Title: Craks in a Marriage
Author: Barbara Barrett
Genre: Cozy Mystery
Sydney Bonner overhears a fellow mah jongg player arguing on the phone with her husband and realizes the couple’s “perfect marriage” isn’t all it appears to be. When the husband is found dead a few days later, the widow prevails upon Sydney and her three friends—Marianne, Kat and Micki—to find out who really killed him.
Though none of these four take-charge retirees has any training as detectives, the women agree to launch a secret investigation. As they dig under the happy veneer of their community’s social life, they find more than enough suspects, from shady ladies to resentful golf buddies, to keep them looking over their shoulders.
Could the murderer be lurking among the talent in a chaotic production put on by Sydney’s husband, who will do anything to keep busy in retirement? Could the sheriff, who may have more than a professional interest in chanteuse Kat, end up pinning the crime on the women instead? Each discovery during their investigations keeps them running as they close in on the killer—but the killer may also be closing in on them.
Olivia gripped her hands in what looked like a steely prayer. “I didn’t kill him, Sydney. You have to believe me.”
“But things haven’t been what I’d describe as happy between us lately. The sheriff is sure to uncover some of that. If he does, he might stop looking for the real culprit and tie it all on me.”
“But if you’re innocent, how could he make the charges stick?” Sydney blurted out her question, flabbergasted at the woman’s statement.
Olivia glanced away, as if not wanting to face her directly. “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I suspect Paul was being unfaithful. I was about to confront him, as soon as I had more definite proof.”
Sydney opened her mouth and closed it just as fast. What could she say? What was she supposed to say?
“I know. You’re surprised. To our friends and the rest of the community, even to our children, we seemed like the perfect couple. No cares in the world. So supportive of each other.”
Maybe not that perfect, but until recently, Sydney would have agreed with the statement. “I, uh, had no idea.” Okay, sometimes she did stray a tad from the truth. When it would hurt someone else if she was too frank.
“Paul had a straying eye. Probably part of aging. Had to prove to himself he still had the old charm. For all I know, this might not have been the first liaison. He wasn’t as careful hiding things this time. That’s all.”
Sydney’s mind skipped around, trying to connect loose ends in Olivia’s words with other observations of late. Would Olivia kill Paul over an affair? Sydney couldn’t dismiss the possibility, despite Olivia’s claim of innocence. Olivia had admitted she was a proud woman. No doubt about that from her play at mah jongg. Would she stand by and let the man cheat on her? What if he wanted a divorce? Would she allow that to happen? Probably not. But the idea of Olivia bashing him in the head didn’t wash. She might be a woman who took action, but she was precise, methodical. If she decided to off Paul, she would do it in a less sloppy way that wouldn’t lead back to her.
“Did you tell that to the sheriff?
Olivia pressed her lips together. “No. Like I told you, I only suspected Paul of playing around. If he was seeing someone else, let the sheriff discover it on his own.”
Sydney wondered what she’d do if she were in Olivia’s place. Not that Trip would ever cheat. If for no other reason, although there were plenty of others, the man was too busy keeping himself busy in retirement to have time to mess around. “You need to prepare yourself, then. Because Sheriff Rick Formero is no pushover. If there’s something to find out, he will.”
“That’s why I need your help.”
“What? How?” This conversation was getting weirder and weirder.
“I need to spend the next few days with my children getting through the funeral and handling the estate, but I doubt the sheriff will back away from his investigation during that time. I need for you to help me discover who really did kill Paul.”
Had she heard the woman correctly? “I’m not an investigator.”
“That’s just it. No one would suspect you of gathering information for me. But you and those cohorts of yours probably know everything that’s going on in this town. Use that talent to help me clear my name.”
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What makes your featured book a must-read?
If you want a fast, light read that takes you into the everyday lives of several active Florida retirees, this book is for you. Not yet retired and that lifestyle seems far off? Then you’ll enjoy the focus on friendship and community in this book. Since this is a cozy mystery, if you like to figure out whodunnit before it’s revealed by the author, here’s a challenge for you. If you’re one of the growing group of Mah Jongg players in this country and nternational, you’ll relate to the social life that keeps the main characters going; if you don’t know anything about the game, or heaven forbid, you don’t like it, no problem. Mah Jongg serves only as the vehicle through which the four heroines meet and provides the backdrop to their further adventures. Does your special someone sometimes go off the deep end with projects that eventually pull you in to help keep them afloat? Then you’ll relate to the heroine’s dilemma when she has to step up to the plate to help an ailing husband. And if you’re like many cozy mystery aficionados and prefer to begin a series of cozies at the beginning, this is Book 1 in the Mah Jongg Mystery series, which as of August 31 will number nine. Find out how these four senior sleuths initially got pulled into solving murders.
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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.
Craks in a Marriage, the first 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 have appeared in eight subsequent books in the series.
Barbara is a member of Sisters in Crime, Sisters in Crime – Iowa and the Florida STAR Fiction Writers.
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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