The dinner table is set with my best china, silver and crystal. The centerpiece is stunning. The flowers, lily of the valley, are a favorite of one of my dinner guests, Agatha Christie. Yes, I said Agatha Christie. At this dinner part my literary heroes will share conversation and a fabulous dinner. This is your invitation to dine with five women of murder, mayhem, and mystery.
Vera Caspary, the author of one of my favorite books, Laura, was the inspiration for the redesign of the room for this auspicious evening. It would be a crime in itself not to pay homage to the elegant rooms featured in the movie adaptation of her novel.
The amazing Mary Roberts Rinehart will be in attendance. A prolific writer, her story, The Bat, inspired Bob Kane and Bill Finger to create Batman for DC Comics. Her murder mystery, The Circular Staircase, was groundbreaking in the genre, and is still in print. P.D. James has graciously accepted my invitation to dinner, and I am serving her favorite meal. Mary Higgins Clark, the reigning queen of American murder mysteries, will also be in attendance. It will be a lovely evening, and you are invited to be the seventh guest.
I have done my research for this dinner party, so I am well aware that Agatha Christie is a teetotaler, and that P.D. James imbibes with decorum. I have prepared a raspberry iced tea and sparkling cider for them. Mary Higgins Clark requests a glass of California Chardonnay. Mary Roberts Rinehart sips at a delicate vessel filled with a choice sherry.
The authors all know of each other’s work, yet we have never met. How should one begin an evening of conversation with this group of literary icons? We agree that the best way to get acquainted is to introduce ourselves by sharing a tidbit of information not generally known to the public. We also dispense with formality and call each other by our first names.
“I’ll go first,” I say. “ My name is Lois When I was a child I would hold my breath under water for as long as I could. The adults thought that I was drowning.”
“My name is Agatha,” the celebrated author says. “I have a weakness for cream. I drink it every day, and when I work I keep a cup of it next to me. I can’t help myself.”
“I am Mary.” The chicly dressed woman speaks clearly, and her eyes sparkle as she surveys the room. “I have a small pet peeve—I love my food quite hot.” She catches my eye. “Don’t worry, dear, we can always pop mine in the microwave.”
“I’m Vera,” the next author crisply adds. “Mine is not a happy fact. I was not given proper screenwriting credit for Laura. Otto Preminger and I didn’t see eye to eye on many things. He had his own vision and did not honor my views as the author.”
“Many women did not get credit for their literary accomplishments,” a formally dressed woman agrees. “I am also Mary. I will share with all of you that Sir James Barrie called my work ‘lowbrow.’ So what? I always wrote my stories to intrigue my readers, to build suspense with style.”
“And so you did, my dear,” P.D. James says. “The Circular Staircase established many formulas of the mystery genre that are still utilized by writers today. My personal tidbit is this—I observe people from an almost clinical perspective. I hope it does not come off as cold. Don’t all writers pull back to observe a person as a possible character in a future book? Oh, and please call me Phyllis.”
“I certainly do,” said Mary H. “I always say that if someone is mean to me I simply write a character like them into my next book and kill them off.” The ladies laugh as we move to the dining room for dinner.
We begin our meal with a small bowl of my famous Italian wedding soup. The meatballs are small and light in texture. The silence as my guests eat gives me the reassurance that they like it.
The pasta course is next. I have prepared two choices; a penne with a plain marinara and Mary H’s favorite, linguini with white clam sauce. As I fill her pasta bowl the steam rises and she gives me a big smile.
The meat course is a nod to Phyllis. Duck with a crispy breast, new potatoes, and fresh peas are served with a side sauce of a Grand Marnier reduction for those who want it. After a few bites, she nods in appreciation. “Delicious. Everything is absolutely perfect.”
Dessert is simple. Scones and clotted cream, a strawberry sorbet, and a lemon pound cake with tea and coffee.
After our meal we replenish our drinks and relax in the family room. The violin concerto in D-minor OP. 47 by Jean Sibelius plays softly in the background and Phyllis and I share a smile. Mary H. swirls the ice in her Chivas Regal.
“Let’s have a game,” Agatha suggests. “A traveling murder mystery. We’ll each pick a number out of a hat and proceed in order. Each of us will add a sentence in turn, until we reach the point when someone will be murdered. What do you think?”
I retrieve a piece of notebook paper out of the kitchen drawer and quickly make up seven slips of paper, fold them and drop them in a small basket. One by one the mistresses of murder draw their number and settle back to think.
“Who has number one?” Mary R. asks.
“I do,” Vera said. “Are we ready?” Everyone agrees excitedly to begin.
“She did not die well,” Vera says. “Let’s start with the murder and back into it.”
“… The well shod ‘ladies who lunch’ whispered at her memorial service,” Mary H. adds.
“Her life had been one calamity after the next, and eventually chaos became as commonplace as afternoon tea,” Phyllis says.
“She had thought that a relaxing weekend spent at her cousin’s country estate would have allowed her to consider Sebastian’s proposal of marriage,” Mary R. comments.
“He is a wonderful catch,” you add shyly.
“A little too full of himself, but then most barristers are,” Agatha says with a smile.
“He was in London when it happened, his alibi confirmed by thirty other members of his club,” I add proudly.
“Would the members of his aristocratic club lie to protect one of their own?” Vera asks.
“The police were unimpressed by the tears and protestations of innocence,” Mary H. says.
“She had disappeared into the woods. Her horse, sans rider, returned hours later and the concerned host sent out a search party,” Phyllis adds.
“It must have been a tramp or a poacher, the host insisted,” Agatha says. “None of my guests could ever do such a thing.”
Suddenly, the lights went out and a woman’s scream pierced the darkness. Would you have expected anything less?
Born to Die: The Montauk Murders is set amongst the glitz and glamour of the Beau Monde. The 80th birthday of Miranda Richards, an art-world icon, boasts the party of the summer at her exclusive mansion on Long Island. Old resentments and convoluted relationships bubble to the surface as an eclectic, A-list cast of characters celebrate at a Masked Ball. The luxurious trappings of success, however, don’t hinder the agenda of an invited guest with a score to settle. Friends and family are left to wonder… Will I be next? Follow Detective Steele as he sifts through the evidence before the killer strikes again.
After escaping the brutal murders in Montauk, L.I. Katherine Montgomery breathes a sigh of relief and settles into her sophisticated mansion on Tampa Bay. Her nights are filled with dear friends at the Gaspar Gourmets dinner club. Katherine’s life seems ideal until a close friend dies. But the accident may not be what it seems, and Detective Frank Olson is assigned to investigate. Katherine is immediately attracted to the smart, handsome detective. She can’t help but wonder if his interest in her is as a woman or a suspect. When another friend dies after an elegant event attended by the local elite, it becomes obvious there is a common thread. Katherine’s world is turned upside down as the police investigation focuses on her intimate circle of friends. Frank follows a trail of clues, leading him to suspect a malignant secret curdling below the serene surface of the Gaspar Gourmets. Can he solve the puzzle before the killer strikes again? And has the exhibit of the Santeria paintings exposed Katherine to a murderer’s evil agenda?
Women of Murder, Mystery & Mayhem
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