Title: Jokers Wild
Author: Barbara Barrett
Genre: Cozy Mystery
Marianne Putnam’s one-act play is about to come to life, if she can put up with the guidance of an egotistical New York director who seems to think his primary job is tormenting the cast and crew at the Serendipity Springs community center. Jason Newhall’s efforts might be working in more ways than one — while the play gets better, everyone hates him more and more, including a trickster playing jokes in the theater.
Just when Marianne’s baby is about to have its moment in the spotlight, the director fails to show up for curtain time. Marianne and his wife rush to his house to find him dead. Though no one really liked him, who hated him enough to kill him? Everyone in the cast and crew is considered a suspect, along with the director’s wife and Marianne.
Sheriff Formero plays a trick of his own when Marianne and her mah jongg friends want to investigate the case—he invites Syd, Micki and Kat to work with him and his deputies to interview a long list of potential suspects, but only under his conditions. But Marianne can’t resist getting involved too. She enlists the hapless husbands of her friends, and they set out to solve the crime on their own ... only to learn the hard way that independence can be dangerous.
Sleep didn’t come easily for Marianne that night. One thought after another kept invading her brain just as she was about to drop off. Would the community theater group do justice to her play? Would it go over well with an audience? Would she be just a one-play wonder, or was this the beginning of a great new career? What should she wear to the performance? Could she lose that ten pounds she’d been fretting about in time?
She didn’t fall asleep until sometime after four. As a result, instead of waking up at seven thirty as usual, she didn’t stir until a little after nine.
“I debated whether to wake you,” Beau said when she wandered into the kitchen seeking coffee. “But you tossed and turned so much, I thought it best to let you get a few more winks.”
“Thanks. The interviews aren’t until this afternoon, so I won’t be late.” Nonetheless, she felt rushed all morning and kept spacing off. Her mind was still elsewhere when she drove into a parking spot in the community center lot. How did she get so close to the car on her right? She didn’t want to block them in.
She backed up to try again but slammed on the brakes immediately when another car came into her rearview mirror, although not soon enough to avoid the other driver laying on the horn. Fortunately, they didn’t collide.
She pulled back into the spot, still off-center, to let the car behind her pass. Once the vehicle was out of the way, she backed up again—much more carefully—and centered her car in the spot.
Great. Just how she wanted to start off the afternoon. Her hands shook. She should have checked behind her before backing out, but did that horn have to blare so loudly? It had completely shattered what little focus she’d been able to pull together after the night she’d had.
Get a grip, Marianne.
She grabbed her purse and headed for the door of the center. Just as she was about to enter the building, another hand reached for the door ahead of her. “It wasn’t enough to nearly run into my car, now you want to knock me over as well?” asked a man about five feet eight with graying brown hair, a nasty scowl on his face.
She didn’t recognize him. “Sorry about that. Glad no harm was done.”
“No harm? You can’t just dismiss your reckless driving with a ‘sorry.’”
Was this delayed road rage? At least he hadn’t immediately sprung from his car to attack her. “I don’t know what more I can do to rectify this. Like I said, no harm was done.”
“How do you know? Maybe not to either vehicle, but the shock of what could’ve been disastrous will stick with me.” With that, he stomped in before her and let her catch the door.
What a prick. Not a term she typically used, even in her head, but in this case, it suited.
She took a few minutes to compose herself before heading to the conference room where the first production meeting was to take place. In the women’s restroom, she fluffed up her short, graying red curls, reapplied her lipstick and stared at herself in the mirror a full minute. Breathing better? A little. But she didn’t want to be late. Couldn’t linger any longer. She straightened herself to her full five feet one inch and sought the door.
She arrived at the same time as two others. She guessed they were members of the guild board, though she didn’t know them. She did know the slim redhead who rose to greet her. “Marianne, glad you could join us,” said Claire Yardley, the theater guild board chair. “Please, have a seat.” She introduced Marianne to the two women she’d walked in with and one of the two men in the room. All board members. Then she turned her attention to the other man in the room. “This is our new director, Jason Newhall.”
Marianne swiveled to meet the man and nearly bit her tongue in her attempt to keep her jaw from dropping. Jason Newhall was the jerk from the parking lot.
What’s the first binge-worthy book you read and why was it a must-read?
Most recently, I read Mr. Churchill’s Secretary: A Maggie Hope Mystery by Susan Elia MacNeal. Typically, I prefer to read contemporary cozy mysteries; this is a historical mystery set at the beginning of World War II in England. The heroine, Maggie Hope is a math nerd from the U.S. who inherits a big house in London from her late grandmother and goes there to settle the estate despite the fact there’s a war on. Though she’d much rather work an analyst for the war effort, women weren’t supposed to do that kind of work at the point in history, so she settles for a series of clerical positions that eventually lead her to serving as Prime Minister Churchill secretary for a period, during which time she becomes friends with a few of the men in the inner circle of his staff. Her stock goes up when her coding knowledge leads them to German spies working out of England. So far, there are nine books in this series. I’ve read them all. It’s a fascinating period to read about when it comes to the role of women in society at that time, particularly as war raged. Maggie goes on to become a spy behind the lines in both Germany and France in later books, experiencing a few love affairs along the way. I love the part about friendships and love as well as the unexpected twists in the mystery in every book.
What makes your featured book a binge-worthy read?
This book is binge-worthy because it reads fast and it presents an intriguing plot, likeable characters and a resolution that keeps you guessing until the end. It takes place in a small town in central Florida and focuses on friendships and community. This is the sixth book in the series but can be read as both a stand-alone mystery as well as entice the reader to go back and start from the beginning, Craks in a Marriage, to discover how the four plucky heroines came to investigate murders in their otherwise copacetic community. The reader doesn’t need to know how to play mah jongg or even like the game to appreciate this series; mah jongg is the vehicle that frames every story. Besides solving at least one murder in every book, the series carries a long-term arc chronicling the second careers of the four protagonists as well as the romantic lives of two.
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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.
Jokers Wild, the sixth 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 will continue to appear in future books in the series.
Barbara is a member of Sisters in Crime, Sinc-Iowa, Romance Writers of America and the SpacecoasT chapter of Romance Writers of America.
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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