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 fiancée 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.
About the Author
Susan Kandel is a former art critic for the Los Angeles Times. She has taught at New York University and UCLA, and served as editor of the international journal artext. She lives in West Hollywood, California, with her husband, two daughters, and dog.
Read an Excerpt
A Novel About Vintage Clothing, Romance, Mystery, and Agatha Christie
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 cocktailof 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.Christietown
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.
Reading Group Guide
A new Agatha Christie-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. The developer, an Englishman who claims to be a descendent of the Grand Dame of Mystery herself, has ruthless investors breathing down his neck. Meanwhile, Cece's got a wedding to plan and a baby shower to give, just as her ex-husband shows up on her doorstep with his fiancée and future mother-in-law in tow.
As Cece soon discovers, Christietown's secrets are as complicated as the truth behind Agatha Christie's real-life disappearance. When another body surfaces, the intrepid amateur sleuth knows she must play the famed detective for real—or suffer the same mysterious fate.
Questions for Discussion
QUESTIONS: 1. Cece Caruso loves old clothes, old movies, old houses, and dead authors. What in her life experience or character might account for this attraction to the past?
QUESTIONS: 2. What role does fashion play in Cece's solving of the mystery of Liz's death?
QUESTIONS: 3. To what extent does Christietown mimic the tone, style, or structure of an Agatha Christie whodunit? How might Christietown be read differently by long-standing Christie fans as opposed to those less familiar with Christie's work?
QUESTIONS: 4. The author interweaves Cece's present-day mystery with the mystery of Agatha Christie's 11 day disappearance. What do you think was the purpose of this strategy? How effective is it? How do the Christie sections impact you as a reader?
QUESTIONS: 5. How does Richard's bombshell revelation about Cece's past change your perception of Cece? Does it complicate your sense of her as a reliable narrator of her own past? How might this reverberate with the bombshell revelation in Christie's The Murder of Roger Ackroyd?
QUESTIONS: 6. Cece is a biographer, but she traffics in intuition as much as cold hard data. How do you view the biographer's role? Is the truth to be found in fact, fiction, or somewhere in between?
QUESTIONS: 7. Do you consider Cece a feminist? Why or why not? How about Agatha Christie?
QUESTIONS: 8. What do you make of the parallels between Agatha and Archie, Lou and Liz, and Cece and her ex-husband, Richard? What does Christietown have to say about the self-deceptions and/or glories of romantic love and marriage?
QUESTIONS: 9. What is the importance in Christietown of secondary characters like Dot and Silvana? Are they merely comic relief, or do they add texture and richness to the story?
QUESTIONS: 10. How do you assess Ian Christie's guilt? Is he a villain, or fatally flawed? Is there a difference?
QUESTIONS: 11. What odds do you give Cece and Gambino of making it to the altar?
QUESTIONS: 12. Beyond the title, how does Christietown echo the 1974 film Chinatown?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Cece Caruso writes biographies of mystery writers. Her backlist includes Erle Stanley Gardner (see I Dreamed I Married Perry Mason), Carole Keene (Not a Girl Detective) and Dashiell Hammett (see Shamus in the Green Room). Her current assignment involves the opening gala of Christietown, a housing development duplicating a Cotswold village where else but in California her plan is a Miss Marple theater production.--------------- However, Liz ¿La Duchesse de Danse¿ Berman, who is playing the starring role, vanishes. Since Cece wears the same dress size she is expected to replace Liz. Instead Cece accompanied by her fiancé Detective Peter Gambino searches for the missing thespian. They find Liz except she will no longer perform on this stage unless a corpse is needed before she is buried someone murdered her.------------------ The latest homage to the greats of mystery writing, CHRISTIETOWN is a delightful whodunit. Cece is her usual self, stealing the technique of the author she honors this time being Dame Agatha. However, like in some Christie novels, clues that the reader will immediately know are shams slow down the plot at times. Still with Cece performing as Miss Marple, the audience will appreciate this fine mystery that provides insight into the great Agatha Christie.------------- Harriet Klausner
Cece's latest biography subject is Agatha Christie. But instead of beefing up the section on Agatha's real life disappearance, she's investigating the mysterious death of someone at the Agatha themed community Christietown. Slow at times as the book follows other things in Cece's life, but a fun addition to the series.