Friday, November 26, 2010

Elizabeth Gunn on writing tomorrow's headlines

Senate Bill 1070 was still just a gleam in a few Arizona senators’ eyes when I started writing KISSING ARIZONA.  I’d written one Tucson novel about the drug trade—COOL IN TUCSON—and a second one, NEW RIVER BLUES, that featured the meltdown in the housing industry that took Rio Nuevo’s urban renewal plans down with it.  I thought I was ready to tackle some border issues, so I did a lot of research and started building characters.  When a story appeared in the paper about a new immigration law I said, “That senate bill won’t make any difference because the governor’s never going to sign it.”

Shows you what I know. Governor Brewer not only signed that puppy but heartily endorsed it, and changed what had been her ho-hum substitution for Janet Napolitano into a blockbuster political career that swept her into a second term.  Arizona became a focal point for what everybody wanted to say (or yell) about illegal immigration and a whole lot else—taxes, health insurance, the national debt—because once  you’re up and yelling, you might as well get it all out there, really vent for a change.

Authors have to deliver the manuscript when it’s promised, no matter how much noise is around.  So I went ahead and wrote the novel I wanted to write.  I agree with the guy who said, “If you want to send a message, call Western Union.” (Today he’d say “Click on Facebook.”) My task as a novelist, as I see it, is to create believable characters and turn them loose to behave the way people do.  My characters in KISSING ARIZONA cross the Sonoran Desert by means of the same sweaty compromises and artful dodges people have been using for centuries—running when they have to, hiding when they can’t, lying and cheating, making deals and making love.  Those are just the good guys—the bad guys get really mean sometimes.

I write police procedurals, so I spend a lot of time riding along in patrol cars and picking the brains of law enforcement people.  Besides enterprising, strong and brave, police officers learn to be very patient.  This is good, because it enables them to put up with my endless need to know more.  Street cops are mostly good story-tellers, too, since their whole shift report is an endless narrative of unexpected events.  My research is lively, and often walks an edgy line between heart-breaking and hilarious. That it all takes place in the stunningly beautiful Tucson valley is just frosting on the cake.

-Elizabeth Gunn 

Elizabeth will be signing KISSING ARIZONA at The Poisoned Pen this Sunday at 2pm. If you would like to order a copy, click here or email 

A one-time innkeeper with a taste for adventure, Elizabeth has been a private pilot, sky diver, SCUBA diver, and liveaboard sailor. Extensive travel in the US, Canada, Mexico and Europe led to a second career as a free-lance travel writer, during which she began writing a series of police procedural mysteries set in southeast Minnesota, where she grew up. Her books contrast the sometimes gritty routine of police work with the idyllic rural scenes around a mid-size city in the upper midwest. Featured characters are a hard-working police detective named Jake Hines and his girlfriend, Trudy Hanson, a forensic scientist at the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension in St. Paul.

Sarah Burke

3. Kissing Arizona (2010)

Jake Hines

2. Par Four (1998)
3. Five Card Stud (2000)
5. Seventh-Inning Stretch (2002)
6. Crazy Eights (2005)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Free Excerpt from THE WEIGHT by Andrew Vachss

"[Andrew Vachss'] new book, The Weight, may be his finest hour to date. [It] works on the surface as a stunning mystery. Compulsively readable." —Ken Bruen

"Andrew Vachss at his best" —Los Angeles Times

Andrew Vachss returns with a mesmerizing novel about a hard-core thief who's about to embark on a job that will alter his life forever.

Excerpted from The Weight

I'm a professional, not a punk with a pistol. You'll never see my picture on a security camera sticking up a bodega. Or jacking some guy in a suit while he's standing at an ATM.

I'm a thief, and I do clean work. I don't hurt people for money, I don't set fires, I don't do any of those sicko sex things. Stuff like that, it gets spread all over: the papers, radio, TV. Gets everybody paying attention. Specially when there's big reward money out there.

A man who does my kind of work, the only way he ever gets caught is if he goes in without a plan. Or if someone rolls over on him.

You never talk about your work. Too many guys walking around with heavy charges hanging over them. Anyone gets caught holding K-weight powder in this state, it's the same as a murder beef. A street cop catches a guy holding that heavy, he can make the bust, but all that'd get him is another one of those "commendations" every cop has a couple dozen of. What he really wants is that gold shield, so he'd rather have that guy on the street, working for him. Any outlaw is going to be able to go places no undercover ever could. So all he has to do is listen long enough.

Guys like that, they're all nothing but rats on leashes. If it wasn't for informants, the cops'd probably hardly ever break a case.
They'll pretty much always get the amateurs—the clowns who leave a trail you could follow even with one of those white canes tapping the way.
The amateurs who stay out the longest are the ones who kill for fun. A random kill doesn't even look like what it really is until the bodies pile up.
There's also people who get off on being a rat. Nothing in it for them; they like doing that kind of stuff. So it's just as hard for people on my side of the law to sniff them out as it is for the law to sniff out a guy who does freakish stuff.
There's even people stupid enough to rat on themselves. A pro can be smart about work and dumb about other things. Say you talk about your work to your girlfriend: all it takes is for her to get mad at you one time to put a whole crew under the jail.

A few years ago, that happened to a guy I'd worked some jobs with. He was real good-looking. Smooth talker, too. Always found some girl to pick up his tabs—I don't think he ever paid rent in his life. This guy, he'd never talk about our kind of work, but any woman he ever stayed with, she'd have to know he wasn't any W-2 man. Probably helped them get over the nights he didn't come home ... and the flashy way he dressed, too. Whatever, they were always happy to help out with some cash while he was waiting on this big score he had coming.
Only this last one, she couldn't leave it that way. She just had to satisfy herself he wasn't spending her money on some other girl.

A lot of them do it now. They call it "playing detective." You know what I mean: they buy their boyfriend a cell phone and pay the bill themselves. The mark thinks he's playing her, but the person who pays the bill gets the bill. Which means she gets a lot of phone numbers.

So, anyway, the girlfriend, she finds a number she doesn't recognize, dials it while the guy's sleeping. Wakes him up and goes off on him. She's taking care of him, and he fucking cheats on her?

He should've just promised her he was done with that other girl. Better yet, just walked away and not come back.

But, no, he has to be a big man. Throws a fistful of hundreds on the floor, tells her, "Here, bitch. Go pay your little cell-phone bill."

All their time together, she thought he was her kept boy, so seeing all that money sent her over the edge. A few minutes earlier, she was screaming at him to get out. Now she's standing in front of the door. She's got more to say, and he's going to listen to it or...
He should have let her scream herself dry. But, the kind of fool he is, he's got to play his role, just like he did with flashing the money. Ends up banging her around pretty hard.

He's not even a few blocks away when she goes 911 on him. They pick him up right on the street. Once they tell him what he's being pinched for, he doesn't say a word.

This guy figures, they arraign him in the morning, he takes whatever they're offering. What's he looking at ... thirty days and some anger-management class?

But he's only in a few hours when the girlfriend waltzes in and tells the cops she's decided not to press charges. Stupid broad, she thought it was her case. When they tell her it's not up to her, she loses it again. By the time she's done running her mouth, they've got enough probable cause to take her home and have a look around.

I'll say this for that guy: maybe he played big-shot, but he paid for doing it, and he didn't ask anyone he ever worked with to split the tab.

To order a copy drop P. Milli an email at 

Friday, November 19, 2010

Guest Post from Dana Stabenow


Join me Saturday, November 20th at 2pm at the Poisoned Pen, where I will be holding Archer Mayor’ s coat as he signs his new Joe Gunther novel, Red Herring.

The twenty-first Joe Gunther novel takes the Vermont Bureau of Investigation commander into a series of deaths that appear less unrelated and more like murder with each new body. In the meantime, Joe’ s ex is running for governor, and his new girlfriend may have some issues with that. The two storylines intersect before the last page, and that’ s all I’ m saying because I don’t want to ruin it for you.

I’ m ashamed to say that Red Herring is my first Joe Gunther novel. It shouldn’t have been, because it appears that Alaska and Vermont were separated at birth:

By now, late morning, the sky was bright blue, ice-cold, and the frozen world below it so white, it pained the eye...Christmas wasn’t for two months yet, and no one Joe knew was prepared for ten inches of snow on the ground.

Right away, I’ m home, whether I want to be or not. There’ s a reason Archer and I come to Phoenix to sign our books.

Come on down and we can get Archer to tell us not quite all about it, and about his adventures as a death investigator for the Vermont State Medical Examiner’ s office, as a deputy for the Windham County Sheriff’ s Department, and as a volunteer for his local Fire Department and EMT squad. I personally want to know where he found T.H. White’ s The Book of Merlyn and how he got it into print, specifically so I could read it. I mean, I’ve never met the man, why was he being so nice to me?

While I’ m loitering in the background, I may drop a few bon mots about the next Kate Shugak novel, Though Not Dead, (available for pre-order here) which comes out on February 1st. The eighteenth Kate Shugak novel begins three days after -- and ninety years before -- the events of the previous novel, A Night Too Dark. This is the book where I thought I was getting Chopper Jim off stage for a while so Kate could get on with her own story. Then, to my considerable surprise, Jim starts having a life of his own, to which of course attention had to be paid, and I wound up with a three-plot line narrative instead of two.

If there is one imperative in the writer’ s life, it is that when the muse knocks, you must get up and answer the door. Bet Archer says the same.


To order a signed copy of RED HERRING by Archer Mayor click here, or email your order to 

Dana's first novel A COLD DAY FOR MURDER will be re-released, in hardcover, from The Poisoned Pen Press on February 1st 2011 the same day as the launch of Though Not Dead. The launch party will be at The Poisoned Pen as well as live on the internet, as will Dana's interview with Archer, so tune in!

Press Author Dennis Palumbo writes for The Huff Post

In the early 60's, there was a hot art-house movie called The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. I think of this film sometimes when trying to help my writer patients working on long-form projects---novels, plays, screenplays, etc. The running analogy is a good one, because long-form writing is like running a marathon: it requires endurance, patience, a deep reserve of will power and commitment, and an almost Herculean ability to delay gratification.
(To continue the analogy, other kinds of writing might be likened to sprints---short stories, sitcoms, poems, etc. Sprints require a burst of speed and power, the knock-out punch of a single idea or concept, and a quick build to an explosive finish.)
Where the long-form writer gets in trouble is in believing that he or she can maintain over the length of the project the same vigor and intensity that's brought to a shorter piece. Hence, when the work slows, or gets bogged down in exposition, or drifts off on tangents, the writer panics. His or her confidence flags. Enthusiasm drains away. The unfinished novel or screenplay is, metaphorically
speaking, "put away in a drawer," often never to be brought out again... read the rest of the article here...

To order a signed, first edition of Dennis' novel Mirror Image from our website, click here or email it in to

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Chantelle Aimée Osman reviews...
Dangerous to Know
In Tasha Alexander’s last installment of her Lady Emily Hargreaves series, Tears of Pearl, Lady Emily was left scarred both emotionally and physically after confronting a murderer on her honeymoon in Constantinople. Now, in Dangerous to Know, we find her recuperating at the estate of Colin’s mother in Normandy, where her low spirits endear her little to her new mother-in-law, whose frigid welcome does not improve matters.  Nor does stumbling upon the mutilated body of a young girl during a ride through the woods. The murder seems to have all the hallmarks of Jack the Ripper, who was rumored to flee London for France. However, unlike prior victims, this girl is the daughter of an aristocratic family who had escaped from a nearby asylum. Never one to leave well enough alone, Lady Emily begins to investigate along with her husband Colin, an agent for the empire. However, Colin’s sense of responsibility for his wife’s injuries leads him to become more protective. Lady Emily is none to happy with the evolving definition of their partnership, and struggles to come to terms with not only her emotions, but those of her husband.

Lady Emily’s already precarious state is further exacerbated by the haunting cries of a ghostly child, whose demise was rumored to be at the hands of a neighbor’s wife. Add to this is the return of gentleman thief Sebastian Capet, whose theft of a Monet may be tied to the murdered girl and the ghastly apparition, and it’s a recipe for madness. The pace of the narrative mirrors Emily’s mindset. At the beginning, much of the narrative is devoted to the growing complexities of Lady Emily and Colin’s relationship — although  much needed periods of levity provided by Emily’s friend Cécile.  As the investigation progresses, Alexander proceeds to give us the adventure we come to expect in her work; taking us on an all-inclusive tour of the medieval city of Rouen, drinking champagne with Monet, and exploring crumbling chȃteaux. Definitely for seasoned Alexander fans (others should begin with And Only to Deceive), Dangerous to Know is more of a psychological mystery than Alexander’s previous work, but a superb addition to the Lady Emily series.
Tasha Alexander recently married fellow author Andrew Grant (The Event, which won Crimespree Magazine’s award for favorite first novel) in a match made in mystery-reader heaven. They divide their time between Chicago and the UK. She’s currently working on the fifth in the Lady Emily series, and Kaye Publicity ( is holding a contest to help her title it  (

If you like Tasha Alexander’s books, then I highly recommend Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series (The Mischief of the Misteltoe, October 2010) and Deanna Raybourn’s Lady Julia Grey series (Dark Road to Darjeeling, October, 2010).

Tasha will be signing at The Poisoned Pen Sunday, November 14th at 2pm. If you can't attend you can order a signed copy of Dangerous to Know from or by emailing


Chantelle Aimée Osman is a rabid mystery reader and author whose flash fiction and short stories appear in anthologies, literary journals and e-zines. She is a founding member of The Sirens of Suspense (, where award-winning authors blog on all things writing and publishing.  In her other life, she is an attorney and owner of a script editing and consulting company A Twist of Karma, Entertainment LLC ( She speaks at writing conferences across the country. She may or may not be in the CIA. Follow her on Twitter @SuspenseSirens.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Guest Post from Dirk Cussler

The Genesis for Crescent Dawn

For Clive and me, shipwrecks seem to be a constant in our lives.  At least once a year, we pry ourselves away from our desks and try to spend time at sea searching for historic wrecks.  Failing in our searches more often than not, the frustration drives a passion that keeps them close to mind, even at home.  And of course we invariably write about shipwrecks, either real or fictionalized, in the Dirk Pitt novels.  In fact, it might be argued that some of the better Dirk Pitt books were inspired by shipwrecks.  Fans of Raise the Titanic, Nightprobe, and even Sahara would probably agree with me here.

While I can’t say where Crescent Dawn stands in the hierarchy of Pitt books, I can tell you that the origination of the story was also inspired by a real shipwreck.  Having spent considerable time in the North Sea searching for the John Paul Jones warship Bonhomme Richard (unsuccessfully so far, I’m sorry to report), it was only a matter of time before we became familiar with the tale of the H.M.S. Hampshire.  The Hampshire was a British WWI cruiser that sank in the North Sea off the Orkney Islands in 1916.  Like the best shipwreck stories, her demise was wrapped in rumor and mystery.

What made the Hampshire’s loss notable was one of the passengers she was carrying, Army Field Marshall Herbert Kitchener.  Lord Kitchener was the icon of the British military, a stern bulldog figure famous for his walrus mustache.  With the outcome of the war in still in doubt, Kitchener was sent on a secret mission to Russia to shore up support with Czar Nicholas.  When the Hampshire was sunk shortly after departing Scapa Flow, scores of conspiracy theories rapidly began circulating.  Some claimed that the IRA had planted a bomb in the munitions hold, while others said a German spy was aboard and had secretly signaled a waiting German U-boat to fire on her.  Kitchener’s presence created a slew of other myths, including claims that the British government had wanted him dead, or that they sank the ship to cover up his own suicide.  Less glamorous was the likely reality that the ship was sunk by a mine laid by a German U-boat days earlier.

And, of course, what good shipwreck story doesn’t involve gold?  Rumors abounded that the Hampshire was secretly transporting $10 million of gold to Russia, stored in her armored strong room.  Salvagers quietly cut into the wreck decades ago, but nobody knows for sure whether any gold was in fact found and removed.  Today, the Hampshire is a protected war grave, silently preserving her mysteries of the past.  Her own history is as engaging as fiction, and we found her a captivating tale on which to base a subplot in the new book.

As an aside, the proposed cover art for Crescent Dawn originally featured an illustration of the Hampshire exploding and sinking.  Clive thought the image was too similar to some other recent covers, however, and it was changed to a scene in Istanbul.  (You can still find a nice image of the Hampshire on the cover of the British version of Crescent Dawn).  With some historical impetus from the old British warship, Clive and I hope you find Crescent Dawn to be a fun read.


 Dirk Cussler (born 1961) is the son of best selling author Clive Cussler. He is a co-author of several DirkPitt adventure novels, including Black Wind and Treasure of Khan as well as being the namesake for the Pitt character.
Dirk Cussler has an MBA from Berkeley and worked for many years in the financial arena before assisting his father with writing the latest novels in the immensely popular Dirk Pitt series. Dirk Cussler also plays an integral part in the non-profit foundation National Underwater and Marine Agency, which was founded by his father; Dirk is the President of NUMA and is also a member of the Board of Trustees.

Launch party for the latest Dirk Pitt adventure, Crescent Dawn, will take place at The Poisoned Pen Bookstore on November 16, 2010 at 6pm. Visit for more details.

Special guest, Roland Dahlquist (created the cover art for Crescent Dawn) will also be signing at The Poisoned Pen. If you would like to order a triple-signed copy of Crescent Dawn from The Poisoned Pen click here to order from our website, give us a call (888-560-9919) or email your order to Dirk and Clive will be signing Crescent Dawn at many locations, check their tour schedule on their website to find out if they are visiting somewhere near you.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

News From Barbara

November always offers you a cornucopia of good books of all sorts.
What could be better than a book for gifts? There is no better value for the dollar or the hours of pleasure you offer someone with a good read.

If you've missed an event many of them have been webcast and they are available for viewing at

And remember that only the upcoming five events post on our Home Page; do view the whole month's calender at 
Find us on FacebookFollow us on Twitter 

Treats for the rest of the week...

Tonight at 7:00 pm: Greg Rucka
Tomorrow night at 7:00 pm: JoAnn Mapson
Saturday at 2:00 pm, Warren Perkins, Laura Tohe
Mapson, Jo-Ann. Solomon's Oak. $25.00 Signed Thursday Nov. 4 at 7:00 pm

Glory Solomon, a young widow who has just recently lost her husband, Dan, is desperately trying to maintain the family farm in Northern California.  Renting out her farm to weddings, Glory is making just enough to survive on.  In their glory days, the Solomons cared for foster children.  When Juniper McGuire, a pierced, tattooed and angry young girl is left on Glory's doorstep, Glory can do little but try to care for her. However, with the help of good friend, Joseph Vigil, Glory may be able to survive life's new challenges.   Jo-Ann Mapson's latest novel, Solomon's Oak, is a moving piece of fiction that grabs at the heart and moves the soul.

Perkins, Warren. Putrefaction Live. $21.95 Signed Sat. Nov. 6 at 2:00 pm

Perkins, a native of Flagstaff, Arizona, brings a very human and endearing novel about a young Navajo mix-blood growing up on the Reservation.  From having run ins with the law, experiencing first hand the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse, James attempts to get his life straight.  However, his life changes when James creates a heavy metal rez band- Putrefaction.  A moving story that chronicles many of the social issues plaguing local Reservation life in the Southwest.

Rucka, Greg. Last Run. $25.00 Signed Wed. Nov. 3 at 7:00 pm. 

Pat King says, "I have had read just about everything that Rucka has written and I am always amazed at his versatility. I started reading his graphic novels- he always managed to take your standard super-hero character and twist their characteristics to give them a more human edge. Rather than reading about a super-powered human you had a human who happened to have super-powers (flaws and all).

However, I was really hooked after reading Finder- taking his character Atticus Kodiak and watching his progression from body-guard to hit man.

 Rucka's latest Queen and Country novel, The Last Run does not disappoint. Tara Chase, British Secret Agent, burnt out from her last adventure wants nothing more than a desk job and the chance to heal emotionally.  However, when an important Iranian political figure wants to defect- Chase is called in for one last mission.  The emotionally raw Chase must make some hard decisions in order to extract him. This is my current favorite within his Queen and Country series!"

Tohe, Laura. Tseyi Deep in the Rock- Reflections on Canyon de Chelly. $15.00 Signed Sat. Nov. 6 at 2:00 pm.

Tohe is one of the finest current Native American writers today.  Tseyi- is a wonderful book noting the historical, archaeological and cultural importance of Canyon de Chelly (pronounced Shellay).  Beautifully written- with beautiful photographs to couple the text- this is a beautiful gift for any southwestern enthusiast.

Next week:
Monday at 7:00 pm, Robert K Tanenbaum
Tuesday at 7:00 pm: Kirk Russell, Sheldon Siegel with Alan Jacobson
Wednesday at 7:00 pm: Priscilla Royal, Jonathan Stroud
Friday at 7:00 pm: Kathy Reichs
Saturday at 5:00 pm: Walter Mosley

Monday November 15 at 7:00 pm: Stephen Jay Schwartz
Tuesday November 16 at 6:00 pm: Dirk and Clive Cussler
Saturday November 20 at 2:15 pm: Archer Mayor with Dana Stabenow
We are closed on Thanksgiving Day but at 11:00 am the next morning, November 26, Black Friday for shoppers, Mike Huckabee signs
NEW: Sunday November 28 at 2:00 pm, Elizabeth Gunn
Tuesday November 30 at 7:00 pm, Robert Greer

Thank you for supporting The Poisoned Pen, and Poisoned Pen Press, winner of the 2010 Ellery Queen Award from the Mystery Writers of America.

Everyone needs an editor (which is why I warn you away from self-published books whether you are an author wishing to produce one, or a reader....)

Jeffery Deaver will be celebrating my birthday with me, a special treat, onDECEMBER 7, not November 7 as I wrote

Pearl Harbor took place almost a full year after I was born, so I can't claim to be a member of the Greatest Generation. But I like to think some of its standards are part of me.

Rob, and kids, and I are going to Egypt and Petra to celebrate: my birthday is also our 20th wedding anniversary, a canny move worked out by both of us so there is always something to look forward to instead of bemoan each time another birthday rolls around.

More celebrations are planned including a party with Graham Moore, a new author with First Mystery Pick The Sherlockian (Little Brown $26) on Dec. 15.

Jon Talton had planned to add another layer to the festivities but he's had some surgery and thus will join us to sign a new David Mapstone, South Phoenix Rules (Poisoned Pen $25) in January. If you can't wait or want copies for gifts, we will have some Signed copies for you at the end of November. There is also a trade paperback edition ($15).

New for November
A list of new titles for this month sorted by Hardcover, Trade Paperback, and Mass Market  Paperback can be viewed here

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Elaine Viets Contest!

A New Josie Marcus!!!
To celebrate the launch of her latest novel AN UPLIFTING MURDER, 

To enter click here

Starts: 10/20/2010 Ends: 11/20/2010

Prize: A $100 gift certificate to the lingerie or bookstore of your choice
Win a shopping spree for your mind or your body to celebrate AN UPLIFTING MURDER. Josie Marcus mystery shops a lingerie store in my sixth mystery shopper novel.Enter a drawing to win a $100 gift certificate to the bookstore or the lingerie store of your choice. Gentlemen, we don't discriminate. You can win either the bookstore gift certificate or undergarments for yourself or the woman of your choice. Just send in your e-mail.

The first chapter of AN UPLIFTING MURDER:

“You want me to take off what for this assignment?” Josie Marcus asked. She stared right in the red, ratlike eyes of her boss, Harry the Horrible. They jumped like gigged frogs.

“Uh, your top,” Harry said. The manager of Suttin Services was completely clothed, except for the little bulges of hairy fat that escaped through his gaping shirt.

“Is that all?” Josie knew Harry wasn’t telling her everything. She had a ten-year-old daughter. Josie was an expert at ferreting out half-truths.

Harry flinched. “And your bosom thingie,” he said. “Your bra.”
“I’m supposed to strip naked for a mystery shopping job?” Josie clenched her hands to keep from punching her flabby boss.

Harry took one look at her eyes and grabbed the St. Louis phone book. He held it in front of him like a shield. Josie was only five foot six, but she was mad enough to deck the guy.

“Just your top half,” he said. “And there are no men around. It’s all girls.”

“Women,” Josie said. “Grown women are not girls. Unless you want me to strip at a grade school.”

“Okay, women,” he said, quickly. “I need you for this job. All women wear bras. It’s no big deal. Especially for you.”

Josie’s glare should have lasered every hair off his hide.

“I wasn’t getting personal,” Harry said. “I meant that you – as a female person – are used to taking off your clothes in doctors’ offices and when you get your annual chest squashing.”

“What’s that?” Josie asked.

“My mom gets them to make sure she doesn’t have cancer,” Harry said.

“Those are called mammograms,” Josie said. “My mother gets them, too.” She tried to hide a smile. From what her mom said, Harry had given an accurate description of the procedure.

“Please, Josie. I’m not talking dirty. I just don’t know how to say it right.” The big oaf was pleading now. He had the charm of an unkissed toad.

“You sure don’t,” Josie said. She looked through his office door into the main room of Suttin Services. Dust motes danced in the early morning light, haloing the IT guy working on a computer. The sun gilded a muscular telephone repairman installing another inside line. None of the staff or other mystery shoppers had arrived yet.

“There are two men in the office now,” Josie said. “Take off your shirt and show them your chest.” Josie would bet her next paycheck that his breasts were bigger than hers.

Harry clutched the phone book to his chest, horrified as a maiden aunt propositioned by a randy priest.

“I couldn’t,” he said. “That’s different.”

“Why?” Josie said. “They’re strangers. And guys. You’ll never see them again. You’re a man. You can walk around on the beach without a shirt. I can’t.”

“I’m the boss,” Harry said, trying to cover himself with a shred of dignity.

“And I’m a peon. So I should go naked,” Josie said.

“No,” Harry said. “Can I back up and start again? I didn’t get off on the right foot. Desiree Lingerie, the fancy ladies’ underwear chain, want you to mystery-shop their store at Plaza Venetia. They’ve had a complaint about one of their saleswomen. I mean persons. Did I say it right?”

“Saleswoman is correct,” Josie said.

“What I was trying to say is that every woman gets measured for a bra, so you’d be used to the process of undressing like that.”

“Every woman with some bucks gets measured,” Josie said. “The rest of us buy our bras off the rack at stores. Target doesn’t have bra fitters.”

“Desiree Lingerie is more upscale than that,” Harry said. “But it’s for women only. It’s supposed to be a place where women feel comfortable with their bodies. They got a complaint that one of their saleswomen is making rude remarks about the size of the customers’ — ”

Harry stopped while he mentally searched for the proper word. “Chests!” he finally said.

“What do I get paid for these insults?” Josie asked.

“You’ll make your usual fee,” Harry said, “but there’s an extra benefit. Desiree Lingerie is not returnable. You’d get to keep the bras and panties, up to two hundred dollars’ worth.”

Now that was a bonus, Josie thought. She had a new boyfriend and lacy underwear was a frivolity she couldn’t afford.

“Where’s the store?” Josie asked.

“Plaza Venetia in West County. Where the super-rich shop. Nice atmosphere. Pleasant people. Good working conditions.”

“That’s the most expensive mall in the area,” Josie said. “For two hundred bucks, I’ll be lucky to get one bra.”

“But it will be a great bra,” Harry said. He knew he’d almost sold her on the job. He reached into his desk and pulled out a sheet of paper.

“Here’s the list of questions. You have to ask for Rosa. She’s the saleswoman the company wants checked out. They have two complaints that she made rude comments about women’s chests. She’s a Latina, so they can’t fire her. Political correctness, EEOC and all that.”

“Plus she could be innocent,” Josie said.

“Well, there’s that,” Harry said. “But Desiree is taking the complaints seriously enough to investigate. The company wants some ammunition and they want it documented in writing. Maybe you’d like to take that friend of yours, what’s her name?”

“Alyce,” Josie said. “Does she get paid?”

“No, but she can keep her bra, too. She’s a big lady.” He pantomimed large rounds in the air. “And you’re . . .” He stopped, catching himself like a runner about to go over a cliff. “And you’re not.” He made a small cup with his hands. Very small.

“So between the two of you, you’d would cover . . .”

Harry stopped and looked frightened.

Josie decided she’d take pity on the miserable worm. “We’d cover two different body types,” she said. “I’ll ask Alyce if she wants to go.”

“Good.” Harry looked relieved.

“But if you’re not going to pay her, I want two bras with matching panties for both of us.”

“You got it,” Harry said. “There’s just one hook.”

“There always is,” Josie said.

“You’ll have to go this morning.”

“That will depend on Alyce’s babysitter,” Josie said.

“Do I have to get her a bra, too?” Harry asked.

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Josie Marcus, Mystery Shopper

1. Dying In Style (2005)
2. High Heels Are Murder (2006)
3. An Accessory to Murder (2007)
4. Murder with All the Trimmings (2008)
5. The Fashion Hound Murders (2009)
6. An Uplifting Murder (2010)