Christietown : A Novel about Vintage Clothing, Romance, Mystery, and Agatha Christie

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A new suspense-themed housing tract on the edge of the Mojave Desert is about to open, and who better to help promote the Cotswold-cozy development than mystery biographer extraordinaire Cece Caruso? For the grand opening weekend, Cece is staging a play featuring the beloved sleuth Miss Marple. Of course, everything goes wrong, including a leading lady who ends up dead. All is not well in Christietown; its secrets are as complicated as the truth behind Agatha Christie's real-life disappearance. The developer, an Englishman who claims to be Dame Agatha's descendent, has ruthless investors breathing down his neck. Meanwhile, Cece's got a wedding to plan, a baby shower to give, and an ex-husband who shows up on her doorstep with his fiancee and future mother-in-law. And when another body surfaces, the intrepid amateur sleuth knows she must play the famed detective for real-or suffer the same mysterious fate.


A Novel About Vintage Clothing, Romance, Mystery, and Agatha Christie

Chapter One

The lights sparkled overhead as the man I loved spun me around the dance floor. I could feel my heart pounding in my chest. His was pounding, too.

"'You'd be so nice to come home to,'" he murmured into my ear.

"'It had to be you,'" I whispered.

"'I've got you under my skin,'" he whispered back.

"No way," I said with a shudder. "They played that one at my first wedding."

"Must I remind you that we are dancing the tango, Ms. Caruso?" came a voice from across the room. "Sexy! Earthy! Drama!"

Lou Berman, aka Le Duc de Danse. I tuned him out. We'd found him in the Yellow Pages.

"We've only got one lesson left in the Romance Package, Cece." My fiancé, Peter Gambino, pressed hard on the small of my back. "We have to make a decision about the first dance soon."

"Arms high, Detective! You are a matador!" Lou stomped his feet, then whipped a McDonald's bag out of the trash and whirled it triumphantly overhead.

"'I Get a Kick Out of You?'" I suggested.

On cue, Gambino kicked me in the shins.

"Go with it, Ms. Caruso!" Lou cried. "You are the wounded bull!"

Not exactly the wedding-day scenario I had in mind.

"It's ten o'clock on the nose, people." Lou's wife, Liz Berman, emerged from the back office and flicked the CD player to Off. "Time to hit the road."

Gambino and I disentangled ourselves as Lou folded himself into a ratty metal chair. Liz sat down at her desk near the water cooler and knocked back her regular evening cocktail of antihistamines and acetominophen. Then, shooting Lou the evil eye, she got up to put the McDonald's bag back in the trash. She was the detail person.

"So what do you think of these kids?" Lou mopped a suspiciously smooth brow.

"They're really coming along," Liz said with no perceptible enthusiasm.

Gambino turned to me. "I told you. We're going to kick butt at next week's lesson."

I patted his arm. "I think we should avoid the word kick."

Lou looked dubious, in any case. Next week's lesson was the foxtrot, the most difficult of all ballroom dances, requiring constant shifts in rhythm from slow to fast to medium.

"If anyone can teach you two to foxtrot, it's Lou," Liz conceded.

"You kill me, doll." He went over and wrapped an arm around her waist, lifting her off her feet. Then the two of them—tall, plump, congested Liz and tall, thin, bottle-bronzed Lou—began to whirl around the room. Gambino and I stared, openmouthed. They didn't need music. They were music.

"Married twenty-two years," Lou said, dipping Liz.

"Twenty-two years," she repeated, upside down.

That was about how long it had been since I'd last walked down the aisle—young, pregnant, and dumb.

Dumb enough to think winning Miss Asbury Park, New Jersey, would be my ticket to eternal bliss.

Dumb enough to blow off college to put my then-husband through grad school.

Dumb enough—well, just dumb enough.

I wanted to believe I'd learned something since then. I looked over at Gambino. He was kind, smart, funny. He had me, and still wanted me.

Yes, I'd learned something since then.

"While we're on the subject of killing," said Liz, pulling out of her husband's embrace, "get a load of this."

I'd thought we were on the subject of love everlasting but I wasn't about to interrupt Liz, who discouraged that sort of thing. She peeled off her worn leather jacket, took a puff of her inhaler, then wrapped a fuzzy white scarf tight around her neck.

"My dears," she said, "it's truly a mystery to me." Her voice was suddenly frail, her nose longer, her skin pinker. She pulled a pair of knitting needles out of her bag. "But I so often seem to get mixed up in things that are really no concern of mine. Crimes, I mean, and peculiar happenings." She leaned her head a little to one side, like a cockatoo fluffing its feathers. "Nothing, of course, a nice linseed poultice couldn't cure."

"Miss Jane Marple!" I exclaimed.

"Damn straight," she said, then sneezed. "Guess I've got to double up on the Claritin for Saturday."


Saturday was a big deal.

I was dreading Saturday.

But at least Saturday was a distraction from the bigger deals in my life, which for the record would be:

1. Waiting to hear from my editor, Sally, about Poison Book, my biography of the mystery writer Agatha Christie. I'd sent the four-hundred-and-two-page manuscript off to her exactly eleven days, ten hours, and thirty-five minutes ago, not that I was counting.

2. Choosing the right ensemble for the upcoming baby shower I was hosting for my daughter, Annie. The champagne-colored, disco-era halter dress I had in mind didn't exactly scream "grandma." But I was barely forty years old. Did I really have to go for double-knit slacks? Or worse yet, a muu-muu?

3. Getting married.

4. Getting married (it merits two mentions).

Like I was saying, thank God for Saturday.

Saturday would mark the opening festivities of Phase 2 of Christietown, a Golden Age mystery-themed housing development on the sun-baked fringes of Antelope Valley, just east of Los Angeles.

I was in charge of Saturday.

In charge of the clotted cream, the scones, and the Cornish pasties; in charge of the yapping Yorkies and stubby Corgis; in charge of the larkspurs, hollyhocks, and snapdragons lining the neat brick path up to the Vicarage (which would be the sales office); and worse yet, in charge of the original, interactive Murder Mystery Tea, starring—yes—Liz Berman (aka La Duchesse de Danse) as Agatha Christie's beloved amateur sleuth, Miss Marple.

Everyone had a part.

Lou Berman was the butler. He didn't do it.

Wren Abbott, the dance studio's frizzy-haired receptionist, was an eleven-year-old with psychic abilities.

My second-best friend, Bridget, was her governess, Estella Raven, who was rude and spirited and whose studied insolence covered a great fear.

A Novel About Vintage Clothing, Romance, Mystery, and Agatha Christie
. Copyright © by Susan Kandel. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Excerpted from Christietown by Susan Kandel
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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