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Hidden Gem: the Secret of St. Augustine by M.S. Spencer is a Spring Break Bookapalooza pick #cozymystery #romanticsupsense #mustread #giveaway


Hidden Gem: the Secret of St. Augustine



M. S. Spencer



Cozy mystery/Romantic suspense


Book Blurb:


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.”


“I was?”


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?”


“The sirens?”






“So…I’m thinking they found the body.”


Buy Links (including Goodreads and BookBub):













If money were no object, where would you go for a Spring Break vacation and why?


African safari. I’d love to see all those huge animals in their natural habitat. And the savannah is so dramatic. I’d love the see the Africa of Elspeth Huxley’s The Flame Trees of Thika, of Isak Dinesen’s Out of Africa, of Beryl Markham’s West with the Night, and of Hatari.


Why is your featured book a must-read this spring?


Spring is a great time to visit Florida places—not yet hot and sticky—and St. Augustine is one of the most historic cities in North America. Take Hidden Gem along with you and read about the city as you ride the trolley. Imagine Barnaby and Philo sitting beside you whispering about the Secret and the murders. Eavesdrop. Or add your two cents.


Giveaway –


One lucky reader will win a $25 Amazon gift card



Open internationally.


Runs April 1 – 30, 2024


Drawing will be held on May 1, 2024. 


Author Biography:


Librarian, anthropologist, research assistant, Congressional aide, speechwriter, nonprofit director—award-winning, multi-published author 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 sixteen 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.


Social Media Links:


Amazon Author Page:


Apr 05

I’d love to take my family to Greece or Italy.


M. S. Spencer
Apr 03

Thanks so much for letting me showcase Hidden Gem--which may soon be made into film!


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Apr 03

Thank you, M.S., for sharing your book in our Spring Break Bookapalooza!

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