“An enjoyable cozy from start to finish.”
While Liss MacCrimmon preps the Scottish Emporium for November’s inevitable shopping rush, other local businesses aren’t half as lucky. When her father-in-law decides to entice childless couples desperate for a holiday away from family to his rustic hotel, the unusual marketing tactic has everyone in Moosetookalook, Maine, in an uproar. Liss dismisses the bad publicity as being totally “overkilt”—until angry mobs fill the streets, the troublemaker who started it all turns up dead, and her loved ones are suspected of murder. It’s up to Liss to digest a slew of unsettling clues and catch the real killer before everything she’s ever been thankful for vanishes before her eyes.
“Full of local color, suspicious characters, and adorable fur-babies. What's not to like?”
—Kirkus Reviews on The Scottie Barked at Midnight
About the Author
KAITLYN DUNNETT first caught the Scottish heritage bug when her husband learned to play the bagpipes. Many Scottish festivals and parades later, and after a brief stint as bass drummer with a bagpipe band, she decided to combine her love of things Scottish with her love of writing. The Liss MacCrimmon mysteries are the result. Kaitlyn lives on a Christmas tree farm in the mountains of western Maine and can be reached through her website at www.kaitlyndunnett.com.
Read an Excerpt
The sigh of two women in long-sleeved, high-necked, floor-length, pale purple cotton dresses, standing in front of the check-in desk at The Spruces, stopped Liss MacCrimmon Ruskin in her tracks. It wasn't because they didn't fit in with the rest of the décor. They were, in fact, more in keeping with their milieu than someone clad in baggy shorts or a wild Hawaiian-print shirt. Liss had seen guests wearing those fashion choices on more than one occasion.
The Spruces dated from the Victorian era, when the outfits these women had on were common in rural Maine, if not in these particular surroundings. Even on holiday in the late nineteenth century, the typical female staying at a luxury hotel in the western Maine mountains would have been tightly corseted and burdened with a bustle.
Ten years ago, when The Spruces had reopened after renovations had restored it to its former glory, all the amenities twenty-first century guests would expect had been added, but the most elaborate and expensive aspects of the past had been retained. The lobby Liss crossed boasted polished wooden floors, a high ceiling carved with animals and flowers, tall white pillars, and large area rugs that, when combined with plush seating, created cozy and intimate nooks where one could chat with friends in relative privacy.
The centerpiece of the room was an enormous fireplace, situated directly across from the main entrance. A fire had already been laid, although it would not be lit until September turned into October and the temperature dropped a few more degrees. Even without a warming blaze lighting the tile-lined hearth, it was quite a sight, boasting an ornate mantel with a beveled mirror above it. In summer, Joe Ruskin, Liss's father-in-law and the hotel's proprietor, substituted fresh flowers for kindling and logs.
Since she was on her way to meet her husband in the hotel bar, Liss's path took her close to the enormous nineteenth-century check-in desk. Curiosity had her slowing her steps and veering a bit nearer to Joe and the oddly dressed people who were talking to him. She knew Dan wasn't expecting her at any particular time. In fact, he was probably going to be too busy to talk to her. He'd been recruited by his father to work a shift for a bartender who'd called in sick.
If the tableau at the desk struck her as being odd at a distance, it became downright bizarre when viewed from only a few feet away. The two women, who wore their hair in braids that had been wrapped around their heads in a style long out of fashion, stood with eyes downcast. Their hands were loosely clasped at waist level. The man conversing in low tones with Joe Ruskin across the expanse of a gleaming mahogany check-in desk was equally unusual. He wore a shabby black suit and his hair and beard badly needed a trim. On closer inspection, Liss picked out a number of details that made him look even more out of place.
In one hand he held a plain black hat. On the strength of having watched way too many British sitcoms on the local PBS station, she identified it as a derby. This headgear stood out all the more when most men she knew, if they wore hats at all, went with ball caps with logos on the front. In winter, the ball caps were lined and often had ear flaps for additional warmth.
When the man turned slightly, she saw that his white shirt was collarless and his trousers were held up with suspenders. Like the two women, he looked like someone who'd just stepped out of an Amish costume drama on the Hallmark Channel.
Giving up any pretense of disinterest, Liss took advantage of the fact that she was a member of the owner's family and let herself into the area behind the desk. She could always pretend that she was checking the wall full of old-fashioned cubbyholes that had once held room keys and were still used to sort messages for guests.
When she sidled up to her father-in-law, Joe's sideways glance held equal parts of amusement — her interest in what was going on was less-than-subtle — and irritation. The latter emotion, Liss devoutly hoped, was aimed not at her but at the gentleman in black.
To her disappointment, the conversation appeared to have ended. The stranger turned away, using a curt gesture to indicate that the two women should follow him out of the hotel. They fell into step behind him, heads still bowed, and all three departed without another word.
"Who on earth was that?" Liss asked. "I know we used to have a couple of Shaker communities here in Maine but I thought they'd all died out."
Joe gave a derisive snort. "They aren't Shakers. Or Amish. They don't belong to any reputable group. They call themselves the New Age
Pilgrims. You never ran into them before?" Liss shook her head and eased onto the high stool behind the check-in desk. This had the makings of a long story.
"I guess I'm not surprised. They keep themselves to themselves ... for the most part."
"In a place as small as Moosetookalook, there aren't many people I haven't met."
"This crowd lives over to Lower Mooseside." Joe named another of the four villages that made up the town. "They raise cattle, grow their own crops, and in general are pretty self-sufficient. So long as they don't bother anyone, no one pays them any mind."
"Are they a religious sect?"
Joe shrugged. "You couldn't prove it by me. That man who just left, fellow by the name of Hadley Spinner, calls himself a preacher, but if he's ever been to a theology school, it was the fly-by-night mail-order variety. Anyway, maybe fifteen years ago he showed up in the area with a couple of friends and bought some land. About a dozen more people have moved in with them since then."
"That sounds suspiciously like a commune," Liss said. "Or a cult."
"To hear them tell it, they just like to keep to older, simpler ways." Joe rolled his eyes as he shared this information.
"So what did he want with you? It looked as if you two were arguing about something."
"Tempest in a teapot," Joe said.
"More than that, I think."
"Maybe on his side, but that's his own fault for creating so many rules and regulations." Joe's mouth twitched, a clear signal that he was more amused than disgruntled now that he was looking back on the disagreement.
"What kind of rules and regulations?" Liss asked.
"I don't suppose you'll think it's funny, being such an independent sort of woman yourself, but the New Age Pilgrims supplement their income by having the womenfolk — Patsy down to the coffee shop calls them the lavender ladies — hire themselves out to do housework."
Liss made a moue of distaste. "Just the women?"
"What can I say? It's a patriarchal setup out there, as if you couldn't tell that from the way they dress. It's a wonder those gals don't keep their hair covered, too — wear bonnets or something. Anyway, when they take on a cleaning job, it's on the condition, set by Spinner, that the householder keep all male persons off the premises for the duration. No one of the opposite sex is allowed to remain in the home, not even boy babies."
"Okay," Liss said, stretching out the word's two syllables. She was still unclear about what this policy had to do with the odd little scene she'd just witnessed.
Joe's hint of a smile blossomed into a full-scale grin. "Spinner thinks I should add some of his people to the housekeeping staff at The Spruces."
Liss waited a beat before asking, "What did he expect you to do? Shoo away all the men staying at the hotel so the lavender ladies can change the bedding and towels and scrub the toilets?"
"That's exactly what he was proposing and he was somewhat put out when I explained how impossible it would be to do any such thing."
"Good grief! Suddenly I'm very glad Spinner and his followers have never come into Moosetookalook Scottish Emporium. Normal customers can be trying enough to deal with. I hate having to cope with crackpots."
"You showed up at exactly the right time," Joe said. "Spinner is so stubborn that he'd have belabored his point till the cows came home, even knowing he doesn't have a prayer of convincing me to do what he wants."
"You think I scared him off?" Joe shrugged. "I've got a feeling he only likes to carry on in front of an audience when he's sure of winning."
Liss laughed. "More likely he was afraid the sight of me would corrupt his charges."
Since it was a warm early-autumn evening, her outfit provided a stark contrast to the clothing of Skinner's companions. Instead of a skirt, long or otherwise, she wore jeans. Her dressy, scallop-neck T-shirt was not overly tight, but it did fit snugly, flattering the few curves she possessed. As for her hair, she wore her dark brown locks long and hanging loose down her back, held away from her face by a jaunty emerald green scarf. Since she'd always liked bright colors, the pattern on the T-shirt was a wild mix of green, pink, and orange flowers.
"Whatever drove him away, I'm glad of it," Joe said. "I don't suppose he's much worse than any other run-of-the mill eccentric, and Lord knows we've got plenty of those in this part of the world, but he sure is a pain in the behind. Now get along with you and go keep your husband company. Tell him how much I appreciate him filling in at the last minute like this."
"No problem." Liss slid off the stool but lingered behind the check-in desk long enough to step close to Joe and plant a light kiss on his cheek. "We're family."
* * *
Liss did not give Hadley Spinner another thought as September segued into October and the first weeks of that month passed with their usual swiftness. She had no occasion to spend much time at The Spruces during that period until the evening before her thirty-eighth birthday, when Dan insisted upon taking her out for a celebratory meal in the hotel dining room.
"You didn't have to dress up," Liss said as they waited to be shown to their table.
Although many similar establishments insisted that male guests wear jackets and ties and were prepared with loaners for anyone who showed up without, The Spruces had never adhered to a dress code. When he'd reopened the hotel, Joe had wanted it to be welcoming to everyone. Forcing someone into borrowed clothing wasn't his idea of friendly. As long as the patrons weren't barefoot or bare-chested, they were allowed to eat in late nineteenth-century splendor — linen tablecloths and napkins, fine china, crystal, real silverware, and the best food the hotel's chef could provide.
Despite the lack of rules and regulations, Dan had made the supreme sacrifice of wearing his one good suit and a brand-new tie. His black dress shoes were polished to a high shine and the white handkerchief in his breast pocket was freshly ironed. He'd even splashed on a little of the expensive men's cologne his sister had given him for Christmas. Liss appreciated all the little touches, all the more so because they gave her the excuse, rare in their everyday lives, to deck herself out in an outfit that was equally dressy.
For the occasion, she had chosen a bright red cocktail dress that flattered her coloring. She'd felt quite glamorous when she'd added an antique gold bracelet and matching necklace. She eschewed earrings, since her ears had never been pierced and clip-ons pinched. Besides, her hair would have hidden them anyway. Without a scarf, it fell forward to frame her face.
Only when she'd had to squeeze her feet into the three-inch heels that had been dyed to match her dress had she hesitated, tempted to substitute plain black ballet flats, but she'd told herself that this was a special occasion. She was glad now that she'd made the decision to choose style over comfort. It was nice, for once, to stand nearly eye-to-eye with Dan. At five-foot-nine, Liss was tall, but her husband stretched all the way up to six-foot-two.
When they were ensconced at a table for two in a quiet corner of the dining room, he sent her a smile that had her heart tripping and her lips curving upward. It didn't matter if he was covered in sawdust from his full-time job as a custom woodworker, or dressed to the nines as he was now, Dan Ruskin was one good-looking man. Years working for the family construction company, back before Joe bought the hotel and Dan went into business for himself, had given all the Ruskin men impressive physiques. Liss loved the way Dan's sandy brown hair was always a little mussed and the twinkle in his molasses brown eyes. And yet it was what was in her husband's heart that was most important to her. He was, plain and simple, a good man. Best of all, although she was not always the easiest person to live with, he loved her anyway.
"Happy birthday, Liss."
Dan produced a small jeweler's box from his jacket pocket and slid it across the table.
"It isn't my actual birthday yet," Liss protested. "I have a whole day to go before I'm officially a year older."
"Open it now anyway."
She flipped up the lid, looked inside, and started to laugh even before she investigated further. Instead of a ring or some other small piece of jewelry, the case contained a slip of paper. Slowly, drawing out the moment, Liss unfolded it and read what Dan had written in his semi-illegible hand: "Good for one solid week of meal prep and housecleaning, and a good wash of every window in the house. " "I love it," she said. "Thank you."
"You're sure? It's not too late to get you flowers or chocolate."
"This is a much better present and you know it. Chocolate would go straight to my hips and the cats would eat the flowers."
The last time she'd brought a floral arrangement into the house, the vase had been knocked over and the blossoms had been scattered all over the room within five minutes. Besides, she hated doing housework and was an unenthusiastic cook, which was why she and Dan usually shared the chores. She was delighted by the prospect of letting him handle everything for the next week.
"I thought I'd do the windows tomorrow morning," he said.
"There's no rush."
"Well, actually, there is." He started to say more but was interrupted by the arrival of their waiter.
Liss's eyes narrowed at the look of relief that flashed across his face. The windows might be sadly in need of that "good wash" but there was something else behind this determination to get the chore done right away. Something she was not going to be happy about. As soon as they'd ordered their meal — coquilles St. Jacques for her, and a sirloin steak, medium rare, for him — Liss put her elbows on the table, rested her chin on her fists, and leveled a stern look in her husband's direction.
"I'm not supposed to say anything."
"I don't like the sound of that."
His internal debate didn't last long. He knew her too well to think she'd stop nagging until she had an answer.
"I guess you'd rather be warned than taken by surprise. It's your mother."
Liss closed her eyes and bit back a groan. "Let me guess — she's planned something special for my birthday tomorrow."
"I'm afraid so. I'm sorry, Liss, but I couldn't talk her out of it. You know how determined Vi is when she gets one of her brilliant ideas."
Unfortunately, Liss did know. Ever since her parents had left Arizona and returned to Maine to live, Violet MacCrimmon had embraced one new enthusiasm after another. Most of these led her to try to recruit reluctant members of her family to help out, and to clashes and hurt feelings when Liss had to remind her that not everyone was retired with lots of free time on their hands.
Liss toyed with her fork. "I thought I had the perfect solution for keeping Mom out of my hair when I convinced her that I needed her help and got her to take over the chairmanship of the Halloween committee." Liss had been in charge of the festivities for more years than she liked to count and had been relieved when Vi agreed to organize the costume parade and trick-or-treating.
"You know your mother. She's good at multitasking."
"Halloween is still a week away. She ought to be up to her neck in those plans and not have any time left over to fuss at me." Struck by a singularly unpleasant thought, Liss lost her grip on her fork. It fell to the tabletop with a dull thump. "Please tell me she isn't planning a party that involves costumes and masks."
Dan grinned. "You used to love those costumed birthday parties when you were a kid."
"My mother loved them. I endured them."
His eyebrows lifted at that. "I'd never have guessed, but you can relax. You dodged that bullet. No costumes."
"But there is going to be a party?"
"I'm afraid so. She's invited about fifty people to help you celebrate. They'll be waiting at our house when you get home from work tomorrow."
"Hiding behind the furniture ready to leap out and yell, 'Surprise! ' " "That's the plan."
Excerpted from "Overkilt"
Copyright © 2018 Kathy Lynn Emerson.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.