Author: Barbara Barrett
Genre: Cozy Mystery
Essential oils distributor Dorcas Wiley is the boss everyone loves to hate. So when she turns up dead, killed by her own trophy, disgruntled saleswoman Cathy Broderick is the obvious suspect in her murder. Despite opportunity, motive and incriminating evidence, Cathy declares her innocence and enlists her mah jongg pals—Sydney Bonner and her cronies Marianne, Micki and Kat—to help save her from the death penalty.
Hot off a recent and nearly deadly investigation, the women are cautious about putting themselves in peril again. Syd’s spouse isn’t thrilled about another mystery in their lives, either, but he can’t resist the plea of Cathy’s husband. Soon, Syd is leading the way as they tangle with grumpy salespeople, the victim’s estranged husband and boyfriend, a mysterious housekeeper, a litigious customer, an annoyed sheriff and Cathy’s own arrogant lawyer.
The women have their own issues to deal with in their central Florida town of Serendipity Springs. Kat faces a health challenge, Micki fields a mysterious inquiry from her ex, Marianne has a chaotic anniversary and Syd wrestles with her husband over who’s really in charge. But nothing puts everyday life into perspective like the moment when their investigation brings them face to face with danger.
“How much do I owe you?”
“Fifteen dollars. It’s a small bottle, but it should last a while because all you need most times is a drop.”
Sydney handed her the correct bills. “Thanks.”
Cathy went to her desk and removed a small sack from a pile. Before giving Sydney her purchase, she fished around on the coffee table in front of them. “Sorry to belabor this, but I’m supposed to stick one of our new brochures in your package and I can’t locate them. They’re here somewhere.”
Sydney rose to leave. “No problem. I’m sure the bottle has instructions on the label.”
Cathy continued to hold the bag and shook her head. “Every customer, especially new ones, receives these.”
She appeared so distraught, Sydney attempted to mitigate the unsuccessful search. “Why don’t you bring it to mah jongg next week? No one with your company will be the wiser.”
“Please.” Cathy’s voice was plaintive. “Just give me another minute. I’ll fish them out so I’ll have them handy from now on.”
Marianne intervened. “Okay. Take your time. We’re in no rush.”
As the search progressed, Cathy’s demeanor continued to deteriorate. “I swear they were here.” She sank onto the sofa next to them, pursing her lips. Within seconds, she was swiping at her eyes. Then the deluge began and continued for minutes, as if the waterworks had been right there at the surface waiting to burst forth.
Sydney and Marianne immediately went to each side of their hostess and placed their arms around her. Sydney patted her back. “It’s okay, Cathy. Those brochures aren’t worth all this agony.”
“Oh, yes, they are. You don’t know my boss, uh, my team leader. She’s wants the unveiling of these new products to go just so. I can’t afford to disappoint her.”
“So much that she’s put the fear of God in you?” Sydney asked. “Do you actually report to her? Could she fire you?”
“Not exactly, but if I want to stay on her good side, I don’t dare let her down.”
Sydney turned to her. “I don’t understand. Doesn’t her success depend on the success of the people who sell the product for her?”
Cathy nodded. “Yes, but our success depends on sales. If our sales record falls off, the best products, the best deals go to others.”
Sydney rose and went to stand by one stack of boxes. “This is none of my business, Cathy, but is this job worth all the stress you seem to be under?”
Cathy bit a lip. “That’s what Art keeps asking me.”
“And?” Marianne pushed.
“It’s not that we need the money, which Art also keeps reminding me. I really like selling the oils. I believe in them, because I’ve seen wonderful results. Like what happened with Julie Poindexter the other day at mah jongg. But things have changed the last few months.
Marianne pulled a couple tissues from her purse and handed them to Cathy. “Changed like how?”
Cathy wiped her eyes and then blew her nose. “Without consulting anyone, Dorcas added these creams and sun block to our offerings. They’re not even produced by the essential oils company, but I’m still expected to promote them. I can’t pick and choose what to sell.”
“That’s tough,” Marianne said.
“That’s not all. I can’t get all the oils I need to keep in stock. Dorcas says she’s experienced delivery problems, but I suspect she’s holding them back.”
“Whatever for?” Sydney asked.
Cathy ran a hand through her hair. “I think she plans to make a deal with another distributor somewhere else in the country. The oils have become that popular. She also raised her prices, which means I had to raise mine.”
Sydney shot a glance at Marianne. They’d uncovered a good part of the reason why Cathy was in such a state. “Given what you’ve told us, there doesn’t seem to be anything we can do to relieve your stress.” She attempted to lighten the mood. “Maybe one of your oils would help.”
Cathy attempted a smile. “Believe me, I have been trying that, but as great as they are, these oils can only go so far on mind matters. But you have helped me. My frustrations have been building up for several weeks. This is the first time I’ve shared my problems with someone else.”
Marianne joined Sydney near the boxes of creams and sunblock. “We should be going.”
“If you need to talk again,” Sydney said, “just call.”
Cathy followed them to the door. “I don’t think that will be necessary, but thank you for the offer.”
Once they were underway, Marianne was the first to talk. “Looks like her husband was right to be concerned about her. I never would have guessed from her demeanor at mah jongg she was under so much pressure.”
“Nor I. Why does she put up with that woman?”
Marianne glanced back at the condo complex they’d just left. “Maybe now that she’s voiced her feelings out loud she’ll give some thought to quitting.”
“With all that inventory in tow? She’d be walking away from a huge financial loss, unless she could get other sales reps in the area to absorb it.”
When they arrived at Marianne’s house, they continued to sit in the car, wrapped up in their own private thoughts. “There’s nothing more we can do at this point,” Sydney said at last.
“I was coming to that same conclusion. But it makes me feel so defeated.”
Just as Marianne was ready to leave, Sydney’s phone rang. Sydney put a hand up when she heard who was on the other end. “Cathy? Did we leave something behind?”
“No, nothing like that. The sheriff came to my door shortly after you left. Dorcas Wiley was found dead about an hour ago. Supposedly, I was the last person to see her. You said to call if I needed you. I guess I’m the chief suspect.”
Why is your featured book a must-read?
This is a must-read book because it reads fast and it presents an intriguing plot, likeable characters and a resolution that keeps you guessing until the end. It is also timely in that a major topic is the sale of essential oils. It takes place in a small town in central Florida and focuses on friendships and community. Although this is the second book in the series, it is stand-alone, although readers who want to start at the beginning can check out Craks in a Marriage, the first book in the series. The reader doesn’t need to know how to play mah jongg or even like the game to appreciate this series; mah jongg is the vehicle that frames every story. Besides solving at least one murder in every book, the series carries a long-term arc chronicling the second careers of the four protagonists as well as the romantic lives of two.
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Barbara Barrett started reading mysteries when she was pregnant with her first child to keep her mind off things like her changing body and food cravings. When she’d devoured as many Agatha Christies as she could find, she branched out to English village cozies and Ellery Queen.
Later, to avoid a midlife crisis, she began writing fiction at night when she wasn’t at her day job as a human resources analyst for Iowa State Government. After releasing eleven full-length romance novels and one novella, she returned to the cozy mystery genre, using one of her retirement pastimes, the game of mah jongg, as her inspiration. Not only has it been a great social outlet, it has also helped keep her mind active when not writing.
Bamboozled, the second book in her “Mah Jongg Mystery” series, features four friends who seek the murderer of another mah jongg player’s husband before she is charged. None of the four is based on an actual person. Each is an amalgamation of several mah jongg friends with a lot of Barbara’s imagination thrown in for good measure. The four will continue to appear in future books in the series.
Barbara is married to man she met her senior year of college. They have two grown children and eight grandchildren.
Now retired, she is a resident of Florida, although she spends her summers in Iowa, her home state. She earned her B.A. degree in History from the University of Iowa and her Master’s Degree in History from Drake University.
When not in front of her laptop creating her next story, she plays mah jongg, knits and enjoys lunches with friends.
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