Title: Death by Drywall
Author: Barbara Barrett
Genre: Cozy Mystery
Renovating a restaurant is hard enough. Renovating it for your boyfriend who thinks his million-dollar smile will make up for his ever-changing whims is even harder. But running the job when a woman is murdered in a house your colleague is renovating? It’s almost more than Rowena Summerfield can handle—especially when she’s once again pulled into her old role of homicide detective to find the killer.
Ro dives in to clear her friend so she can go back to her real job, especially since the rocky renovation threatens to wreck her relationship with charming Chuck. But this mystery is anything but straightforward. The victim wore drywall stilts. Her nearest relatives are either uncooperative or dead. And everybody’s lying to Ro and her old partner, Herc.
With support from her daughter and her finicky cat, Jason, Ro puts her new love and young company on the line to crack the case—even when the only solution seems to be a dangerous plot to entrap the murderer before the devious killer eliminates them.
The next day found Ryder constructing the new entrance to The Sandpiper with me “supervising.” Chuck had wanted to expand the waiting area for the ease of customers, and I thought we’d be better off cutting the size so patrons wouldn’t get the idea they’d have a long wait. Chuck believed we should send the message that the place was so popular we had overflow in the front area. In the end, we compromised with a number in between.
“Good! You’re both here,” said a male voice from the front door. Hercules “Herc” Morgan occupied most of the door opening. Next to him stood the skinnier Aloysius Buford, Al, Herc’s partner in homicide investigation since I’d had to leave the force. As usual, Al was frowning.
“Hi, guys. I’ll make myself scarce since you’re probably here to talk to Ryder about the accident at his other property.”
I was headed toward the interior of the restaurant when I heard my name. “Ro, you need to come back,” Herc called.
Did he need me there for Ryder?
“What’s up?” I asked as I returned to the vestibule, attempting to sound curious but not concerned.
“The tentative medical examiner’s report is in,” Herc began. “Traces of skin were found under the victim’s fingernails, unidentified as of yet. From that, we’ve ascertained she was pushed. We now have a murder case on our hands.”
I looked at Ryder, and he stared back at me, his face a study in stone. It was up to me to get more information. “You’re saying someone else was there at the same time she was?”
“That would appear to be the case,” Herc replied, “although I suppose she could’ve mixed it up with someone before she went there. We haven’t ruled out that possibility yet.”
“Ryder told me she was on stilts. She would’ve been much higher than whoever attacked her,” I said, working through the details as they were coming to me.
“Good point. We suspect she caught her killer’s face or neck,” Herc said. “The sooner we can track down potential suspects, the less time whatever marks she made on the culprit will have to heal.”
“That why you’re here to see me?” Ryder asked, approaching them.
“No. Since you own the property, we thought you’d want to know as soon as possible that the nature of the case has changed.”
“And you might be the best source of information about who might’ve been there at that time,” Al added.
“I already emailed you yesterday’s schedule,” Ryder replied.
“Thanks,” Herc said. “We’ve spoken to everyone on that list except you.”
“Me? I was barely there. Only in the morning to go over the day’s plans with the super. The day before, the electrical sub didn’t have the right parts for the kitchen and had to come back for a couple hours to finish up. That meant my team had to condense their eight hours of work into six in order to be finished in time to start drywall the next day. Drywall which is now on hold until you guys release the murder scene.”
“I had to ask. It’s my job. Nothing personal.”
“Yeah, right,” Ryder replied, his tone none too happy.
I’d wait until after the investigating team left to tell Ryder that Herc was right; he was simply doing his job. For now, though, I needed to stick around and support Ryder. Learning that someone had been killed on his property had to be devastating.
“Thanks for the update, Herc … and Al, but we don’t want to keep you from moving ahead with the investigation.”
Herc bit a lip. Al shuffled one foot. “Actually, we’re here for another reason,” Herc said.
“What’s that?” Ryder asked.
Herc turned his attention to me. “We discovered this afternoon that Al is allergic to sawdust. A large part of our investigation could involve Ryder’s property, possibly other construction sites.”
“I, uh, can’t do the field work on this case,” Al said begrudgingly. “Herc needs a partner.”
No, not again. Surely this wasn’t happening so soon after the last time I was recruited to help Herc investigate a case. I gazed at Herc, who was staring at his feet. Both of us nearly bought it on that one. I’d vowed that my days as a homicide investigation consultant for the Shasta police force had come to an end. At least for some time to come.
“I know your feelings about investigating again, Ro,” Herc told me. “But we really need you. And your construction expertise.”
“Last time that was Val, not me.” Weak rejoinder, but I was punting. It wasn’t just Herc asking me. Now Al, the guy who was not my greatest supporter, had joined in the appeal. “Surely there’s someone else on the force who can assist you, Herc. I’m needed here. We still have a lot of work to complete before this project is finished.”
“That what you think, Ryder?” Herc asked. “You can’t do without Ro long enough to find whoever killed the woman? On your property?”
“The property that will carry the stigma of the murder unless we bring in the killer,” Al said, picking up on Herc’s theme.
Ryder didn’t reply immediately, but his eyes had narrowed and his lips firmed. “Their arguments make sense, Ro,” he said finally. “If you do this, you’ll not only be finding justice for that poor woman, you’ll be helping me keep my reputation intact.”
“I can’t leave you in the lurch with a project again.” Even as I said those words, I knew I was facing an uphill battle.
“I know how you feel about getting back in the saddle, but there are good reasons this time,” Ryder told me.
“There were good reasons before. But good reasons can’t protect me from the wiles of killers.”
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What’s your favorite activity to shake off the winter doldrums?
Move to Florida, read a book at the pool.
That’s my current life. Nothing perks me up more than to be surrounded by green grass and palm trees. But in my former life, when I lived in Iowa during the cold months, I’d shake off the winter doldrums by taking in a movie, preferably a rom-com, on a Saturday afternoon, pigging out on buttered popcorn and chocolate. For a couple hours, I forgot about the snow outside and the icy streets. I usually emerged a couple pounds heavier sometimes with a stomach ache, but for a little while all the humdrum of winter had disappeared.
Why is your featured book a cure for the winter blues?
One of the best ways to forget the winter blues is to take your mind elsewhere. Death by Drywall sends the reader on a former homicide cop’s intriguing journey to discover why the mood of a seemingly ambitious young marketing executive would change overnight, prompting her to break into a home reno project after hours and fall to her death wearing a pair of unfamiliar drywall stilts.
One lucky reader will win a $75 Amazon US or Canada gift card
Open internationally. You must have a valid Amazon US or Amazon CA account to win.
Runs March 1 – 31
Drawing will be held on April 1.
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.
Death by Drywall is the third book in the Nailed It Home Reno Mysteries Series. It features Rowena Summerfield, a retired homicide investigator who teams up with her daughter, Valerie Kowalski, to start their own home renovation business. After struggling to keep afloat the first few years, they are now building a solid reputation. That is, until a stranger is killed in the reno project of their friend, Ryder Tompkins, and he pressures her to work with the police to find the murderer. Their search to learn more about the victim takes them to both the heights of the local business community and the realities and of the prison system.
Though not an interior designer, that occupation has always fascinated Barbara. Her father was a carpenter and her husband has his own woodworking business. Exposure to their work got her interested in watching numerous home improvement shows on HGTV. Ro and Val are an amalgam of several HGTV hosts. She used that combination of personality traits for Ro and turned her into a female sleuth who rehabs older houses.
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, watches TV detective shows and enjoys lunches with friends.
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