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Hidden Gem: the Secret of St. Augustine by @msspencerauthor is a Mystery/Suspense pick #mystery
Hidden Gem: the Secret of St. Augustine
M. S. Spencer
Cozy mystery/Romantic suspense
Barnaby and Philo’s story begins with very bad chili and a dead body.
Barnaby is in St. Augustine, Florida, to teach a college seminar, and plans to use The Secret—a treasure hunt book—as a framework for his class. He enlists Philo Brice, owner of an antique map store, to aid him in seeking clues in the historic sites of the ancient city. Together they face murderers, thieves, thugs, and fanatics, heightening their already strong attraction to each other. Can they solve the puzzle and unearth the treasure before the villains do? Philo and Barnaby pursue several twisting paths and false leads before arriving at a startling conclusion.
Excerpt: The Dead body
He took a lick lap around the top scoop. “My favorite flavor. It’s hard to find nowadays. When I was in college and we had to pull an all-nighter, we’d go to this diner in the suburbs. Their specialty was a butter brickle sundae with hot butterscotch.” He closed his eyes and smacked his lips. “Ah, salad days.”
“Salad days? I thought you said it was ice cream.”
He walked around her, inspecting her head. “Just checking that it’s screwed on. ‘Salad days’ is an expression for the good old days. Halcyon days. Heyday. Days of yore. Get it?”
Philo didn’t bother to reply. Opening her coin purse, she said briskly, “My treat.” They found a bench outside and sat down. “You were going to tell me about your dissertation.”
Short term memory loss? Or a phony? “What school?”
“Princeton. But let’s not talk about that. I want your advice.”
Aha. My new friend has something to hide. “Okay.”
“I’m conducting a four-week seminar on historical methodology for six Flagler students. They’re rising seniors, majoring in one or another of the social sciences. The first day or so I’ll be teaching them about research methods—library, field, experimental. Then I plan to let them apply what they’ve learned. So I thought, why not send them on a treasure hunt?” He looked at her anxiously. “What do you think?”
“You mean, the treasure hunt? Byron Preiss’s Secret? Is that why you were lurking around the book?”
Barnaby nodded vigorously. The ice cream fell out of his cone and landed on his shoe. He regarded it, clearly confounded.
When he showed no sign of recovering, Philo took charge. Handing him her cone to hold—“You eat it, you pay for it”—she went inside, pulled a wad of napkins from the container on the counter, came out, and wiped the mess off his foot. While she worked, his tongue took a surreptitious swipe at her ice cream. “I saw that!” She handed him the dirty napkins and took her cone back.
Once again, he went on as though there had been no interruption. “See, I want them to use the methods we discuss to solve the secret of the stones. The sixth image in the book is almost universally deemed to refer to St. Augustine. My objective is to set them the task of finding the casque using their powers of extrapolation and perscrutation.” He glanced at her dazed face. “If perforce you find yourself without your trusty pocket thesaurus, that means detection.”
“It’s a great idea. I—”
“Good, good. Finished?” He clapped his hands and stood up. “That must be it. I think I’d really better make that phone call now.” He walked briskly away and rounded a corner. A minute later he returned. “Ready?”
Philo decided that it was rather restful not to have to come up with clever dialogue, or even make a decision. “Where to?”
He checked his watch. Philo was amused to observe it was black plastic with a picture of Goofy on it. “I’ll take you home. Early day tomorrow.”
“Oh? What do you have on?” She felt a brief, unaccustomed disappointment. I should be relieved. At least there’s still time for a real supper.
“Not me. Us. I’ve seen St. Augustine from the air and by train. Your shop is closed tomorrow. I propose we take a walking tour of your fair city, starting with the Castillo. I’ll meet you at the Bridge of Lions at eight thirty sharp.” He lifted one foot. “Wear comfortable shoes.”
Well, I’ll be damned. She couldn’t think of anything in response, and they continued down the street to the central plaza.
As they passed under the old wooden archway leading to Aviles Street and her apartment, sirens rent the air. Barnaby pointed down King Street toward Cordova Street. “They’re coming from there. Hurry.” He started to drag her down the sidewalk.
She resisted. “What are you, some kind of ambulance chaser?”
“No, no. What a funny thing to say. No. Don’t you hear them?”
“So…I’m thinking they found the body.”
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What makes your featured book a must-read?
Fun, quirky, based on a real treasure hunt, and chock-full of anecdotes and history of the oldest city in North America (St. Augustine). These quotes from reviews may help: “There are plenty of twists and surprises to keep readers guessing until the very end. (I revised my suspicions several times throughout reading.)” (Meg C.) Or this one: “This book has it all. There’s mystery, intrigue, romance, clues, misdirection and a cast of characters that you’d expect to be peeking over the back fence…” (Mark Love)
Semi-finalist at the 2022 Royal Palm Literary Awards!!!!!
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Librarian, anthropologist, research assistant, Congressional aide, speechwriter, nonprofit director—M. S. Spencer has lived or traveled in five of the seven continents and holds degrees in Anthropology, Middle East Studies, and Library Science. She has published fifteen romantic suspense and mystery novels. She has two children, an exuberant granddaughter, and currently divides her time between the Gulf Coast of Florida and a tiny village in Maine.
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