Yes, I went undercover as a high-priced call girl, chased a vicious killer through a fancy neighborhood, and nearly killed myself walking in hooker heels in The Art of Murder.
None of that would have happened if my landlady, Margery Flax, hadn’t dragged me to a Fort Lauderdale museum.
My name is Helen Hawthorne. I’m forty-one, a partner in a detective agency, Coronado Investigations, with my husband, Phil Sagemont. Margery is seventy-six. She owns the Coronado Tropic Apartments. That’s where Phil and I live and have our PI office.
Margery insisted I tour the Bonnet House Museum and Gardens.
I’m not big on museum house tours. I get bored looking at dead, rich people’s things.
But Margery said this tour was different, and once again, she was right.
Bonnet House is a lighthearted oasis tucked next to trashy tourist shops and grim, gray hotels on Fort Lauderdale Beach. It was owned by two artists, Frederic Clay and Evelyn Bartlett. The cheerful pale yellow mansion was Frederic’s idea of a Caribbean plantation house. We could see squirrel monkeys playing in the trees, white swans preening in a pond, and exotic orchids blooming everywhere.
“I could actually live here,” I told Margery, “and I don’t feel that way about most mansions.”
“Frederic and his wife, Evelyn, weren’t your usual super-rich,” Margery said. “They both had brains and talent. Evelyn is my role model. She appreciated good art, good booze, good living and good men. Made it to age a hundred and nine. After a scandalous divorce back in the twenties, she outlived her critics in style.”
Margery had her own style and juicy scandals. She’d once been arrested for murder.
We saw Frederic’s towering, two-story art studio with the clear north light artists love. I could almost see the boldly handsome Bartlett painting, a romantic figure with slicked-back hair and a mustache, holding his palette like a shield and wielding a brush. He looked like the sort of man who could get away with a poet’s shirt.
The tour guide told us Evelyn liked good food, but never set foot in the kitchen. She’d talk to the cook about the day’s meals through the window.
My kind of woman.
Margery and I admired the house’s whimsical touches: the gilded Baroque columns swirling around the drawing room doors, the brightly painted carousel giraffes on a courtyard walkway, and the lacy wrought iron from New Orleans. We saw Frederic’s murals and paintings. Evelyn’s colorful, sensual art had its own white-walled gallery in a former guest house.
We both liked the Shell Museum, a 1930s bandbox housing Evelyn’s shell collection, her Bamboo Bar, and blooming orchids. “At the age of a hundred and one, Evelyn started a new hobby, collecting miniature orchids,” the tour guide said.
“Wonder what I’ll be doing at a hundred and one,” Margery said.
“Whatever you want,” I said. “I like the idea that Frederic gave Evelyn her own bar.”
“Most men won’t even fetch their wives a drink,” Margery said.
By the time we were at the Bonnet House courtyard, I felt slightly dazed and dazzled, as if I’d watched Evelyn and Frederic’s star-dusted lives on fast forward.
The courtyard, sheltered by feathery palms and bright with flowers, was cool even at noon. A flock of artists were working on the loggia, and we watched the teacher and the students.
I don’t know much about art, but I thought a student called Annabel was the best painter, maybe better than the teacher. Annabel was about thirty-five, but so thin, she looked like she might snap. A lime green cane was propped against her table like an exotic plant. At first glance, Annabel’s painting seemed slapdash, but I could feel the movement. Only the good ones have that power.
Then Margery’s fingers started twitching. “I’m dying for a cigarette,” she said. I was surprised she’d lasted more than an hour without a Marlboro.
I was sorry to leave Bonnet House. But it turned out I’d be spending lots more time there. That same morning after class, the talented Annabel collapsed and died. All that talent lost. No one knew if she was a suicide or a murder victim. I was hired to find out.
Margery, Phil and I caught the killers. But not before I was in a car chase that ended when a six-figure sports car crashed into a million-dollar yacht.
The Art of Murder, Elaine Viets’s 15th Dead-End Job mystery, debuts May 3rd as a hardcover online and at fine bookstores, published by Obsidian, May 2016.
From the national bestselling author of Checked Out, Helen Hawthorne must pose as a painter at Fort Lauderdale’s famous Bonnet House Museum to catch an artful killer . . .
The art world is a happening place—but a brush with death shouldn’t be in the picture. Unfortunately that’s just what happens to Helen Hawthorne and her friend Margery. While touring gorgeous Bonnet House, a mansion-turned-museum, they observe a painting class and note an up-and-coming artist. When they later see her deadly end, Helen is hired to canvas the crime scene—undercover, of course.
Sketchy suspects lurk in the victim’s bohemian past. Was the promising painter killed by her jealous husband? Her best friend? A rival using her artful wiles? With her husband Phil busy setting a trap for a gold thief, it’s up to Helen to paint this killer into a corner . . .
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About the author
The Art of Murder, Elaine Viets’ new Dead-End Job mystery, opens at Bonnet House, a whimsical Fort Lauderdale museum with rollicking art, exotic orchids, carousel figures, and a troupe of mischievous squirrel monkeys that escaped from a bar. Elaine worked as a museum volunteer while she researched her fifteenth Dead-End Job mystery.
She’s written 29 bestselling mysteries in three series: hardboiled Francesca Vierling mysteries, traditional Dead-End Job mysteries, and cozy Josie Marcus Mystery Shopper mysteries. Checked Out, Viets’ 14th Dead-End Job mystery is set at a library. Suspense magazine called it one of 2015’s best cozies. The Palm Beach Post named, Shop till You Drop, Elaine’s first Dead-End Job mystery, one of 16 must-read Florida books, along with John D. MacDonald, Elmore Leonard and Jeff “Dexter” Lindsay.
Elaine has written numerous short stories for Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazines, and anthologies edited by Charlaine Harris and Lawrence Block. She’s won the Agatha, Anthony and Lefty Awards. Visit her at www.elaineviets.com.
Elaine will tour eight cities May 3-10. To see where she’s signing, click HERE.
Giveaway: Leave a comment below for your chance to win a print copy of Checked Out. US entries only, please. The giveaway will end May 9, 2016 at 12 AM EST. Good luck everyone!
All comments are welcomed.