Here’s my advice to romance writers everywhere: don’t try to investigate a murder if you have a sex scene to write. There’s nothing like murder for de-sizzling your hot passages. Trust me, I know.
My name is Hazel Rose and I’m a romance writer. Not an amateur detective. But since last week at book group when we found Carlene Arness dead from a sip of cyanide-laced tea I’d gone from turning out scintillating sex scenes to fancying myself a 21st century Miss Marple.
Why don’t I just accept the fact that Carlene committed suicide? Everyone else has, including the police. After all, she left a note stating that she “couldn’t take it anymore.” I haven’t a clue what “it” was. I didn’t even much like the woman who, incidentally, was married to my first ex-husband. Still, I can’t believe that she killed herself.
What drove this need I had to play amateur detective, emphasis on amateur, like the ones populating the pages of the murder mysteries our book group devours? Writer’s procrastination, perhaps? We’re famous for finding ways to avoid practicing our craft—compulsively checking e-mail and social media, cleaning toilets, making pasta sauce, doing laundry, the list goes on. Or did my burning quest owe to my lifelong sense of justice, my need to right wrongs? Could I be looking to re-purpose my life, get out of my rut?
It was a nice rut, as ruts go. I have no money worries, thanks to my fourth husband who wrapped himself around a tree during a ski weekend with his mistress. I live in Richmond, Virginia with my cousin Lucy, also a widow, and our two feline companions. I have an on-again, off-again relationship with Vince Castelli, a retired homicide detective. After four failed marriages I’m gun shy about a fifth trip to the altar. And so I busy myself with volunteer work and penning this danged romance that’s not terribly romantic.
I’ve spent the past week having cagey conversations with book group members. I had visions of tricking one of them into giving me information that could ID the killer. Wouldn’t you think that one of them would have seen the killer sprinkling cyanide into Carlene’s tea? If so, no one let on. Probably wise on their part, but not helpful to me. But I did find out a whole lot about Carlene that I hadn’t known—the woman was really something. Here I thought she was boring as all get out and instead she was a character straight out of one of Jackie Collins’s steamiest bestsellers.
I’ll tell you something about detecting: it’s much harder than it looks. It’s dangerous. I’m not gifted with courage. And I’m finding that I’m not as smart as I thought I was.
A case in point: I promised Lucy and Vince that I wouldn’t be alone with any suspects, especially anyone from the book group. I’d broken that promise twice the day before. The first time was when, armed only with a cell phone, I walked into the locker room of my gym and had a showdown with a new-to-the-book-group woman and one of my top suspects. She was also naked. Believe me, I didn’t let my eyes stray from hers during our encounter, during which not a single woman entered or exited the locker room. I could just see the headlines: “Richmond Romance Author”—okay, aspiring author—“Killed in Smelly Locker Room by Naked Woman.” Fortunately I emerged unscathed and in possession of more interesting tidbits of information about Carlene. Then I had it out with Ms. Naked’s ne’er-do-well ex-husband. At least he was dressed and plenty of people were in screaming distance.
So today I sit and stare at my computer. How do I ratchet up the heat on a sex scene that’s gone on autopilot? Maybe I’ll let my characters take a long nap while I hunt down Carlene’s killer. It doesn’t help that I can’t dispel the images of naked women in locker rooms and Carlene’s dead body.
No question about it—playing Miss Marple is the only hope I have for my fledgling writing career.
I jump when the doorbell rings, taking me out of my reverie.
I look out the window.
Oh, no. A book group person. And I’m home alone.
Should I grab a kitchen knife? How about a gun? Oh, right, I don’t have a gun. What a time to be pro-gun control.
I say a prayer. I take a deep breath. I channel Miss Marple.
I open the door.
You can read more about Hazel in Murder at the Book Group, the first book in the new “Book Group” mystery series, published by Simon & Schuster.
GIVEAWAY: Leave a comment by 6 p.m. eastern on January 6 for the chance to win a copy of MURDER AT THE BOOK GROUP. The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only.
About the author
Maggie King’s debut mystery, Murder at the Book Group, comes out December 30, 2014 from Simon and Schuster. She contributed the short story, “A Not So Genteel Murder,” to the Sisters in Crime anthology Virginia is for Mysteries. Maggie is a member of Sisters in Crime and the American Association of University Women. She has worked as a software developer, retail sales manager, and customer service supervisor.
Maggie graduated from Elizabeth Seton College and earned a B.S. degree in Business Administration from Rochester Institute of Technology. She has called New Jersey, Massachusetts, and California home. These days she lives in Richmond, Virginia with her husband, Glen, and cats, Morris and Olive.