Saturday, November 23, 2013

"Murder on the Orient Espresso"

Sandra Balzo is an award-winning author of crime fiction, including nine books in two different mystery series from Severn House--the Maggy Thorsen Coffeehouse Mysteries and Main Street Murders, set in the High Country of North Carolina. Balzo's books have garnered starred reviews from Kirkus and Booklist, while being recommended to readers of Janet Evanovich, Charlaine Harris, Mary Daheim, Joan Hess and Margaret Maron. A Wisconsin native, Balzo now splits her time between South Florida and North Carolina.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Murder on the Orient Espresso, and reported the following:
From page 69:
‘Spry old fellow,’ Prudence said.

‘The engineer? Oh, he’s quite the character.’ Missy checked her watch. ‘I do worry that we’ll get back to the station too early, though. You know, before the crime is solved?’

‘Maybe someone should make an announcement,’ I suggested. ‘Requesting that Potter and the rest of the “cast” come to this car.’

There was a flaw, of course, in my plan: Laurence Potter obviously didn’t want to appear. Missy, however, didn’t seem to see it. ‘That’s a wonderful idea, Maggy. Zoe should—’

‘Zoe? Why not you?’ Prudence prodded. ‘You do most of the work, anyway. Why let her take all the credit?’

Missy blushed, tugging down her dress. ‘Oh, no, I prefer to work behind the scenes. I couldn’t.’

‘You couldn’t what?’ Zoe, perhaps instinctively, had magically turned up, too.

‘Maggy suggested that we make an announcement . . .’

‘Maggy?’ Zoe repeated.

I raised my hand. The woman was either stupid or trying to rile me. I was betting on the latter.

‘Oh, right,’ Zoe said distractedly, her attention drawn to the commotion in the corner, where a huge man dressed in a zoot suit was trying to climb onto the table.

Pavlik, having been thwarted in his effort to save the day by venturing into the Everglades, slid out of the booth. ‘You!’ he said in a thundering voice. ‘Down! Now!’

The big man ignored him. With the train’s swaying movement he looked like an overweight, overdressed mob surfer trying to position his feet for one last Big Kahuna of a wave. Worse, he was a decade off in his costume. The high-waisted trousers and long coats with wide lapels and padded shoulders were popular in the forties, not the thirties.

‘Off the table, Fred!’ Zoe bellowed.

‘Fred’ got off. Pavlik shrugged and returned to our table.

‘Zoe, we think you should cut the cake,’ Prudence suggested. ‘Sop up some of the alcohol.’

‘Too late,’ Missy said mournfully.

‘Too late to sop up the alcohol or too late to cut the cake?’ One more Orient Espresso martini on an empty stomach and I’d be up on a table. Or under it.
The first thing I want to say about Page 69 of Murder on the Orient Espresso is that I really do know the difference between single and double-quotes. Severn House in London publishes my Maggy Thorsen Coffeehouse Mysteries (Orient Espresso is #8 in the series), and the Brits use single quotes where we use double and vice versa.

The second thing you should know is that in this scene, the fictional "Fred" is dancing on the edge -- the uneasy calm before the literal and figurative storm.

You see, Wisconsin coffeehouse owner Maggy Thorsen has accompanied her main squeeze, Sheriff Jake Pavlik, to South Florida, where he's speaking at a mystery-writers' conference. Maggy is anticipating a romantic arrival in their hotel suite, but the opening night event turns out to be a re-enactment of Agatha Christie’s classic, Murder on the Orient Express.

As night falls, conference organizer Zoe Scarlett rushes Maggy and Pavlik onto an excursion train into the Everglades along with the rest of the guests. Zoe's assistant, Missy Hudson, explains to the jet-lagged couple that Pavlik is to play the murder victim, Ratchett. Guests of Honor Rosemary Darlington and Laurence Potter will be Mary Debenham and Hercule Poirot, respectively. The rest of the guests are dressed in period costume and the idea is to solve the crime and return to civilization.

Maggy hopes that will be soon. But you don't always get what you want.

Things rapidly begin to fall apart. It's obvious that reviewer Potter and author Darlington despise each other, though whether that's because of a rumored affair or Potter's denouncement of Darlington's long-awaited comeback novel as "badly-written pornography," nobody seems to know. A young man turns up, claiming that Laurence Potter stole his manuscript and, on page 69, a torrential rain storm is about to strike.

And then there's the python…
Learn more about the book and author at Sandra Balzo's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: Triple Shot.

--Marshal Zeringue