“A stylish, provocative story no mystery fan should be without.” —RENDEZVOUS
Art consultant Ellen Santiago Laws thinks the spark has gone out of her life. Five years a widow, she has a grown daughter, a senile mother and very few prospects for adventure. But after she serves on a jury that convicts a man for murdering the flashy head of an exclusive matchmaking service catering to the wealthy, overworked Southern California elite, she discovers that not all the evidence came out in the courtroom—and the victim might not have been quite as virtuous as the prosecution made her out to be.
With the help of an unlikely group of friends (including a weight-obsessed cardiologist with a penchant for Beach Bimbos, a high school frenemy, and a decorator with an uncanny resemblance to Vlad the Impaler), Ellen begins her investigation into the chic world of California matchmaking, where she enrolls as a love-starved client. What she discovers is enough to make anyone scared single, but when she is matched with a not-so-unattractive lawyer, life starts to get a lot more interesting. Just as it seems things are looking up, though, the real killer catches on and Ellen has to stay cool—to stay alive.
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About the Author
Catherine Todd lived for several years in Costa Rica and Italy, and for extended periods of time in France and Mexico. She has taught English literature and French in the United States and abroad. She and her husband currently live in San Diego, CA, where in addition to fiction, her business is writing highly specialized permanent residency petitions for exceptionally talented immigrants to the United States. Her previous books include Making Waves, Staying Cool and Exit Strategies.
Read an Excerpt
So why was I here?
I notice that I've been planting a lot of excuses for why what happened, happened. But let me be as honest as I can. Usually, I preferred art to lifeit was more satisfying in construction and generally more interesting. But recently I'd experienced one of those autumnal moments of revelation when I realized that most of life's big experiences were going to pass me by. I'd already had my allotted share, and there weren't going to be any more. My husband was gone, and my child was almost grown-up. My mother was senile. Replacement hormones were just around the corner. In fact, I'd reached the age when just about everything is measured by how much you have left of what you used to have, period. True, I had friends and a job that I liked (for the most part), but I'd already made my big life choices, and now all the consequences unrolled predictably before me into the future.
Maybe a nice, messy murder trial would shake things up. Or maybe not. Who knows how the subconscious works? Still, here I was, although I had plenty of better things to do than rubber-stamp a guilty verdict, which is all that seemed likely to come to anyway.
"So who wants to start?" asked Leo.
"Start what?" asked Pat.
"Can we get a break?" asked Eric.
"Christ, we just got in here," muttered Alvino. "Let's get the show on the road."
"I'll start, then," said Leo, as if Eric hadn't spoken. "If everyone agrees."
Alvino sighed and sat back in his chair, folding his arms across his chest. His leg twitched nervously. If he'd been a kid, they would have diagnosed him with Attention Deficit Disorder.
"What we have," said Leo solemnly, "is a defendant who had access to the victim'soffices, because he'd copied his mother's keys. So he had the means. He knew she was well-off, again because of his mother. He went at an hour when you'd reasonably expect no one would be therereally early in the morningto burglarize the place. The victim came in unexpectedlyher assistant testified that she sometimes came in very early to work, because she made telephone calls to Europe and the East Coast. The kid wouldn't have known that. Anyway, she must've surprised her killerlet's say it was Ramon and he picked up the nearest heavy object and whacked her over the head from behind. So there's motive. Maybe he meant to kill her; maybe not. It doesn't matter, because, as we know, a death that results from a felony such as burglaryeven if you were hit in an accident by the getaway caris murder. Is everybody with me so far?"
"Right. So let's think about the evidence against him. In the first place, his fingerprints were on the murder weapon. In the second place, the police found some of the stuff from the dead woman's office in his car. And"
"Someone called the police and reported a possible burglary on the premises shortly before they picked him up," Alvino helped him out.
"Or so they say," said William, who was, if I re member correctly, an engineer at TRW.
"Well, why would they lie about it?" asked Hazel.
More groans. Most of us were such cynics. First the government, then the police. Expert witnesses. Credibility was a scarce commodity these days.
"Well, even if you discount that, they had the goods on him. Motive, means, opportunity, and evidence!'' concluded Alvino. I concluded that he, too, was a reader of crime fiction.
Leo cleared his throat self-importantly to remind us Who Was In Charge. "Against that . . . against that, we have . . . what?" He raised his shoulders and eyebrows in an eloquent shrug.
"He says he didn't do it," volunteered Marta.
Alvino rolled his eyes.
"Well, what do you expect?" Leo asked with irritation. "Of course he says that."
"They always say that," he added with authority. "Don't they?"
"I guess so," said Marta.
"Besides, he told the cops she gave him all that stuff in his car. Because his mother used to work for her. That's total bull"
"There is one thing, though," I suggested.
Leo glared at me. "What?"
"Well, why didn't he plea bargain? After they caught him with stolen goods and found his fingerprints on the Erte"
"The what?" asked Pat.
"His lawyer had to know it would look pretty bad for him after that. I'm sure the DA would have offered something less than first-degree murder. He was only seventeen at the time. So why wouldn't he go for it?"
"I don't think we're supposed to speculate on that," Hazel said timidly. Leo had squashed most of the life out of her, and she wasn't about to put up any more resistance. Besides, she had a point.
"Well, okay. You're probably right. But it still makes me wonder," I told her.
"You can wonder," Alvino said grimly, "but you gotta use your head. Who else could have done it? They never found anybody else with a motive to kill her, much less anyone placed at the scene of the crime. Even if you don't like it, we have to face the facts. The kid did it."
Nobody said anything.
"Does anybody want to talk about it any more?" Leo asked. He looked pointedly at Hazel, who shook her head.
"Put it to a vote, man," urged Alvino. "Please."
Leo drew himself up. "Hazel?" he asked.
Bad choice. She could never feel comfortable being the first to state an opinion, no matter how strongly she held it. She looked away. "I'm not. . . I need . . . I'm not quite ready," she pleaded.
"A woman is dead," Leo said sternly. "Do you want her murderer to get away with it?"
Hazel gripped the table in panic.
"Come back to her," said Alvino. "I'll start, okay? I vote guilty."
Leo turned his head ostentatiously away. "Eric?"
I could almost hear her swallow. "I agree. Guilty."
This is what I remember: The fluorescent fixture hummed. The tabletop had lines of fake wood grain stretching unbroken the entire length. A chair scraped against the leg. The air-conditioning blew down my collar from the vent above. Everybody was looking at me expectantly. My mouth was very dry.
But that's it. No crisis of conscience, no inner voices, not even an accelerated heartbeat. Not a single cliched emotion. No hesitation, or not much. No doubts, reasonable or otherwise.
"Guilty," I said.
Copyright 1997 by Catherine Todd
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
There are some authors with whom there's an immediate connection. It's like they're talking just to me either about a shared experience or similar thoughts. Catherine Todd was like that for me. I'd not read any of her other books; I don't even remember how Staying Cool got on my TBR pile; but I'm so glad I bought this book because I enjoyed it very much.
Ellen Santiago Laws is in her 40's, and she's been assigned to a jury hearing a murder case. While she believes the evidence presented supports the jury verdict of guilty, there's something not quite right about the case, and Ellen can't dismiss it from her mind after it's over. Ellen is an art consultant, and it turns out that the murder victim also dabbled somewhat in the art world, so there are various reasons why Ellen is attracted to the facts of this particular crime.
As the story moves forward, more and more questions arise about the way in which the murder was investigated: whether the police had really found all the clues and whether or not the right man was convicted of the crime. But as the story progresses, the reader also learns more about Ellen, and that's where Todd's story really pulled me in.
Ellen is a widow, and after the death of her husband her life changed more dramatically than she realized. She became more isolated; she became far more content with her own company than she was by that of those around her. I found I became very interested in Ellen's thoughts about her preference to be alone. Many of her opinions mirrored conclusions I'd reached myself, and it was refreshing to read sentiments that don't always agree with conventional wisdom.
The mystery of this story is eventually resolved satisfactorily, but after a while the mystery became secondary to me. I enjoyed so much more about Staying Cool than merely its genre, and I look forward to reading more of Catherine Todd's books.