Travel agents may be a vanishing breed, but Sidney Marsh, a New York transplant from Mississippi, is holding her ground--at least on land. She is the tour leader on a cruise through Scandinavia to Russia for a group of eccentric senior citizens who call themselves the High Steppers. Sidney expects her days to be filled with long meals, shopping expeditions and visits to museums, churches and fjords. But this cruise is anything but routine. There is a killer on board, targeting the High Steppers and quite possibly herself. After the first suspicious death, the captain and his crew are grimly determined to carry on as usual. Disgusted with their inaction, Sidney decides to take matters into her own hands and launch her own investigation. She enlists the halfhearted help of her friend and business partner, the flamboyant and fun-loving Jay Wilson. Suspects abound. What about those two handsome young men who stay mysteriously aloof? One of them has his eye on Sidney. So does another passenger, far too charming and again too young to fit the "High Stepper" mold. Then there's Captain Vargos, the arrogant ladies' man whose plans to thwart Sidney's investigation might include seduction. Who is that crew member shadowing Sidney? Is the theater really haunted? Even the High Steppers themselves are not as predictable or harmless as they seem. The closer Sydney gets to the truth, the less she understands. Shore Excursion is the first book in a new mystery series featuring amateur sleuth Sidney Marsh.
About the Author
Marie Moore is a native Mississippian. She graduated from Ole Miss, married a lawyer in her hometown, taught junior high science, raised a family, and worked for a small weekly newspaper--first as a writer and later as Managing Editor. She wrote hard news, features and a weekly column, and won a couple of MS Press Association awards for her stories. In 1985, Marie left the newspaper to open a retail travel agency, which she managed for the next fifteen years. Much of Shore Excursion was inspired by those experiences. She and her husband now live in Memphis, TN, and Holly Springs, MS. Marie has written two books in the Sidney Marsh mystery series: Shore Excursion and Game Drive. Side Trip to Kathmandu will be released in March of 2015.
Read an Excerpt
Heading home from work on Monday afternoon I had that creepy-crawly feeling, like I had walked through a spider's web and had invisible threads sticking to my face.
Ever get that feeling? Like maybe someone is watching you?
Ever worry about being followed?
Ever think — while you're walking down the sidewalk in your own neighborhood, minding your own business — that someone big and bad might just grab you or snatch you into the nearest alley?
Ever wonder if you're going nuts?
That's how I felt all that week before I left for my cruise. Jumpy. Real jumpy.
I was noticing sounds I hadn't really noticed before, staring at people on the street, listening for steps behind me, wondering if delivery guys were as harmless as they seemed.
Jumpy. Real jumpy.
I'm sure folks in my hometown would say that it's normal, even smart to feel that way if you are a single girl and living alone in any big city, let alone New York City. But I had never felt that way before. I had never been afraid before that week. No, afraid is not the right word. Not afraid, exactly, more like uneasy. Creeped out. You know what I mean.
* * *
The odd thing about the homeless guy who stumbled into me after work on Tuesday at the Prince Street station was that the man didn't look homeless at all, just rumpled and weary. I'm sure I looked the same to him.
Leaving the agency, I'd walked past some furniture store windows on the way to the train and almost didn't recognize my reflection in the display mirrors. Wild black hair, blowing in the wind, swirled around a pale, pale face above a black cowl-neck sweater. Pretty spooky. My makeup was a mess by the day's end and the smudged mascara under my eyes made them look even bigger than usual. I tried to wipe it off with my finger but it wouldn't budge so I gave up and hurried down into the subway. So much for the claims of the "smudge-proof" makeup!
It had been a long day. A million phone calls; then I power-shopped through lunch, snagging some great silver shoes and a knockout of a dress on a half-off sale, the only one left on the rack in a size 6. I ran into one of my clients, Miss Ruth Shadrach, at Macy's One Day Sale. She was buying some nylon nightgowns and a little red traincase for our trip.
I was tired, standing on the platform waiting for the express train, clutching my packages. I wasn't exactly on top of my game. I wasn't alone. The uptown platform was jammed with tired commuters.
Peering over the heads of some Chinese ladies, I thought I saw the lights of the train coming. That was when the man bumped into me. He was big, almost a head taller than I am, and I'm 5'8".
He was muttering something — I guessed some sort of apology — but I couldn't hear over the shrieking noise of the approaching train. The mass of people surged forward even as the train stopped, and in the mad rush to board I lost sight of him.
It was only later — when I saw that same shabby guy on the street at the park near my building, making his nest with all these cardboard sheets and little plastic bundles — that I knew he was homeless.
It was two days later — when I met him again in Union Square and then later on my street — that pity changed to fear. He stared at me and shouted, waving his arm, trying to stop me, as I hurried into my entryway. I was grateful — not for the first time — for the extravagance of a doorman building. I looked out from the window of my castle, drawbridge up, but the doorman had done his job.
The homeless man with the gutter-gravy-colored eyes was gone.
* * *
I told my super about the homeless man between wash-loads in the basement Thursday night. He dismissed my concerns with an elegant Polish shrug.
"It is because you are from the south of the United States. From a small willage. You do not understand what it is to live in New York. I have fifteen years in this country. When you have fifteen years, you will know how it is in New York, and you will not be afraid. Or maybe you will be more afraid. I do not know. You understand?"
I did not understand. But then, there's not much of Janusz's worldview that I do understand.
Janusz is a good man. He has a round, round head with round blue eyes, and an impossible haircut. He can lift anything — probably even a refrigerator — by himself, and fix just about anything when he wants to, which is not very often. Crumbling plaster, locks, washing machines, window air conditioners, the furnace, anything. He has a courtly manner of speaking except when he is screaming in Polish at his helper, Pieter. Pieter does all the nasty stuff in the building ... takes out the trash, unstops toilets, mops the basement, kills rats. Pieter leads a dog's life.
I fed seven quarters into the dryer, scraped the lint off the trap, cursed all of the cat people in the building, and pressed the start button. The monster roared to life, blotting out all but shouted conversation.
Waving goodbye to Janusz, I hiked back up the steps to 4F. We have an erratic elevator, so when I don't have a load, it's quicker to take the stairs. In the spooky stairwell my thoughts returned to my dumpster-diving friend.
Homeless people are a fact of life in New York. New York City spends vast amounts of money to house and feed them, and tons of private charities and religious groups do their best to help, but it is never enough. More people live in New York's homeless shelters than the entire population of my home town, and that number doesn't include the hard cases who live on the street.
New Yorkers begin to recognize the regulars in their neighborhoods: the guy who sleeps on the church steps, the Asian woman on the sidewalk near the Duane Reade drugstore, the mutterer on the corner. You can spot the transients who drift out of town in late summer when the weather turns cold farther north. You know which ones deliberately choose a cardboard sheet on the street over a warm bed and a sermon — the same ones who balk when told to go to the shelters even on record-cold days of winter, who linger in the subway entrances until the transit cops move them out. You sense the difference between the drugged, the alcoholic, and the desperate. You know that some are basically good people who just caught a few bad breaks or ran out of luck. You know that some are cons and others are sick, or mean, or just plain nuts. And you also know, deep inside you, that there are those who are very dangerous.
I didn't know which category my new pal fell into, but I knew that I was afraid of him.
* * *
On Friday at work I was too busy getting ready for my old folks' cruise to Scandinavia and Russia to think about creepy feelings or the homeless man or Janusz or anything else except nametags and dining preferences and shore excursions.
I am a travel agent, a dying breed. I was amazingly lucky to be hired for the summer after my freshman year of college by a New York agency, Itchy Feet Travel (IFT). My friends couldn't believe I was actually headed to work in Manhattan. I never looked back. I fell in love with the travel business and New York and managed to talk Itchy into a permanent job as a frontline agent.
"You are what?" my mother said, during the fateful phone call to Mississippi that August. "You're really staying in New York, giving up college and sorority rush and everything to work for a travel agency? I can't believe it. I don't know what your father will say. Sidney Lanier Marsh, are you crazy?"
Maybe. But I worked hard, took all the training I could get, and was soon promoted to a special group agent, a job I have now held for almost six years. I'm not getting rich, that's for sure, unless you count getting to travel the whole world for free.
For the last several trips, I have been in charge of a group called the High Steppers. Don't be put off by the name. This is not some dance troupe trying to knock off the Rockettes. The High Steppers are senior citizens, God love them, and I am their shepherd. My colleague and best friend, Jay Wilson, is the co- leader on most of my trips.
He and I both totally realize that travel agents may be going the way of the dinosaur because precious few of us managed to survive the airlines' decision to stop paying us for selling their tickets. When that happened, travel agencies took a big hit. Those big boys did a job on us and on the traveling public as well.
Before then, agents were paid on commission by vendors ... airlines, cruise lines, hotels, etc. Their work was free to the customer. No charge. No fees. And your agent worked super hard to find you the best deal for your money, the best possible trip for you.
Then some evil person at the airlines decided to make more money by cutting out the travel agent. No more big commission checks to pay! Bigger profits for them! They sold the public on the idea that getting great deals was easy, that no one needed an agent at all when they could easily book a trip for themselves on their home computer. Really? Do you think your little desktop is seeing all that is out there? Do you really think that a do-it-yourself E-ticket is better than a full service, experienced, free travel advisor?
But enough of that. I hear enough bitterness from my former compadres — now selling insurance or bras or whatever — to waste time wallowing in the inequities of life. I'm just glad I still have a job.
"Mrs. Weiss is on line four, again," Roz's intercom voice interrupted. "She wants to know what she should wear for the Roman Toga Party. You want I should tell her?"
I love travel. Period. And, fortunately, I get to travel to places I could never afford, because I don't mind shepherding senior citizens around the world. It's my job, and I love it. I like old folks, they like me, and I make just enough to afford my rent. Barely, but that's New York.
The agency that I work for, Itchy Feet Travel, is in Nolita. When I first moved to Manhattan I had to learn all about stuff like Soho, Noho, Tribeca and Nolita just to find my way around. Soho means SOuth of HOuston Street. For all you Texans in the Big Apple, that's HOW — rhymes with COW — ston. Nolita is short for NOrth of Little ITAly. You get the idea. My personal favorite is in Brooklyn; Dumbo, meaning Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass.
Itchy Feet handles mostly leisure travel, a lot of groups, and still has a fair amount of corporate business. Most of the people who work here are good — very good — and very experienced. I am, too. I can fare a Buddhist monk to Sri Lanka and back with three stopovers before you can say veg meal, and without once calling the help desk. What I'm saying is, this is not some mall deal staffed with bubbleheads. We are good, sugar.
That Friday afternoon I was finalizing the details of the High Steppers Scandinavian cruise. With all the phone calls and interruptions, it took me almost until closing to get their travel bags assembled. My guys love their travel bags. Bright pink, with High Steppers and the Itchy Feet Travel logo printed on the plastic, the bags hold all their travel documents and pills and gel pads, with room left over for all that other stuff they claim they have to have with them. I love those loud bags, too, because it makes it easier to spot strays.
"I'm outta here, Roz. See you on the fifteenth."
"Good luck with them High Steppers, hon. I gotta tell ya, I wouldn't trade jobs with you for nothing!"
* * *
After work I took the downtown R train to Canal Street to deliver travel docs to Charlie and Amy Wu, loyal members of the High Steppers, and two of the agency's best clients.
Personal delivery of documents is not usually my job, but these people are special. Besides being really good customers of our agency, they own a terrific Cantonese restaurant on Mott Street called Lotus, and also a Chinese import business that sells silk and other high-end fabrics along with teak and mahogany furniture, all at great prices. I bought the coolest stuff in my apartment at Wu's.
I pushed my way through the crowded street, heading east on Canal toward Mott, checking out the latest designer knockoffs hanging from hooks in the stalls lining the street as I went.
Skinny little women minding pushcarts filled with counterfeit DVDs and CDs jockeyed for space on the sidewalk with muscular vendors of fake Rolex and Cartier watches.
Lookouts on the street watched carefully for the trademark infringement cops, chattering steadily into cell phones, their heads swiveling back and forth like meerkats.
The word goes out at the first sign of the police, and you can hear corrugated metal stall doors slamming down all over Chinatown. Some merchants even tape up "For Rent" signs as if the stall is vacant.
It's rumored that secret passages through the backs of the little stores and all underground in Chinatown connect the whole maze, providing quick escape for merchants of illegal goods, drugs, money and people. They say that some of those tunnels go back to the days of Tammany Hall. Some things don't change, do they?
I stopped to price a handsome black leather bag with brass hardware and a distinctive designer logo. It looked so close to the real thing that I wondered if it was real, maybe stolen.
"How much?" I asked a small nervous man who was constantly watching the street.
"Fifty dollar, last price."
"Fifty dollars!" I repeated, "Fifty dollars? Too much. What about twenty?"
"Fifty dollar. Last price," he insisted. "Very nice. Very good bag, you look."
He opened the bag for inspection, and I knew that my guess was probably correct. The inside really did look real, with logo lining and intricate stitching. Besides, they will always bargain for the fakes, but never for the hot ones.
"You not like this one? Come, come in here, come quick. I have others you like, very beautiful, but not cheap. Good bag not cheap. You look. You see. Look quick. I make you best price."
He pushed open a section of the pegboard wall, revealing a dim passageway stuffed with purses, and motioned for me to enter.
"Come quick, come quick. Very nice, you like."
Now, I love to shop. All Southern women love to shop. It's in our blood, inherited and instinctive, then honed by our mothers, just as kittens learn to catch mice. But I couldn't stop. Too late. Too much to do.
"No, thanks," I said smiling, backing out. "Not today. I'm sorry. Maybe some other time."
* * *
Charlie Wu was in the kitchen of Lotus when I arrived, and I was ushered through the swinging doors by the smiling hostess — Charlie's niece, Mei Mei.
There are lots of different smells in Chinatown, some of them not so pleasant, but the aromas wafting from the pots and pans in Charlie's kitchen smelled terrific.
Charlie's wife Amy — a slim, tiny woman with a great sense of style — manages their import business. Charlie — also slim, tiny, and impeccably dressed — runs Lotus. It's hard to know how they can stay so trim working around all that wonderful food.
I have a cousin who eats everything in sight, and when I was a teenager, if I really pigged out, my mother would make dire predictions about my eating and her girth. I wear a 6, okay? But if I worked at Lotus, I'm pretty sure I'd be bigger than Ethelline.
Charlie thanked me for the delivery, and he must have seen the hunger on my face, because he offered me a meal. I hated to pass his offer up, but I really needed to get home. It was getting late, I had calls to make, and I had barely started packing.
Waving goodbye, I pushed my way back up to Canal, ducked into the subway, swiped my Metrocard, and headed back uptown on the R.
* * *
At about 8 p.m. I stopped in at Kim's bodega near my apartment for a few fantastically priced toiletries and a hot pastrami on rye with brown mustard and a Kosher pickle.
Why a Vietnamese man can make the best pastrami sandwich in all Manhattan is beyond me. I only knew that, having worked through lunch, and after turning down Charlie Wu's offer, I was totally ready for the pastrami. And for the cold, creamy cheesecake that I bought to top it off.
"You eat all this, you get soooo fat!" he jeered, staring at my rear. "Hahahaha!"
Kim thinks he is a real funny guy. He loves to make remarks about my appetite and my shape. But for the sake of his food, I'll put up with his mouth.
In reward for his humor, I paid with plastic. Kim hates that, because not only does he have to pay the card people a fee, he also has to report the transaction to his newly-adopted Uncle Sam instead of slipping the cash in the box he keeps under the counter. That would teach the old pirate to call me fat again anytime soon!(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Shore Excursion"
Copyright © 2012 Marie Moore.
Excerpted by permission of Coffeetown Enterprises, Inc.
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
Sidney's mom was not happy when she quit college to move to New York City, or with her career in a dying profession as a travel agent. So Sidney will not mention that a scary looking homeless man seems to be stalking her as she is about to start her cruise as the travel leader of a group of senior citizens..and a few others who may have chosen the wrong group. Or that as the cruise has barely started, one of the High Steppers has been found strangled in her cabin.Perhaps just as upsetting for Sidney is the fact that everyone on the ship seems determined to say it was not a murder, including the very handsome Captain Vargos and the on-board medical doctor. But when a second body, another High Stepper is found naked and very dead in one of the ship's freezers, no one is going to be able to deny that something very bad is going on..and that Sidney herself may be the next intended victim.Why has no one thought of this before, an amateur sleuth who is a travel agent and the leader of travel group? Well, if anyone has, I has not read it and now, ex-travel agent Ms. Moore has done a very nice job at using this very good idea. I can hardly wait to see where future adventures will take us..not that this one, to London and a cruise through Scandinavia to Russia, is not good enough because it is. In fact, it is a trip that I would love to take myself in real life! Which is at least one reason that I enjoyed this book. But not the only one.Ms. Moore has put together a nice case of characters, including Sidney, but also joined by her friend and co-worker Jay Wilson, a young man who is gay in every sense of the word and an interesting group in the High Steppers. By the way, if you read my rant recently about introducing too large a cast of characters all at once, thank you Ms. Moore for that sweet list Sidney made, early in the book, describing them all. Life saver! OK, maybe the dashing Captain Vargos is just a bit too good to be true, but I guess poor Sidney deserves a little fun after all the goings on this time around.Throw in some great settings and more than a little bit of real travel advice and all together Shore Excursion is a very nice and very promising start to a new cozy mystery series, a fast, fun read. I know that I will be traveling along on the next adventure!
Sidney Marsh thought when she went on another High Stepper cruise for the travel agency she works, Itchy Feet Travel, it would be a piece of cake. Didn't happen. The High Steppers are a group of geriatric men and women who have nothing better to do than take cruises, so this was not the first cruise for Sidney and her co worker Jay with this group of people. Weird happenings, dead bodies that even the captain and crew are not too concerned with. Sidney feels different and starts an investigation of her own which seems to rub certain people the wrong way and puts her and Jay and her clients in danger. This is a cute little mystery of a woman who has a hard time following orders and gets in lots of trouble along the way. I enjoyed this book, but what I especially liked was the fact that the author obviously knew what she was talking about as far as the ins and outs of the travel industry and she even threw in a few tips as far as safe travel.
What started out with promise, fell short for me. The main charcaters Sidney and Jay (co-workers/friends?) were immature and childish when interacting with each other to the point of being annoying. I found it hard to believe these two were in charge of a group of seniors on an oversea's cruise. The idea for the plot was good. held my interest enough for me to finish reading. Very easy to pick up and put down. Perhaps it was written with a younger reader in mind.
Sidney Marsh left Mississippi for the Big Apple and has never looked back. She spends her time as a travel agent and a lot of her travel agent time is spent shepherding tours throughout the world. Sidney's specialty is acting as the tour specialist for senior citizens tours; specifically the High Steppers. She has been on several tours with this group of friends. This trip they are headed to the northern European countries; Denmark, Sweden, Russia. But someone else has boarded the cruise ship and they spell danger. One of the High Stepper women is killed, although the cruise ship tries to hush it up. Then another High Stepper, this one a male, is killed. Who is trying to kill these innocuous senior citizens, and why would they be targets? Sidney is determined to find out since the authorities don't seem interested in anything except sweeping the murders under the rug so that the tour can go on. There are plenty of suspects. There are some younger men who are touring with the group, and why would interesting, attractive young men want to spend time with those of an older generation? Then there is the cruise ship captain. One minute he seems to be interested in Sidney, the next he is ordering her around and thwarting her investigations. There's the blonde bombshell who flirts with all the men, and even Sidney's best friend Jay is acting suspicious. Can Sidney find the killer before anyone else is killed? This is a debut mystery from Marie Moore. It is written in the cozy, light-hearted style of a Joan Hess or Carolyn Hart. The narrative is written in first-person style from Sidney's perspective. Along with an engaging mystery, readers learn tidbits about successful cruising. Shore Excursion is the first novel in a series, and readers will be interested to see what Ms. Moore serves up next. This book is recommended for mystery readers interested in light crime dramas.