Title: Courtesy Call
Author: Barbara Barrett
Genre: Cozy Mystery
Katrina Faulkner hurts almost as much as the man in her life when he loses his bid to be reelected sheriff. But for the first time since she met Rick Formero, she’s not worried about him being in peril—until he’s drafted to help solve the fiery murder of the man who beat him at the polls.
While the Serendipity Springs police department is in chaos, it’s up to Kat and her mah jongg pals to step in as Rick’s unofficial staff to unravel the crime. As the tips roll in and suspects multiply, it appears the late sheriff led a complicated life, with ties to the same sketchy gambling toughs he was supposed to be arresting. But no one’s taking bets on who’s to blame for his death.
Syd is planning a mah jongg tournament, Marianne is writing a play and journalist Micki can’t wait to get her hands on the juicy story. But when the chips are down, they and the men in their lives are up to the task of helping Kat and Rick delve into the world of high-stakes gambling in pursuit of an elusive killer—even if they’re rolling the dice on danger.
“…where will you set up your workshop?”
He opened his mouth as if to reply, then closed it. “Uh, I thought I could use the garage.”
Now she was the one unable to answer. Was he serious? He must be, or he wouldn’t have had everything delivered here. As the realization sank in, her heart beat faster and her stomach began to roil. Anger swept through her so fast, she couldn’t speak. She didn’t recall ever having been so upset by this man before. Even those times he told her and her friends to stop their investigations.
If he picked up on her mood, he played dumb. “That’ll work, won’t it? I’m pretty sure I can keep everything on one side of the garage so you can continue to park your car there.” He gazed at her like a child trying to please his mother with his latest grades. After a few beats, he noticed she wasn’t smiling or agreeing. “Will that be a problem?”
Rather than tell him how inconsiderate she found his solution, one of her own occurred to her. “How about you do your building in your own garage?”
“In my garage?” he said, surprised.
“There’s nothing in there now that you’re only housing your pickup and not the sheriff’s car.” She hated to remind him about the election, but this one time, it was important he face the reality of the situation.
His expression folded inside itself, like she’d slapped him. But to his credit, he didn’t react immediately. Instead, he appeared to think through what she’d suggested. “Do you want me to move out?”
“No, no, of course not! But think about it. You’d have more room there. That’s an important consideration, because right now you have no idea how much space this new venture will need. How many holders would you stockpile at a time? You don’t know yet the rate at which you’ll be able to produce them or how fast you’ll be able to sell those you produce.”
“We put the decision about where we live on hold while I ran for reelection. Is this your way of moving us toward a de facto resolution?”
His question was like a gut punch. “No, but your decision to pursue this business venture has put a new face on it.”
He rubbed his jaw. “It’s not a bad suggestion, Katrina, but I’d like to think about it a bit. Can you stand to keep this collection here on the front porch a bit longer? I don’t want to move it until I have a more permanent place for it.”
“As long as you don’t mind exposing them to the weather,” she replied. “It’s not supposed to rain the next few days, but the sun and humidity could be a problem.”
“The stuff here will survive. Thanks for understanding.”
They walked back into the house hand in hand, Kat relieved to have hopefully found a tentative solution and Rick unusually quiet.
His changed mood did not go unnoticed, especially since he’d referred to something being on his mind when he first returned home. She took a deep breath. “What was on your mind when you first got here that sent you to the computer?”
He chewed a lip. “Let’s go in the study.”
Once there, he shut the door. “Not that I suspect Greta of anything, but I want to keep this just between the two of us.”
“This isn’t to be shared with your three friends. Do you understand?”
“Yes, but you’re scaring me, Rick. What’s going on?”
“That’s part of the problem. I don’t know what’s going on. I’m talking about the sheriff’s department.”
“We both know Carmody is trouble, but has something more happened to reinforce that view?”
“First off, as I was checking out at the lumberyard, who should show up other than Jett Carmody, purportedly there to check out disappearing inventory, although he mainly busied himself examining some of the remaining inventory.”
“You didn’t have a run-in with him?” she asked too fast.
“He couldn’t resist commenting on my changed state of affairs. But don’t worry. It wasn’t worth tangling with him.”
“Probably a good response.”
“Anyway, after I finished at the second lumberyard, I met Quinn at his request. He’s concerned about some things going on in the department since I left, but he doesn’t have solid proof yet, and he doesn’t know who he can trust to talk to about it.”
Even though she’d hurt along with Rick after the election results, she’d also been relieved he was no longer part of the toxic environment the sheriff’s department had devolved into. This new information made her stomach wrench. But Rick needed her to be strong for him. “I’m sorry to hear this, but what can you do? You’re no longer part of the department.”
“That’s what I had to tell Quinn, as hard as it was.”
“You’re still involved though, aren’t you?” She hated putting it into words, but it needed to be said.
He didn’t reply at once. “Yes.” His voice had grown quiet. “I told you this much so you wouldn’t think there was a problem between the two of us. But I can’t go into more. I don’t want to put you in danger.”
Someone’s hands were shaking. Hers, she discovered to her surprise. Good thing he hadn’t said he didn’t want her to be scared, because they were past that point already.
The next morning, Rick was eating his breakfast when the burner phone in his pants pocket buzzed. He excused himself and shut himself in the study before removing the phone from his pants. He’d received a one-word text. “Sunnyside,” Quinn’s code word for emergency.
Several minutes later, Kat received a text from Micki:
Per my media contacts, a burned-out sheriff’s car was discovered in a farmer’s field this morning. The dead body found inside has been identified as one Sheriff Jett Carmody.
What makes your featured book a must-read?
Courtesy Call revolves around a huge irony: the former sheriff winds up investigating the murder of the man who beat him at the polls. Just when Katrina Faulkner and her guy, Rick Formero, are starting to get their lives back on track after the devastating defeat. Now they must put following that new path on hold long enough to discover who torched Sheriff Jett Carmody’s car. Once again, all their friends lend their particular talents to the investigation. This is a must-read not only because it’s a tour de force of the Mah Jongg Mystery series regulars, but it also explores how to survive a major life disappointment. It’s also a fast read.
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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 in human resources for Iowa State Government. After releasing eleven full-length romance novels and two novellas, 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.
Courtesy Call, the ninth book in her “Mah Jongg Mystery” series, features four friends who play mah jongg together and share otherwise in each other’s lives. 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 appear in all nine books in the series.
Barbara is a member of Sisters in Crime, Sinc-Iowa and Florida STAR Fiction Writers.
She is married to the 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, travels and enjoys lunches with friends.
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