Sunday, November 27, 2016

"To The Last Drop"

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 native of southeastern Wisconsin, Balzo now lives on the Central Coast of California.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, To The Last Drop, and reported the following:
Seems like such a random thing, doesn’t it? Pick a page, any page. But in this case, it’s not even just any page. Pick page 69. Period.

Turns out, that particular section of To the Last Drop does a particularly nice job of setting up the book, while still not giving anything away.

From page 69:
... three of us had sat. Sarah had already scrubbed it once but I’d be damned if there weren’t still sticky smudges where she’d sat. I tossed her the rag. ‘Go over that table again.’

‘It’s interesting, though,’ my partner said as she re-cleaned her tacky mess, ‘that Lynne has suddenly decided it’s not suicide. She can say all she wants that her change of heart is because Rita Pahlke’s appearance here is suspicious, or she doesn’t want the kid to feel responsible, but I like my theory about the life insurance policy better.’ She sent the damp cloth back airmail.

I caught it. ‘You mean that she’s discovered there’s no payout on William’s life insurance policy in case of suicide? But he’s been dead for less than twenty-four hours – there’s no death certificate yet and it’s a Saturday to boot. Could she even have filed a claim?’

‘No, but how long does it take to go home, pull out the policy and a magnifying glass and read the fine print?’

About as long as the interval between my leaving Lynne at her office and her showing up at Uncommon Grounds. ‘She is a planner, I guess, by her own admission.’

‘And she’s planning on using you to turn this into a homicide investigation. And I might point out that if that happens, your ex will be on the list of suspects right behind Crazy Rita and the grieving widow.’

‘Don’t forget Clay Tartare. Though Rita is my fave for now. So tidy,’ I waved the dishrag, ‘when the person who finds the body is also the killer.’

‘You’re usually that person,’ she reminded me.

There was that. ‘At least this time I had a witness with me.’

‘Your son would lie for you in a heartbeat.’

‘I’d like to think so,’ I said with motherly pride. ‘If you believe I’ll let Lynne manipulate me, relax. The medical examiner will find for suicide and the case will be closed.’ I chewed on the inside of my cheek.

‘But . . .’ Sarah prompted.

‘There was a blow to William’s forehead, did I tell you that?’

‘Happens when you hit the ground with it.’ Sarah’s expression changed. ‘Could we be missing something here?’….
So, what does this tell us?

First, it gives us a glimpse into the relationship between Maggy Thorsen and Sarah Kingston, her partner in Uncommon Grounds. Sometimes prickly, often ornery, Sarah always has Maggy’s back. Except when she doesn’t.

Page 69 also, conveniently, sets up the crime. Assuming it is a crime. We know a man—oral surgeon William Swope--is most certainly dead. That death may be ruled a suicide at any moment, but the victim’s wife says her husband was murdered and is pressing Maggy to investigate. And, despite her protestations, Maggy seems to have her own questions.

So, who might have wanted the oral surgeon dead? We have some clues to that here, too. A mysterious woman named Rita Pahlke and a man named Clay Tartare. Maggy’s ex-husband Ted, who was William’s partner, is also a possibility. And what about the victim’s own wife, Lynne? She seems to have a number of axes to grind.

And finally, page 69 tells us something about Maggy—a self-described “corpse-stumbler”--and her son Eric, who was co-stumbler in this case. Maggy is certain he has her back, thereby keeping her out of the suspect pool this time around.

Where might page 70 take us? I hope you’ll pick up the book to find out.
Learn more about the book and author at Sandra Balzo's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: Triple Shot.

The Page 69 Test: Murder on the Orient Espresso.

--Marshal Zeringue