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Yule Log Murder

Yule Log Murder

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Overview

Fresh-baked desserts can warm even the frostiest Christmas in coastal Maine. But there’s little room for holiday cheer when murder is the new seasonal tradition . . .
 
YULE LOG MURDER by LESLIE MEIER
Lucy Stone is thrilled to be cast as an extra in a festive period film—until the set becomes a murder scene. Returning to her role as sleuth, Lucy dashes to restore peace to Tinker’s Cove, unwrap a cold-hearted criminal’s MO—and reveal how one ornate Yule log cake could possibly cause so much drama.
 
DEATH BY YULE LOG by LEE HOLLIS
Hayley Powell’s holidays aren’t off to a very merry start. Not only has her daughter brought Conner—an infuriatingly perfect new beau—home to Bar Harbor, but a local troublemaker has been found dead with traces of Hayley’s signature Yule log cake on his body. . . . And Conner is the prime murder suspect.
 
LOGGED ON by BARBARA ROSS
Julia Snowden can’t make a decent Bûche de Noël to save her life, so she enlists the help of her eccentric neighbor, Mrs. St. Onge, in hopes of mastering the dessert for Christmas. But with everyone in the older woman’s circle missing or deceased, it’s up to Julia to stop the deadly tidings before she’s the next Busman’s Harbor resident to meet a not-so-jolly fate.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781496717054
Publisher: Kensington
Publication date: 09/24/2019
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 198,498
Product dimensions: 4.12(w) x 6.75(h) x (d)

About the Author

LESLIE MEIER is the New York Times bestselling author of over twenty Lucy Stone mysteries and has also written for Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. She is currently at work on the next Lucy Stone mystery. Readers can visit her website at www.LeslieMeier.com.
 
LEE HOLLIS is the pen name for a brother and sister writing team. Rick Copp is a veteran film and television writer/producer and also the author of two other mystery novel series. He lives in Palm Springs, California. Holly Simason is an award-winning food and cocktails columnist living in North Carolina. You may visit their website at www.LeeHollisMysteries.com or find them on Facebook by typing in: Lee Hollis.
 
BARBARA ROSS is the author of the Maine Clambake Mysteries. The first book in the series, Clammed Up was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best Contemporary Novel, the RT Book Reviews, Reviewer’s Choice Best Book Award for Amateur Sleuth and was a finalist for the Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction. She is co-editor/co-publisher of Level Best Books, which produces anthologies of crime stories by New England authors. She writes at her home overlooking the harbor in Boothbay Harbor, Maine. Readers can visit her website at MaineClambakeMysteries.com.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

"Well, I'll be," declared Phyllis Lundquist, waving a small slip of paper. Phyllis was the flamboyantly dressed and coiffed receptionist at the Pennysaver newspaper office, and the slip of paper was one of the order forms for classified ads that ran in every issue of the weekly paper that chronicled "Life as it is lived" in the tiny coastal town of Tinker's Cove, Maine. The form was usually used to advertise used furniture, used cars, and used baby gear, but this was clearly something out of the ordinary.

"What is it?" asked Lucy Stone, the paper's part-time reporter and feature writer. "Not another stuffed moose head?"

"No. It's a casting call for a feature movie to be shot at Pine Point. They want extras to play townsfolk. No experience necessary," said Phyllis, pulling off her reading glasses, which hung on a chain, and letting them rest on her ample bosom. The cheaters matched her hair, which was dyed bright orange and coordinated with her sweater, which featured an appliqued Thanksgiving turkey trimmed with oversized sequins that trembled with every breath she took.

"They're making a feature movie here in town?" asked Ted Stillings, the paper's publisher, editor, and chief reporter, who had just entered the office. His arrival was announced by the jangling of the little bell fastened to the door.

"Apparently, if this ad isn't a joke," said Phyllis, frowning suspiciously. "The check is signed by someone named Ross Rocket."

"That does sound suspicious," said Lucy, remembering various adolescent attempts to run prank ads.

"Only one way to find out," said Ted. "Lucy, drive over to Pine Point and check it out."

"I'm right on it, boss," she replied, "as soon as I finish writing up the new trash-recycling regulations."

"Now that's news we can use," said Phyllis, nodding approvingly and setting the suspicious ad aside.

An hour or so later, Lucy was driving along Shore Road, enjoying the million- dollar views of the spectacular Maine coast. Reaching the dizzying hairpin curve that wound high above a rocky cove, she gripped the steering wheel tight and concentrated on the road, remembering several fatal accidents that had taken place there. Once safely past the dangerous "Lovers' Leap," she flicked on the directional signal and turned through the open gate to Pine Point.

Pine Point was once the home of fabulously wealthy Vivian Van Vorst, but following her death, it had been inherited by her great-granddaughter, Juliette Duff. Juliette was a top model in New York, and visited the estate only occasionally, usually bringing friends along to enjoy the oceanfront views, riding trails, tennis court, and indoor and outdoor pools. The mansion, originally built in the Gilded Age, was still considered an architectural marvel for the clever way antique elements imported from Europe had been included without sacrificing modern conveniences and comfort.

Today, however, as Lucy followed the winding drive that led through the estate, she noticed the garden was filled with numerous white trucks and trailers, and lots of people were hurrying about, seemingly intent on serious business. Finding an empty spot along the drive, which was lined with all sorts of vehicles, Lucy parked her car and got out. She stood there for a few minutes, looking for somebody to approach, and finally spotted a young man with a familiar face, who was strolling along, seemingly studying a script.

"Hi!" she said, giving him a wave.

"Hi, yourself," he replied, pausing and waiting for her to catch up to him.

As she grew closer, Lucy realized the young man was Chris Waters, a leading Hollywood star she'd seen just a couple of nights ago on her TV, saving an entire platoon of soldiers from the Nazis. "Ohmigosh," she said, suddenly flustered. "I had no idea ..."

He smiled, revealing a dazzling set of teeth. His skin, she couldn't help noticing, was a lovely tan shade, his square chin sported a stylish stubble, and his longish hair had blond highlights. He was tall, and she knew from the all-too- brief love scene in the film that he had an admirable six-pack under that puffy parka. His eyes were brown, and his expression was amused. "How can I help you?"

"I'm from the local newspaper," she began, feeling her face grow warm, "and we got an order for a classified ad, calling for extras, and I'm here to find out what's going on."

"We're making a movie. It's called Guinevere and it's a remake of Camelot from a feminist perspective."

"Wow," said Lucy.

"Wow, indeed," said Chris. "I suppose you want to talk to Ross, he's the director."

"Ross Rocket?" asked Lucy, remembering her earlier doubts. "He's for real?"

"Oh, he's real all right. He's the director, thanks to his wife, Juliette Duff. She's financing the film." He sighed. "And starring in it."

"Juliette's married?"

He nodded. "From what I hear, it was very sudden. One day they showed up at city hall, got married, and flew off to Italy for a honeymoon."

This was a surprise to Lucy. "There wasn't anything in the news."

"I guess that was the point. They wanted to avoid the paparazzi."

Lucy bit her lip. "I'm supposed to interview him. Do you think he'll talk to me?"

"He's over there," said Chris, pointing to a slight man in jeans, parka, and baseball cap. Strangely enough, he was talking with someone Lucy knew, her friend Rachel Goodman, who was busy nodding along and taking notes.

"Thanks for your help," said Lucy, giving Chris a wave and hurrying across the frosty grass to the pair.

Seeing her approach, Rachel gave her a big smile. "Hi, Lucy! What good timing! Ross, this is my friend Lucy Stone, who works for the local newspaper."

"Nice to meet you," said Ross, who was a small, wiry man with a patchy beard and eyes set rather too close together. "I suppose you want to know what this is all about."

"Sure do," said Lucy. "This looks like a big story."

"Oh, it's big. It's hu-u-ge. It's gonna be great, fantastic, magnificent."

"Okay," said Lucy, responding to his enthusiasm. "Mind if I snap a photo or two?" She produced her phone and snapped away, making sure to capture both Ross and Rachel in the photo.

"Super," said Ross, stepping back. "I'll let Rachel fill you in. ..."

"Oh, but, it would be better ..."

"Sorry. Gotta run."

Lucy watched as he hurried off, then turned to Rachel. "So what's up?"

"They're making this movie, a new version of Camelot, and I got a phone call from Juliette Duff, asking me to help with the music. Ross is her husband and he's the director."

"You sly thing. You never told me. ..."

Rachel smiled apologetically. "I wasn't at all sure about it. You know I've got my job with Miss Tilley, and I help Bob at the office, I didn't think I could manage it. But now that I've talked to Ross, it doesn't seem like it will be too much after all. It's not actually a musical, but the idea is to use local people for this one big scene where the townsfolk bring in a Yule log and sing carols for the nobles."

"I heard that Juliette is financing the film?"

"I don't know if that's for publication," said Rachel, looking serious. "She's the star, playing Guinevere, and Chris Waters is Lancelot."

"I already met him," admitted Lucy, with a smile, as she wrote it all down. "Any other big stars?"

"Just Chris," said Rachel. "He's the only one I recognized." She paused. "But they're all pros. It's not amateur hour."

"They're going to run an ad for extras in the paper this week," said Lucy.

"That's great. You're going to try out, right? You and Sue and Pam," she added, listing the group of friends who got together every Thursday morning for breakfast at Jake's Donut Shack. "It'll be fun."

Lucy struck a pose, lifting her chin and staring off into the distance. "I always wanted to break into show business...."

"Well, this is your big chance," said Rachel, laughing.

* * *

The Thanksgiving turkey and the leftovers were only a memory, and preparations for Christmas were well under way, when the extras were finally called for filming some four weeks later. Lucy soon discovered that being a movie star, or even a lowly extra, involved a lot of waiting around. The stars waited in their cozy trailers, but Lucy and the other extras had to make themselves as comfortable as they could while remaining out of the way, but near enough to react quickly when they were called. Lucy and her friends, along with the others, had spent hours waiting to get their costumes and were waiting to rehearse in the mansion's ballroom. The ballroom was actually once the great hall at Scrumble Thornhill, an English castle, but had been transported stone-by- stone in the 1880s and rebuilt at Pine Point. Now it was crowded with dozens of extras and countless crew members, lights and cables that seemed to run everywhere, and cameras. There were even a few canvas deck chairs labeled with Chris's, Juliette's, and Ross's names, now unoccupied and awaiting their owners.

"This thing itches," said Pam Stillings, who was married to Lucy's boss, Ted. She poked a finger beneath her wimple and scratched her head. "I hope it's not used and full of cooties."

"That would certainly add to the authenticity of the scene," said Lucy, smoothing her long skirt. "People in the Middle Ages never bathed, they thought it was unhealthy."

"I wish they'd let us have a little makeup," said Sue Finch, studying her face in a small hand mirror and grimacing. "I'm afraid I look a little too authentic." She held out her hands, which had been stripped of polish, and grimaced. "That was a fresh manicure, you know."

"I wish they'd get started," complained Pam, with a big sigh. "I've got a million things to do. Christmas is almost here."

"Tell me about it," said Lucy, who had a big box of presents in her car destined for her son, Toby, and his family, who lived in Alaska. She knew she had to get them to the post office soon if they were going to arrive in time for Christmas. She was also uncomfortably aware that even though Ted had agreed to let her cover the movie shoot for the paper, this was Monday morning and she had lots of other stories to write before the Wednesday noon deadline.

She was looking about, hoping to spot Rachel, who was responsible for rehearsing the extras and might know the schedule, but instead caught sight of Ross Rocket. He was standing in front of a rough table that was laden with fake food meant to represent the feast provided for the townsfolk and was clearly furious about something. He had his hands crossed against his chest and was tapping his foot, rather like a school principal awaiting a wayward pupil. In this instance, the wayward pupil was Elfrida Dunphy, the cook at Pine Point. Everyone in town knew Elfrida, a former party girl who had five children by five different fathers, but had settled down after getting the plum job at Pine Point.

"What the hell is this doing here?" Ross demanded, pointing to a luscious Yule log cake that was set among the prop meats, breads, and fruit. The cake was frosted with fluffy pink icing, decorated with adorable meringue mushrooms and glistened with a dusting of sugary snow.

"It's the Middle Ages," he continued, "they didn't have fancy cakes and stuff. Am I right or what?"

"I wondered where that got to," said Elfrida, looking murderous as she picked up the offending cake. "Now I know and I've got a good idea how it got here. It sure didn't pick itself up and walk out of the fridge."

Elfrida marched off, carrying the cake, heading for the stairway that led to the subterranean kitchen area. She had just reached the doorway, when a bright feminine laugh rang out, and she turned her head, spotting her assistant, Bobbi Holden. Lucy knew Bobbi, who'd been in some of her daughter Zoe's high school classes, where she'd often been the ringleader for various mischievous pranks. She was a big girl, tall and carrying an extra twenty pounds, but had an easy laugh and an attractive, dimpled smile.

Bobbi, dressed in a shocking-pink mohair tunic and dark blue jeggings, was engaged in a lively conversation with Chris Waters, but sensing Elfrida's gaze, she quickly scurried off in the opposite direction. Elfrida watched her until she disappeared from sight, then ducked through the rather low, authentic medieval doorway to return to her kitchen in the great house's basement.

Ross, who'd turned his attention to Rachel, blew on the whistle he wore on a lanyard around his neck and everyone turned to him, waiting for instructions.

"Well, you guys look great, and I want you to remember you're simple folk in the Middle Ages. Put away those cell phones and eyeglasses, imagine you haven't eaten anything except gruel. ..." Here he turned to his assistant, a serious young woman with a clipboard who followed him everywhere. "Do you know ... does anybody know what gruel actually is?"

Receiving only a shrug in reply, he continued. "Well, the point is, you guys are hungry and you're bringing the Yule log into the castle, where it will be warm, and if you sing a nice song for the king and queen, you'll be given some food, which you really want. So the trick is to look hungry and famished and pathetic at the same time doing your damnedest to amuse and entertain your betters. So I'm turning this over to Rachel, here, who's going to teach you some old English carols, and don't worry if you don't know what the words mean, just sing along as if you mean it. Right? Right."

Rachel stepped forward, clutching a thick stack of papers, which she asked a few townsfolk to pass around to the extras. When everyone had the sheet music, she instructed them to begin on the first page with "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming." When everyone had the page, she blew on a pitch pipe, and they all began singing. They weren't very good, thought Lucy, but they probably did sound a lot like a bunch of poor peasants, hungry for some decent food.

The rehearsal lasted well past Lucy's usual lunchtime, and she was famished by the time the extras were finally released, but instructed to return Tuesday evening at six for filming. She grabbed a plastic-wrapped sandwich and a bag of chips at the Quik-Stop on her way to the office; by the time she parked the car, she'd eaten most of the chips and half the sandwich. She polished off the rest at her desk, followed with a warming cup of tea, which she made by heating a mug of water in the office microwave.

"Gosh, it was cold at that rehearsal," she told Phyllis as she dunked her tea bag. "I don't see why they couldn't put on the heat. And it would've been nice if they'd given us extras some lunch. They put out piles of food but it's only for the actors." She tossed the sodden tea bag into the trash and picked up the mug, wrapping it with both hands to warm them.

"The director's probably trying to keep it as authentic as possible," said Phyllis, when her phone rang and she picked it up. It wasn't the usual irate reader with a bone to chew; it was Elfrida and her voice came through the earpiece loud and clear, ringing through the office.

"You won't believe this," she began, sounding hissing mad, "that stupid Ross Rocket accused me of planting a fancy cake in with the fake food to sabotage his scene. Like I don't have better things to do, that's for sure. I'm cooking breakfast, lunch, and dinner for tons of people, plus Juliette's planning a big party this weekend and wants all sorts of fancy food like Yule logs and angels on horseback. I don't have time to blow my nose, much less plan stupid tricks, and besides, everybody knows it's Bobbi who's the troublemaker. She's the prankster. She's supposed to be helping me, but she's never around when I need her. She's always hanging with the actors instead of peeling carrots or washing dishes."

Elfrida paused for breath, and Phyllis clucked her tongue sympathetically. "What a shame, you used to love your job."

"That was when it was part-time, and I was able to keep track of my kids. Honestly, Aunt Phyl, I'm terrified what I'm going to find when I finally get home. Those kids are wild, they're turning into monsters."

Lucy and Phyllis shared a look. They both knew that Elfrida's five kids were a handful at the best of times.

"I don't know what I'm gonna do. Angie is supposed to be in charge, but she's only fifteen, and Justin's actually taller than she is, even though he's younger, and he won't listen to her because she's a girl, and little Chrissie's got a cough and I need to get her to the doctor. I've got an appointment at four-thirty, but I can't get away from work. ..."

"I'll leave a bit early and look in," offered Phyllis. "I'll read them the riot act and take Chrissie to the doctor and pick up a pizza for supper."

"Auntie Phyl, you're an angel. ... Gotta go." They heard Elfrida scream Bobbi's name; then the line went dead.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Yule Log Murder"
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