Amy-Faye Johnson’s book club, the Readaholics, enjoys guessing whodunit in mysteries like The Maltese Falcon. But when a murder happens in their midst, they discover that solving crimes is harder that reading about them…
Amy-Faye has always loved her idyllic Rocky Mountain town of Heaven, Colorado. Her event-planning business is thriving, her fellow book-obsessed Readaholics are great, and her parents live only a few blocks away. But lately her hometown has felt a little less heavenly. First, she agrees to plan a wedding without realizing the groom is her ex-boyfriend. Then, Ivy, one of her fellow Readaholics, dies suddenly under mysterious circumstances.
The police rule Ivy’s death a suicide by poisoning, but Amy-Faye and the remaining Readaholics suspect foul play. Amy-Faye soon discovers that Ivy was hiding dangerous secrets—and making deadly enemies. Taking a page from her favorite literary sleuths, Amy-Faye is determined to find the real killer and close the book on this case. But finding the truth could spell her own ending…
About the Author
The author of more than a dozen mystery novels, including the Mall Cop Mystery series (Malled to Death; All Sales Fatal) and the Charlie Swift novels (Swift Run; Swift Edge), Laura DiSilverio is a former Air Force intelligence officer and president of Sisters in Crime. She lives in Colorado.
Read an Excerpt
PRAISE FOR THE NOVELS OF LAURA DISILVERIO
OTHER MYSTERIES BY LAURA DISILVERIO
The white suit was a bad idea. I knew it when I bought it at the outlet mall, but it was 75 percent off and the A-line skirt disguised the extra ten pounds that tend to cling to my thighs. I knew it when I put it on, but the forecast was for an unseasonable ninety degrees in Heaven, Colorado—the temps didn’t usually climb into the nineties until July in our little Rocky Mountain hollow on Lost Alice Lake—and the white linen made me feel crisp and cool. With my copper-colored hair twisted into a chignon, an aqua camisole under the jacket, and nude pumps, I was the image of chic professionalism as I set out to meet my new client. Until the kitten.
It sat at the corner of Eden and Paradise, underneath the four-way stop sign, a tiny ball of bedraggled gray fluff. It had rained hard the night before and the kitten’s damp fur convinced me she’d been caught out in it. My windows were down so I could enjoy the rain-washed and still cool air, and I heard a plaintive mew as I waited for a pickup to cross the intersection. The kitten put a paw in the gutter as the truck caromed into a pothole and almost drowned it with a tsunami of muddy water.
“Get back on the sidewalk, kitty,” I ordered. I didn’t see a collar.
She mewed again and looked at me with big blue eyes. It was my turn to go and I rolled slowly into the intersection. I didn’t have time to rescue stray kittens. The bride-to-be was expecting me at nine o’clock sharp at the Columbine, the most upscale B and B in Heaven. Someone else would stop for the kitten; its owner was probably combing the neighborhood for it this very minute. I’d come this way on my return trip to the office and if she was still here, I’d bundle her up and take her to the humane society. I flat out couldn’t do it now.
On the far side of the intersection, I hit my brakes and pulled over with a gusty sigh. Slamming my door harder than necessary, I stalked across the street and looked down at the kitten, who tilted her head back and stared at me, unblinking.
“Come on, then,” I said, scooping her up. She didn’t weigh much more than a wet washcloth, and I carried her balled in my hands, my arms outstretched, to protect my suit from the muddy droplets dribbling off her. She squirmed when we reached the van. Yes, a van. It wasn’t the sporty convertible that would have reflected my personality better—I mean, a van doesn’t exactly say hot, single, young thirties professional like an Audi TT does—but I’d ended up hauling potted plants, tubs of crystal, and even peacocks for my event-planning business too often to consider a smaller vehicle. With a harried glance at my watch, I put her into an empty champagne box and moved it to the front seat, tossing The Maltese Falcon, the book my Readaholics were discussing tonight, into the back. Pulling a yoga top from my gym bag, I tucked it around the kitten, who didn’t seem to object to its ripe smell. I couldn’t keep thinking of her as “the kitten,” so I mentally christened her Misty. There’s a law, I’m pretty sure, that requires that all gray cats be named Smoky or Misty.
Hurrying around the van, I climbed back into the driver’s seat, flashing a bit of thigh at a young man who honked and grinned as he drove past. I inspected my suit, relieved to see not a speck of mud or one long gray hair. Ha! I’d foiled the forces of the universe that direct their energy at smirching white suits. I hit the gas. The B and B was only two blocks away and I pulled up right at nine.
“Mew.” Misty had her front paws over the box’s top and her head peeked out. She looked around curiously.
“Don’t—” I started as the box wobbled.
I put out a hand and caught the box as it toppled toward my lap. Whew! Another bullet dodged. Misty slumped into a corner as I righted the box. “Mew.”
“Don’t get snippy with me,” I said. “You’re the one who tipped the box over.” I slewed my lips to the side. I couldn’t leave her in the van, even with the windows open. My meeting might go two hours and it would be hot enough to melt asphalt by the time I got back. With another sigh, I tucked the expandable leather folder that held my notes into the box and hefted it. “Kittens are to be neither seen nor heard at important business meetings,” I told her sternly, mounting the six stone steps leading to the Victorian B and B’s double oak doors. The building dated from the late 1880s, when the town was incorporated, and Sandy Milliken and her husband, transplants from the East Coast, had spent beaucoup bucks fixing it up.
I nudged one door open with my hip, cradling the box in the crook of my elbow. The foyer, graced with wide-plank oak floors, Laura Ashley fabrics, and a Tiffany chandelier, murmured of history and the expensive restoration. It smelled like lemon furniture polish and bacon. Misty apparently liked the latter scent, because her tufty head appeared over the box’s rim, tiny nose working. “After we’re done here,” I promised her, “I’ll find you some tasty kibble.”
Pushing her gently back into the box, I headed toward the patio, where I was supposed to meet my new client, a Madison Taylor. I didn’t think she was a local girl, but I’d been happy to agree to plan her wedding when she called me out of the blue last week. It wasn’t unusual to have out-of-town weddings scheduled in Heaven. Brides liked the idea of being married in “Heaven,” and the crafty town council had built a lovely wedding gazebo by the lake when they renamed the town fifteen years ago. It used to be called Walter’s Ford, but Walter was only a footnote in the town’s history, and folks didn’t seem to know if “Ford” referred to a Model T or a water crossing no longer in existence, so our elected officials went with a name they thought would attract more tourists and business development. I’d been a sophomore at the time and there’d been something of a kerfuffle when our football team suddenly became the Heaven Demons, but that was resolved by the students voting to adopt a new mascot: the Avengers.
The clinking of cutlery and the splashing of a small fountain drew me toward the patio, where I knew breakfast was served on nice mornings. Wrought-iron tables spaced a gracious distance apart dotted the flagstone patio, which was surrounded by lush greenery and flowers: lavender, hostas, lemon trees, and oleanders in pots, and daylilies just beginning to bloom now that we were into May. They bobbed as flurries of wind, left over from last night’s storm, gusted across the patio. A trio of cement goldfish spurted water into a basin six feet in diameter, attracting a sparrow, which sat on the rim. It got a shower whenever the wind blew the fine spray the fish were sending up. Only two tables held guests finishing their eggs, bacon, and Sandy’s award-winning cranberry-carrot muffins. Sandy herself refreshed their coffee cups from a steaming carafe. I set Misty’s carton in an unobtrusive corner behind the open French doors, extracted some papers from my expandable folder, and arranged it atop the box to keep her inside.
“Stay put,” I told her. She blinked at me. I took it for agreement. Rising, I smoothed my pristine skirt, put a smile on my face, and moved to meet my client.
“Here’s Amy-Faye now,” Sandy said to the petite blond woman sitting closest to the fountain. The motherly Sandy filled an extra cup for me and I gave her a grateful smile. “Amy-Faye, this is Taylor Madison. She’s been telling me all about the ‘Heavenly’ wedding she wants. I’ve told her you’re the gal can make sure every detail is perfect.” She gave a half wink before responding to a request for more marmalade from the older couple at the other table.
“Well, I’ll do my best to put together your dream wedding,” I said, holding out my hand to the blonde. I knew she was a New York City lawyer, but she looked dainty and unthreatening, more of an angelfish than a shark. In her late twenties, probably. She was no bigger than a minute, with a heart-shaped face, a straight nose, and strong brows that winged up at the ends. She would look ethereal in clouds of white tulle, or maybe a strapless satin column dress, if her taste was as modern as her name. She rose with a smile and shook my hand, hers slim but strong.
“Actually,” she said, “it’s Madison Taylor. I get that all the time. Two last names, right? I don’t know what my folks were thinking. Call me Madison.”
“Amy-Faye Johnson,” I said. “Pleased to meet you.”
We exchanged a few pleasantries about the weather and how beautiful Heaven was before Madison’s voice took on a more businesslike tone. “I always assumed I’d get married in Manhattan since that’s where I live, but when Doug suggested we get married in Heaven, I figured why not? My family would have to travel from Wisconsin to New York, anyway, so they might as well come here instead. And Colorado is so . . . refreshing this time of year. New York’s all smog and noise and humidity.” Her smile invited me to applaud her reasoning. “So I was thinking a morning wedding, with six bridesmaids in carnation pink, followed by a brunch reception . . .”
She’d lost me at “Doug.” No, it couldn’t be. I began taking notes and offering suggestions, but half my mind worried at that “Doug.” There were lots of Dougs in the world. I didn’t even know if her Doug was from Heaven or just thought it would be a romantic place to get married. We discussed caterers, florists, and photographers; her three-year-old twin niece and nephew, who would make an adorable ring bearer and flower girl; the pros and cons of an outdoor reception by the lake; and the sticky etiquette of how to involve both her father and stepfather in the wedding. Routine stuff. She didn’t say why they were marrying in such haste—three weeks was barely enough time to organize a garage sale, never mind a wedding—but I didn’t feel I could ask. Her groom’s last name never came up and it was driving me crazy. Doug who? I wanted to shout.
When we segued into a discussion of my fees and contract, I couldn’t help myself. “Where did you get my name?” I asked.
Madison smiled. “Doug’s mother, Elspeth Elvaston. She said you were the best event planner in Heaven, a real perfectionist, and that you’d gone to high school with Doug. She said if anyone could pull this wedding together on such short notice, you could.”
Multicolored lights blinked before my eyes and it was suddenly hard to breathe. “You’re marrying Doug Elvaston?” My Doug? My former boyfriend and the reason I came back to Heaven after college in Boulder? “I . . . I didn’t even know he was dating anyone.”
With a girlish laugh, Madison leaned forward. “We met in New York—I’m sure you know he’s been spending a lot of time there on a class-action case—and it was kind of a whirlwind thing. Lots of long hours of legal work turned into romantic dinners and walks in Central Park, a weekend at a little B and B on the Hudson.” She tucked a strand of silky gold hair behind one small ear. “I knew he was the one for me almost from the moment we met. He said it was the same for him, that he’d never felt this kind of connection with anyone before. You know how it is when you can finish each other’s sentences, when you can share a joke just by meeting someone’s eyes?” She fairly glowed.
I felt nauseated. Her total lack of self-consciousness told me Doug hadn’t even mentioned my name to her. How was that possible? We’d had an on-again-off-again relationship since our junior year in high school. Yeah, we’d been in an “off” phase for almost two years, but I hadn’t realized Doug considered us totally off, get-married-to-someone-else off. I’d been so sure that we’d eventually get back together—
“That silly kitten’s going to fall into the fountain if it’s not careful,” Madison said, looking over my shoulder.
I spun in my chair. Misty had managed to clamber onto the fountain’s low rim and was stalking the oblivious sparrow. Her concentration was total, her gaze fixed on the bird, her tiny body taut as she moved forward in a slow crouch. Predator mode. How had she gotten out of the box? Caught up in the planning, and obsessing about Doug, I’d completely forgotten about her. I scraped my chair back.
“A cat!” The older woman at the other table sounded like she’d found a cockroach on her plate. Her husband remained semicomatose, even when she said, “William, you remember how I told Mrs. Milliken that I was allergic to cats and she assured me—”
“She’s mine,” I apologized, moving toward the fountain. “That is, I brought her. Come here, Misty.” I held out my hand. She ignored me. Big surprise. We’d had a cat when I was growing up and he’d turned selective hearing into an art form. I was reaching for her when a powerful gust of wind drenched me with water from the spitting fish.
The chill surprised me. “Oh!” I shivered, told myself it was only water, and plucked the disappointed kitten from the fountain’s rim as the sparrow flew away. Careful to hold her at arm’s length again, I deposited her back in the box and repositioned the folder. “Just a couple more minutes,” I told her.
“Mew,” she complained, her look saying she could be breakfasting on tasty sparrow if I hadn’t interfered. Fat chance. She was so light the sparrow could probably have carried her away without much effort.
I hurried back to Madison, apologizing to her and the other couple as I went, and explaining about rescuing Misty from the roadside.
“Really, it’s okay,” Madison said, laughing, signing my contract, and handing over a deposit check. “My law firm tried a ‘bring your pet to work day,’ but it didn’t work out too well. One of the partners brought his pit bull and it got hold of my paralegal’s ferret. Not pretty.”
I hated that the woman Doug wanted to marry instead of me was so dang nice. I wanted to be able to tell him he was making a horrible mistake, but it didn’t look like he was. She was younger, thinner, and more successful than I, and a decent human being, to boot. At least my suit was as sharp as her gray slacks topped with a navy linen blazer. We shook hands again and her eyes widened. I thought she was going to say something, but then she shook her head the tiniest bit and told me she looked forward to working with me. We made an appointment to meet at my office on Thursday. “I know you’ll make our big day perfect.” Her smile outshone the sun.
Unable to choke out an assurance, especially since I was wondering if I could engineer a disaster that would stop the wedding—food poisoning? a tornado? the wedding gazebo burning down?—I nodded and turned away, eager to leave before I embarrassed myself by crying.
The old gentleman at the next table was staring at me, looking a lot livelier than he had earlier. He gave me a once-over and I wrinkled my brow. What was the old guy—? I followed his gaze and saw that the fountain water had rendered the white linen of my skirt totally see-through. I could distinctly make out the lacy pattern of my undies. Really? This morning wasn’t miserable enough already? I flushed and fought the urge to run for the door, knowing Madison had noticed, too. I grabbed Misty’s box, held it low enough to provide some coverage, and walked with as much dignity as I could muster to the van.
Leaning my forehead against the steering wheel, my arms hanging limp, I looked sideways at the kitten in her box on the passenger seat. “This day has got to get better, right?”
“Mew,” Misty agreed.
“You’ve adopted a kitten?” my best friend Brooke Widefield asked, arriving early for the Readaholics meeting. She followed me into my small galley kitchen, where margarita fixings waited.
“Not exactly,” I said, salting the margarita glasses’ rims. Our book club discussions tended to be livelier when we imbibed a bit. It was amazing how insightful we got after a margarita or three.
“Looks like a kitten to me.” Brooke bent to pat Misty, who was twining between her ankles. “She’s adorable.”
Yeah, so adorable I hadn’t been able to leave her at the animal shelter where Brooke volunteered. I couldn’t keep her, though—my schedule was too erratic, unfair to pets. I was hoping our friend Lola Paget, who owned a plant nursery, might need another cat. I remembered her mentioning that one of her cats had gone to the Great Catnip Patch in the sky a few weeks back. I explained all this to Brooke as I mixed the tequila, triple sec, and sweet and sour in the blender, added ice, and pulsed it.
I poured us each a glassful. “Unless you want her?” I watched Brooke cradle Misty against her cheek. They looked like a magazine ad—Brooke with her Miss Colorado beauty queen complexion, curtain of mink brown hair, and green eyes, and the kitten a powder puff of gray fluff since I’d bathed and combed her when we got home.
“Troy would have a hissy,” she said, reluctantly putting the kitten down. “You know how he is. It’d be great if you could place her rather than turning her over to the Haven. We’ve already got more cats than we’ll be able to adopt out.”
We drifted into the sunroom, furnished with wicker chairs upholstered in bright floral cotton. Celadon-colored ceramic tile covered the floor. Floor-to-ceiling windows looked out to the front, side, and backyards. It was my favorite room in the small house, which was 99.9 percent the bank’s and .1 percent mine. Moving in two months earlier had made me feel very adult. There’s nothing like a mortgage to separate the kids from the grown-ups. This was the first time I’d hosted a Readaholics meeting in my new house. When I formed the group four years ago, we’d originally met in the library but had switched to meeting in one another’s homes when it became clear that six of us were going to be the group’s mainstays (and library patrons complained about our “too lively” discussions). Misty followed us and pounced on the trailing branch of a spider plant with clearly vicious tendencies. She subdued it with much scratching and hissing and then settled on one of the low windowsills to keep an eye on the front yard.
I set out a plate of petits fours left over from a luncheon I’d organized for the Episcopal Women’s Thrift House the day before, and a bag of tortilla chips with salsa. Martha Stewart, eat your heart out. Gulping down a third of my margarita, I told Brooke about my appointment that morning. She laughed when I mentioned my transparent skirt.
“That wasn’t the worst part, though,” I said, steeling myself. “Madison—the woman I met with, my client—is marrying Doug. Doug Elvaston,” I clarified when Brooke didn’t gasp or faint or say, “Oh, my heavens!”
“You knew it would happen one day,” she mumbled into her margarita glass.
I narrowed my eyes at her. “You knew!” I breathed.
She looked up and shook her head vigorously, hair swishing her shoulders. “Not to say knew. Elspeth Elvaston might have mentioned to my mom that Doug was seeing someone. In New York.”
“You knew and you didn’t tell me, didn’t warn me. You know how I feel about him.” This was traitorage on a monumental scale, even worse than when she’d chosen to go to CSU after I was accepted at CU.
Setting her glass down with a click, she said, “C’mon, A-Faye. You guys called it quits two years ago. Time to move on. He obviously has.”
Youch. “Calling it quits is our favorite activity. We broke up before senior year of high school and got back together for prom, and then after our sophomore year at CU because I was doing the semester abroad in Italy that fall and didn’t want to be tied down, and then three times our senior year.” I ticked them off on my fingers: “When Doug thought he was getting that internship in Los Angeles, and then when Giancarlo from Italy came to visit me over spring break, and then—”
“I was there for all the drama the first time,” Brooke said. “I don’t need to relive it.” Before I could reply, the doorbell rang and I rose to let in Ivy Donner. Wearing a shirtwaist dress in a graphic brown-and-cream print, she’d obviously come straight from her job as assistant to Heaven’s chief financial officer. Her brown hair was gelled into a spiky pixie that gave her a gamine look and accented her doelike brown eyes. She’d graduated with Brooke and me, gone to the local community college and then immediately into city government. She liked fast reads with lots of action.
“You got a cat,” she announced, gaze going directly to Misty, who had followed me to the door. Before I could explain, she asked, “Mind if I make some tea?”
Ivy was an inveterate tea drinker with a different herbal blend for every occasion—sleeplessness, anxiety, a cold. All her brews smelled like algae on Lost Alice Lake on a hot August afternoon. “Water’s already boiling.” I led her into the kitchen. “Help yourself.”
“Love the tile backsplash,” she said, pouring boiling water into the mug I’d set out. Mug in hand, she hugged me. “Sorry. It’s been a lousy day. A lousy stinking couple of weeks, as a matter of fact. I took a personal day today—couldn’t stand the thought of the office. Had some legal business to attend to.”
“I know the feeling.” I hugged her back, thinking she felt stiff and tense. I got an acrid whiff of cigarettes and wondered if she’d started smoking again. I hoped not. She’d worked hard to quit two years earlier.
She broke away and followed me into the sunroom, greeting Brooke with an air kiss. “This book is pure genius,” Ivy said, waving her copy of The Maltese Falcon. “Hammett has it exactly right about men. They’re scum, all of them. Even our so-called hero, Sam Spade, is having an affair with his partner’s wife and ditches Brigid at the end.”
“She was a murderer,” Brooke pointed out.
Ivy flipped a dismissive hand. “He had no loyalty. He was all about saving his own skin. Coward.” She sank into a chair, took another sip of tea, and glowered.
“Do you think he was getting back together with Iva at the end?” Brooke asked as the doorbell rang again.
I let in Lola Paget, a compact woman with espresso-colored skin, a short Afro, and wire-rimmed glasses. She’d been a year ahead of Brooke and me at school and gone off to Texas A&M for a chemistry degree before coming back to Heaven to rescue the family farm by turning it into a plant nursery specializing in flowers and flowering shrubs. I was pretty sure she supported her grandmother and her teenage sister, who lived with her. Her parents had died in a drunk driver–caused accident when she was fourteen. She tended to prefer more literary mysteries.
“You got yourself a cat,” she said in her slow, deliberate way. “Here, puss-puss.”
Misty trotted right over and sniffed at Lola’s work boots delicately. “Mew.”
“She can be yours,” I said, lifting the kitten and placing her in Lola’s work-roughened hands. I explained how I’d gotten her and why I thought Lola might want her.
“That’s very thoughtful of you,” Lola said. “It’s true Tigger-cat passed on last month. She was a fine mouser. Do you think you could catch mice, puss?” She put her nose down close to Misty’s.
“Mew,” Misty affirmed.
“You’d better come home with me, then, and have a go at it. Thank you.” Lola smiled at me. She had a naturally somber aspect, didn’t smile much, but when she did, it lit up the room.
I let go a big breath, not realizing how worried I’d been about the kitten’s fate if Lola didn’t want her. “You’re very welcome,” I said. “Soda’s in the fridge.”
Lola set down Misty, who trailed her into the kitchen to get a soda.
“Hey, Lo,” Brooke called. “What’d you think of the book?”
Lola joined us in the sunroom, pulled a coaster from a stack to put her Coke can on, settled herself, and looked around before replying. “This is a lovely room, Amy-Faye. The plants look happy here.”
That was a huge compliment, coming from Lola, who had helped me pick out the plants at Bloomin’ Wonderful. I beamed.
“There were lots of villains,” Lola observed, turning to Brooke. “Too many for me to keep track of. There were Gutman and Joel Cairo and that Thursby fellow and that boy with the guns— Did he have a name?”
“Wilmer Cook,” Ivy supplied.
“And Brigid, of course. Spade was no great shakes, either. I can’t say I took to anyone in the whole book . . . What’s the point of a mystery with no good guys?”
“Amen, sister,” Ivy put in, nodding as if Lola had vindicated her.
“Your door’s unlocked—anyone could walk in,” came Maud Bell’s voice from the foyer.
“In here,” we chorused.
Maud strode in, crackling with energy, as always. Around sixty, she was six feet tall with a sinewy build—a lanky greyhound of a woman with a sharp nose, shrewd blue eyes, and a surprisingly ribald sense of humor. Her weathered skin testified to her summer and fall occupation as a hunting and fishing guide. In the winter, she did computer repair and Web site design, making use of the computer science degree she’d earned four decades ago at Berkeley, where she’d really majored in activism, she liked to say. When she turned fifty, she gave up “marching to the beat of corrupt corporate honchos’ bongos,” as she called it, to get back to nature in Heaven. Her hair was an au naturel mix of silver, white, and iron, and she wore her usual camouflage pants with a dozen pockets, henley shirt, and hiking boots. She smelled faintly of pot, which was not unusual, even before Colorado legalized it. Her favorite reads were spy thrillers and the like, which made total sense since she spent more time posting on her conspiracy theory blog, and trying to bring conspiracies to light, than she did at her paying jobs.
“Froufrou.” She gave the margaritas a disparaging glance, disappeared into the kitchen, and returned with a beer. “Damn clever fellow, that Hammett,” she commented, sitting. “Nice place, Amy-Faye. Feels like you. Conspiracies within conspiracies, everyone on the take or ready to betray someone else—it read like the front page of the Washington Post or the New York Times.” She took a long swallow of beer. “Where’s Kerry?”
A knock at the door answered that question. I went to open it, Misty at my heels. Kerry Sanderson, a Realtor and Heaven’s part-time mayor, marched in. She was familiar with the house already because she’d found it for me. She’d spent months helping me locate just the right property and walking me through the legal and financial wickets of first-time homeownership, and I would always be grateful. She immediately noticed Misty.
“Cute kitten,” she said, “but do you really think you have time to take care of a pet? What with your schedule being so erratic, and you having to take on even more events now that you’ve got this mortgage—”
I smiled. Vintage Kerry. At forty-eight, she had a teenage son, a grown daughter, and a grandbaby, all of whom lived with her. She’d been the first to join the Readaholics when I came up with the idea of a book club, back when I still lived in my tiny apartment and we held meetings in the library. She came across as brusque and efficient and managing, but her comments on the books we read, and the way she helped people in the community without making a fuss about it, told me she was really caring . . . and efficient and managing. Not bad qualities for a mayor. She was leagues better at the job than the lazy, pocket-lining, nepotistic crook who’d held the job before her.
“Misty’s for Lola,” I said, pouring her the last of the margaritas and steering her toward the sunroom.
“Hail, hail, the gang’s all here,” Brooke said.
“I saw you met with the CEO of Naturocorp today.” Maud pounced on Kerry. “I’ll bet my new Sage fly rod they’re trying to get your buy-in on fracking in the area. That’s the way these natural gas companies work . . . get a town’s leaders in their corner and then screw the small landowners. Did you see that Matt Damon movie? Lola, you’d better watch out.”
Kerry was used to ignoring Maud’s attacks. She gave a noncommittal smile, sat beside Ivy on the love seat, and said, “Hammett’s prose and the way he used dialogue reminded me a lot of Hemingway—almost no interior thoughts or details about what a character was thinking or feeling. Did you all notice that?”
The conversation was even more heated than usual because we all had such strong feelings about the book, the characters, and the prose style. Ivy continued to talk about how untrustworthy all the men were in a way that made me wonder if she was talking only about fictional characters. Brooke and I exchanged a glance after one angry comment and Brooke shrugged. Maud continued to enthuse about the book’s intricate plotting, and Kerry and I had a sidebar about whether Hammett deliberately chose not to share his characters’ thoughts for some narrative purpose, or whether that was just his journalism background showing through. Brooke was quieter than usual and I hoped she’d linger after the others left so we could talk. We broke up at nine o’clock as usual, with Kerry yawning and claiming an early meeting and Lola saying she wanted to get Misty home in time to adjust to her new digs before bedtime.
Kissing the top of the kitten’s head, I felt a pang as she left with Lola. Maybe someday I’d have a regular schedule that would allow me to get a pet. It would be fun, comforting, to have a fuzzy critter around, happy to see me when I came home, pleased to cuddle with me when I watched TV or read a book on one of my rare free evenings. Maud left next, saying we should get together to watch the movie version of The Maltese Falcon.
“I saw it back in the day, but it would be fun to see it again. I never did see what set women swooning over Bogie, though. Altogether too craggy and hound eyed for my taste. No sense of humor. I always appreciated Michael Caine—a lot going on underneath the surface with him, I always thought. Or, these days, that Chris Hemsworth, who plays Thor. Big, strong, swings a mean hammer. I’ll see if it’s on Netflix, or rent it if it’s not,” she promised.
“Sounds like fun.”
Ivy walked out with Maud, turning to remind me that we were meeting tomorrow to plan an office offsite. She swayed. “Whoo—a bit dizzy.”
She looked pale.
“Sure. My tummy’s a little squiffy; that’s all. Nine o’clock okay? My house. I’m working from home tomorrow—I get more done that way,” she said. “Clayton”—her boss—“thinks the offsite will improve office morale and efficiency.” She shrugged as if unconvinced but said, “Can’t hurt. Come with ideas for how we can make it fun—not the usual sit-around-and-stare-at-each-other office drill with trust falls and all that garbage.”
“Will do.” My mind churned through ideas as I waved good-bye. A team scavenger hunt, maybe? No, a geocaching event would be better. I’d have to get more details from Ivy about the number of people and the budget.
As I’d hoped, Brooke was the last to leave. She was still in the sunroom, grazing on the last of the tortilla chips. I was going to get on her again about not cluing me in about Doug and Madison, but something about her looked beaten down, and I sat across from her. “What’s wrong?”
She met my gaze and gave me a tight smile. “Troy and I are finally talking about in vitro. Or maybe adopting.”
“That’s great!” I knew she and her husband of nine years had been trying to get pregnant for almost half their marriage.
“Not according to Troy Senior and Miss Clarice. Little Widefields are born naturally, not created in a test tube, and we certainly don’t want to contaminate the gene pool by adopting a baby with an unknown but probably deficient pedigree.”
She said it semijokingly, but I could tell her in-laws’ attitude grated on her. They’d disapproved of Troy marrying her during their junior year in college. Miss Clarice had told one of my mom’s friends that Brooke wasn’t “the right kind of girl.” I took that to mean she didn’t turn out like the “Perfect Wife” recipe Miss Clarice probably concocted in her cauldron: one tablespoon Junior Leaguer, a pinch of heiress, two teaspoons hypocrite, a dollop of Betty Crocker, and a half cup of Stepford wife. After the marriage, the Widefields had continued to drip poison about her into their son’s ear in a way that made me want to sock the self-righteous smiles off their rich little faces. Brooke had thought she understood what marrying into the richest and most powerful family in town would mean, but she’d been young and naive. Kind of like Princess Diana when she married into the royal family. The Widefields had wanted Troy Jr. to marry a girl with family political connections, not a cheerleader and beauty queen whose father ran a dry-cleaning business and whose mother was a school secretary. The elder Widefields envisioned Troy as governor someday, and they did not think Brooke was Mrs. Governor material, even though she’d tried hard to live up to their expectations by not working, being active on charity committees, and keeping an immaculate house. “Tell them to go . . . take a flying leap off a tall cliff,” I said.
She slid a finger under her camisole strap, as if it were too tight. “I wish. It would help if Troy didn’t work for his dad.”
It would help more if he grew a backbone, but I didn’t say that. Her husband worked for the family auto dealership, a swath of shiny new and used cars out 330 on the way to Grand Junction. “You were born to be a mother,” I said, hugging Brooke as she stood to go. “So whatever it takes. You’re only thirty-two. It’s not like time is running out. You’ve got options. IVF, adoption, screwing like bunnies . . . whatever.”
She laughed and hugged me back. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about Doug. I really didn’t know how serious it was.”
I saw her to the door, hugged her again, and watched as she drove off in a Widefield AutoPark Lexus. I bused the glasses and ate the last petit four and thought about time running out. Brooke still had plenty of time to have a baby, but I wasn’t even married. In fact, I didn’t even have a boyfriend, and my last date had spent the entire evening talking about his abduction by aliens. I’d made a mental note to hook him up with Maud (not in a romantic way), who had visited Roswell and firmly believed the government was hiding secrets about aliens at Area 51. It seemed that time had finally run out for me and Doug. The thought made me droop as I washed the glasses and put them in the drainer to dry and wiped down the counters.
I wasn’t really a droopy kind of person, though—too optimistic by nature—so I straightened and made myself look on the bright side. I ran a business I loved and owned my own two-bedroom cottage, and engaged wasn’t the same thing as married. Not at all.
I left my office the next morning to meet Ivy Donner, having already coordinated with my assistant, Al Frink, who was off to supervise a breakfast for the Lions Club, chatted with a caterer about Madison and Doug’s wedding, and set up a date with a bakery for the happy couple to taste cakes. I would not be accompanying them on that expedition. (A) I didn’t need the calories, and (B) I was planning to organize this whole wedding without ever having to set eyes on Doug. Shouldn’t be too hard—he’d be busy at the law firm and my mind boggled at the thought of him giving a hoot about table favors or cake toppers. I cruised down Paradise Boulevard, the main drag in Heaven (its name changed from John Elway Avenue after the town rechristened itself), taking mental notes about the exterior of the grand Victorian homes interspersed with smaller cottages and 1950s- and ’60s-era homes. Before becoming a homeowner, I never noticed things like sagging gutters or cracks in driveways, but now they stood out. I admired the crimson paint on a two-story home’s gingerbread before I turned onto Ivy’s street, where new townhomes stood in brick-fronted groups of four.
A maple sapling, orange daylilies, and bushy Russian sage made her front yard stand out from her neighbors’, and I wondered if she’d gotten Lola’s advice on what to plant. She had an end unit and I’d been there several times, including for a house-warming party three years ago and for book club meetings since. Her door was painted a shiny cobalt blue and I touched it gently with a finger, liking the slickness. Ivy didn’t respond to my knock, so I pressed the doorbell and heard it ding-dong deep inside. Still no answer. Standing on the covered stoop, I dug out my cell phone and called Ivy’s number. It went straight to voice mail. Unsure whether to be ticked or worried, I wondered if we’d gotten our wires crossed and she was waiting for me at her office. I dialed that number and got a young-sounding woman—an intern, maybe?—who told me Ivy hadn’t come in.
“Hm.” I tapped my cell phone against my teeth. Maybe Ivy was breakfasting on her back patio or working in the yard and hadn’t heard me. My two-inch heels sank into the dirt as I started across the springy patch of grass and around the side of the unit. Birds twittered from a greenbelt that bordered the property, and I heard the distant beep-beep-beep of a construction vehicle backing up. Other than that, it was silent. Most of the folks who lived in this community were professionals, like Ivy, and I suspected few people were home on a workday.
None of the backyards were fenced—against the covenants, Ivy had complained—and I turned the corner to see that Ivy’s small yard and patio were empty except for a lizard, which skittered away as my shadow draped it. My heels clicked against the cement patio, which was barely big enough to hold a George Foreman grill and a bistro table with two folding chairs. A terra-cotta pot held a water-deprived geranium. I sighed. I’d wasted my time coming over here. On the off chance, I knocked on the kitchen door. Using my hand as a visor, I pressed close to the window adjacent to the back door and peered in.
Breakfast dishes and a teapot sat on the table in the breakfast nook directly in front of the window. No Ivy in sight. I was turning away when a flicker of motion—I couldn’t say what—caught my eye. Frowning, I pressed closer to the window, the pane cool against my forehead. Something white and oblong twitched from just inside the hall that led to the front door. Was it—? A foot! Ivy’s foot. I froze. Ivy had fallen and hurt herself, or she had had a heart attack. But she was still alive; I was sure I’d seen her foot kick. I simultaneously dialed 911 and tried the door. Locked.
The emergency operator’s calm voice answered and I blurted out where I was and what the problem was. She said she was dispatching an ambulance, but I wasn’t going to wait. A couple of minutes might mean life or death to Ivy. I looked around, frantic for a way in, and saw the grill. Hefting it over my head, I slammed it against the window beside the door, shutting my eyes against the storm of ash and glass splinters that flew up.
“Ivy!” Did the foot twitch? Careful to avoid slicing my wrist open, I reached through the broken pane and unlocked the door. My heart thumped like a hummingbird’s as the door swung in. Pushing through it, I was barely conscious of a variety of unpleasant odors as I raced to where Ivy lay. Sprawled facedown in the hall, blue nightie rucked up around her thighs, she was as still as death. Pools of vomit splotched the hallway. It looked like she’d been trying to reach the small powder room but hadn’t made it in time.
“Ivy?” I touched her hand. Her teal nail polish looked ghastly against the pallor of her skin. I chafed her hand. “Ivy, it’s Amy-Faye. There’s an ambulance coming. Hold on.”
Her fingers half curled around mine. It gave me hope, yet made me feel utterly useless. I had no idea what to do. There was no bleeding to stop and her heart was still pumping, so CPR was out. A blanket. She needed a blanket. I spied an afghan draped over the love seat in the living room straight ahead. Stepping around some vomit, I retrieved the afghan and tucked it around Ivy where she lay on the floor. Red welts stood out vividly against her waxy skin. Could this be an allergy attack of some kind? Was she in anaphylactic shock? Her eyelids flickered.
“Ivy? Can you hear me? It’s Amy-Faye. Help is on the way.” Where was the damn ambulance?
“Can’t see . . . blurry. Clay . . . didn’t mean . . .” Her eyes were mere slits, but I thought they were focused on me.
I picked up the faint sound of the siren and almost sobbed with relief. “Just a few more minutes, Ivy, okay? I’m going to open the door.”
Her fingers tightened around mine and then let go. Her hand fell limply to the floor. I hesitated, then jumped up, sped down the hall, undid the dead bolt, and flung the door wide. Sunshine flooded the dim hallway and I blinked. A fire truck slewed around the corner, closely followed by a police car. I jumped up and down to attract their attention, and then hurried back to Ivy when the fire truck nosed into the curb.
Kneeling beside her, I stroked her short hair. Her breaths came in shallow, irregular gasps. “You’re going to be okay, Ivy. You’re going to be okay.” I didn’t know if she heard me. The first responders surged in and I got out of their way. I edged into the kitchen as they worked on Ivy, loaded her onto a stretcher, and had her out of the house in less than five minutes. One of the EMTs told the lone police officer to “find out what she took—find the bottle.” It took a moment to register, but then I realized he thought she’d overdosed on meds of some kind. My hand covered my mouth and my gaze swept the small kitchen.
It was an ordinary kitchen with newish midrange appliances, walls painted cream, canisters lined up on the counter, and bright Fiestaware dishes stacked in glass-fronted cabinets. I’d knocked over small pots of basil and mint when I broke the window, and their dirt mingled with the glass and ash on the floor. The faucet dripped and I turned it off. Nothing jumped out at me, no prescription bottle on the counter or knocked to the floor, no open bottle of vodka or scotch. A half-eaten bowl of oatmeal with walnuts, a slice of cantaloupe, and a teacup and teapot sat on the table with the Heaven Herald open to the second page. The rest of the cantaloupe waited on the counter, a piece of cling wrap stretched over it, and the crumpled oatmeal packet lay on the floor near the trash can. A ladder-back chair painted red was pushed well back from the table, as if Ivy had gotten up in a hurry. It was all excruciatingly ordinary. I was sure Ivy sat in that very chair and read the paper every morning while she ate her breakfast. Tears stung and I wiped them away. I couldn’t kid myself: Ivy was very, very sick. The scent of the herbal tea mingled with the smell of crushed mint and basil but couldn’t overcome the less pleasant odors, and I tried to breathe through my mouth.
Trying to remember what diseases gave you diarrhea and made you throw up, I thought of cholera and food poisoning. I didn’t think Ivy had traveled outside the country recently, so cholera was a long shot. Before I could give it any more thought, a suspicious voice said, “Who are you and what are you doing?”
Excerpted from "The Readaholics and the Falcon Fiasco"
Copyright © 2015 Laura DiSilverio.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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“Laura DiSilverio hits it out of the park…Readers will be enchanted.”—New York Times Bestselling Author Carolyn Hart
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Praise for Laura DiSilverio and her mysteries
“[A] wonderful series."--Margaret Maron, Edgar Award-winning author of Sand Sharks “Tons of humor and a whole lot of heart. "--Chris Grabenstein, Anthony and Agatha Award-winning author of Mind Scrambler
“DiSilverio has a bit of Sue Grafton’s tone about her with a dash of Janet Evanovich thrown in…Expect to laugh.”—Library Journal
“This novel will crack you up with DiSilverio’s humor and razor’s-edge wit.”—Suspense Magazine
“Charming, fun, and refreshing.”—Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I was so excited when I first heard about this series. I’ve never been in a book club, but it’s something I would love to do. Until that time, I’m happy I can enjoy the experience through series such as this one. I always read the dedications and acknowledgements on books. So, I would like to thank Ms. DiSilverio for dedicating this first book in her new series to us, the readers. There are books you know you are going to love after just a few sentences. THE READAHOLICS AND THE FALCON FIASCO for me was one of those books. I was immediately hooked. Amy-Faye Johnson is such a fun character. First person hasn’t always been my favorite form of storytelling, though through reviewing I’ve grown used to it, I can’t imagine this story being told any other way than through Amy-Faye’s narration. I could hear her voice in my head so vividly. The entire cast of characters were very fleshed out and well written. I have no doubt every reader of this series will find a character they can identify with. The mystery aspect in the story is first rate. Even when my eyes were tired and hurting, I couldn’t put this book down. I was pulled in page after page until the exciting end. If you are selective on the new series you choose to start, do yourself a favor and try this book. You will not be disappointed. Congratulations Laura DiSilverio on a brilliant start to what I hope with be a long running series!
This story started out a little slow like many 1st in a series books. But once we learn about the characters and their town (Heaven, CO) the story took off. Amy-Faye is an event planner and when good friend Ivy dies and it is ruled a suicide Amy-Faye knew that was not possible. When she started snooping around she found out Ivy had a big secret that could have brought about her death.
Amy-Faye Johnson has a good life, full of family and friends. She enjoys many things including spending time with her book club while working hard to build her party planning business. When one of her best friends dies, Amy-Faye becomes concerned that the police are not looking into all of the possibilities. She and her book club friends decide to look into a few things themselves. I found this book to be fun even though it focused on a death and mystery. I enjoyed the relationships between the characters and found it to seem like they were very real. To me this is what makes a book…when you can be swept away by the charters and enter the story like you are a part of it.
Hi, I’m Mark, and I’m a Readaholics Fan It is always a pleasure to try the first book in a new series and just know you will love the series. That was definitely the case for me with this book. I completely loved this debut and am already looking forward to book two in the series. Amy-Faye Johnson’s life in Heaven, Colorado, is going very well. Her event planning business is really beginning to take off, and she’s just bought her first house. She’s hit a snag recently on the personal front when ask to coordinate her on-again, off-again boyfriend’s wedding, but she will get through it. Another part of her life that she loves is the Readaholics, a group of six women who have formed a book club. The morning after the group gets together to discuss The Maltese Falcon, Amy-Faye goes to visit one of the members only to find that member sick on the floor. A few hours later, that member dies in the hospital. The police are quick to rule it a suicide, but Amy-Faye is certain it was murder. With the help of the other Readaholics, she begins trying to find out what really happened to their friend. What secrets will they uncover in the process? As much as I love mysteries, I must confess I’m not as up on some of the classics as I should be. I might use this series as an excuse to fix that. In any case, I had read The Maltese Falcon, although it has been a number of years. That really isn’t an issue because author Laura DiSilvero works any references to that classic you need to know into the book. There are spoilers for this classic, but we are pretty much past the warning date for this book, right? Anyway, the modern day mystery is completely engaging no matter how familiar you are with The Maltese Falcon. The plot starts off quickly and gets stronger as it goes along. A couple of sub-plots only add to the fun. I never wanted to put this book down because I wanted to see what twist Amy-Faye would have to deal with next. The climax was suspenseful and logical with a final scene that left me wanting more. I will admit I was a bit overwhelmed by the number of characters at first. We are introduced to the Readaholics in a group scene, and while they showed up one at a time, it was still a little hard to keep them all straight. However, as the book progressed, their personalities made it much easier to remember who everyone was. The same is true for the rest of the cast, be they suspects, potential recurring characters, or both. I loved spending time with them and that is definitely something that will draw me back in future books. I was also impressed with how each member of the Readaholics were able to contribute something to the plot. All this is held together with a dash of humor that just added to the fun. I grinned at a few of the lines and scenes. Amy-Faye’s first person narration is also wonderful. Since I have enjoyed previous books by Laura DiSilvero, I’m not surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. Still, I am counting the days until my next meeting with the Readaholics, and I hope the series lasts just as long as the list of potential books they could read.
Kept me interested right up to the end. And I can honestly say I did not figure it out until the very end when it was disclosed.
Fun read. Good characters and action sequences throughout. Didn't want to put it down.
Excellent cozy mystery where Amy-Faye does not let the ME's verdict of suicide go. She knows her friend was murdered and sets out to prove it. I like how The Maltese Falcon the book group is reading is wound throughout the story. Maud's critique of it is right on and is what happens in this book. There are lots of red herrings along the way. I did not figure it out until the end when it was explained to me. I enjoyed these characters and look forward to seeing them again when I read the next book.
The day after the Readaholics meet to discuss The Maltese Falcon that one of its members dies – and it’s Amy-Faye Johnson who discovers Ivy breathing her last breaths. Although police and the coroner rule Ivy’s death as suicide by poisoning, the Readaholics aren’t buying it at all. Is it a case of their reading too many mysteries, or is Ivy’s cause of death truly in doubt? Our heroines, led by Amy-Faye, are determined to find out. Amy-Faye is an event planner who is pining for her lost love. And when said lost love gets himself engaged, it’s no other than Amy-Faye he wants to plan the wedding. It is with mixed feelings that Amy-Faye takes on the challenge. Meanwhile, there are Boy Scout picnics and corporate outings she and her assistant Al are dealing with. In the course of investigating Ivy’s death, Amy-Faye and fellow Readaholics find a few people who might have been irritated by some of Ivy’s actions, and at least one who benefits financially by her death. But does any of that mean there was a motive for murder? Amy-Faye also gets to know on a more personal level, the hunky Heaven (Colorado) police detective she’s trying to convince to investigate Ivy’s death. There are so many cozy clichés in this amateur-detective mystery that the book itself might have become a cliché. But, in my opinion, it did not. I found myself liking the heroine, enjoying her foibles, and getting into the story. The writing is very polished, and the characters interesting enough that they might support a long series. The romance doesn’t get in the way of the story, and I’m pretty romance-averse. A good series start and I look forward to more.
This is the first book in a new series by Laura DiSilverio. I was given an ARC of this book and have been anxiously awaiting the time when I could post my review. I truly enjoyed this book! I was drawn into the story and fell in love with the town of Heaven Colorado from the beginning. I liked Amy-Faye from the start and the other members of the Readaholics group. Amy-Faye owns an event planning business, and along with her assistant Al, is planning several events in town including the wedding of her ex-boyfriend. I enjoyed reading about the various events that Amy-Faye and Al were planning. There were a lot of different characters that were introduced that added depth to the story and the town and made it feel like a real town that you would want to visit. I loved the story about how Lost Alice Lake got its name and I'm sure you will too! There were some twists in the story that made me want to keep reading and kept me guessing until the end. I am looking forward to learning more about Amy-Faye and the other members of the Readaholics group and seeing what happens next in Heaven!in
Reviewed for Read Your Writes Book Reviews by Kim Laura DiSilverio is a new author to me. One of the reasons I wanted to read The Readaholics and the Falcon Fiasco was because it’s the first book in the series and because it provided the perfect cast of characters to become amature sleuths. I mean seriously, who better to investigate murder than people who read about murder and discuss it for fun? Amy-Faye Johnson is in her early thirties and is living a happy and content life, running an event planning business in her hometown of Heaven, Colorado. A couple of years ago, she formed a reading group made up of several high school friends and others from town. Heaven is a small town and boasts a population of less than ten thousand people. Everyone seems to know everything that happens in town. But it seems there are secrets no one knows about and Amy-Faye’s childhood friend and fellow Readaholic, Ivy Donner is going to take some things to her grave. When Ivy dies, the police rule her death a suicide, but the Readaholics know that Ivy was happy, maybe a little upset about something but not suicidal. They decide to put their sleuthing skills to the test with Amy-Faye leading the charge to prove the police wrong and catch a murderer. With the help of Readaholic Maud Bell (conspiracy theorist extraordinaire) they’re able to break a code on some pretty damning evidence. When that evidence goes up in flames, they all have to wonder just who they can trust. They’re starting to discover things about Ivy they never dreamed of; leading them to wonder just how well do you know the people you are supposedly friends with. In addition to proving her friend was murdered and trying to find her killer, Amy-Faye has to also come to terms with the fact that her on again/off again relationship with Doug Elvaston is permanently off since she’s been hired to plan his wedding to someone else. The Readaholics and the Falcon Fiasco is told in first person and packs humor thanks to Amy-Faye’s assistant, Al Frink. The romantic in me is happy about a possible budding relationship for Amy-Faye. But what I loved was the web Laura DiSilverio has created with secrets, lies, and red herrings galore. December can’t come fast enough for me to get my hands on The Readaholics and the Poirot Puzzle, the next installment in the Book Club Mystery Series. **Received a copy from Penguin NAL for an honest and unbiased opinion.**
The Readaholics And The Falcon Fiasco is the first book in the A Book Club Mystery series. Amy-Faye has moved back to Heaven , CO after breaking up with her boyfriend and has started a business as an event planner. Business has been going well and Amy-Faye has been have a good time to date. As she is discussing with Madison Taylor plans for her upcoming wedding, Amy-Faye learns that the groom will be her ex, Doug Elvaston. Tempted to just walk away from planning this event, Amy-Faye realizes she can't just walk away from business and maybe she will be able to get some closure for this part of her life. That evening as the Readaholics meeting is breaking up Ivy asks Amy-Faye to stop by her house to discuss an off-site event that Clay, her boss, wants implemented. When Amy arrives the next morning, she finds Ivy on the kitchen floor, near death. Shortly after she arrives at the hospital she passes away. Tests show that she had oleander in her bloodstream and her death is ruled a suicide. None of the Readaholics believe this finding and set out to find out what really happened to Ivy. With the help of the Readaholics, Amy-Faye is determined to find the necessary information to get the police to declare the death a murder. The first person to she looks into is Ivy's brother who has had a substance abuse problem and needs money to live on. But soon Amy-Faye a copy of some kind of ledger page with a list of numbers. Book club member Maud is able to break the code, it turns out that there is a gambling ring in Heaven and they need to find out if that has any bearing on Ivy's death. The book has an interesting cast of character and will be looking forward to getting to know them better in the next book.