Amy-Faye Johnson’s book club, the Readaholics, is engrossed in Murder on the Orient Express, and Poirot’s surprising resolution is stirring up debate. Is the solution remotely realistic? Is justice served by Poirot's decision? Well, the book is fiction after all…
Then, just as Amy-Faye is planning the grand opening of her brother Derek’s pub,
his hot-headed partner is murdered. To keep Derek from being railroaded as a suspect, Amy-Faye and the Readaholics take a page from Poirot and investigate. But as the clues lead to unlikely places, surprising motives, and a multitude of suspects, Amy-Faye and her pals wonder if truth can be just as strange as fiction.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Other Mysteries by Laura DiSilverio
Excerpt from The Readaholics and the Gothic Gala
Choosing a book for the Readaholics to read is a tough task, and the five of us who make up the book club take the responsibility seriously. Usually. There was the one time we wrote the titles of books ranging from Gone Girl to The Moonstone on slips of paper, taped them on my folks’ garage door, and threw darts to pick a winner. Margaritas were involved. (Trust me, the garage door, unpainted since Fleetwood Mac hit the top ten, and liberally pocked with woodpecker holes to start with, was not greatly harmed by our selection process.) Only Lola managed to get a dart to stick. Did I mention the margaritas? Her dart picked Elizabeth George’s A Great Deliverance. And there was the time, at least two years ago, when we decided (I don’t remember why) that we had to find a title that started with Q and found ourselves reading an Inspector Rebus novel. But mostly, we take the task seriously.
Which is how I ended up having a conversation six weeks ago with Brooke Widefield, my best friend, whose turn it was to pick a book. We were sitting in my sunroom, almost uncomfortably warm with the sun streaming through the panes that I had Windexed to streak-free perfection only that morning. The celadon green tiles gleamed, and the plants (chosen with much help from Lola Paget, who owned a plant nursery) stretched greenly toward the sunlight. I’d had an event that went late the night before, Friday, and I was makeup-less with my copper-colored hair in a ponytail, wearing a faded University of Colorado T-shirt and shorts that had fit better five pounds ago. Brooke Widefield, of course, as always, looked exquisite, mink-dark hair curling over her shoulders like she had just finished filming a shampoo commercial and green eyes emphasized by taupe shadow and mascara. Her crisp red capris and denim jacket could have been featured in a magazine spread about how to look chic rather than sloppy running weekend errands. I was the “before” photo and Brooke the “after.” I was used to it.
“It’s hard to find murder mysteries without murders in them,” Brooke observed facetiously. “But since Ivy, well, I’m not in the mood to read anything too realistic.”
Ivy Donner, one of the Readaholics and our friend since high school, had been poisoned in May and we were all still reeling. I found myself agreeing with Brooke that we didn’t need a police procedural or urban noir book for next month.
“There are lots of books without serial killers or gore,” I said, taking a swig of my diet soda. “Tons of ’em. Really, when you think about it, books with brains caked on the walls and criminologists deducing the killer’s identity from blood-spatter analysis are a relatively modern development. What about something more old-fashioned, something pre–Girl with the Dragon Tattoo?”
“Dick Francis,” Brooke mused. “Except sometimes he kills off horses and I can’t take that.”
Brooke had a soft heart for animals and volunteered at the Heaven Animal Haven, the no-kill shelter here in Heaven, Colorado.
She wrinkled her nose. “After reading that one about the bells, I’m not much of a Sayers fan. Bor-ing. I’m more in the mood for something along the line of Nancy Drew.”
“I don’t think the others will be too keen on that,” I said. “Get it? Carolyn Keene?”
Brooke groaned and tossed a throw pillow at me.
“I guess that’s why they call them throw pillows,” I said, catching it.
“Stop with the puns already,” she said, “or I’m leaving.” She made as if to rise.
“Fine, fine.” I held up my hands in surrender.
“What about Agatha Christie?” she said. “We haven’t ever read one of her books.”
I thought about it. “I guess you’re right,” I said slowly. “I guess I assumed everyone had already read a lot of Christie, since she is the queen of mysteries.” I paused for a beat and decided to confess. “I’ve never read a Christie book, though. Don’t toss me out of the Readaholics.”
“I’ve read all the Miss Marples.” She put down her diet soda, being careful to place a coaster under it, even on the glass table. “I’ve never tried any of the others, though.”
And that’s how we came to be reading Murder on the Orient Express, the book jouncing on the van’s passenger seat as I headed for my brother Derek’s pub. I’d finished it the night before and was looking forward to the Readaholics’ discussion tomorrow. I tried to anticipate everyone’s reactions, but the only one I was sure of was Maud’s. Our resident conspiracy theorist would be wholeheartedly enthusiastic about the book because it contained a conspiracy. I smiled to myself as I parked the car in the gravel lot. I had found the whole conspiracy thing totally unbelievable. Twelve people working together to kill one man? Puh-leeze. Murder conspiracies didn’t work, not in real life.
• • •
We’ve all heard the advice about doctors not performing surgery on their own family members. It’s against the Hippocratic oath, I think, or maybe the American Medical Association bans it. The same should hold true for event organizers. If there were an event organizer governing body, I’d be happy to propose a bylaw that made it unethical to plan parties for family members, especially brothers. Under that rule, such an act would be punishable by having to retake high school sex ed, listening to an endless loop of John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High,” or a cross-country road trip with said family. In a VW Beetle. With no air-conditioning. In August.
I looked at Derek and said in my reasonable voice, even though my day’s supply of “reasonable” was about exhausted, “You can’t invite more people. The fire marshal’s max capacity is two hundred and twenty. We’ve already invited three hundred, not counting the people who will come because they read about the opening in the Heaven Herald, or heard about it from a friend. A fair chunk of the invitees won’t be able to come, especially the ones from Denver, but you’re asking for trouble by sending out more invitations this late.”
We were sitting in my brother’s ready-for-grand-opening brewpub, Elysium Brewing, on the outskirts of Heaven, Colorado. The building had originally been a factory—shoes, I think—and the designer had kept an industrial vibe with exposed pipes and the original brick walls. They contrasted nicely with the new fittings installed late last month. On a sultry August day, the narrow windows were open and brilliant sunshine lit up the booths with their orange leatherette upholstery and made the woodwork gleam. When I’d heard the pub’s decorator was going with orange, I was skeptical, but against the dark wood and the bar’s brass fittings, it looked really good, especially in the evening under the soft glow from the antique-looking pendant lights. A nook near the front windows held sofas and bookshelves that gave the pub a homey feel. I kept meaning to scope out the books, which I suspected the designer had bought by the yard. From where we sat in a corner booth near the kitchen, I could barely glimpse the patio where Derek envisioned selling a lot of brews on long summer evenings, and the wide staircase that led to an open area with eight pool tables and an auxiliary bar on the second floor, offices on the third floor, and a rooftop space that would eventually be a venue for private functions. At the moment, though, it was bare and pebbly and unattractive, off-limits to the public. A humongous stainless steel vat with tubing spiraling around it took up a large chunk of space. It sat in a glass enclosure so Colorado’s craft beer enthusiasts could watch the brewing process in action. Whoop-de-do.
The janitor mopped his way past us, leaving an odor of lemon cleanser that temporarily overpowered the hoppy beer scent that pervaded the pub. Derek ran a hand through his short hair, which was a deeper auburn than my coppery locks. It stood on end. “People won’t all come at the same time,” he argued.
“I know, but trust me when I say that guests with an invitation in hand are going to expect to walk right in, not have to wait in line until the place empties out enough that there’s room for them.” I’d owned my event-organizing business, Eventful!, for four years now, and I’d learned a thing or two the hard way.
“But we’ve got to invite Gordon’s doctor sister, Angie, and her husband, Eugene—he’s an accountant—now that they’re back in town. Their daughter—what a tragedy. And that guy who’s running for state senator against Troy Widefield—not that I want him to beat Troy, but—”
A tattoo of stiletto heels on the stairs and raised voices interrupted us. “—what the judge has to say, Gordo,” a woman’s voice said. “You can’t just not pay Kolby’s college tuition. The semester starts in a couple of weeks. He’s—”
“He’s twenty-four and a useless parasite,” came Gordon Marsh’s voice. “I paid for his first attempt at college, and I don’t feel I owe him another go-round. I gave him a job here and that’s more than he deserves. I’m damn sure he drinks or spills more beer than he sells.”
“He’s your son!” The speaker, a slim brunette, came into view. In tight jeans, a Western shirt that strained the pearl snaps across her chest, and carefully feathered hair, she looked a decade younger than the fifty-two or – three she had to be.
“Don’t remind me,” Gordon growled. He appeared on the stairs above her and followed her down, his heavier footsteps in contrast to the angry tapping of her heels. Derek’s partner in Elysium Brewing, Gordon Marsh was in his early fifties with a full head of dark blond hair sprinkled with gray. His tanned face had its share of lines, and he carried a little extra weight around his middle, but he was still a handsome man. He reminded me of a younger, blonder James Brolin. He had a reputation as a player, though, with a philosophy of love ’em and leave ’em. Lots of ’em, if rumors were correct. I was sure he thought of himself as a “stud.” He’d tried his pitch on me when he first went into business with Derek, but I was having none of it. Sure, I’d gone out once with a guy who turned out to be a murderer, but I had to draw the line somewhere.
I’d asked Derek why he’d partnered with Gordon, and he’d told me Gordon was an investment genius, head of his own venture capital firm, GTM Capital, with a knack for underwriting start-up bars and restaurants that went on to be hugely successful. He had a unique hands-on approach to his projects, where he or one of his senior staff “embedded” with the company they were underwriting until it was well and truly launched.
“I need him. Don’t piss him off, sis,” Derek had said, stopping short of suggesting I date the man to keep him happy. He knew how that was likely to go over.
“You’ll be hearing from my lawyer,” Susan Marsh said, eyes narrowed to slits. “You can’t do this to Kolby.”
“The hell I can’t!” Without warning, Gordon swiped a beer mug from the bar and hurled it in Susan’s direction. It missed her by a good three feet, hit a booth, and shattered on the floor.
Derek was on his feet immediately, making calming gestures as he approached his partner. “Whoa, big guy, no need for this.” He stood between Gordon and Susan, which made me nervous, but Gordon didn’t seem inclined to launch more missiles at his ex-wife.
Susan, eyes big, scuttled out of the bar, but not without stopping to snap a picture of the broken glass with her phone. For her lawyer’s use, I imagined. I was so startled by Gordon’s sudden fury that I stayed seated, not sure whether to call the cops or let Derek handle it. The two men talked for thirty seconds, and then Derek clapped his partner on the shoulder and returned to me while Gordon headed up the stairs to the roof, shaking a cigarette out of a packet as he went. Derek had complained to me before about Gordon disappearing to the roof for his smoke breaks.
“What was that all about?” I whispered.
Derek shook his head. “I don’t know. Gordon’s been edgy lately, losing it over the least little thing. When we first started putting this deal together, fifteen months or so ago, he was brusque, sometimes rude, but you could always see where he was coming from, you know? I mean, yeah, he was out for number one, looking to structure the partnership contract in his favor, but that’s just business. When I didn’t lie down and roll over, he respected it, I think. I mean, our contract’s fair.” He ran a hand through his hair again. “Lately, though, sis”—he gave me a serious look—“I don’t know how much longer I can put up with it. If I could afford to buy him out, I’d do it tomorrow. He’s rude to the employees—that’s why Sam quit—and he busted a crate of hops the other day when the delivery truck was an hour late. If he behaves like that around customers . . .”
I could see worry in the deep line between his brows and the way his jaw worked. I reached over the table to punch his shoulder. “Hang in there. Maybe it’s the grand opening that’s got him on edge. Hopefully, he’ll settle down once we’re past Friday night.”
He didn’t look hopeful and I got the feeling there was more he wasn’t telling me. I didn’t have time to draw it out of him, though, since I was on the verge of being late for a client meeting. “Hang in there,” I repeated, sliding out of the booth as gracefully as I could in my tan pencil skirt. “I’ll be back at five.”
I’d agreed to take a few shifts behind the bar until Derek could find a replacement for Sam, the bartender who’d left in a huff after a run-in with Gordon the day before. I’d put myself through college bartending, among other jobs, and I wanted to help out because Derek had begged me to and because I, like my folks and sisters, had a fair chunk of change invested in Elysium Brewing. I’d even persuaded the Readaholics to put off our discussion of Murder on the Orient Express until tomorrow night so I could work at the pub this evening.
“Thanks, Amy-Faye. You’re a lifesaver.”
“I’ll add that to my résumé.” With a smile and another shoulder punch, I left him sitting in the booth and headed for the parking lot and my van.
The van might not be the BMW Z4 I was currently drooling over, but it was a lot more practical in the event-planning business. I wouldn’t have been able to haul 101 stuffed Dalmatians to Lulu Vancura’s sixth birthday party last night in a Bimmer. They were party favors for 101 of her closest friends who gathered to watch the movie in the theater the Vancuras rented—through me—for the occasion. The party had gone well and I was looking forward to planning many more of Lulu’s birthday bashes. Ka-ching. I hadn’t thought about it much before, but doing birthday parties created a lot more repeat business for an event planner than doing weddings. I mean, people had birthdays on an annual basis, whereas most folks spread their two or three weddings out over twenty years. The lucky ones, of course, only wed once.
The van bumped over the railroad tracks and past the sign welcoming visitors to Heaven, Colorado, population 10,096. EVERYBODY WANTS TO GO TO HEAVEN, it said in blue script underneath, quoting the Kenny Chesney song. Heaven wasn’t always named Heaven. When I was growing up, it was Walter’s Ford. Then, when I was a high school sophomore, the town council, in a bid to attract more tourists and destination wedding business, voted to rename the town. Developers piled on the bandwagon, dubbing housing areas Jubilee Heights and Cherubim Glen and the like. Many of the streets got new names that reflected the town’s theme, as well. The town’s main drag, where my office is located, was rechristened Paradise Boulevard. (It was formerly John Elway Avenue.) Funny that I would grow up to be an event organizer and benefit from the veritable tide of brides and grooms that washed into town, tickled by the idea of getting married in Heaven.
Eventful! was headquartered on the ground floor in the back of an old three-story building that also housed the Divine Herb, a tea shop (that probably sold more coffee than tea), and a yoga studio. The two-person law firm that had had offices on the second floor closed suddenly last month, and the building owners were trying to rerent the space. I parked on the street and walked around to the French doors that opened onto our reception area, where my part-time assistant, Al Frink, sat at his desk. I shared my new insight about weddings vs. birthdays with him. A student at Colorado Mesa, he had gelled back the sandy hair that typically flopped over his high forehead. He looked like a teenage escapee from the 1950s in his sweater vest and bow tie, even though he was twenty-two. The college had hooked him up with me for an internship one semester and we’d clicked, so he’d stayed on.
“Cynical much, boss?” he asked in response.
“Realistic,” I countered.
“You should pitch divorce parties, then,” he said. “Lots of booze, a ritual shredding of wedding photos—or better yet, a bonfire—and all the honoree’s single pals helping put together a Match-dot-com or eHarmony video. Maybe we could offer a free month’s subscription. I’ll get with the Match-dot-com folks this afternoon and see what kind of deal we can get.” He pretended to make a note.
“Ha-ha.” Inside, I wondered if he wasn’t onto something. I couldn’t, offhand, think of a tasteful way to advertise the idea, however.
He grinned, and then told me my prospective client had canceled. I shrugged philosophically. You win some, you lose some. And even when you win some—land a client—you occasionally lose if they’re obnoxious or refuse to pay. I asked Al for an update on the several events he was working, and he filled me in, adding his usual too-truthful observations about our clients.
“That Bethany D’Andrea is a harridan. One of my SAT vocab words. Have you ever noticed how she manages to be nasty by only saying what sounds like nice stuff?” He put on a treacly accent. “‘Oh, honey, you’ve been so strict with your diet. It’s too bad that your green dress is looking tighter.’ ‘I just love mauve and teal! I’d’ve done my house in those colors, too, sweetie, if they weren’t so 1990.’ Blech.”
I couldn’t suppress a grin, because he was so right. “She told me the other day that she thought I was so brave, she admired me so much, for keeping on the trail of Ivy’s killer, but then I’d always been brash and impulsive, hadn’t I?”
“Harpy,” Al said.
“Virago.” I was on a roll.
“I’ll have to look that one up. Witch.”
“Or something that rhymes with ‘witch.’”
He laughed and turned away to answer the phone. I went into my office, the green, white, and lemon space I found energizing, yet relaxing. My “desk” was a six-foot-long project table. A whiteboard with a huge calendar imprinted on it hung behind it and showed all our bookings going out two years. Yep, we already had three weddings and a family reunion on the books for two summers from now. Even though those far-off commitments sometimes fell victim to breakups or other disasters, it made me feel a bit more confident that Eventful! would survive when I looked at the whiteboard.
The interchange and mention of Ivy Donner dipped me into one of those puddles of sadness that seem to linger on life’s path after a loss. Sometimes you could skirt them, edge past them by hanging out with friends, or losing yourself in work, but sometimes you fell into them and they were deeper than you imagined. My friend Ivy had been murdered three months ago, and it’s not like I thought about her every minute of every day, but when her name came up, or something reminded me of her, I felt my mood go from sunny to wilted in a heartbeat. I could have done without the publicity that catching Ivy’s killer had netted me, too, despite the fact that it brought a new stream of clients to Eventful! But the Heaven Herald had run a front-page piece on the arrest and my part in it, and I anticipated more publicity when the trial started up. It was still a couple of months away, but I’d have to testify and I wasn’t looking forward to that, mostly because I’d have to think about Ivy dying every day.
Forcing myself to put aside the melancholy thoughts, I worked out a few details for Elysium’s grand opening on Friday, including coordinating with a U.S. representative’s scheduler about the congresswoman’s attendance. She was in the area anyway for a fund-raiser in Grand Junction, and had promised to drop by. For Derek’s sake I was pleased, because that meant the likelihood of more publicity. And all publicity was good publicity, as the maxim went, and Ivy’s death had proven in a distasteful way. The afternoon flew by in a flurry of phone calls, e-mails, and a meeting with a Heaven Parks and Rec official to see if he’d authorize painting the gazebo at Lost Alice Lake pink for a client’s wedding, as long as she bore the cost and repainted it white after the event. He looked flummoxed by the request and said he’d have to put it before the town council.
“You sure come up with some off-the-wall ideas, Ms. Johnson,” he said, shaking his head.
“Amy-Faye,” I reminded him. “And don’t blame me for this one. It’s all the client’s idea. Thinks pink is her lucky color and her marriage is doomed if the ceremony doesn’t take place in a pink facility.”
“Unless her groom’s as nutty as she is, the marriage is doomed anyway,” he said. “I’ll get back to you as soon as I talk to the council.”
“The wedding’s not till next April, so no hurry.” Thanking him, I crossed the meeting off my list—there’s almost nothing more satisfying than striking through a to-do item—and headed for home to change into bartending gear.
The pub’s staff uniform for female employees was jeans with an orange shirt that tied at the waist and plunged to show cleavage. Not the real me. The men had a simple orange Polo shirt. The top had an embroidered harp—for “Elysium”—over the employee’s name. In my case, the name was “Sam” because I was wearing her uniforms, not having time to get one of my own. Since I didn’t intend to return to bartending as a full-time career, I was okay with being “Sam” for a few nights, until Derek and Gordon could hire a replacement. As I French-braided my hair to keep it out of the way, I grimaced at the way the orange shirt clashed with my hair and sallowed my clear complexion. Oh well.
When I pulled up at the brewpub parking lot, I noticed two women tucking flyers beneath the windshield wipers of parked cars. Hustling past them so as not to get caught up in a discussion of their cause or business—whatever it was—I entered the pub to find a scattering of customers downing Angel Ale and Exorcise Your Demons IPA. Even though the grand opening wasn’t until Friday, the pub had been open for business for almost two weeks on a limited basis as Derek and Gordon trained their staff and finalized their menu.
Derek was behind the bar and he looked frazzled, even though the customer load was light. A twenty-something with a soul patch slouched between tables, taking orders.
“Thank goodness you’re here,” Derek greeted me. “Bernie’s late and I need to be in the kitchen. Kolby’s on the floor. It’s all yours. You can figure it out, can’t you?”
He disappeared on the words and I entered the circular bar through the hinged section and familiarized myself with the bar stock, sink setup, glasses, and draft choices. The grid beneath my feet was still firm, not squishy from years of being marinated in beer and alcohol, like the place I worked at in Boulder. Being behind the bar made me feel like I was back at CU, sacrificing sleep for money and grades. Hmm. Ten years on, my life hadn’t changed all that much, only now I was giving up sleep to run my own business and I didn’t have to worry about finals.
Kolby bellied up to the server’s station and said, “Hey. A pitcher of Angel Ale, a Coke, and three Demons. Is your name Sam, too?” he asked, nodding toward my shirt.
He was kidding, right? “Nope. Amy-Faye. Derek’s sister. Temp help. Just a couple of days until they replace Sam.”
I studied Gordon’s son. He was more slender than his dad but had the same dark blond hair and blue eyes. He shifted from foot to foot while I filled a pitcher, waited for the suds to subside, and topped it off.
“Lucky you,” he said. “I wish I could say the same. My dad’s making me work here the rest of the summer. And he’s not even paying me! Slave labor. He’d make me work here year-round, I’ll bet, except I’m going back to Ft. Collins next month. I was planning on doing some rafting—the rivers’re still running really high—but my dad nixed that.” He sounded aggrieved.
I figured if his dad was paying his tuition, that counted as a salary, but I didn’t say so. I added the Coke to his tray and gave him a noncommittal smile.
“Maybe we could hang out sometime,” he suggested, eyes roving over me in a way that told me the apple hadn’t fallen far from the tree. “I’ve always liked redheads.”
“Who doesn’t?” I agreed, not bothering to tell him I didn’t routinely “hang out” with whiny, underemployed men ten years my junior. My taste ran more to well-seasoned cops and a certain blond lawyer . . .
“Hey, that’s a good one.” Kolby’s laugh had a neighing quality to it.
Without wanting to side with Gordon on anything, I found myself agreeing with him about his son’s loserhood. I immediately felt bad about the thought, since I’d only known the kid for two minutes. Sometimes that’s long enough, my unkinder side said.
“Looks like your table’s getting impatient,” I hinted, eager to get rid of him. I blew out a long breath as he finally sauntered away.
“Hey, what’s a gal gotta do to get a brew around here?”
“Maud!” I swung around happily at the sound of my friend’s whiskey-and-cigarettes voice. An original member of the Readaholics book club, Maud Bell held a brew menu at arm’s length and squinted.
“Don’t get old, Amy-Faye,” she advised, pulling rectangular reading glasses from a pocket of her camouflage pants and perching them on her nose. “It sucks.”
“Noted. What’ll you have? The Exorcise Your Demons IPA is my fave.”
“Give me one of those.” She slid the menu down the bar.
Sixty years old and six feet tall, she had a wiry build and weathered skin that testified to her summer and fall occupations as a hunting and fishing guide. In the winter, she fixed computers and designed Web sites. All year round, she posted regularly on her conspiracy-theory blog, Out to Get You. Her hair was an au naturel mix of silver, white, and iron, currently blunt-cut to chin length, and her upper lip was a shade fuller than her lower, overhanging it by a smidge, like she was perpetually about to drink from a straw. She wore a tan camp shirt tucked into her camo pants. “Have you finished Orient Express?” she asked, taking a long drink of the beer I set before her. “It’s good.”
I wasn’t sure if she meant the book or the brew. “Yeah, but we can’t talk about it without the others.”
“Brilliant book. There’s a reason that Christie woman has sold more books than anyone else on the planet, although that Poirot is an arrogant arsehole, as the Brits might say.”
“Of course you liked it,” I laughed. “It’s about a conspiracy.”
Her lopsided smile pressed wrinkles into her cheeks and acknowledged my hit. Before she could respond, Bernadette “Bernie” Kloster slipped under the bar without bothering to raise the hinged section. “Sorry I’m late. The sitter was late. If I had a buck for every excuse she comes up with . . .”
A sprite of a woman barely five feet tall with sandy hair that tended toward frizzy, Bernie had gone to school with Derek, five years behind me and Brooke and Ivy. She married straight out of high school, had a couple of kids, divorced, and was trying to earn a teaching degree while taking care of her boys and working two jobs. On top of that, she bartended for my events sometimes. I tried to steer work her way whenever I could. She had her orange shirt knotted higher on her midriff than mine (showing off a tiny waist I couldn’t help envying), and as I watched, she undid an extra button, exposing more bony chest. She was cute and even sexy in a pixieish sort of way.
“I need the tips,” she explained matter-of-factly. “Seen Gordon this evening?”
Something airy yet tense in her voice caught my attention. “Nope. Just Derek. Why?”
“Good. I don’t need another ass-chewing for being late. That man’s always been unpredictable, but these days he’s verging on psychotic. When he asks you out, you should say no.”
“Already did, but why do you say that?”
“Trying to pay it forward and save other women from making the same stupid-ass mistakes I made.” She grabbed a damp rag and wiped the bar hard, as if trying to erase Gordon rather than sop up a splash of beer. “I’m pretty sure there isn’t a woman in a five-county area he hasn’t hit on.”
“Not me,” Maud put in with a twinkle.
I introduced the two of them, and Bernie said, “Count yourself lucky. Listen to me. Going all negative on you. I’m sorry. I’m not usually a whiner. Put it down to not enough sleep, too much studying, unreliable babysitters, and Billy getting lippy now that he’s turned eleven. Says he doesn’t need a ‘baby’ sitter anymore. If he hadn’t broken his ankle playing Spider-Man on the roof three Sundays back when I left him alone, I might almost believe him. They talk about teenage girls having mouths on them, but so far I’d back Billy against any of them, and he’s still two years away from thirteen. Gawd.”
We laughed. A gaggle of customers came in and kept me busy for a while, drawing beers and mixing margaritas. Luckily, I still practiced that particular skill at home, especially when the Readaholics met at my place, and I whipped up a batch with ease. Bernie worked the floor with Kolby, turning on the smile and sass and earning some healthy tips, I was sure. Maud left after the one beer and said she’d see me tomorrow night at Brooke’s house for the Readaholics meeting.
Shortly after seven, the happy hour crowd dwindled and Kolby took off, saying he had “plans.” It wasn’t my place to supervise him, so I didn’t ask if his dad knew he was skating off so early. Bernie and I exchanged a glance that said we were both happy to see him go. I was washing mugs in the sink when a burly man with a beard approached the bar. Without introducing himself, he asked, “Gordon or Derek around? Need to talk to one of ’em.”
“I’ll find them,” I said, knowing from his tone that he wasn’t here to tell them they’d won the Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes. Wiping my hands on my jeans, I signaled to Bernie, who took my place behind the bar. “Can you hold down the fort a sec?”
“Sure.” She gave the man a smile and slid a coaster in front of him.
Happy to escape the bar for a few minutes, I poked my head into the kitchen, but the workers said they hadn’t seen either man in over an hour. Mounting the stairs to the third floor, I looked in their offices but found no one except the janitor—Foster? Forrest?—who was emptying Gordon’s trash can. I’d never been in Gordon’s lair, and I looked around curiously. A wooden desk with cubbyholes and a simple glass-front bookcase were centered on a rug with a worn floral pattern. Framed photos and blueprints of the building in its early days hung evenly on one wall, peopled by men in turn-of-the-century work clothes. I suspected the furnishings were left over from the building’s factory days. I could totally see a waistcoated man in Edwardian garb putting his bowler on the iron coat tree that currently held Gordon’s golf Windbreaker and umbrella. A laptop computer and high-end ergonomic desk chair struck anachronistic notes. I wondered if Gordon had gone through all the desk’s cubbies looking for secrets, or routine invoices or notes from a bygone era. Somehow I didn’t think so; he didn’t strike me as the type.
“On the roof,” Foster said, even though I hadn’t asked him anything. “Smoking.” His wrinkled nose said he disapproved.
“Thanks.” Skipping the elevator, since I hadn’t gone to yoga that morning, I jogged up another flight and paused by the door that led to the roof. It was closed, but I could hear the yelling through it.
“—can’t do that, Gord. You’ll sink the pub.”
Derek’s voice, sounding angry and desperate.
“—whatever the hell I want to . . . my money—”
Gordon, sounding implacable and arrogant. I hesitated, not wanting to walk into their fight, and not wanting to go away in case Gordon turned violent with Derek, as he had with Susan this morning.
“—don’t try to stop me,” Gordon bellowed. “If you do, I’ll ruin you.”
“—handle this through an arbitrator,” Derek said.
Gordon answered with a string of curses. I bit down hard on my lip.
“—won’t let you—”
“—can’t stop me, you f—”
The thud of flesh against flesh had me barreling through the door. I burst onto the roof, a long expanse of weathered boards with a waist-high masonry wall, vents and air-conditioning compressor, planters, and a small shed. I found the two men locked together, trying to land punches without letting go of each other. It was still plenty light enough to see them clearly. Blood spotted Derek’s shirt, and Gordon’s pants pocket was ripped. They knocked against a planter and it rocked, the dwarf spruce inside it swaying. They were muttering and swearing at each other in guttural voices, words indistinguishable.
Gordon landed a punch into Derek’s gut and he crumpled forward. From that position he wrapped his arms around Gordon’s knees and took the bigger man down with him. They landed with a thud and began rolling across the rooftop, neither one gaining an advantage. I dithered about what to do, pulling out my cell phone to call for help—was I going to call the cops on my own brother?—but then remembered Derek’s fury when I’d summoned a teacher to keep him from getting beaten up on the playground when he was in fourth grade and I was in sixth. I put my phone back in my pocket and started toward them as Gordon, who outweighed Derek by a good forty pounds, ended up on top, straddling Derek’s chest. Both men were breathing hard and the punch Gordon threw at Derek’s face lacked power and skidded off his cheek. I thought about throwing myself on Gordon’s back and peeling him off Derek, but then I saw a better way.
A hose for watering the potted plants lay neatly coiled by the faucet and I turned it on full force and directed the cold water at the fighting men. As the stream splashed into his face, Gordon leaped up with a curse. Derek rolled away and staggered to his feet, bent over with his hands on his knees. They were good and soaked, I saw with satisfaction, which was what they deserved for behaving like a couple of middle school hooligans. Gordon shook his head and water droplets sprayed from his longish hair. He had a scrape on his face, and the buttons were torn off his shirt so it gaped open, displaying a furry torso. Blood dripped from his elbow and nose. He looked confused, like a man waking up from a nightmare, or someone trying to listen to a far-off voice. I don’t know why, but I felt sorry for him, even though he’d just been whaling on my brother.
“Amy-Faye, what are you—?” Derek started, his voice verging on angry, but his expression embarrassed.
“There’s a man downstairs who needs to talk to one of you,” I said calmly, even though my heart was beating fast. Idiots. “Sounded important.” Crossing to the faucet, I turned off the water. Not waiting for a reply, I marched toward the door, reasonably confident they weren’t going to resume their fight. In fact, Gordon was pulling out a cigarette and heading toward the wall by the time I reached the stairs. A match flared. The way he hunched his shoulders said “keep away” and I was glad to comply. I glanced over my shoulder and saw Derek coming toward me, limping.
When he drew even with me, he shot me a sidelong look. “Leave it,” he said, forestalling my questions.
The door closed behind us as we started down the stairs. “Derek, what—”
“It’s none of your business and you can’t help anyway.”
As much as I wanted to help him, I knew his moods well enough to clamp my lips together. Sometimes brothers didn’t want big sisters’ help. In fact, usually brothers didn’t want sisters weighing in on their activities, choice of friends, love lives, work, or drinking habits. At least, Derek didn’t. I could still hear him yelling at our youngest sister, Natalie, last Christmas that she had no right doing an Internet search on his girlfriend of the moment, now ex, largely because of the info Nat gathered. Re this current crisis, he’d tell me when he was ready. Or not.
When we reached the third-floor landing, he peeled off, saying, “Tell whoever it is I’ll be there in a minute. I’ve got a dry shirt in my office.”
The door snapped shut and I wasn’t sure he’d even heard me. Pinning a smile on my face, I walked down the last flights and emerged into the pub, now largely deserted except for the bearded man at the bar flirting with Bernie, and a couple of women dawdling over piña coladas in one corner.
“Everything okay?” Bernie gave me a look that told me I looked rumpled or pissed off or both.
“Derek will be here in a minute,” I told her and the bearded man.
“Better be,” he grunted.
“Wow, Don, I could take that the wrong way. You’re not enjoying our conversation?” Bernie asked archly, with the suggestion of a wink at me.
Smiling gratefully, I grabbed a bar cloth and began swabbing down tables. Derek emerged two minutes later, greeted Don, and escorted him up to the offices. I wondered whether Gordon was there or if he’d left.
“Any idea what that was about?” I asked Bernie, nodding toward the disappeared Derek and Don.
“Nonpayment of bills.” Worry creased her brow. “Don told me all about it. The pub’s ninety days in arrears with what they owe him for hops. I hope I’m not going to have to find another job again. This one suits me fine. Works great with my school schedule. I so do not want to have to job-hunt again. Gawd.”
“I’m sure it’s not as bad as that,” I said, not sure of any such thing. I was ashamed that my first thought was for the nest egg I’d invested in Derek’s pub, and not for Derek’s disappointment if the pub failed. “Once Elysium is really open, after the grand opening Friday, this place’ll be packed with people. I’m sure it’ll be turning a profit in no time.”
Bernie looked unconvinced but said nothing. Hefting a tub of dirty dishes, she carried it into the kitchen, bumping the door open with her hip. I tried not to think about how long it had been before Eventful! showed even a tiny profit margin. It was still hit-and-miss some months, four years in. When Bernie returned, I told her I was taking off and she nodded.
“I’ll hang until Derek comes out. I’m on the clock until ten o’clock tonight anyway.” Gesturing to the now empty pub, she added, “I think I can handle it on my own.”
With a laugh, I said good night and left, emerging into a cooling Colorado dusk. A line of light on the western horizon tattled on the just-set sun, and an owl hooted. Pulling a flyer off the van’s window, I crumpled it without reading it and tossed it into the passenger seat. Trash. I relaxed into the seat with a sigh. I’d forgotten how physically exhausting bar work could be. I was beat and the bar hadn’t even been that busy. I was grateful I was supervising the grand opening festivities and not bartending Friday night. On my recommendation, Derek had already taken on extra help for the occasion, everything from kitchen workers, to servers, to janitorial staff. Cranking the ignition, I headed for home, a long bath, and bed.
Client meetings kept me busy the next morning, and I was pleased as punch to land a December wedding (“We’re not bringing a shotgun, but we ought to be, if you know what I mean,” the bride’s father told me grimly) and a family reunion.
“We’re going to have to take on more staff now that you’re getting better at signing up clients,” Al said when I told him. Today’s bow tie had clown fish printed on it. We were standing in the reception area, absently watching a window cleaner hired by the building manager squeegee the panes in the French doors.
“‘Getting better’?” I raised my brows.
“Yeah. You used to come across as way too desperate. Scared people off. You’re more relaxed now.”
I was half affronted, but I finally laughed. “Desperate? And here I thought that only applied to my love life. Glad to hear I no longer come across that way to clients. Maybe you’d like to come on full-time when you graduate,” I said. I hadn’t intended to broach the idea with him so soon, but since the opening was there . . .
Al blinked. “Really? Wow. Let me think about it.”
“Did you have something else lined up? Other plans?”
“No. Nothing definite. I always figured I’d move to Denver or the Springs, maybe even out of state, and get a job in marketing with a big company or a nonprofit. I planned to sign up for some interviews through the college’s career office.” He tugged on his fishy bow tie, a habitual gesture when he was nervous.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
received an uncorrected proof to read and review. I hadn't read the first book in the Readaholics series, but I enjoyed the Poirot Puzzle so much that I'm about to buy it. Of course the mystery and solving it is the first thing to consider and it was a good puzzler even better than the Agatha Christie book, Murder on the Orient Express, in my opinion. Less contrived and more believable. The Poirot book is the latest book Amy-Faye Johnson's club is reading. If I belonged to a book club the Readaholics would be the one! I like the members and I love the relaxed atmosphere, not to mention the food and drink. Amy-Faye's family is close-knit, so they all rally 'round when the brother, Derek lands in trouble, with their mom and dad at the helm, more mom than dad, it seems, though he is no slouch. Mom may seem all fluff and fuzzy pink slippers, but she has a steel backbone and the organizational skills of a librarian of 40 years. It's Amy-Faye who solves the mystery, though, with help from the women in her club. I just flipped through the book to refresh my memory and I think I may reread this book, something I seldom do. Amy-Faye has had a dismal love life, but now a romance looks promising. I recommend this book!
Amy-Faye is helping prepare for the opening of her brother Derek's brew-pub, when his financial partner turns up dead in a dumpster. With her brother as the most obvious suspect, Amy-Faye and her Readaholics book club go to work to figure out who killed Gordon and to clear Derek's name. There are plenty of suspects, with plenty of reasons to want Gordon dead. The book club has just read Christie's Murder on the Orient Express and they wonder whether there could be as complex a conspiracy going on here! And while trying to find the truth about Gordon, Amy-Faye is also trying to juggle her events business, her deepening relationship with the hot police detective, and the needs of her friends. This is the second in the Readaholics series, but can be read as a stand-alone. (I did read the first, The Readaholics and the Falcon Fiasco after reading Poirot Puzzle. And enjoyed, it, too!) The characters are warm and enjoyable, and I look forward to seeing them even further fleshed out in future installments. The community, renamed Heaven a couple of decades ago, provides a comfortable setting with small-town gossip, wedding tourism, and a variety of events for Amy-Faye to organize. Her family, her history with so many of the town characters as well as her business interactions provide a complex backdrop. I received an Advance Reading Copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
I lived in grand junction, colo, and author has details right. Engaging characters . I liked the combo of mystery and romance. Veryenjoyable.
Love the background,fun people, good mystery. Will try the next one.
Amy-Faye Johnson is in charge of the opening for her brother Derek's new brew pub. Unfortunately, Derek's business partner is murdered and all of the clues are pointing to Derek. It's up to Amy-Faye and the Readahilics book club to find the real killer. This is a great series. I always get caught up in the fun characters that flood this series with life, love and friendship.
In my opinion there are 3 broad categories of how much you like a book. Some books you simply don't like. Some time you really like a book but it doesn't fully grab you. And some times a book grabs you and doesn't let go until you read the whole thing. This book was the latter. It was amazing!This was the first book in the series that I have read, but it didn't make a difference. The book still flowed. But if you are going to read the first book, read it first because this one has spoilers for the first one. The mystery was amazing, but it caught me off guard. I never truly suspected it. I really liked how the theme of the series was always present in the book. It is called a book club mystery and you constantly see the book club through the book. The characters were great, and I really like the brewing relationship between Amy-Faye ( the main character ) and Detective Hart ( what a fitting name last name ). I am looking foward to visiting Heaven ( the name of the town) in the next book! I was given this book in exchange for and honest review. This review is 100% my opinion and my opinion only.
Rejoin the Readaholics for Another Wonderful Classic Inspired Mystery Earlier this year, I was delighted to discover the Book Club Mysteries, a new series from Laura DiSilverio. The series centers on Amy-Faye Johnson and her friends in the Readaholics, a book club devoted to mysteries. But they seemed to find themselves pulled into real life mysteries as well. The Readaholics and the Poirot Puzzle is their second case, and it’s another winner. Amy-Faye’s brother, Derek, has been working on opening a pub featuring his own brewed beers, and the big event is almost here. Unfortunately, things are getting rocky with his investment partner, Gordon Marsh. The two are going at it verbally and occasionally physically. The night of the grand opening turns into a disaster, with several things going wrong. But it ends when the Gordon’s body is found in a dumpster behind the pub. The Readaholics have been reading Christie’s famous Murder on the Orient Express, and Amy-Faye can’t help but wish Poirot were there to help with this case. Because the pub was so crowded when the murder happened, it is impossible to track down where any of the suspects were when the murder happened. Further complicating things, there is no shortage of suspects and each of them has a good motive. Maud, the conspiracy loving member of the group, is certain that a conspiracy is in play. All Amy-Faye knows is that, with the police focusing on Derek, she needs to find the real killer before Derek gets convicted. Can she do it? Before we go any further, I should mention spoilers. No, I won’t be spoiling this book. However, there are major spoilers for Murder on the Orient Express in this novel. If you happen to not know the ending of the Agatha Christie book and want to go into it blind, now is the time to pick it up. Meantime, while the mystery in the first Readaholic book isn’t spoiled, a major sub-plot is. The mystery of who killed Gordon is very strong. How can it not be with the variety of suspects? Each of them seem like a viable suspect at one point or another, and I truly didn’t have a clue who had done it until Amy-Faye figured it out. And yes, her deductions were logical with the clues having been mixed in among the red herrings perfectly. While I didn’t feel the sub-plots were as strong in this book as the first, I did enjoy them as well. And I still love these characters. There are a total of five Readaholics. Amy-Faye is clearly the main character since she is our first person narrator, but the other ladies are equally strong. You can feel the friendships represented in the rather diverse group through the page as well, and I am really drawn to that. There are a plethora of supporting characters who are equally strong. Really, with this cast the size it is, I never had a hard time remembering who everyone was, and that’s saying something. And we haven’t even gotten to the suspects yet. Again, there are plenty of them, but again they were all strong enough characters that I never once got them confused with each other. With strong characters and a strong plot, I couldn’t put this book down. You’ll be hooked as quickly as I was trying to solve The Readaholics and the Poirot Puzzle. NOTE: I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
Loved guessing how all the pieces fit together. In this installment of the Book Club Mystery series, the readaholics are reading Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. In the book and movie, Detective Hercule Poirot is tasked with finding out who killed Ratchett and why. The storyline is full of conspiracies, with several people who had motive and opportunity to kill Ratchett. Amy-Faye’s younger brother Derek is finally having his dream of opening his own brewery come true. It’s the grand opening of Elysium Brewing and things aren’t really going according to plan. Derek’s financial backer and business partner, Gordon Marsh is found dead. It seems Gordon was very much lacking in the fan club department. From employees to business partners to girlfriends to ex-wives and family, Gordon made enemies everywhere he went. The question becomes who wanted Gordon dead and why. When the police arrest Derek, Amy-Faye pulls out all the stops to prove his innocence. Like Murder on the Orient Express, The Readaholics and the Poirot Puzzle had many suspects to choose from and many twists and turns. Finding out exactly who the killer was and why was definitely a puzzle. I loved attempting to put all the pieces together. With so many potential suspects, Laura DiSilverio had me guessing up until the big reveal. Surprisingly, in the end, I found myself feeling sorry for the victim. I know, usually the victim in a cozy mystery isn’t someone liked by people. Don’t get me wrong, Gordon did have his bad qualities. But Amy-Faye’s investigation uncovered something that was shocking. I’m looking forward to the next book in the series to find out what Amy-Faye’s love life holds, the fallout from the events of The Readaholics and the Poirot Puzzle, and what other misadventures Amy-Faye finds herself involved in. **Received a copy from Penguin NAL for an honest and unbiased opinion.**
In this second installment of the Book Club Mysteries, event planner Amy-Faye Johnson and her book club, known as the Readaholics, decide to review Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie. Little did they know that they would soon be embarking on a mystery just as puzzling. At Amy-Faye's painstakingly planned grand opening event for her brother, Derek's, brewpub, Elysium Brewing, in their hometown of Heaven, Colorado, things suddenly start going horribly wrong. Just when when she thinks things cannot get any worse, Amy-Faye discovers Derek's business partner, Gordon Marsh, dead in the brewpub's dumpster. Gordon had no shortage of enemies in both his business and personal life, but mounting evidence and events point to Derek as the prime suspect. Amy-Faye, along with her book club friends Maud, Kerry, Brooke and Lola are determined to investigate all the likely suspects and find the real murderer and clear Derek's name. This book was entertaining right from the beginning and has a very engaging cast of characters. You find yourself puzzling about all the potential suspects right along with the Readaholics and Amy-Faye, and even wondering, like they did, "What would Hercule Poirot do?". I received an ARC copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Um. A sponge?