Title: Measure Twice, Murder Once
Author: Barbara Barrett
Genre: Cozy mystery
It’s bad enough when your business partner buys a property without consulting you, but when she accidentally acquires a brothel, it’s enough to make Rowena Summerfield want to throw away her hammer. Still, the house is a bargain, and maybe it’s just what Ro and her daughter need to turn around their home renovation business.
As Ro, a former homicide detective, comes to terms with the deal, she gets a shock when the former owner—and madam—turns up dead. Soon someone from Ro’s past shows up at the work site: her ex-partner, who needs a temporary sidekick to help him solve the case. Reviving their investigative team isn’t easy, especially when Herc gets jealous of the hunky deli owner who takes an interest in widow Rowena. Until now, she was fine with one man in her life—her cuddly cat, Jason.
Ro and Herc discover the previous residents of the house, including the victim’s daughter, have less than fond memories of their former boss. The bordello’s old customers have a lot to lose if their secrets surface, and the unhappy neighbors still bear a grudge. As the sleuths dig deeper, they unearth a flimsy foundation of anger, greed and fear framing the walls the suspects have built around themselves. Can Ro and Herc find the culprit before someone plays another deadly trick?
“What do you make of all these bathrooms?” I asked Val. “Did the agent have any explanation?”
“They’re not even powder rooms for guests but essentially en suites for each bedroom.”
“You’ve got your work cut out for you redesigning the layout. That should be fun.”
“Maybe. If our budget can withstand major structural changes.”
“Perhaps there’ll be less to change upstairs,” she responded.
That was our cue to mount the stairs and see if she was correct. The second floor wasn’t exactly a disappointment. In fact, it was exactly what a second floor in an older house like this should be, although there were more rooms than I expected, five plus one bathroom rather than three plus a bath.
I took the lead exploring each, popping in one after the other. Val tried to follow in my wake, but after the first three, she appeared to lose interest, since they were all the same. She waited in the hall for me.
“Except for that sickeningly sweet smell, if Ernie agrees with my first-blush take on this place, you’ve done well, Valerie Kowalski.”
She perked up with that. “Yeah? What about this multitude of rooms?”
“There is that. Obviously, we’ll have to come up with a plan for knocking down some walls to create larger rooms, but I’d rather face a situation like this than a lack of space any day.”
“I had no idea we’d discover this layout.”
What? That was news. “You said you did a walk-through before signing on the dotted line.”
She made a face. “Just the first floor. There wasn’t time to be more thorough. One of my old contacts from the bank put me onto it. By the time I caught up with the owner’s agent, he was already planning to put it on the market later in the day. I was lucky to convince him to let me have five minutes in the place. The price was too much to resist, so I snapped it up before anyone else learned about it.”
“Meaning you didn’t stop long enough to examine the details,” I said. I didn’t mean to criticize. Just putting the situation into perspective. I probably would’ve done the same if faced with the same circumstances. Plus, her fast response suggested her risk-taking tendencies had returned, if only for this one decision. “You did obtain the original blueprints, I hope?”
She nodded. “Haven’t had a chance to check them yet, but yes. Along with the abstract.”
“How about the backyard?” I asked. “Did you have time to glance at it?”
“No. Let’s find out now.”
The backyard was cloistered by numerous trees and high wooden fences on both sides with a large garage along the alley. Outside the door, we found a concrete pad about ten feet by ten feet and beyond that, a gate. I didn’t wait for Val to proceed but opened it myself. I’d seen my share of older houses in Shasta, but I wasn’t prepared for what I found here. “Val? You’ve got to see this.”
The area was enclosed on three sides by a high wall, the house serving as a wall on the fourth side. The same concrete slab as outside provided the flooring. The most incredible feature was a dilapidated awning that still hung for dear life from the side of the house.
“This is strange,” I said. “With walls all around it, why the awning? If someone wanted to sunbathe in the nude out here, these walls would provide enough privacy. Plus, if that was the purpose of the enclosure, you couldn’t get much sun with that awning overhead.”
Even though the awning hung at a precarious angle, I could still envision how this place must have looked at one time. Then it hit me. “The only reason for that metal canopy is to block anyone in the rooms up on the second floor from gazing down here.”
Val studied the structure a bit longer. “That theory makes sense. But why?”
“Something was obviously happening in here that whoever occupied the above rooms wasn’t supposed to see.”
“Like what?” she asked. “Drug deals? Meetings with crooks?”
My imagination had been piqued. The old detective mentality emerged. Those two scenarios were possible, but why here? With so many rooms in the house, why not somewhere inside? Unless someone wanted to be outside but unseen? The naked sunbathing theory came close to answering the question, except for the awning. But the idea of nudity hung in my mind.
Then it hit me. Good grief, it couldn’t be. If I was right, no wonder the place had been such a bargain. How would Val’s reemerging hold up when I shared my suspicion?
Val noticed. “Mom? What are you thinking?”
I tried to dismiss her. I didn’t want her self-confidence to backtrack. “Never mind. It was a crazy thought.”
But Val wasn’t one to give up easily. “Try me. How crazy?”
I knew I couldn’t hold out on her. It would be easier to share what I suspected and for her to laugh it off than have her keep bugging me. “I need to read that abstract to confirm my theory, but all those tiny rooms throughout the house, the sickening smell, that disgusting wallpaper and now this private area—I think this place may not have been a family home at all. I think it served another purpose.”
“What?” By now she was almost screaming with curiosity.
“I, uh, think we’ve bought ourselves a brothel.”
What’s your favorite way to combat stress?
The first thing I do to combat stress is to recognize it for what it is, that the negative feelings I’m experiencing are stress and then identify why that is the case. Then I plan how to deal with it. Sometimes it’s necessary to accept the fact there’s little I can do about it other than get myself through it. During those times, I do some or all of the following: pray, sleep, call a friend or share my feelings with a loved one, plan what I’ll do once this passes, watch a lighthearted movie, and if all that fails, drink a Diet Coke, eat chocolate or pizza.
Why is your featured book a stress busting read?
The Nailed It Home Reno Mysteries series features two women, a mother and a daughter, who have chosen to work together in their own home reno business, second careers for both. It is a stress-busting read because the story will capture the reader’s attention and momentarily pull them away from whatever is stressing them. Rowena Summerfield, the mother, is called upon to put her home renovation career on hold and temporarily come back from retirement as a homicide detective to help solve murder cases her former partner is investigating. Her cases are filled with the ongoing relationship with her daughter, both the highs and lows, her friendship with her old partner, who keeps turning to her for help, and her growing romance with a charming and handsome deli owner. It will challenge the mystery reader who likes to solve the case before the killer is revealed as well as the reader who likes her mysteries chock-full of human relations situations. And if the reader is into the home renovation shows on TV, particularly HGTV, there’s a unique and challenging reno project in each book.
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 May 1 – May 31
Drawing will be held on June 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.
Measure Twice, Murder Once is the first book in the Nailed It Home Reno Mysteries Series. [Three have now been published.] 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 Ro’s former partner, Herc Morgan, comes calling and begging her to help him solve his latest murder case, that of the woman who sold them their current project.
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 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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