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"Mr. Johnson, I'm calling to discuss the disposition of your mother's estate," I said into the yellow donut phone.
"Are you a lawyer?" asked a gruff voice on the other end of a crackly line.
"No, sir, I'm an interior decorator. Madison Night. I own Mad for Mod on Greenville Avenue." I paused, giving him time to react. When he didn't, I continued. "I assure you I mean no disrespect. In my experience, you are about to be faced with the time consuming challenge of handling your mother's affairs, and I am in a position to take a portion of that challenge off your to-do list." Internally, I cringed at the holier-than-thou tone that had crept into my voice. It was an oral knee-jerk reaction to people not taking me seriously. "Mad for Mod specializes in mid-century modern design. Your mother's house was —"
"What was your name again? Madison?" he snapped. "What are you, twenty?"
"Madison was my grandmother's maiden name." I pushed my long hair away from my face, then used my index finger to free a couple of strands that were stuck to my hairline, thanks to the Dallas-in-May humidity. "I'm forty-seven, and I've been in this industry for over twenty years."
The man was obviously more distraught over the death of his mother than the fact that my grandmother's surname had come into fashion sometime in the nineties, but at times like these, minor details could change the course of our conversation.
"My mom didn't have anything valuable. Her whole house was insured for fifteen thousand dollars, and I'd be better off if it had burned down and I got the check. Now I'm stuck with a bunch of junk I could never convince her to throw away."
I wrote $15,000? on the side of a real estate flyer that sat on my desk and put on my best can-do attitude. "Mr. Johnson, I'm prepared to make an offer on the entire estate. If you accept it, I can bring you a check tomorrow, and you can be on your way back to Cincinnati as soon as tomorrow night."
"Let me get this straight. You're offering to write me a check for stuff you haven't even seen?"
"Lady, if this is a joke, you have a lousy sense of humor." He hung up on me.
I drummed my fingers against the top of my desk and stared at the flyer, temporarily distracted by the overdone graphics and the photo of the listing agent.
Pamela Ritter, a recently licensed realtor, stared back at me, a picture of blonde hair and blue eyes not all that different from my own, though she was half my age. Blast from the Past! screamed the heading, above listings for a string of ranch houses on Mockingbird. Live like a Mad Man! promised the copy on the side. Turquoise bubbles filled the background, and starbursts, outlined in red, gave it a comic book Pow! Bam! Bop! feel.
Pamela had jumped on the new movement to capitalize on all things fifties, thanks to a recent pop culture focus on the Eisenhower era. I'd been nurturing my passion for mid-century decorating since I was a teenager, since I first watched Pillow Talk after learning that I shared a birthday with an actress named Doris Day. I had surrounded myself with items from the atomic age long before Pamela was born, and thanks to my business, I'd found a community of others who shared my interest and appreciated my knowledge. I crumpled up the flyer and tossed it at the trash bin. It bounced off the rim and landed on the carpet.
I glanced at the brushed gold starburst clock mounted close to the ceiling. Photos of rooms, stills from Doris Day movies, swatches of fabric and paint chips from the hardware store covered the bottom two thirds of the wall, thumb-tacked to cork squares I'd glued on top of the paint. Arrows and notes connected a couple of the inspiration points and identified those ideas that I had earmarked for a specific client. Merchandise and props to make an authentic mid-century room were not cheap or easy to come by, and I depended on the obituaries to identify estates that might be rich in the era's style. Thelma Johnson, age seventy-nine, lifetime resident of a two bedroom split level in the M streets, had that kind of estate, but her son wasn't interested in my sales pitch.
I twisted my blonde hair back into a chignon, then secured it with a vintage hairpin. It was ten minutes to six. I could leave early. Nothing was going to happen in ten minutes. I flipped the open sign to closed, locked the doors, and carried the small bag of trash out the back door, swatting the light switch on the way. I emptied the trash into the dumpster and rummaged through my handbag for my keys before noticing the flat tire on my powder blue Alfa Romeo.
I bent next to the tire and a slash of pain shot through my left knee. After a skiing accident two years ago, I had been left with a reminder that I had to look out for myself, because no one else would. The chronic pain forced me to acknowledge my limitations. It kept me from doing the kinds of things that independent women knew how to do for themselves and Texas women took for granted that someone else would do for them. And today, it would keep me from getting home ten minutes early.
I went back inside the studio and called Hudson James, my handyman. "What are the chances you're up for rescuing a damsel in distress?" I asked.
"Depends on the damsel."
"Thanks to a flat tire, I'm stranded at the studio. I'd try to change it myself," I said, but stopped when the humiliating reality of me calling a man to ask for help resonated in my ears. I never thought I'd be that kind of woman.
"Madison, it's no problem. I'm in the neighborhood and I'll be there in a couple of minutes."
Hudson's blue pickup truck pulled into the alley by my studio and parked next to the dumpster. His longish black hair had curled with the humidity, the front pushed to the side, behind his ear, the back flipping up against the collar of his black t-shirt. "I thought you were calling because you had a job for me," he said.
I flushed. "I might," I said, "I'm still working it out. A woman died —"
He held up a hand. "I don't want to know the details."
"It's just business."
"I look at you and I see sweetness and innocence, not a ruthless business woman."
"Don't let the blonde hair and blue eyes fool you."
"Honey, they had me fooled me the first time I laid eyes on you." He winked and took the keys from my hand. Before he turned back to the car, his eyes swept over my body. "Is that a new dress?"
I looked down at my dress, a light blue fitted sheath that was significantly more wrinkled than it had been when I left the house hours ago. A series of circles in gingham, stripes, and polka dots had been appliquéd to the neckline and hem.
"It's a new-old dress. Early sixties. From an estate sale in Pennsylvania, before I moved here. The woman died in a car accident —"
"Enough! I like the dress. I like the dress on you. But I don't need to hear the obituary of the woman who owned it first." He disappeared next to the tire.
"It's good for business," I said.
"The dress or the estate sales?"
"Well, both. But the only client I talked to today was over the phone, thank you very much." Maybe things would have gone differently if I had met Steve Johnson face to face. Not because of the dress, but because he'd see that I was legitimate.
Inside the studio, the phone jangled. Technically, Mad for Mod was still open, and every phone call was prospective business. "Do you mind if I get that?"
"Nah, go ahead. This'll take a couple of minutes."
I picked up the ball of paper by the wastepaper basket and set it on the corner of my one-of-a-kind desk, then reached for the phone.
"Mad for Mod, Madison Night speaking," Isaid. I heard a click, then a dial tone. I sank into the chair and batted the crumpled-up flyer back and forth across the slick surface of the desk.
The desk was a gift from Hudson, a hodgepodge of parts from items too damaged to repair. It had cost him more in time and vision than materials, and I wouldn't trade it for anything. More than once I'd asked him to be a partner in my business, and every time he declined. He was reliable, artistic, genuine, and best of all, smelled like wood shavings. In a parallel universe, I might have entertained romantic thoughts of us, but life as it was for a single, forty-seven year old businesswoman with trust issues didn't allow for fantasies like that. And even if I was capable of giving in to attraction, I had long learned one lesson: men may come and go but good handymen last forever.
I closed up the studio for the second time. The phone mocked me from the other side of the back door. I ran back in and answered on the third ring, slightly out of breath.
"Ms. Night, this is Steve Johnson. You called me about my mother's estate?" His voice had changed. The gruff had been traded for something else. Either way, I launched into my spiel.
"Mr. Johnson, I know it's unorthodox for me to have made an offer over the phone, but if you have time available tomorrow, I'd be more than happy to meet with you in person."
"That's not necessary. I changed my mind and I'm willing to sell. Take this number down and call me in the morning."
I grabbed a thick black marker out of the orange Tiki mug on the desk, flattened out Pamela's real estate flyer, and scrawled the number across her bright white smile.
"Perfect," I said, too eagerly, considering the circumstances. And then, for the second time that day, Steve Johnson hung up on me, leaving me to wonder what exactly had happened to change his mind.CHAPTER 2
"We got a problem," Hudson said, startling me. He leaned against the white doorframe of my office and rubbed at his hands with a neon yellow terrycloth towel. "Your trunk is stuck, and I can't get to the spare."
"I bet it's caught on a pillow." He raised his eyebrows. "I know, I know, I have to stop driving around with inventory in my trunk, especially when I have a perfectly good storage unit."
"How about this. You take my truck home. I'll see what I can do about the trunk and the tire."
"What if you can't fix it?"
He looked at me as though that wasn't a possibility and I smiled. Since we first started working together, I challenged him with items either bought for pennies or rescued from the trash. Chipped wood chairs, broken clock radios, and the occasional portable bar, all so in need of repair, others had thrown them away. But Hudson saw the same potential in the discarded objects that I did, and had never failed at a job. I liked to think his skills gave new life to items owned by people who were now in a place that needed no decoration. Inanimate reincarnation, if you will.
"I'll bring your car by tonight and you'll be ready to go in the morning."
I tipped my head to the side and considered his offer. "Okay, but no joy rides."
"You got it." We worked out a plan for retrieving each other's keys and he turned back to the car. I didn't gather my things right away, guilt over leaving him with my problem weighing heavy.
As if reading my mind, Hudson looked up at me. He had one knee on the gravel, one foot planted on the ground, as though he were about to propose to my car. "You better get moving. Rock's gonna be hopping mad if you're not home on time."
"I was just thinking that."
"I'll take care of the car, you take care of him." He stood up and slapped his hands against his black denim jeans. A lock of hair had fallen forward and when he pushed it away, his fingers left a dusty streak on his forehead. He walked over to me and put a hand on each of my upper arms. "Madison, it's okay." The light caught in his clear amber eyes, highlighting flecks of gold. With his hands gently resting on my arms, he turned me around. "Don't worry so much," he whispered and gave me a slight push toward his truck.
I climbed into the cab, easily four feet higher than my sporty blue coupe and started the engine. The Rolling Stones poured out of the stereo, and for a second I smiled, picturing Hudson's six foot frame folded up in my little blue Alfa Romeo, listening to the Doris Day CD I'd left in the player.
He smiled back even though he wasn't in on the joke, at least not yet, and waved while I drove away.
It didn't take long to get from the studio to my apartment building. On a good day, with Advil, I could walk it, but today was trash day, and I'd taken the opportunity to drive around Lakewood in search of castaway treasures that had since been moved to the storage unit behind my studio. I groped in the dark for the chain to the pink and brass floor lamp that sat inside the front door.
"Rock? I'm home!"
Soft rose light bathed the room, washing over a small caramel-colored Shih Tzu puppy in his crate, on his hind legs, barking short, hyper yaps.
"I'm sorry I'm late, Rocky," I said while he showered me with affection. "I got a flat tire and Hudson came over to help."
His obvious enthusiasm had nothing to do with the mention of Hudson or the flat tire, but when it's late and you live alone, you talk to your puppy and pretend he understands. I clipped on his light blue leash and grabbed my cell phone, then took him out front for a walk.
Rocky sniffed at a patch of dandelions, then pulled me along the sidewalk. He was named after the other star of Pillow Talk, but it had morphed into Rocky because you can't have a Shih Tzu without a perky name. And since I'm originally from Philadelphia, most people assumed I'd named him after the boxer, which might have made more sense if he actually was a Boxer.
We returned to the apartment building, where I showered off the remains of the day, including two smudges of dirt on my upper arms left behind when Hudson had spun me around. I changed into white silk pajamas and Rocky followed me to the kitchen.
One of us chewed on a slipper and one of us ate a bowl of ice cream. Just another day in the life of an independent, opportunistic, mid-century modern interior decorator with a Doris Day obsession.
Or so I thought.
True to his word, Hudson had my car neatly parked in my space the following morning, in time for me to go to Crestwood. Newer, more social swimming pools existed in Dallas, but they weren't for me. What had started as the only form of exercise my knee could handle had become my escape. The ladies of Crestwood, mostly octogenarians, had long given up trying to fix me up with their sons and accepted me as one of their own. The old men eyed me with a different agenda, one that usually held steady at winks and stares. The more daring were not above an occasional pinch. Occasionally we dealt with a couple of newcomers who wanted to check out the novelty of the outdoor pool, but mostly it was just us. Swimming side by side the retired set fit my lifestyle.
I tied Rocky to the lifeguard chair and dove into the cool water. My mind focused on the estate of Thelma Johnson. Just a bunch of junk she would never get rid of, her son had said. If I was right, that junk would be right up my alley.
Between sets, I stood in the shallow end, stretching my shoulders. A motorcycle grumbled from the parking lot. I tugged on my white rubber swim cap too hard, and the rubber split. I pulled the cap off, tucked my goggles under the right leg of my bathing suit, and climbed out of the water. Mr. Popov, one of the occasional pinchers, sat next to my straw tote bag, the flyer with Steve Johnson's number on top. The old man dangled a white terrycloth robe with pink and blue appliqué flowers from his hand. It was my favorite vintage cover-up, despite the unfortunate grape jelly stain at the hem.
He looked away as Pamela Ritter walked in, holding a helmet in one hand. She shook her long hair to the side. Mr. Popov let out a low whistle as she strode past us, a far cry from the retro image she used for her promotional real estate flyer. I folded the piece of paper in half and shoved it into the pocket of my robe, not wanting her to see that I carried it with me. When I turned around, Mr. Popov's hand connected with my behind. I quickly pulled on the robe and tossed the torn swim cap in the trash. I followed Pamela into the locker room, leaving him behind, snickering about, well, my behind.
She changed into her bathing suit while I dressed in an early sixties, pale pink, double-breasted sleeveless tunic and matching pants. What was a costume to her was my regular style.
"I don't get it, Madison. You could do so much more business if you branched out into different eras. I mean, right now the fifties thing is hot, but trends like this don't last forever. I mean, most people like big houses with central air."
"I'm curious. How can you sell them, when you don't even like them?"
"You saw my flyer. Great! What did you think of the graphics?"
I thought it best not to answer that honestly. "Eye-catching."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Pillow Stalk"
Copyright © 2013 Diane Vallere.
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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Madison (Mad) Night has got to be the most obsessed fan of Doris Day. She even goes so far as to dress like her. Mad is the owner/decorator of a 60s inspired store and devotes her spare time to hunting for 50-60 furniture and anything else that might interest Mad, but once she finds herself in the midst of a mix of murders, one being a cold case and also recent ones. The connection being that all of the women dress like Doris Day. Come along with Mad and meet the 2 hunky men in her life, along with several people who keep Mad on her toes. There is never a dull moment in the humorous 1st book in the Mad for Mod series. Book 2, That Touch Of Ink, will be released later this year.
Dollycas’s Thoughts As a Doris Day fan myself I really enjoyed this story. My mom and I loved watching her movies. There are many nods to the films throughout the book. The character names especially. A classic cozy mystery with a protag that loves the 60′s era in everything from clothes to furniture and she she even looks a bit like Doris Day. She is an independent woman with a terrific sense of humor that shines throughout the story. I feel like we have just scratched the surface with this character. The story starts out simply with Mod Interior Decorator Madison trying to acquire the estate of a recently deceased woman but from there the story is set on its ear as a new murder connects to a 20 year old cold case. The plot twists and turns until I was totally confused. The author then gets me back on track and the clues all come together at what seemed a very rapid pace. I am very interested in the next book in this series,THAT TOUCH OF INK coming out next month. I am glad Henery Press has acquired these books and is re-releasing them because I missed them the first time around.
The mystery plot was very good and it kept you guessing until the very end. But, there were some unbelievable situations that kept from me giving it more stars. For instance, Madison swam on a regular basis, but one time she got in the pool and thought it was unusually cold, but she swam anyway. She finally turned blue and had to be helped out of the pool. Who would keep swimming like that? She couldn't tell it was 25 degrees colder than normal? Wouldn't you have enough sense to get out at the beginning of your swim? And I felt sorry for her puppy. It was either passed on to someone, put in his cage or shaking because he was scared. She also closed a cat in her closet for long periods and never once mention feeding it or giving it water or having a littler box. Common sense was just often missing in the book.
Loving Doris Day Might Get Madison Night Killed A couple of months ago, I made a point of watching Pillow Talk as prep for starting Diane Vallere’s Madison Night series. Why? Because Madison is a huge fan of Doris Day’s movies, and the first in the series is called Pillow Stalk. Madison Night is an interior decorator who specializes in mid-century modern – you know, the 50’s and 60’s, the time period of Doris Day’s movies. She’s recently relocated to Dallas, where she had opened Mad for Mod. With this retro style being so popular, her business is beginning to take off. However, things take an unusual turn when someone is murdered outside Madison’s car at the local pool. In fact, at first, people think that Madison herself had been murdered. Then the murder weapon turns out to be one of several pillows that Madison had in her trunk. With the police focused on her friend and handyman Hudson, Madison begins to wonder just what she’s gotten caught up in. This is far from one of Doris Day’s comedies. But do the police have her under surveillance because they think she knows something or because they think she will be the next target? The premise of the book is very clever. The story brings in Madison’s decorating and love of Doris Day in a completely organic way and made them an integral part of the plot. Being a guy, I can testify that the decorating doesn’t slow down the plot. Trust me, if it had, I would have been bored. And what I don’t know about Doris Day fills volumes, but I got what I needed to know without it being an issue at all. And what a plot! There are twists. There are turns. There are events that keep us turning the pages. And that’s just in the first quarter of the book. Trust me, the pace is fast and the plot keeps you guessing. I did find the climax a little out there, but it seemed to fit the book. I also think there is a plot hole involving timing of a couple of events, but I’m not super concerned about it. Most cozies I read feature a late 20’s female main character, so I found Madison’s late 40’s age to be refreshing. She still has some familiar baggage, but she approaches life differently, which I enjoyed. I’m not so sure we got to know either of the male leads super well yet, but we see hints of more depth to them that can be explored in future books. And yes, this does mean that Madison’s love life is complicated. Would you expect anything else from a series inspired by the romantic comedies of Doris Day? Speaking of which, did I need to see Pillow Talk before reading this book? No. But since it is referenced several times in the story, I did find it fun to have some idea what they were talking about. I intend to continue watching the movies before I read the rest of the series. And I will certainly be moving on. I need to know what happens next to Madison Night. Pick up Pillow Stalk today, and you’ll soon be stalking her yourself.
I loved this book, I had a hard time putting it down. Madison Night loves Doris Day, she dresses and decorates home in her style. When a killer seems to be targeting women who look like Doris Day, Madison is drawn into investigating to save herself from being the next victim. This story will take you on some twists that kept me guessing to who the killer could be. Just when I thought I knew there was a new twist to the story. I will definitely continue on with this series.
Title: Pillow Stalk - Mad For Mod Mystery 1 Author: Diane Vallere Published: 3-4-14 Publisher: Henery Press Pages: 287 Genre: Mystery, Thrillers and Suspense Sub Genre: Cozy Mystery ISBN: 9781940976069 ASIN: B00IPSZJP0 Reviewer: DelAnne Reviewed For: NetGalley . Using her love of all things Doris Day as well as the designs from the 60's, Madison Night has built her business around her idol. When someone begins killing Doris Day lookalikes using Madison's own vintage throw pillows she begins to investigate on her own. When she goes and checks out the contents of an Estate sale she finds a link between a twenty ear old cold case and the recent murders. Diane Vallere has written a mystery filled with humor and wit. It has a lively plot with fully developed characters that draw you into the story and make you want to stay awhile. Madison's quirky imitation of her idol Doris Day both in her style and what she acts makes me wish she were real so that I could get to know her better and become her friend have some fun together. The only thing I found off about the story itself was after laying the plot out so well was that when it came to the final reveal to be exposed it seemed a little rush. Other than wishing Ms. Vallere had taken a few more pages to polish it up a touch more I loved this story. I will still look forward to any new Madison Night's Mysteries offerings in the future. I give Pillow Stalk a 4 1/2 stars out of 5.
Took a little bit to get into, but over all was a very good book.
My Review:PILLOW STALK (A Mad for Mod Mystery #1) by Diane Vallere 4 STARS I saw Pillow stalk a long time ago. I liked Doris Day but not like Interior Decorator Madison Night character. Their are lots of references to Doris Day is this book. I probably only picked up a few of them. Like her dog is Rocky, handyman Hudson. Plus she dresses like Doris Day's movie characters, decorates like the scenes in the films. Madison even shares a birthday with Doris Day. It brought up good memories. This is a cozy mystery with fun attitude thrown in the mix. It has lots of drama, suspense and comedy thrown in. It brings a lot of smiles as I read it. Madison finds a dead body under her car. Pamela is wearing Madison's robe she was getting in her trunk to borrow something. They look a lot a like too. Madison has a daily routine. She swims daily, works at building up her business. She also volunteers at a old theater. She wants to put together a Doris Day marathon when another event is cancelled. Richard is the manger and he hates Doris Day films and says no. So Madison is trying to gather support for her film marathon. The detective Lt. Tex Allen is a playboy. He hides a lot of things. He is always showing up around Madison. He really believes that Hudson is the guilty person. Madison's handyman is Hudson James. At first I really liked him. He turns up as a suspect pretty earlier. Madison is sure he could not be the killer. Hudson is good at repairing items. Madison even wanted to make him a partner in her business. The book leaves you wanting to read the next Mad for Mod Mystery, That Touch of Ink. I can see me reading it real soon. I was entertained reading Pillow Stalk. I do want to watch some Doris Day movies now though. I was given this ebook to read and asked to give honest review of it in return from Netgalley.
After leaving the Poconos and East Coast after a bad break-up, Madison Night heads to Dallas to start fresh. She soon has her interior design firm, Mad for Mod, up and running, the market full of mid-century ranches to re-do and lots of Sixties kitsch to purchase as people downsize or die. Madison's other love is Doris Day and she volunteers at a local theater, dresses in those vintage styles and tries to channel Doris' whimsy when necessary. A murder of a friend and local relator, Pamela, while wearing Madison's robe (and possibly suffocated by a pillow from her trunk) lead Madison to sleuthing to help clear her handyman Hudson while not alienating Lt. Tex Allen of the police force. I'm glad I hung in for the whole story, the twists definitely kept me guessing and look forward to reading more about Madison in what I hope is a new series.
Madison Knight not only loves Doris Day, she has modeled her life after the '60s actress. Her Dallas business, Mad for Mod, specializes in mid-century modern furniture and she acquires her wares by shopping the obituary columns. When she tries to acquire the contents of a recently deceased's home, she becomes entangled in a twenty-year murder mystery centered around her pop idol. The two men in her life, a contractor and police detective, have their own secrets related to the crime. Diane Vallere creates a fun mystery that straddles twenty-first century attitudes with late '50s- early '60s fashion and pop culture references. I loved the love triangle she creates between the main three characters, and the wild ride of suspects that kept me guessing until the end. And speaking of endings, what a great one!
i don't know why one person reviewed this so negatively. The dog in this book is left in its kennel a couple times during the day otherwise the neighbor takes care of it. she takes the dog with her a lot. The crazy cat gets left in the closet once. The end of the book she is taking care of the cat and feeding it. Anyway enough of that! The book is good and i enjoyed it. Has a good mystery with likable people. I hope she develops them as the series goes along.
I'm actually a huge fan of Doris Day. I have my DVR set to auto-record her movies. What fun to find a cozy mystery series that celebrates her! I'm sure that sounds pretty cheesy but this series is not. I had already read the second one in the series so I knew a little about where some of this was going but that did not change my enjoyment of the book. It's a just a really fun concept and series. Madison Night is an interior decorator specializing in mid-century modern which happens to be my favorite style of furniture and architecture also. Yes, this series seems custom-written for me. Madison has moved to Dallas to get away from a failed relationship and her decorating business is doing well. She has a trick knee but she's coping with it and she has her dog Rocky. Life seems fine until a string of murders involving Doris Day look-alikes brings her world crashing down. Her very competent and very attractive handyman seems to be involved somehow and the very competent and very attractive police lieutenant investigating her involvement seems to know more than he is saying. It's a clever mystery with an ending I wasn't expecting but which did have clues sprinkled throughout. There is good character building without it feeling it's all exposition. A talented author creating a fun new series. If there are flaws, they are the ones most mysteries have to have to play out. A few too many coincidences. Some times Madison keeps too much to herself and makes herself look foolish for not going to the police immediately. The seeming beginning of a love triangle. These things seem to come up in most cozies. Even with these, I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys cozies. I read them for fun and relaxation and this book and this series brings both. Provided by Netgalley in return for an honest review.
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