Authors: Maddy Hunter
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #Women Sleuths, #General
“I finished reading that rubbish you gave me last night. It was poorly written, cartoonish, and perverted. You don’t honestly expect people to buy something so stupid, do you?” Portia sneered.
“Mean-spirited witch!” Jackie blasted her. “Didn’t your mother teach you that if you can’t say something nice, don’t say it at all? I want my book back.”
“Sorry. I performed a good deed before I left the hotel this morning: I threw it in the wastebasket to spare the next poor schmuck from having to read it.”
“You threw my book in the trash?”
Portia shrugged. “It’s exactly where it belongs.”
Jackie puffed up with so much hot air that she looked like an inflatable sex toy. “Even with my author’s discount, that book set me back fifteen bucks! Do I look like I’m made of money? You are
going to regret doing that.”
“Don’t you dare threaten me!”
“It’s not a threat.” Jackie’s eyes narrowed to vengeful slits. “It’s a promise.”
Turn the page to read critical raves for Maddy Hunter’s bestselling
Passport to Peril
“Pun-filled adventures…. Nonstop wisecracks…. A satisfying heroine-in-peril twist ending that should please those in search of a good cozy.”
HULA DONE IT?
“Hunter’s mysteries…make for some enjoyable holiday reading.”
Wisconsin State Journal
“The attraction of this series is the humor…that is somehow sustained over 300 hilarious pages.”
Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine
“Hunter’s Passport to Peril series is pure fun.”
Romantic Times Book Reviews
“Another great whodunit…a great example of reading entertainment.”
“Laugh-out-loud funny…[with] delightful characters.”
RT Bookclub Magazine
TOP O’ THE MOURNIN’
“Hilarious and delightful…. I can’t wait for the next trip!”
The Old Book Barn Gazette
“A delightful cozy that is low on gore but rich in plot and characterizations.”
“WARNING: Do not munch on Triscuits or anything covered in powdered sugar while reading this book! I nearly choked from laughing so hard…. There was belly laughter, or at least a chuckle, on each page.”
The Mystery Company Newsletter
ALPINE FOR YOU
“I found myself laughing out loud…. The word ‘hoot’ comes to mind.”
“While we’re all waiting for the next Janet Evanovich, this one will do perfectly.”
—Sleuth of Baker Street (Ontario, Canada)
“A debut with more than a few chuckles….”
—Mystery Lovers Bookshop
“If you’re looking for laughter, you’ve come to the right place…giggles and guffaws aplenty…. First-rate entertainment!”
Cozies, Capers & Crimes
“Hilarious. The characters are an absolute hoot.”
Under the Covers
“Delightfully fresh, with a great deal of humor.”
—Creatures ’n Crooks Bookshoppe
“As funny as anything by Katy Munger, Janet Evanovich, [or] Joan Hess…. The laughs started on the first page and continued, nonstop, to the last…. This one gets five stars. It’s a winner.”
G’DAY TO DIE
HULA DONE IT?
TOP O’ THE MOURNIN’
ALPINE FOR YOU
A Passport to Peril Mystery
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A Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
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New York, NY 10020
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2007 by Mary Mayer Holmes
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information address Pocket Books Subsidiary Rights Department, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020
POCKET and colophon are registered trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Art by Jeff Fitz Maurice
In Memory of Rita Wlodarczyk.
A grand lady and a true original.
You are missed.
My Scandinavian adventure was another of those proverbial “trips of a lifetime” that was made more memorable by the group of strangers who quickly became family for two weeks. I offer special thanks to the following people:
Tom and Ellen Simmonds, for keeping us constantly entertained and laughing.
Dan and Patti Krueger, for voluntarily hanging out with me so much.
Dave and Jan Bastin, for their friendship and thought-provoking conversations. I’m particularly grateful to Dave for sharing his photographic expertise and for sending me his great travel DVDs. I might never have to take another trip!
Sharon Gasser, Elaine Snyder, and Marge Bourne—the other three members of the Fearsome Foursome—who made the trip so much fun. I could never ask for more delightful traveling companions. I love you guys!
Thanks also to Irene Goodman and Micki Nuding, who don’t accompany me on my trips, but who make sure that my adventures end up on the bookstore shelf.
Lastly, thanks to my wonderful fans who have taken the time to contact me through my website to tell me how much they enjoy traveling with Emily, Nana, and the gang. Each one of your emails puts a smile on my face. You know who you are, and you’re the best!
i, everyone. I’m Jackie Thum; I live in Binghamton, New York, and I’m a published author!”
We were seated at tables in our Helsinki hotel’s overflow dining room, rising one at a time to introduce ourselves to the other tour guests who were part of our seventeen-day Midnight Sun Adventure. An open bar had loosened tongues and encouraged some guests to provide every detail of their lives from the day they’d left the womb, but Jackie hadn’t wasted time with that. She’d skipped over her annulled marriage to me and subsequent gender reassignment surgery to focus on the most important thing in her life right now: her new career as a romance novelist.
“Here’s my baby.” She held up a hardback novel with a bubble gum pink jacket, clutching it with fingernails painted the same color. “It’s only been out for
two weeks, so I don’t imagine any of you have bought it yet, but if you’d like to read it, I packed a few extra copies that I’d be happy to hand out.”
The room exploded with applause that elevated Jackie to instantaneous celebrity status.
. I hung my head. She’d be impossible to live with for the next two weeks.
“I’ve never met a real author,” a big-boned lady wearing too much sparkly face powder called out when the applause died down.
Jackie flung her mane of shiny chestnut hair over her shoulder and smiled with the white-toothed poise of a former Miss Texas. “I’ll let you in on a little secret: we authors paint our toenails one at a time, just like everyone else.”
“What’s your book about?” asked a bejeweled woman who’d introduced herself as Portia Van Cleef from Florida.
“That’s so sweet of you to ask!” All six feet of Jackie tittered with excitement. “I’ll read you the inside cover flap.
‘Pretty Little Secrets
is the passionate story of Emma Anderson, an aspiring actress whose lust for fame is only surpassed by her lust for a man whose secrets—’”
“Excuse me, Ms. Thum,” our tour director interrupted. Annika Mattsson was a tall, multilingual Swede who reminded me of Olive Oyl with a Dutch boy haircut. “Since dinner is scheduled to be served in a few minutes, perhaps you could arrange to discuss your book later? We still have a few introductions left.”
“Oh.” Jackie regarded the guests at our table who still hadn’t introduced themselves and downsized her smile into a pout. “Sure. I was just trying to accommodate my public.” She crushed her novel against her cleavage and sat down next to me, trying not to look crestfallen that her limelight had been dimmed so quickly.
“Who’s next?” asked Annika.
I stood up.
I said, smiling at the thirty faces in the room.
“What’d she say?” asked eighty-nine-year-old Osmond Chelsvig as he fumbled with his double hearing aids.
“Somebody take that drink away from her,” demanded Bernice Zwerg in her ex-smoker’s voice. “She’s tanked.”
I repeated phonetically. “That’s Finnish for ‘hello.’ I’m Emily Andrew, and I’m the official escort for the twelve Iowa seniors who’ve already introduced themselves.” They waved enthusiastically as I gestured toward their table.
“Someone actually pays you to escort people who are already on a guided tour?” asked a bearded man with Harry Potter glasses. “What would you call that? Double dipping or overkill?”
“She doesn’t do that much,” Bernice insisted. “It’s a pretty cushy job.”
Bernice, with her dowager’s hump, wire whisk hair, and crummy attitude, was both a Senior Olympics grand champion and an ever-present thorn in everyone’s side.
“I live in Windsor City, Iowa,” I continued, “and I’m recently engaged to a former Swiss police inspector who—”
“How many books have you sold so far?” called out a suntanned man who’d introduced himself as Reno O’Brien from sunny Florida.
Jackie sprang to life again. “Publishers are so secretive about those numbers, but I have a call in to my editor, so I’ll let you know as soon as she gets back to me. I wouldn’t be surprised if she had good news about the
New York Times
More clapping. Hooting. A shrill wolf whistle.
She patted my arm apologetically. “Sorry, Emily. What were you saying?”
“I’ve been planning our wedding for the last few months and I have everything done except for picking up the invitations and addres—”
“How much money did they pay you to write that book?” asked another Floridian with a buzz cut and a voice that started in his boots. “I could write a book if they’d pay me enough.”
Jackie wagged a finger at him. “Now, now, it’s not polite to ask a person how much money they make.”
“Why not?” asked Bernice.
“We’re planning a September wedding,” I said, raising my voice, “and—”
Portia Van Cleef cooed. “Does anyone remember that TV show? It starred Spring Byington.”
“That wasn’t as good as
Pete and Gladys,
” said Lucille Rassmuson, who’d joined Windsor City WeightWatch
ers five months ago and had already lost a whopping three pounds. “It was like
I Love Lucy
without the Cuban accent.”
“You’re wrong about the name of that show,” Bernice challenged Portia. “It was
I oughta know ’cause my boy watched it every noontime when he came home from school to eat lunch.”
A hush fell over the room. All eyes turned to Portia, who skewered Bernice with a look frigid enough to cause frostbite. “Did you just say something?”
“You bet. You got your months mixed up.”
Portia’s gold bracelets rattled as she adjusted the sleeves of her kaftan with the nonchalance of the very rich. “Does anyone else recall the correct name of the program?”
“I remember it being called
” said Reno O’Brien.
“Me, too,” said the man in the Harry Potter glasses.
“Does this mean Emily is going to have to switch her wedding date to December?” asked Margi Swanson, who was a part-time nurse and full-time optimist.
“I don’t give a rat’s ass what the show was called,” said the man with the buzz cut. He caught Jackie’s eye. “So how much money are we talking about? Fifty grand? A hundred? They pay
right? You don’t have to fork out money to print them yourself and sell them out of the trunk of your car?”
“Would you finish readin’ what the book’s about?” asked my grandmother, whose name tag read Marion
Sippel, Iowa. Nana was four-feet-ten, had an eighth-grade education, and, despite her confusion with double-negatives, was the smartest person I knew. “Sounds like one a them potboilers. My Legion a Mary book club is lookin’ for a summer sizzler that’s heavy on romance and light on naughty words.”
“I’d love to!” said Jackie, popping out of her chair and pausing breathlessly. “But only if it’s okay with Emily.”
Before Jack Potter had become Jackie Thum, he’d been the ultra-extrovert, the attention magnet, the guy who always made everything about himself. His breast size, hormones, and plumbing might have changed over the last few years, but two things had remained the same—his enormous feet and his sense of self-importance.
It was comforting to know that some things never changed.
“Knock yourself out,” I said as I sat down. I mean, what else did I have left to say, other than I was thirty years old, enjoyed a long-standing love affair with Victoria’s Secret, and stumbled across dead bodies on every trip I took? I was hoping this tour would be different, but in case it wasn’t, I’d brought along sympathy cards. If I was a jinx, I wanted to be remembered as a thoughtful jinx.
Jackie opened her book again, only to be interrupted when a hotel staffer rushed into the room, announcing something to Annika in frantic Finnish.
“The kitchen is about to send out our salads,” Annika translated, “so we need to move into the main
dining room immediately. We can finish our introductions at our orientation meeting tomorrow morning. Please take your glasses with you. You don’t want to waste good wine.”
My group was first out the door to claim the good seats by the windows and restrooms, but the remaining guests crowded around Jackie like hogs at the feed trough.
“When are you handing out your books?” asked the man with the Harry Potter glasses. “I’d like to read one.”
“Ditto for me,” said the large-boned woman with the face powder.
“So would I,” said Portia Van Cleef. “In fact, I recommend that your novel be our next Hamlets book-pick-of-the-month so all of us can read it. Good idea, people?”
Every head in the room bobbed enthusiastically.
Portia smiled at Jackie. “Our book club was in existence long before these new TV book clubs, but our monthly selections obviously never received the hype of the media-driven picks. If we’d been given a little airtime, we could have made millionaires out of mid-list authors, too.”
Jackie splayed her hand across her bulging chest. “Oh, my goodness. That would be so awesome, but I have to warn you, my book reads nothing like
. It’s a good old-fashioned romance, with a smattering of suspense, humor, fantasy, horror, paranormal, police procedural, and action-adventure. I wanted to include a little something for everyone.” She offered
her book to Portia. “Here, you can have the first copy, and after dinner, I’ll come down to the lounge and hand out the rest. I just wish I’d brought more!”
“Not to worry,” said Portia. “I’m a renowned speed reader, so I should be able to finish this in one sitting and give it to someone else tomorrow.”
said Annika from the doorway. “Excuse me, but you must take your seats in the dining room.”
“I’m sitting beside Portia,” said Reno O’Brien as he sidled up to her.
“I get her other side,” barked the man with the buzz cut.
“Me and Jimbob wanna sit across from her,” said the woman with the face powder. Jimbob was a tall skeleton of a man with hunched shoulders and a head like a Q-tip.
Portia smiled benevolently at her devotees. “You’re too kind, spoiling me with all this undeserved attention. But I’m not the luminary of the day. Jackie is, so you should be heaping your attention on
.” She grasped Jackie’s hand as if they’d been siblings being reunited after spending decades apart. “Jackie, dear, would you be so kind as to allow all of us to accompany you to the dining room? Then you can tell us all about your wonderful novel.”
“This is so flattering. How can I say no?” Jackie wrapped her arms around Portia in a bubbly bear hug and lifted her off the floor.
Kick-ass upper-body strength is one of the perks of being a six-foot transsexual. That, and a sliding vocal
range that allows you to sing both soprano and bass in your church choir.
Portia jangled like a human wind chime as Jackie set her back on her feet. “Sorry,” Jackie enthused as she plumped Portia’s kaftan and straightened the necklaces dripping from her throat. “I must tell you, I
your hair. My husband is a master cutter and hair colorist, and he’d absolutely adore what you’ve done. I bet I even know the color. That combination of corn-silk and platinum—society blond, right?”
Portia blinked her astonishment. “How could you possibly know that?”
“Writer’s block. It’s a long story.” She seized Portia’s arm and escorted her out the door, chased by guests who looked determined not to be excluded from the newly formed “in” crowd.
“Jimbob and me still hosey the chairs across from you!” shouted the woman with the iridescent makeup.
“That’s Joleen Barnum,” said the lady across the table from me. She pushed back her chair and winced as she stood up. “Durned stiff joints. She and Jimbob are the Hamlets’ most recent residents. Poor things are having a hard time fitting in, but they won’t have to worry about it much longer.”
“Nosiree, they sure won’t,” said the man sitting beside her.
“I’m Lauretta Klick.” She poked her finger at her name tag. “And this here’s my husband, Curtis.”
“Pleasure to meet you,” he said, offering me a polite nod.
The Klicks were seventy-something, munchkin-short, and wore outfits that made them look like a set of salt and pepper shakers with bad haircuts.
“I guess we’ll be seeing a lot of each other in the next two weeks,” I said cheerily.
“Probably not as much as you think,” Curtis allowed, exchanging a meaningful look with Lauretta.
I hated meaningful looks. They
made me feel out of the loop. I regarded Lauretta’s name tag more closely. “You’re from Florida, too? Everyone except my group lives in Florida. Do you all know each other?”
“We certainly do,” said Lauretta. “We’re one big, happy family. Isn’t that right, Curtis?”
“That’s gospel, Lauretta.”
She took her husband’s hand and hobbled toward the door. “We have the Hamlets travel agency to thank for making all the arrangements.”
“They’re full service now,” said Curtis. “We wrote out a check and they took care of everything else. The Hamlets really know how to treat their residents. Nothing but first-class service.”