Authors: Victoria Abbott
“The books continue to delight with sharp humor, quick-witted characters, a tough but vulnerable heroine, and celebration of the classic mystery genre.”
âKings River Life Magazine
“[A] mystery that will keep you guessing and entertained every step of the wayÂ .Â .Â . brilliantly crafted.”
“Deftly plotted, with amusing one-liners, murder, and a dash of mayhem.”
âThe Hamilton Spectator
“With a full inventory of suspects, a courageous heroine, and a tribute to a famous writer of whodunits,
The Christie Curse
will tempt her legion of devotees. Even mystery lovers who have never read Christieâif any existâwill find a pleasing puzzle in Abbott's opener.”
“The mystery was first class, the plotting flawless.”
âCozy Mystery Book Reviews
“The writing style is such that this reader can stay in the story and savor it no matter how badly I want to flip the pages and get to the denouement! It is the feeling of the location, the adventures with Jordan as she goes after clues and the bad guy/gal, it is even Vera's 'tude that makes the journey more fun than the destination.”
âOpen Book Society
THE CHRISTIE CURSE
THE SAYERS SWINDLE
THE WOLFE WIDOW
THE MARSH MADNESS
THE HAMMETT HEX
BERKLEY PRIME CRIME
Published by Berkley
An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014
Copyright Â© 2016 by Berkley Publishing Group
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BERKLEY is a registered trademark and BERKLEY PRIME CRIME and the B colophon are trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.
Ebook ISBN: 9780425280362
First Edition: October 2016
Cover art by Tony Mauro
Cover design by Rita Frangie
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
PUBLISHER'S NOTE: The recipes contained in this book have been created for the ingredients and techniques indicated. The Publisher is not responsible for your specific health or allergy needs that may require supervision. Nor is the Publisher responsible for any adverse reactions you may have to the recipes contained in the book, whether you follow them as written or modify them to suit your personal dietary needs or tastes.
Many, many thanks to the wonderful Linda Wiken (aka Erika Chase) for her help with this manuscript and her friendship over the past twenty-six years. We'd also be lost without the eagle eye of John Merchant trained on our manuscript.
This year we want to express our appreciation to the organizers of the Bony Blithe Award (for mysteries that make us smile) for awarding the 2016 prize to
The Marsh Madness
, the fourth book in the Book Collector series, thus allowing us to be in a terrific mood for who knows how long.
At Berkley Prime Crime, we are always grateful to Tom Colgan, our editor, for advice, enthusiasm and support, and to Allison Janice for cheerful efficiency and, of course, to the unseen copy editors who make such a difference.
Our agent, Kim Lionetti of BookEnds, always has time to listen to an idea, fill us in on the news and give us a boost. We love that!
Victoria and Peachy would like to thank Duane and Natalie Holmes for their support and allowing them to share five acres of paradise.
Thanks to Luc Lavigne who has brought endless creative inspiration, years of tutelage in the medium of film and for being our “Sam Spade” in our latest trailer.
Every week, our colleagues at Mystery Lovers Kitchen and The Cozy Chicks blogs are amazing sources of information, expertise and friendship. We'd be lost without them and their books, because, naturally, we are readers too.
To all those of you who cherish the great and mysterious traditions of this genre and to the legions of fans, librarians, booksellers and reviewers who help keep the mystery world going, may you live long and read much.
We truly appreciate the many readers who reach out to tell us how you feel about our books. Thanks for lifting our spirits. You make a difference.
Closer to home, we thank Giulio Maffini for being a rock and keeping his head when all around him are losing theirs as deadlines and edits loom.
Last but not least, we thank Peachy the Pug for mood elevation, and Daisy and Lily, the princess dachshunds, for napping helpfully under the desk.
QUISHED INTO A
cable car, hurtling down a steep hill, clinging to a rail with the wind rushing in your ears amid the clang and clatter of metal and the shrieks of fellow passengers might not be everybody's idea of a romantic moment, but strangely, it was working for me. Sure, my knuckles were white, but I felt happy because I was wedged up against Tyler “Smiley” Dekker, the occasional man of my dreams. Plus the cable car we were riding on gave us a view of San Francisco Bay. The half-dozen squealing schoolgirlsâblack asymmetrical haircuts with weird-colored tips, shredded jeans and selfie sticksâcouldn't diminish the experience.
After all, you're only young and pink-tipped once. One of them rolled her eyes at me.
I had also managed to tune out the puffy, bickering couple next to us. Who knew that you could sustain a twenty-minute dispute about the flavor of gelato? Chocolate or nocciola? Obviously these two would never run out of things
to fight about, and yet, they'd miraculously agreed to the same 49ers T-shirt.
We'd bumped into them before on the tourist walks in the area near Union Station. They always had plenty to argue with each other about.
The hulking guy right behind me was a bit harder to ignore. His large, pink, moon face was damp with sweat and his short-sleeved, blue-checked shirt strained at the buttons. He had clearly forgotten his deodorant this morning. Worse, he didn't appear to comprehend the idea of personal space.
Smiley turned and flashed his grin. I loved that little gap between his front teeth and the way his blond hair blew in the wind. I loved that we were here in this romantic city. I loved that I could still make him blush.
Two silver-haired ladies wearing Birkenstock sandals and Tilley hats nudged each other and smiled at us in approval. I recognized them from our hotel. I'd noticed their bright toenail polish in the lineup at the restaurant in the morning. Even though I was a bit jealous that they'd found seats on the cable car, I smiled back at them.
They each gave us a little wave as they eased their way to the exit behind me.
All the world loves a lover, as they say. Loves a lover! Imagine that. Smiley and I had taken a few sharp detours in our relationship. It was still hard to believe that we were on a getaway alone without hot and cold running relatives and the persistent, gravelly voice of my employer, Vera Van Alst. Could a cop with ambitions to be a detective and a girl who was the first person in her family to go legit have a chance at happiness?
So far, it was looking good.
, he mouthed. Smiley had a thing for Dashiell Hammett, and Powell Street was important to him too. He brought up the name every few minutes. He had also mentioned something to do with Sam Spade every few
minutes on our cable car ride. As far as I could see, he'd watched
The Maltese Falcon
once too often as a child. It seemed that his grandfather was to blame. I knew all about fascinations with fictional characters and settings. So I got that. But I had just discovered this classic noir detective and I was reserving judgment about Hammett and his gang.
Today, Smiley was also busy snapping pictures. I was equally busy hanging on to my gray fedora because of the bouncy ride and the stiff breeze. That fedora had been the perfect vintage find that morning and just right for San Francisco. It was sort of inspired by Sam Spade (see reserving judgment, above), but mainly I wore it because the foggy damp air turned my mid-length dark hair into wild frizz. It was either the fedora or a brown paper bag.
It was our third trip on this particular line. We had three-day visitor passports and Smiley wanted us to get our twenty bucks' worth on every form of transportation.
Much of it had to do with getting to know the city of Sam Spade. Smiley had a strong desire to visit Burrett Alley, off Stockton, where there was supposed to be a sign commemorating the shooting of Miles Archer in
The Maltese Falcon.
Pulp and noir were not my thing, and to tell the truth, I'd been a bit surprised that Smiley was such an aficionado. I preferred the gentle sleuths of the Golden Age of Detection and, of course, any book with Archie Goodwin in it. But if he wanted to see that memorial to a fictional murder, I was fine with it as long as I could keep my hat on.
Smiley had managed to turn full circle as we proceeded to the next block. There couldn't be a building he hadn't captured for posterity. There were plenty of shots of me too. That was fine as my hair was covered and I had lots to smile about.
“Seafood tonight?” he shouted, suddenly serious.
Well, how about that? I had yet another prospect to smile about. “We're in the right city for it.”
My response was lost in the racket.
We shuddered to a stop again and people pushed onto the cable car. I tried not to get separated from Smiley as passengers squeezed their way through the car and a short, bullet-shaped man with crisply gelled black hair attempted to shoulder his way between us. The cable car lurched forward. I steadied myself by grabbing Smiley's belt with one hand. I held on to my hat with the other. “Sorry,” I said to the bullet-shaped man, who seemed determined to take up more space.
I guess I'd been in the friendly, civil society of Harrison Falls, in upstate New York, for a bit too long. I wasn't used to jockeying for position in tight spots.
Bullet-man flashed me a bleak look and eased behind me. Good. Let him experience the big stinky guy firsthand.
Smiley was pointing now, his enthusiastic words carried away on the wind. No question about it. He was adorable. And he wasn't the first person to develop a fascination with Sam Spade or the Continental Op. I'd get my turn too. I couldn't wait to get to Haight-Ashbury and its vintage stores.
I gasped as my hat flew off. As I reached for the airborne fedora, something slammed hard into my back, knocking the breath out of me. I lost hold of Smiley as I tumbled forward. When I managed to steady myself, a second sharp slam accelerated my fall. Panicked, I tried to grab at nearby arms and legs, but too little too late. With a roar of shouting voices behind me, I plunged, screaming wordlessly, from the lumbering cable car toward the pavement, my head set to meet Powell Street the hard way.
But I'm getting ahead of my story.
Let me start at the beginning.