A riotous concoction: fine dining, virtual reality, and murder.
Molly Marbles runs a successful bistro on terraformed Mars. But a virtual restaurant opens near her place, offering the experience of delicacies from across the Solar System with none of the calories. What will this do to her business?
Then its owner is murdered in her kitchen. Molly, an amateur detective, springs into action to help the police solve the mystery, while also planning her pop-star daughter's wedding, keeping her kitchen staff from feuding, and protecting her cyborg friend from the humans-only mob. Meanwhile, the infamous Cereal Serial Killer has escaped prison on Pluto and has everyone worried. Things are getting hectic, but Molly is a resilient and resourceful woman. And her knack for mysteries sees her nick-named ‘Sherlock Mars’.
A rollicking science fiction, mystery, comedy.
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.56(d)|
About the Author
Her first book, Chocolate Chocolate Moons, also about Molly Marbles, was called "delightful" by Kirkus Review and "hard to resist," by the San Francisco Book Review. Short stories have been published in Flying Island Press-Pieces of Eight, The Fringe Magazine and Static Movement Magazine.
She has a Masters degree from Columbia University Teachers College in New York City; a Bachelor of Arts from Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass and a Bachelor of Fine Arts from The School of Visual Arts in New York City where she won the outstanding student award.
She has been a member of the board of the Empire State Plaza Art Commission in Albany, NY and on the board of the Friends of Vassar College Art Museum.
Jackie Kingon lives with her husband in New York City.
Read an Excerpt
By Jackie Kingon
Guardbridge BooksCopyright © 2017 Jackie Kingon
All rights reserved.
SUNRISE: BANDS OF PALE PINK LIGHT peek over the horizon of Mars' eastern sky, a remnant of the days before terraforming created another blue marble in the solar system. Communities once under protective domes look like giant paperweights surrounded by dry red earth in an oxygen poor atmosphere now thriving without them. Come and see for yourself; my husband and I did over twenty years ago. Come to New Chicago, Mars' capital at the base of Olympic Mons, and enjoy a meal at my restaurant, Molly's Bistro. Mars Media gave it its top rating: four spiral galaxies.
But not today. Definitely not today, even though it's a balmy forty-five degrees Fahrenheit with thin cirrus clouds overhead, almost no chance of a dust storm, and New Chicago Boulevard is filled with strolling shoppers. Don't come today. It's the one day of the week we're closed. Besides, my husband Cortland and I are invited by Rick Frances, my new neighbor and owner of Virtual Vitals — a virtual restaurant where holographic smoke and mirrors recreate the experience of dining in a fine restaurant — to a virtual meal a week before their grand opening.
When my headwaiter, Frank Carol, hears the news that Virtual Vitals will open next door, he asks, "Is having a virtual restaurant nearby going to be good or bad for good food, Molly?"
I turn the box of Chocolate Moons upside down and shake it. Nothing. Empty.
"We'll soon find out."
When we first got the invitation, Cortland, a successful music producer, protested. Said he didn't want anyone messing with his perceptions and would feel ridiculous thinking he was drinking wine and eating delicious food while swallowing nothing but air. But after weeks of cajoling and saying I wanted to check out the competition and Cortland saying they don't serve real food, ergo no competition, he agreed.
So here we are, standing outside VV's tall wood paneled door second guessing if we should go in. We pause, watching the sky dim, knowing it is eclipse season. It always makes me realize that although I don't miss my earlier life on Earth, I do miss seeing its large moon pass through its phases.
Then, before we can change our minds, Cortland nods, and we go in. A tall man with slicked-back brown hair in a navy blue uniform with gold buttons buttoned to the neck greets us. "Welcome to Virtual Vitals," he says with a slight bow. "I'm Avery Spelling, head waiter. Rick apologizes for not being here. He had to take a call. Please follow me."
We walk through a very quiet white room. I hardly dare breathe. It doesn't help when Cortland says, "This place looks like it was plastered in the stuff used for death masks."
Avery turns and says, "We want no distractions."
"Better to fry our brains," Cortland says.
Avery makes a subtle diplomatic cough that is neither subtle nor diplomatic to show that he heard.
The room is divided into cubicles. Each cubicle has people seated around tables covered with white linen cloths, white china, and crystal glasses. Most are poking at floating colored menu pallets in front of them and talking in hushed voices. Avery stops at an empty cubicle and gestures for us to step inside. He pulls out a white French provincial chair near me. I sit. Then he walks to the other side and does the same for Cortland. A moment later, floating screens appear at eye level in front of us.
"We have over fifty thousand choices on the menu," Avery says. "If you don't find what
you want, we can create it."
I ask, "Any recommendations or specials?"
"Everything is special. Study the menu and touch the screen to make your selections. In a moment, someone will come and assist you. Any questions?"
We say nothing.
"Enjoy your meal," Avery says, turning away.
"I wish I had brought crackers or something," I say.
Then after a long delay, Cortland leans forward conspiratorially and says, "Why do I feel like we're in a horror movie?"
"Because maybe we are," I whisper.
I JUMP WHEN A WAITER appears and pours water into our glasses.
"Is this water real?" I ask.
"Yes. We thought real water added a nice touch." He turns and leaves.
I sip the water. Gather my thoughts.
Cortland's brows knit. "How does it taste?"
"Anything special about it?"
"Not that I can tell."
"Well, who knows what's in it?" He pushes his glass away.
A few moments later, Rick Frances, in a crisp white dinner jacket, white shirt with ruffles, black trousers, and black patent leather shoes approaches. Accompanying him is an attractive woman with long dark hair and Asian eyes in a white lab coat. Keys dangle from a chain around her neck. One hand holds a small black case.
"Molly! Cortland!" Rick says, arms outstretched as though we are old friends. "I'm thrilled you're here." He gives me an air kiss on both cheeks, grabs Cortland's hand, and shakes it vigorously. "Sorry I wasn't here to greet you. Meet Lena Fermi, my chief engineer and the brain behind VV. She makes sure everything runs the way it should."
We smile at Lena.
"What did you think of the menu?" Rick asks.
"Overwhelming," I say. "I thought I knew food, but you have food I've never heard of."
Lena smiles and says, "That's because we can combine taste combinations and foods even
if they physically don't exist, like a chocolate peach."
Rick turns to Cortland. "You're president of Molawn Music, and The Lunar Tunes are your twin daughters, right?"
"Right," he says. "Becky and Lois. Really Quebec and Los Angeles, but no one calls them that except us."
"Loved their rendition of 'Moon Rover'." He sings, "Two drifters, off to see the moon ..."
Cortland clears his throat.
Rick stops. He turns to me. "And it's an honor to have the Molly of Molly's Bistro. I hear that your food is full of soul and sensation."
I smile, say nothing.
Rick says, "Now let me explain how VV works. Everything is electronically coded. We scanned you when you sat in these chairs."
Cortland jumps up. "You scanned us?"
Rick puts his hand on Cortland's arm. "Relax. Sit. The settings are deleted every time you get up so we can use the chair again."
Rick continues. "Items on the table are keyed to the virtual experience through haptic holograms. The tactile illusion is generated by the pressure of sound waves. Each piece of
cutlery, each glass, each plate is connected to our main computer. When the virtual experience is
engaged, you'll feel sensations that mimic the push and pull of a knife and fork cutting food. When you lift something with your fork or spoon and put it in your mouth, you'll have the sensations that mimic the real thing. In fact, Molly, you can have the experience of eating your
own restaurant's food. We programmed your menu as well as the menus of many other
restaurants. Want a Jovian burger? Saturnian slider? No problem."
"No problem?" I say.
"We're not stealing recipes; we're electronically reinterpreting food. We credit each restaurant. In fact, several restaurants said I brought them business. Want to try your honey maple spare ribs? One of my favorites."
Cortland lifts a tablespoon and examines it. "So this thing is rigged? Feels like a regular silver spoon."
"It was once," Lena says. "We use the best sterling. That pattern is crafted to resemble
Then Lena puts the case she holds on the table, removes a headset and gloves, and demonstrates how the equipment is used. Cortland says the demonstration reminds him of a flight attendant giving instructions for an emergency. Lena winces.
"May I?" she asks, holding a headset in front of me.
"Does it hurt?" I ask.
"Of course not," she says. She places the headset on my head and adjusts it. "How does it feel?"
"Hardly know I'm wearing it."
Then she does the same for Cortland, who looks like he is tolerating a medical exam.
Lena says, "You'll be so engrossed in what you see and feel that you won't be aware of anything artificial." She holds up the headset. "The frames on these send signals to your taste buds so the perception of 'eating' will be coordinated with what you do with your eyes, hands,
"What if we don't like what we're eating?" Cortland asks.
"Say 'new menu' and a new menu will appear in front of you. Then say 'new selection'." Cortland nods. "What happens when I say the word 'help?'"
"Say 'stop' and the program will disengage."
When the "meal" ends, or, more accurately, when the program ends, Cortland and I sit for a long time and say nothing. Then Cortland picks up his water, drains the glass, and says, "Was that as good as I thought it was, Molly?"
Cortland says, "If that were a real experience and not a virtual one, VV would put Molly's and every restaurant I know out of business. The garlic bread alone was so delicious it could redefine garlic, butter, and bread."
"Good thing nobody can reproduce that in reality without drugs. Did you have the butter cookie cone filled with white chocolate gelato with thick hot chocolate sauce poured into the bottom tip?"
"Three," Cortland says. "I hate to admit it, but Rick Frances deserves a lot of credit, because diabetics can eat sweets, those with food allergies can gorge on foods that would be dangerous, and alcoholic beverages can be drunk with impunity. But I've never been so hungry in my life."
Our house, with the exception of the brightly lit elevator that opens as we near, is dark. When we came to New Chicago, an expensive city on the base of Olympic Mons, and before Cortland made it big producing hit music, he worked for his cousin, who owned a chain of Little Green Man Pizzas. He found this run-down factory in a then-marginal neighborhood. He transformed the four lower levels into offices and a recording studio, the middle two floors into apartments for Becky and Lois, and we live in the duplex penthouse, complete with wraparound terrace, full gym, and pool. The entire building rotates, maximizing views and light. A few years later, the neighborhood exploded into expensive "left bank" trendiness. Cortland said, "Lucky guess."
As soon as the elevator rises and the door opens to our apartment, the house lights turn on. We push past the service bot that greets us, arms outstretched for our coats. We drop our coats on the floor, rushing into the kitchen. Then we eat everything. Everything! Including tomato paste straight from the can, frozen vegetables straight from the freezer, vanilla extract and Worcestershire from the bottle. Don't say ugh until you know what starving feels like.
The following week, VV officially opens. When the first "meal" ends and people are as hungry as we had been, those who never pushed or shoved in their lives even if someone yelled fire, run into Molly's Bistro as though they had heard the words "free beer."
So regarding my headwaiter Frank's question: "Is having VV next door going to be good
or bad for good food?" I would have to say having VV next door was very good indeed.
THREE WEEKS LATER, in the lull between lunch and dinner, Frank buzzes my office. Rick is here and wants to see me. I zoom in and rotate my life-sized holo; I do a comb, brush, lipstick, and go into the dining room to greet him.
Rick is standing in the middle under the colored glass ceiling, giving the room a 360-degree scan. He stops when he sees me, gives a big open smile, and bursts, "It's been a long time since I was in a good restaurant. I'm enjoying the cooking smells so much that I feel like I'm gaining weight inhaling the aromas. Is it true that you have the finest prime meat grown from stem cells?" He extends his hand. "Nice to see you again, Molly."
I meet his eye. "Nice to see you too, Rick. You've done your homework. How can I help you?"
"I want to book a party."
"A party? Seriously?" I am more surprised than if he had handed me a ghost orchid.
"I don't do all my living in virtual reality."
I laugh. "Would you like some coffee? We can talk in my office."
I turn and call to Frank, who is sitting at a table near the kitchen checking the dinner menu and stroking his goatee. "Bring two coffees and a dish of our new Gran Couva Valrhona chocolate cookies to my office."
I sit at my desk. Rick sits in an armchair opposite me. Frank brings the coffee and cookies, puts them on my desk, pours two hot cups, and turns to leave.
"What kind of party did you have in mind, Rick?" I ask, pushing a steaming cup toward him.
Rick ignores my question. His eyes are riveted on Frank. He says, "Forgive me for staring at you, but you resemble someone I once knew. You could be her brother."
"Really?" Frank says, turning away. "I don't have a sister. Need anything else, Molly?"
"No, Frank. Thanks."
Rick continues to look at Frank. "Sorry, she was pretty. Very pretty." Then, as Frank puts his hand on the doorknob, Rick says, "Did you ever live near Elysium Mons?"
"Never," Frank says, stepping through the doorway and closing the door with a sharp click.
Rick turns to me. "I don't usually forget a face. Names, yes, but I have a very good visual memory."
"Can't help you on that one," I say.
"Maybe it will come to me later."
"Happens," I say. Then I wait. When Rick says nothing more, I say, "In the past I thought liquid food substitutes like soylent that keep you nutritionally healthy and feeling full and pills that temporarily alter your taste buds would make significant dents in my business. But people still wanted to socialize over a good meal in a pretty environment. When VV first opened, I wondered again if my business would suffer. But the opposite happened because people left VV hungry."
Rick chuckles. "We're a good match, then."
"Yes, guess we are."
Rick leans in. "Rumor has it that a McMoons is planning to open on the other side of me with flashing neon lights and booming their theme song 'It's a Big Burger After All.' Now, I love good food. Real good food. I once owned a restaurant with my ex-wife." He pauses. Then his jaw drops and his eyes grow wide.
"What?" I say.
"Nothing. Just a hunch. A fleeting thought."
Rick eats a cookie. "These are delicious." He looks me in the eye. "So, I would rather have my patrons stream into Molly's after they've been to VV than people streaming into McMoons. Places like McMoons could compromise our property values. This area has upscale, trendy boutiques like those on Rodeo Dive. You could consider opening a gourmet take-out shop on the other side of me."
So Rick and I plan a round-robin dinner. Diners would arrive at VV, have virtual appetizers and virtual cocktails, then stream over to Molly's Bistro for real appetizers and real cocktails, then head back to VV for the next course. This would be repeated until the meal ended at VV with entertainment provided by Virtual Virtuosos and everyone by that time filled with good food and good wine.
What could go wrong?
THE DAY ARRIVES. Starting at VV, Avery Spelling, spiffy in a black tuxedo, checks gold embossed invitations against a guest list. When waiters escort them to their tables and help those who had not been there before don the VV equipment, the room fills with electric nervousness. But slowly, everyone relaxes, and it becomes more festive than priests discovering that the wine at the eleven o'clock mass is Chateau Laffite.
I remember how my hands sweated before the headset slid over my eyes and the gloves went on. But like me, when the first virtual appetizer arrives, this one being fresh lobster chunks on homemade buttered pesto toasts accompanied by Champagne Orange Royals with Lillet, all you hear is "oohs" and "ahhs." And when the next course appears, a warm Saturian potato pocket topped with cool caviar, there is only rapt silence that continues until the appetizer experience ends and everyone is told to go to Molly's Bistro for the real thing.
Frank Carol stands under Molly's red and blue awning in a short white jacket and watches people exit VV. They walk in an orderly manner until inside when they see waiters holding silver trays filled with real Champagne Orange Royals. Then civilized behavior falls into a black hole.
Most guests are seated in the main dining room at tables covered with pale peach cloths and napkins and fresh flowers in glass vases. Late responders are seated on oversized buttery stools in the Rosewood bar in front of antique-looking mirrors with shelves displaying exotic liquors like Jupiter Red Spot brandies. To compensate for the complaints we knew would come for being seated beyond Pluto, Rick and I begin our greetings there.
Excerpted from Sherlock Mars by Jackie Kingon. Copyright © 2017 Jackie Kingon. Excerpted by permission of Guardbridge Books.
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
Too much of anything is not good. Sherlock Mars - - Just not what I picture future space travel to be; or I would hope not! I realize this is suppose to be a comical story but it is just too much silliness and plays on words leading to the constant shaking of my head. Molly Marbles has a restaurant on Mars along with her being an amateur detective. Plot includes a murder, the planning of her daughter's wedding, and the prejudice of artificial life. Many characters involved make the Who done it? a mystery in itself. Some of the prose was cute and the hopping from planet to planet was interesting. A study of all the witty comparisons with our Earth would make an entertaining project. "A copy of this book was provided to me by Cameron Publicity & Marketing Ltd via Netgalley with no requirements for a review. I voluntarily read and my comments here are my honest opinion."
Reviewed by Melinda Hills for Readers' Favorite Molly Marbles may have competition from a new restaurant next door – until she finds out that Virtual Vitals offers only a virtual food experience. Molly’s Bistro is the scene of the murder of VV’s owner the night they sponsor a joint culinary venture so Molly, an amateur detective, is in the perfect position to investigate along with the police. Sherlock Mars by Jackie Kingon follows Molly and her friends through the hectic days of catching a murderer, planning a wedding for her rock star daughter, and addressing the growing resistance to ‘enhanced humans’, all of which seem to swirl together, bringing everyone under suspicion. For every clue Molly and the chief detective Lamont uncover, more questions arise and, as if that is not enough to worry about, a cereal serial killer has escaped and may be trying to get to Molly! Murder is the basis of this amazing story, but there is so much more! Jackie Kingon blends history, science, popular culture, and social issues with imagination and a large dose of humor as she leads her well defined characters through intriguing action throughout the new frontier of space. Sherlock Mars is a convoluted murder mystery that keeps you guessing right up to the end and is written with delightful insight and plenty of comedy. There are other aspects, though, that provide food for thought. The acceptance of ‘enhanced humans’ as a growing segment of the population and gender identification issues carry an important message through the story as the characters come into contact with subjects that are new to them. All in all, Sherlock Mars is a great book on a number of levels and is sure to please a wide variety of readers.