Lee Hollis begins a delightful new series in which Poppy Harmon and her friends find that life after retirement can be much busier—and deadlier—than any of them ever anticipated . . .
When Poppy goes from complacent retiree to penniless widow in a matter of weeks, the idea of spending her golden years as the biggest charity case in Palm Springs renders her speechless. With no real skills and nothing left to lose, Poppy uses her obsession with true crime shows to start a career as a private eye . . .
But after opening the Desert Flowers Detective Agency with help from her two best friends, Violet and Iris, Poppy realizes that age brings wisdom, not business—until she convinces her daughter's handsome boyfriend, Matt, to pose as the face of the agency. It’s not long before Matt’s irresistible act snags a client desperate to retrieve priceless jewelry burglarized from an aging actress at the Palm Leaf Retirement Village. Or before Poppy stumbles upon the bloodied body of the victim’s arch rival . . .
In a flash, Poppy’s innocent detective gig is upstaged by a dangerous murder investigation riddled with slimy suspects and unspeakable scandal. As she and her team uncover the truth, Poppy must confront the secrets about her late husband’s past and swiftly catch a killer lurking around the retirement community—even if it means turning her world upside down all over again.
About the Author
LEE HOLLIS is the pen name for Rick Copp, a veteran Hollywood screenwriter who has written for numerous television series, including The Golden Girls, Wings, Scooby-Doo, Teen Titans and Barbershop. He is the co‑writer of The Brady Bunch Movie and has written a number of novels under his own name. He also produces, writes, and stars in the hit web series Where the Bears Are. With his sister Holly Simason, he co‑authors the Hayley Powell Food & Cocktail Mysteries book series using the Lee Hollis name. He lives in Palm Springs, California.
Read an Excerpt
Poppy frantically banged on the door of the house, but there was no answer.
She waited a few moments and then tried again.
Still no answer.
A foreboding sense of dread filled her entire body.
She had learned at a very young age to trust her intuition.
And she instinctively knew something was seriously wrong.
Poppy jiggled the door handle.
The door was unlocked.
She waited, debating with herself, and then sighed, making a quick decision. She pushed the door open slightly and poked her head inside.
"Hello? Anyone home?"
The single-level house was eerily quiet except for some soft music playing from somewhere not too far away.
She couldn't tell who was singing, because the volume was too low.
Poppy pushed the door all the way open and slipped inside, looking back to make sure none of the nosy neighbors on the idyllic, sleepy street saw her sneaking into a house where she did not live.
"Hello?" she tried one more time, but there was still no answer.
She was hardly surprised.
Poppy had guest starred in enough TV crime shows in the 1980s to know this was usually the point in the show when an unsuspecting woman found herself in the wrong place at the wrong time and suddenly fell prey to a mad killer or a treacherous villain seconds before the commercial break.
Still, her burning curiosity won out over her innate cautiousness, and she shut the door behind her and slowly, carefully, tiptoed farther into the foyer, looking around to be absolutely certain no one was lying in wait to suddenly jump out at her with a rag soaked with chloroform or, worse, a sharp weapon, like a carving knife or a rope cord from the curtains, which he could use to loop around her neck and strangle her to death.
Again, she had played a lot of damsels in distress during her years of acting in film and on television.
So her imagination tended to run a bit wild.
There was hardly that kind of violent crime to be found in California's Coachella Valley, her home for the past ten years.
And yet there were alarm bells suddenly going off in her head.
She had never felt such a strong sense of imminent danger.
Poppy followed the sound of the music toward the living room, where she was finally able to recognize the familiar voice belting out a classic song on an old CD player set up in a corner, on a small wooden desk adjacent to the fireplace.
It was Elaine Stritch.
The brassy, ballsy late Broadway legend.
And the song was "The Ladies Who Lunch," from the hit 1970 Stephen Sondheim musical Company.
How appropriate, Poppy thought, given the majority of women who resided here in the Palm Leaf Retirement Village, most of whom spent their days golfing during the morning and enjoying cocktails in the afternoon, during their typical, like clockwork, daily three-hour lunches.
She had moved farther into the living room in order to turn off the CD player when she caught something out of the corner of her eye.
Poppy spun around, gasping, her right hand flying to her mouth.
She struggled to steady herself as she stared at the body lying facedown on the floor, next to a cracked coffee table.
A small pool of blood seeped slowly into the pristine white carpet.CHAPTER 2
Two months earlier ...
Poppy Harmon was speechless. Perhaps, for the very first time in her life.
And she was sixty-two years old.
Poppy had always been known for her enviable ability to bravely respond to a crisis with a calm, focused demeanor. She was never rattled or flummoxed or prone to overreaction, which was what made today such a momentous occasion.
Poppy Harmon was at this moment completely freaking out.
With her mouth hanging open, she finally managed to reclaim her power of speech and leaned forward.
"What the hell are you talking about?" Poppy wailed, suddenly light-headed, desperately trying to steady herself before she fainted and tumbled off the flimsy chair that faced her lawyer, Edwin Pierce, in his spacious, well-appointed office in Palm Desert, California.
Edwin's face was drawn, his complexion as pale as pasteurized milk, and his eyes were bloodshot, with the lids hanging at half-mast. The poor man was obviously sleep deprived, having probably been up all night, dreading this unavoidable and supremely uncomfortable meeting with his client.
"As I said, Chester, unfortunately, had accumulated some debt before he passed away, and according to my calculations, the sum total he owed ..." Edwin's voice trailed off as he punched a few numbers into a calculator program on his computer screen. Poppy noticed his hand shaking as he brushed the keys with his crooked, bony fingers.
He was a bundle of nerves.
"How much, Edwin?" Poppy urged, wanting to get the bad news over with so she could begin dealing with the situation.
Edwin blinked at the screen, almost in disbelief at the final total, and then he cleared his throat before continuing. "Roughly six hundred and seventy thousand dollars."
Poppy stared blankly at Edwin.
She must have heard wrong.
Maybe he said six thousand dollars, which would be bad enough, but surely, he could not have possibly said ...
"Six hundred and seventy thousand," Edwin repeated.
"That's impossible. How on earth did he ... ? I would have known if he was spending that much!"
"It seems Chester had a small gambling problem. ..."
"He played poker with the boys twice a month. I would hardly call that a gambling problem," Poppy scoffed, still in a state of denial.
"He played more than poker, I'm afraid. There were dozens of weekend trips to Las Vegas, according to my records. ..."
"Those were business trips," Poppy quickly explained, as if saying the words would make them true.
Edwin gave Poppy a sad look of pity.
The wife was always the last to know.
"Chester was fired from his job a year ago."
"What?" Poppy screamed.
"I'm guessing from your reaction that he never told you."
Poppy shook her head, now on the verge of tears. "I don't understand. Why wouldn't he tell me something like that?"
"He was probably too embarrassed. You know, Chester, he was a very proud man."
Poppy stared at Edwin. "Actually, I'm beginning to suspect that I never actually knew Chester."
"I'm sure the stress of hiding all of this from you contributed to his heart attack."
Chester had died suddenly three weeks ago.
He and Poppy had been dining with friends at Wang's in the Desert, a popular Asian-fusion restaurant in Palm Springs.
As dessert was served, Chester complained of indigestion and excused himself to go to the restroom. When he hadn't returned twenty minutes later, Poppy sent his buddy Al, who was at the table, to go check on him. Al found him slumped over on the toilet in a stall, dead.
The days following Chester's sudden death were a blur.
Calling friends and relatives.
Making funeral arrangements.
Providing emotional support for her daughter, Heather, who was inconsolable over losing her favorite stepfather.
There had been two others after her biological father.
But Chester was her absolute favorite.
The last thing on Poppy's mind during all the grief and tears was their finances.
Chester had never given any hint they were in any kind of trouble.
In fact, they had just splurged on a cruise to the Greek islands.
Bought a new Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid.
Remodeled a guest suite in their five-bedroom, three-and-a-half-bath home nestled in the hills above Palm Springs.
Poppy absolutely loved their house.
"I'm not going to have to sell the house to pay off this debt, am I?"
Edwin swallowed hard.
She could see his Adam's apple move up and down.
That was not a good sign.
"Not if you can make the payments on the mortgages."
"Mortgages? But the house is paid off."
"Chester took out two mortgages against the value of the property, each in the amount of two hundred thousand dollars."
The blood drained from Poppy's face.
"There isn't much equity left, and with what you owe on the credit cards and personal loans ..."
"I'm going to have to sell."
"I think that would be a wise move," Edwin said quietly, eyes downcast.
"What about his pension?"
Edwin hesitated but then opened his mouth to answer, but she beat him to it.
"There is some good news, Poppy. You still have your SAG pension."
During the eighties and nineties, Poppy had dabbled in acting, scoring small parts in a string of TV shows and feature films, even nabbing a supporting role as a secretary on a private-eye series that lasted three seasons on ABC. She had made enough income before she left the business in order to get married and have a kid and enjoy a small pension when she turned sixty.
Small being the key word.
Her monthly check was five hundred and forty-eight dollars.
What was she going to do now?
The thought of Chester's betrayal was overwhelming.
And she wanted to kick herself for being too stupid not to suspect.
She knew what she was in for now.
Pitied to her face, laughed at behind her back.
Poor, ding-a-ling, aging starlet Poppy.
She hadn't had a clue about her gambling-addicted washout of a husband.
And her fourth one, at that.
After four times, you would think she would get it right.
Edwin stood up from his desk, walked around, and placed a comforting hand on Poppy's padded shoulder.
"You will get through this, Poppy. I've known you a long time. You're a strong woman," Edwin lied.
"Are there any more secrets you need to tell me? We might as well get it all out in the open now."
Edwin flinched and opened his mouth to tell her something, but for some reason, he changed his mind at the last second and shook his head.
She knew he was lying.
If she pushed hard enough, she was convinced she could get him to spill the beans about what he was still holding back.
But she was too emotionally battered at the moment to even try. At this point, there was a part of her that just didn't want to know.
Poppy stared straight ahead, her mind racing, bile rising in her throat.
"Penny for your thoughts," Edwin asked softly.
"A lousy penny isn't going to help me much right now, Edwin."
"It's best to let it all out. Tell me what's going through your mind."
"If I had known the bastard had wiped me out, I never would have chosen such an expensive casket!"CHAPTER 3
"The only reason I married Chester was so I could have a stable, stress-free life in the desert and not have to worry about my financial security anymore," Poppy moaned as she sipped her cosmo at the 19th Hole, a popular bar located in the clubhouse of the Whispering Palms Golf Course. She sat at a table with her two best friends: Iris Becker, a very sturdy and direct German woman, her white hair beautifully coiffured and her makeup picture perfect, in a bright yellow — colored polo shirt and white capri pants; and Violet Hogan, Iris's polar opposite, quiet and demure, bordering on mousy, but constantly trying to change that impression with her bold fashion choices, like today's leopard-print sleeveless top and clashing black-and-white polka-dot shorts.
"Well, yes, that, and you loved him," Violet said, gently nudging Poppy between sips of her Grey Goose and lemonade.
"Of course I loved him! But after three failed marriages, I wasn't in a big hurry to rush right into another one! Chester was the one who convinced me that by marrying him, I would never have to worry about anything ever again. I could focus on my charities and political causes."
"That was obviously to keep you in the dark about what he was really doing. Never trust a man who offers to take care of you, because the opposite will happen, and you will be stuck taking care of him!" Iris said matter-of-factly, never one to mince words, in her heavy German accent.
She continued. "In my twenties, there was a filmmaker I met through Fassbinder, who I went barhopping with in Munich. Well, he fell for me instantly and begged me to be in his next film, but I said no. What do I know about acting? All my friends thought I was insane to turn down such a once-in-a- lifetime opportunity, but I did not want to be tied down in one place, making a movie. Besides, I found something better to do. So he found another muse, made his film with her as the star. They impulsively married the night of the film's opening. But then the movie flopped. He never directed another film again, and she wound up supporting him by doing soft-core porn disguised as French art films!"
"I don't think I could have turned down a starring role in a film," Poppy said. "What could have been better to do than that?"
"I hooked up with Mick Jagger at a beer garden in Berlin and spent the summer touring with the Stones."
Poppy sat back in her chair, impressed. "You're right. That is better."
"You've lived such an interesting life, Iris," Violet said wistfully. "So full of fascinating stories."
"I suppose so, compared to you," Iris said, nodding.
Violet was a retired high school principal from Massachusetts.
Not the most exciting past, but she did have a library named after her, and she continued to this day to receive letters from dozens of former students, heaping praise on her and gushing about how much of an influence she had been on them, which, in Poppy's mind, was just as impressive as Iris's wild jet-setting tales of yesteryear.
"I do not understand how he took out two mortgages against the house without you knowing about it!" Iris said. "I assume the house was under both your names?"
"Yes." Poppy nodded, supremely embarrassed. "Edwin showed me the loan applications. My messy signature was on both of them. Either Chester had me sign them without me knowing what they were, or he forged my name. It doesn't really matter. Either way, I'm responsible."
"And you had no idea what he was up to?" Violet asked, placing a comforting hand on Poppy's arm.
"That's the most humiliating part! No. I had no clue what was going on. Chester isn't what you would call a masterful con man. It was pretty much what you see is what you get. I always knew what he was thinking. There weren't a lot of layers, if you know what I mean. Which means I just wasn't paying attention. I was caught up in my own activities, blissfully ignorant of the fact that my husband was leading a secret life behind my back."
"What are you going to do now?" Violet asked.
"Well, I'm meeting with a Realtor tomorrow to put the house on the market. It's going to be a short sale because I can no longer make the payments, which means it will probably sell quickly, and then I have to find another place to live."
"You will stay with me until you find a place," Iris said, deciding the matter without even waiting for Poppy to accept her kind offer.
"You can stay with me, too," Violet offered, feeling left out.
"Don't be silly, Violet," Iris said. "My house has more room, and the patio has a far superior view."
Iris was never mean-spirited.
Just brutally honest.
"Thank you, both of you," Poppy said. "I couldn't ask for better friends."
"I know," Iris said, nodding.
"And then, I suppose, I'm going to have to find a job."
Poppy caught Iris and Violet exchanging concerned looks.
"What was that?" Poppy asked.
"What?" Iris and Violet said in unison.
"That! That worried look between you two."
"It was nothing!" Violet lied in a valiant effort to protect Poppy's feelings.
Iris, however, was not one to protect feelings.
The hard, bitter truth was always best.
And she had no problem dishing it out.
"What skills do you have? You haven't worked in over twenty years," Iris said gruffly.
Iris was right.
Poppy's last serious job was as a Hollywood actress.
But once ABC canceled her only steady gig after three seasons, she struggled to find acting roles. All the sexpot roles that seemed to have rained down upon her in her twenties had long dried up, and she never managed to get cast in a part that required any serious acting chops. When she was just shy of forty and her youthful looks began to fade, despite some nips and tucks and scary injections, no one was willing to give her a chance anymore.
When she left Hollywood on her fortieth birthday, she never looked back. And never worried about working ever again, especially since her third husband at the time, Ira Greenstein, was a successful entertainment attorney.
"Maybe I could get back into acting. I always said, when I was more mature, there would be so many roles I could finally play."
"I just heard they are holding auditions for Steel Magnolias at the Palm Springs Playhouse," Violet said excitedly.
"How much are they paying?"
"They didn't say anything about money."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Poppy Harmon Investigates"
Copyright © 2018 Rick Copp.
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Love the characters!
I really enjoyed this debut mystery starring a mature protagonist and set near lovely Palm Springs. A retired actress, Poppy should have had some money to fall back on, but not much when her gambling husband leaves her without much inheritance. She applies for her P.I. license after all, it can't be that hard if you can play one on tv. With her well written friends Rose and Iris, the agency opens and the fun and mysteries begin.
I won a copy of this book from Goodreads giveaways. I was not required to give a favorable review. This was a very interesting story. Poppy goes from being a retired movie/tv star and mom of a grown daughter and wife. To being single when her husband dies. But little did she know that her life with him was not all true. He had a gambling problem and all of their money was gone. Thank goodness she kept her money that she received from doing her shows was different. But she will have to sell her home and stuff to cover debts. So between her smarts and also her part she played as a secretary to a PI she decides that is what she wants to do. So between her, and 2 friends they open a business. That is were the fun starts. I loved every minute of reading this book.
Poppy Harmon Investigates by Lee Hollis is the first novel in A Desert Flowers Mystery series. Poppy Harmon is shocked when she learns that her recently deceased husband, Chester gambled away all their money and left her deeply in debt. Poppy with the aid of her two friends, Iris Becker and Violet Hogan open The Desert Flowers Detective Agency. Unfortunately, people do not want to hire three mature women to solve their cases. That is when Poppy recruits her daughter’s actor boyfriend, Matt Cameron to be the face of the agency. Matt, though, prefers a more hands on approach. Their first client is entertainer, Shirley Fox who lost uninsured jewelry in a recent break in at her home in the Palm Leaf Retirement Village. It turns out that there have been a rash of burglaries in the complex. Shirley wants the agency to retrieve her cache of jewels. While investigating the thefts, Poppy finds actress, Olivia Hammersmith dead in her home. Are the thefts and the murder connected? Poppy, Iris, and Violet along with Matt are determined to get answers and make a success of their fledgling business. Poppy Harmon Investigates has an adorable cover and it is what drew me to the book. I thought the book was easy to read. It is a little bit of a slow starter, but the pace picks up as you get further into the story. The author took the time to set up Poppy’s character along with Iris, Violet, Heather and Matt. Poppy, Rose and Violet are lively ladies in their 60s who are ready to take on a new challenge. How Poppy obtained her private investigators license was a little farfetched. Her “experience” does not qualify her for the work. The mystery did not begin until I was 40% into the story when the agency is hired to investigate Shirley’s jewelry theft. The murder does not occur until later in the book and I wish it had been more of a feature. It is an interesting mystery. The two mysteries are not difficult to solve especially for those readers who devour cozy mysteries. There is humor sprinkled throughout the story (my mother laughed her way through the book). She thought the ladies and Matt’s antics were quite entertaining. I was not fond of Heather and her treatment of her mother. She feels that it is silly for her mother to embark on this venture at her age and does not hesitate to let Poppy know what she thinks repeatedly (it was inappropriate and uncomfortable). Heather does not appreciate Matt getting involved in her mother’s shenanigans (Heather’s words). Iris has her grandson, Wyatt set up their website and utilizes him for his other handy computer skills (hacking). I did not like how they encouraged his hacking (and hope that they do not get caught). The interactions between Poppy, Iris and Violet are delightful and their hijinks will have you giggling. My rating for Poppy Harmon Investigates is 3 out of 5 stars. A Desert Flowers Mystery series has potential. I hope the author will add a more compelling mystery in the next book that is the focus of the story and develop the characters further. Poppy Harmon Investigates is a light, amusing cozy mystery that will appeal to fans of Lee Hollis.
I have to say I loved this book! It started out with a bang, capturing my interest immediately with sudden suspense and an easy-conversational style. Poppy is not your ordinary cozy character. She is a former lady-who-lunches in Palm Springs, a recently widowed and 62 years old. She is vibrant, sassy and determined. After the death of her fourth husband, she suddenly finds herself penniless. What is a 60-something year-old Palm Springs widow to do? Why, get her private investigators license and open up the Desert Flowers Detective Agency, with the help of her two best friends, of course! Before they know it, the ladies find themselves involved in a dangerous murder investigation while dealing with the secrets Poppy’s late husband kept. Entertaining and delightful.
I received a free copy of Poppy Harmon Investigates by Lee Hollis in exchange for an honest review. One part Golden Girls, one part Murder She Wrote, and one part Remington Steele. Poor Poppy finds out that her husband lied to her while he frittered away their savings and took out multiple mortgages on their house to support his gambling habit. Devastated, Poppy, now an “experienced” woman, has to find a way to support herself. Poppy, who starred as a sidekick and secretary on a detective show and who helped develop the scripts for the same show, decides to get her PI license. With her two friends, Iris and Violet, Poppy forms the Desert Flowers Detective Agency. However, when no one will take them seriously, Poppy draws from another detective show and hires an attractive male actor to be “the boss.” This story tracks the adventures and complications of Poppy’s first case, which involves retired actors, an aged songstress, an up and coming actor, a talentless actor, and several bad actors. I enjoyed this book. I liked the characters and am interested in Poppy’s future adventures. #PoppyHarmonInvestigates #NetGalley
In this new series we are introduced to Poppy Harmon a retiree whose life changes overnight. When Poppy's husband dies and makes her a widow she is surprised to find out he also made her penniless. She knew he gambled a bit but hadn't realized that he lost all their money and put her in the poor house. With no real skills to speak of Poppy begins to devise a plan that is a step in helping her get back on her feet. You see Poppy loves crimes shows and in her prime she acted on one, how hard could it be to become a P.I. With the help of her two best friends, Violet and Iris, she opens up the Desert Flowers Detective Agency, the only problem no one thinks a bunch of old women can help them with their needs. They decide they need a face that everyone would want to hire so they bring in Poppy's daughters boyfriend Matt. Matt not only has the face but a charismatic way about him that people trust. When they receive their first case they can't wait to show everyone what they are made of. The Palm Leaf Retirement Village has had a string of burglaries and among them is an aging actress who would love to get her jewelry back. While investigating Poppy comes across the body of said actress and a new mystery is handed to them. Follow along as Poppy and the gang investigate to figure out who killed the actress and why. Along the way they run into some unsavory characters, hidden secrets, and some truths they might not want to hear. I was surprised in the end and I think you will be to. This was a fantastic introduction to some new characters who I can't wait to get to know better. You realize as you read that you are never to old to try something new and appreciate that no matter your age things aren't always easy.
When newly widowed sixty-something Poppy Harmon discovers that her late husband's secret gambling has left her with mountains of debt, she needs to find a job and find one fast. The former actress doesn't think she's qualified for much, but her incredibly intuitive nature and the 3 years she spent portraying a PI's secretary on television decades ago give her the gumption she needs to start her own detective agency with the help of her two best friends, Iris and Violet. Enter handsome actor, and her daughter's boyfriend, Matt, as the face of the Desert Flowers Detective Agency, and they have their first case - recovering the stolen jewels of Hollywood legend Shirley Fox. But when Poppy finds the dead body of Shirley's nemesis she must quickly step up her game to solve a murder! Poppy Harmon Investigates by Lee Hollis is a fun and fabulous read, and I enjoyed it immensely!