional gig at age 14. Now a full-time writer, she's lucky enough to have garnered several awards (including 3rd place in the 2013 international Words With Jam First Page Competition, judged by Sue Grafton!) and is an alumnus of the Squaw Valley Writers Workshop. The first Ivy Meadows mystery, Macdeath, was an Agatha Award nominee for Best First Novel. Though Cindy and her husband now live in Portland, Oregon, she made her home in Phoenix, Arizona for more than 25 years and knows all the good places to hide dead bodies in both cities.
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|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.60(d)|
Read an Excerpt
Summoned into Another World
"You okay, Olive ... er, Ivy, or uh, should I call you Nancy?" said my uncle, sticking his foot further and further in his mouth.
I should have known Uncle Bob would be the one to blow our cover. After all, he was just a private investigator, while I was a professional actor. But I didn't think he'd blow it so quickly. We'd been undercover on the S.S. David Copperfield for less than six hours and weren't supposed to know each other. Luckily, the security guard didn't notice that my uncle called me by my real name instead of what was printed on my nametag.
Probably because there was a dead body in the room.
Our adventure on the high seas began early that morning on dry land (very dry land: Uncle Bob and I lived in Phoenix).
"OMG," I texted my uncle, who stood in line in front of me at the airline gate at Phoenix Sky Harbor. "Is that a Rolex?"
He chuckled as he read my message, then my cell announced his reply: "Nice fake, huh?"
Uncle Bob had ditched his usual Hawaiian shirt and cargo shorts in favor of Wranglers, a pearl-snap-buttoned Western shirt, a big silver belt buckle, the fake Rolex, and a gold bolo tie with a steer in the center, fashioned out of what looked like diamonds. I couldn't compliment him on his stunning ensemble because we were already undercover, and I had to act like I didn't know him. We'd been hired to investigate a string of thefts aboard a cruise line. Uncle Bob was pretending to be a guest — a wealthy rancher — and I was posing as one of the actors in the onboard show. That's right, we were getting paid to cruise to Hawaii (Hawaii!), plus we'd each get a ten-thousand-dollar bonus if we found evidence that would stand up in court. Nice work if you can get it.
On the plane, I settled into an aisle seat across from my uncle. Even though I couldn't talk to him, I still liked being near him. As I buckled myself in, the elderly man who had the window seat in my row tapped me on the shoulder. "I'll probably fall asleep," he said, leaning over the open seat between us. "I might sound like I'm choking, but don't worry. It's just the way I sleep."
I nodded, pulled out a copy of the script the cruise line had sent me, and began to reread it. I'd only had a few days to prep, but would've jumped on a plane right away for a chance like this. Working part-time at my uncle's PI firm kept me financially afloat, but just barely. My car had recently failed emissions, so I was in desperate need of funds and had no acting work lined up. When I learned about the cruise, the money, and the fact that I'd play Nancy in the onboard musical version of Oliver Twist, I felt like I'd died and gone to Broadway.
"SNOrkLER!" said my now-asleep seatmate. Wow. Good thing he warned me.
"And what takes you to San Francisco?" The fortyish blonde sitting next to Uncle Bob drew out her words in the manner of a Western rural-dweller.
"I'm goin' on a cruise, ma'am."
Ma'am? And was that a drawl? Maybe acting ran in the family.
"I am too. Which cruise line are you on?"
"Get Lit! Cruises."
"Me too." The woman sounded delighted. "Thought it'd be a hoot to learn something new."
Get Lit! was a high-end literature-themed cruise line designed to appeal to readers, to families who wanted their kids to take an interest in the classics, and to cruisers who wanted to feel like they were getting an education and a buffet. There were Shakespeare cruises and Jane Austen cruises and Mark Twain riverboat cruises, and ...
"Did you hear about the Jack London incident?" she asked.
On the Alaskan cruise in question, a pack of huskies got loose and ran rampant through the dining room. The dogs were rounded up, but not before eating five hundred pounds of steak dinners, several Baked Alaskas, and a mink coat.
"Yeah, but the dogs were —" Uncle Bob stopped. Pretty sure he was about to say "framed," which was what Get Lit! thought. Seven thousand dollars' worth of goods were stolen during the doggie dinner, both off guests and from their in-room safes.
"The dogs?" The woman's voice cracked with concern. "They were ...?"
"Adopted," my uncle said with authority. "All to good homes."
"I'm so glad. I'm Bette Foxberry, by the way," said the woman, whose tousled, layered, subtly streaked hair swung perfectly as she turned to Uncle Bob.
My uncle stuck out a hand. "Bob Stalwart."
I snickered. I couldn't help myself.
"So which ship are you on?" Bette said to the fake Mr. Stalwart. "Not that awful Poe ship, with the pendulum and all the ravens, I hope."
"NeRRmoRR," snored my seatmate. I had the sneaking suspicion he might not really be asleep.
"I'm on the Dickens ship, the S.S. David Copperfield."
"Me too!" she said again.
A flight attendant hovered over me, his eyes on the snoring man who had drooled a bit on the window. "Is he all right?"
"Just sleeping," I said as he dropped little bags of peanuts on our trays.
"I love Dickens," Bette said. "Have you read Oliver Twist?"
"Please, sir, I want some —" I tried to flag down the flight attendant to get a few extra snacks for the road.
"SMmorRRRR," said my seatmate, and slid his bag of peanuts toward me without opening his eyes.CHAPTER 2
The Expedition Begun
On the ground at San Francisco International, I hauled my luggage out to the shuttle area and headed toward a van with "Uriah's Heap" painted on the side. Uncle Bob stood on the sidewalk with Bette, looking confused, so I texted him: "Uriah Heep, a character in David Copperfield. Guess who knows her Dickens?" I'd watched a bunch of BBC miniseries and was feeling a little smug.
But my unfounded sense of literary superiority waned as the van wound its way through the mist-shrouded, Victorian, vaguely Dickensian city. I really should have read more Dickens. Then the shuttle pulled into the parking lot of the cruise terminal. All remaining smugness evaporated at the sight in front of me.
Behind the glass-housed cruise terminal, the S.S. David Copperfield rose out of the fog like Miss Havisham's wedding cake, the near-distant Golden Gate Bridge looming from the mist to frame the entire picture. And under the bridge, and the ship, and stretching out into the bay on the other side of the terminal, was water. Fathoms and fathoms of it, with hungry sharks and stinging jellyfish and seaweed that wrapped around your legs and pulled you down, down, down into the cold black ...
"Ladies and gents," said the van driver. "We have arrived. Welcome to the world of Dickens and the S.S. David Copperfield."
Uncle Bob turned to the blonde woman. "Did you know, ma'am, that S.S. stands for steamship?" He was a big trivia buff. "Pretty sure we're not traveling under steam power, so it must be a Dickens thing."
"I love it," said Bette. "I'm learning things even before I get onboard."
The driver parked and jumped out of the van, then slid open the door, letting cool salt-drenched air rush in. Uncle Bob passed by me on the way out of the shuttle. "You okay?" he whispered.
I nodded and sat in my seat as everyone got off the van.
Then I sat some more.
I lied to my uncle. Both right then and earlier, before we took the job, when he asked me if I was over my fear of ...
My breath caught in my chest. I beat down my rising panic and pulled out my cell. "Help," I said when Matt picked up. "There's water. Lots and lots of water."
"And you're good with that now, remember?" Matt's calm groundedness made him a favorite with the guys at my brother's group home where he worked, and with me. In fact, since my friend Candy had moved to L.A., he was probably my best friend in Phoenix. "Think about that picnic at Saguaro Lake," he said. "You even waded in a little."
I had been afraid of water since I was eleven years old. A successful swimming pool standoff last spring had cured me. Or so I'd thought. I'd begun taking baths again. I'd dipped my feet in the shallow end of a pool. And fueled with hotdogs (and with Matt and my brother Cody on either side of me), I'd ventured into Saguaro Lake as far as my ankles.
But this. This. This water was dark and deep and ...
"Ivy?" said Matt. "Just close your eyes and breathe."
"Just for a minute," he said. "Think about —"
My eyes shot open as someone rapped on the van window.
"Is this you?" A young man with a cigarette dangling from his lip held up a sign with "Ivy Meadows" scrawled in black marker.
"Matt, I gotta go."
"Call me later?"
"Not sure how my phone will work at sea." I'd hopped online to look at the FAQs for my carrier, but it seemed the customers of CHEEP cellular didn't cruise much.
"Hello?" The guy stuck his head inside the van, the smell of his cigarette overpowering the salt air. "You okay?"
I waved at him. He stepped back to give me space, maybe because he saw how I clutched my phone. It felt like a literal lifeline, anchoring me to solid ground. A lifeline I had to leave behind for now. "Take care and tell Cody bye," I said. "And Matt, thank you."
"Anytime. And Ivy ..." He paused and took a breath, like what he was going to say next was difficult or important. But he just said, "Call anytime. We'll miss you."
I grabbed my bags. I'd told Uncle Bob I was over my phobia, and so I would be. Or at least I'd act like it. I swallowed and stepped out of the van.
The sign holder grinned. "Hello, Ivy Meadows." Though my uncle called me by my real name, Olive Ziegwart, I mostly used my stage name, for what should be obvious reasons. The guy, lanky and beetle-browed with skin the color of Cream of Wheat, held out a hand to help me as I climbed out of the shuttle. Up close, I saw that one of his eyes was light blue and one was half blue, half dark brown. Cool, in a creepy sort of way.
"I am Val Boyko, here to take you to ship, because I won," he said in a thickly accented voice — Russian? Polish? "We see your photo and all the men want to greet you and I won. But ..." He cocked his head. "You do not look like your headshot."
"I know." I'd had a little hair dye accident. Since the store was out of my usual brand, I'd picked another one. It said "light ash blonde," but my roots were now bright orange.
"I like it. You are like sexy Creamsicle." Val grabbed my suitcase and shepherded me around the hordes of embarking passengers toward an entrance reserved for crew. A big-bellied security man checked our IDs. "Welcome aboard," he said, popping open my suitcases. He nodded at Val's cigarette. "Better put that out."
"Crew can't be seen smoking?" I asked as the guard rifled through my unmentionables.
"Tsk, tsk, tsk," chided the security guard. "Looks like someone didn't read her employee handbook."
Yeah, probably should have asked Get Lit! for one.
"Is non-smoking cruise." Val stubbed out his cigarette and dropped it into a large standing ashtray. "Vaping is permitted on outdoor decks, and cigars and pipes in cigar bar only."
"Yeah, thank God for Dickens," said the security guy. "They wouldn't even have that bar if passengers hadn't complained that people smoked in Victorian times." He shut my suitcases and handed me a crew member badge. "Smooth sailing."
"Let us go, Ivy Meadows," Val said as he hefted my suitcases once more. He led me to the gangplank, where I took a deep breath, focused on the ship in front of me, and walked out over the water.CHAPTER 3
Something More than Usual in the Wind
"You are lucky." Val walked quickly through throngs of crew members, leading me down a passageway and up a staircase. "You room with Harley. She is Madame Defarge."
Though the current onboard show was a takeoff on Oliver Twist, Get Lit!'s brochure mentioned that major characters from Dickens's other books would be onboard, greeting people and posing for photos, like Snow White at Disneyland.
"I'm lucky there's no guillotine on the ship if I'm rooming with her," I said as we exited onto a deck filled with excited passengers. Val's heavy brows drew together in confusion. "She's playing Madame Defarge from A Tale of Two Cities, right?" I spoke loudly to be heard over the din. "The hateful, awful one who likes seeing people's heads cut off?" I followed Val and my suitcases down a passageway.
"No need for guillotine when you can throw people in sea." Val stopped in front of a cabin door, slipped a keycard in the lock slot, and opened the door. Me, I tried to just breathe normally. Val turned and caught sight of my face. "Is joke." He laughed. "No one falls off ship. If you did, I would save you, my Creamsicle. You are lucky to stay with Harley." He stepped aside to let me enter the cabin. "You get best room."
"Wow," I said.
"Wow, this is the best room?" was what I meant, but Val seemed sincere in his appreciation, so I kept my mouth shut. The windowless cabin held two twin beds, two small closets, and a built-in desk at the far end of the cabin. The far end wasn't very far: the entire space was about eight feet long by six feet wide. Not bad if you were on just one cruise, but I knew most crew member contracts lasted at least six months.
"You are even on passenger deck," Val said. "With paintings." There was a large reproduction of an illustration from one of Dickens's books mounted above the desk. Still.
Val set my bags on one of the beds, then closed the door behind us. "You play Nancy," he said. "I am Bill Sikes."
I whipped around. Val's Eastern European accent was gone, replaced by a crass Cockney twang with an undertone of menace. "I kill you," Val continued in that creepy voice, his unsettling two-colored eyes roaming my body. Then, in his own voice, "So it is good we are friends, yes?"
"Yes," I managed to say.
"I see you are impressed by my big talent." He grinned, showing snaggledy teeth. "I have other big things."
A knock. "Has Fagin's newest girl arrived?" said a familiar voice.
"Timothy," I said, opening the door with a flourish. "Please do come in."
Timothy played Fagin, Oliver Twist's king of petty crime, and was the reason Uncle Bob and I were hired. A semi-regular on Get Lit! ships, he'd recommended us to the cruise line after hearing about the thefts. Timothy and I met last spring when he played opposite me in an original musical, The Sound of Cabaret. He was a great dancer, a big flaming queen, and the hairiest man I'd ever met. I adored him.
Timothy gave me a big wet one right on the smacker and hugged me with furry arms. "Omigod." He stepped back to look at me. "Your hair."
"I like it," said my new friend and murderer, Val a.k.a. Bill Sikes. "Is sexy hair."
"I'll fix it for the Set Sail party," Timothy said.
"Is it really that bad?"
"Okay, okay." I smoothed my obviously awful hair. "What's this about setting sail?"
Timothy shot me a look. "Don't you think this room's a bit tight for the three of us?"
"Not if one sits on the bed. Or maybe two, Ivy baby." Val sat and patted the mattress next to him.
Timothy arched a manicured eyebrow.
"Okey-dokey." Val got up. "I see you at party." He left.
"Should I be scared of him?" I said to Timothy, whispering in case Val stood outside the door.
"Only that he'll upstage you," said Timothy. "His Bill Sikes is crazy good. I mean crazy evil. You know."
I plonked down on the bed. This undercover thing was going to be tougher than I thought. I needed to be extra careful, to suspect everyone I met, and to vet everything I said before it came out of my mouth.
Thank heavens Timothy knew the real situation. I could relax around him.
He took Val's place on the bed. "Didn't they tell you you'd work as an ambient character too? Like for the Set Sail party?"
"Not specifically, but if I'd thought about it ..." Of course. If Madame Defarge was available for a chat with travelers, my character would be too.
So even though the ambient character thing hadn't been mentioned in my PI/actor contract, I should have known. I also should have read Oliver Twist all the way through. But hey, I watched the miniseries.
"You okay with that?"
"Sure." I would be. Tonight I'd skim the rest of the book for the parts where Nancy appeared.
"Good." Timothy got up and opened the door. "I'll come back to pick you up for the Set Sail party in," he checked the time on his phone, "fifteen minutes."
Guess I'd wing it.
Timothy blew me a kiss and shut the door. I began unpacking, then stopped. Maybe I should plan my next investigative steps. Or read Oliver Twist. Or find the costume I was supposed to wear for the party in fifteen minutes. Yeah, that.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Oliver Twisted"
Copyright © 2016 Cindy Brown.
Excerpted by permission of Henery 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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