Title: Murder with Strings Attached
Author: Mark Reutlinger
Genre: Caper Mystery
Sometimes even the most carefully conceived burglary can take an unexpected turn. Florence Palmer has her eye on concert violinist Aaron Levy's priceless violin. Unfortunately, she finds it's already been stolen. Her surprise increases when the virtuoso she'd planned to burgle offers to hire her to help him steal it back. But they're not the only ones looking for the missing violin. When Flo inadvertently becomes the prime suspect in a case of murder, she and Aaron need to clear her name. Will they find the real killer and get the violin back to its rightful owner without anyone else, especially themselves, being killed?
Did you ever try to hang around a place where no one is supposed to be hanging around at all, looking innocent and inconspicuous, when you pretty clearly were neither? I adjusted my uniform, pretended to look for something I dropped on the carpet, and generally tried to be invisible. It wasn’t easy.
During the ten minutes or so it took the maid to finish cleaning the living room of the Royal Suite, the only dangerous person I encountered was one of the guests, a young, elegantly-dressed blonde woman, who came out of a room down the hall and walked past me to the elevator. After pressing the “down” button, she turned toward me. I was still on my hands and knees pretending to look for the nonexistent bauble I dropped, deliberately facing away from the intruder, trying to ignore her. Just as the elevator was arriving, the woman said, “You, down there!” I looked up. “When you clean Room 914, make sure you empty all the wastebaskets this time. I don’t want to find one of them still full, like yesterday. Understand?”
My mouth dropped open. I was speechless, both because I had nothing useful (or civil) to say, and because before I could think of an appropriately cutting response, the elevator door was already closing behind the silly bitch. Just as well.
Returning my attention to the Royal Suite, I peeked in the door and saw that the maid had picked up her portable carrier containing cleaning supplies and was heading into the bathroom. I got hurriedly to my feet. As soon as I heard the bathroom water running, after checking to see there was no one else in the hallway at that moment, I darted into the suite, glanced around, spotted a closet, and as quietly as possible opened the door, entered, and closed the door behind me.
And there, as the maid dutifully sanitized the bathroom and then tidied up the separate bedroom, I sat, and sat, for almost an hour. Or rather squatted some, sat on the floor some, stood some. Despite the relative luxury of the suite’s appointments, the management had neglected to provide its guests with a chair or other suitable place to sit in their closet.
Finally the maid left the suite, taking her cleaning supplies and her sweet time, closing the door behind her, and I was finally alone.
I silently exhaled and opened the door of the closet a bit. I peeked out, and finding the coast indeed to be clear, stepped out.
The hunt was on.
From Janice’s description, the violin should have been in the closet, but I had been in the closet for quite a while, and so far as I could tell, I had not been accompanied in there by a violin. But it had been hard to search carefully without light and the risk of making noise, so now I opened the closet door again and checked more carefully, using my flashlight.
I looked around the room, which was almost as dark as the closet. Although it was a bright day, the real maid had closed the heavy red-and-gold tapestry drapes that were covering the full-wall windows, letting in almost no light. I didn’t want to risk turning on the lamps or the chandelier, casting light that might be noticed under the door from the hallway, so I still had to rely on my small flashlight to make my inspection of the premises. Waving it around to get my bearings, I could see that the fancy chandelier that hung from the ceiling was comparable in elegance to those hanging in the lobby, but on a smaller scale. Even in the limited light, its crystal bangles twinkled and sparkled expensively. Unfortunately, it was too big to take away with me.
The rest of the room’s décor was similarly opulent. The coffee table, either antique French provincial or a good imitation thereof, was painted in a light cream color, as was the large credenza against the far wall, probably filled with complimentary drinks and snacks. Two overstuffed chairs were upholstered in the same pattern as the drapes. The walls were covered in an old-fashioned floral-patterned wallpaper, with the carved-wood moldings painted to match the furnishings. I aimed my flashlight on all the room’s surfaces, looking for my prize.
Alas, no violin.
I tried the doors on the far wall. The bathroom provided no place for a violin to hide. Behind another door was a bedroom, in which a four-poster bed resided. It was covered by an elegant canopy of red and gold tapestry that matched the drapes and chairs. A highboy and a vanity table completed the bedroom furnishings. I saw nothing interesting in plain sight, so I checked the bedroom closet and then lay flat on the carpet and peeked under the bed.
Still no violin.
I was beginning to think that Aaron Levy had deliberately thwarted me by taking his violin with him or putting it in the safe—an ungentlemanly thing for him to do, given all the time and effort I was putting into finding it. I returned to the front room and was about to check the last remaining door—probably a connection to the neighboring suite—when I almost tripped over something sticking out from under the sofa. I reached down to shove it back out of the way.
How could someone treat an instrument so valuable in such a cavalier manner, I wondered. More and more it seemed as if Mr. Aaron Levy was entirely too careless and had to be relieved of this heavy responsibility before someone…well…stole the damn thing!
And I was just the woman to do it. I opened the case and lifted up my trophy, held my flashlight close to it, and with great satisfaction, began to examine it lovingly.
And that’s when the lights came on.
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Murder with Strings Attached is a light, fast read, perfect for the beach or the back porch. It combines mystery, humor, and engaging characters, including Flo, a lady burglar (who narrates the story) and Aaron, a concert violinist who, in attempting to help Flo steal back his stolen violin, finds that as a burglar he’s no better than Flo would be as a violin virtuoso.
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MARK REUTLINGER, Professor of Law Emeritus at Seattle University, is the author of the “Mrs. Kaplan” cozy mystery series (Mrs. Kaplan and the Matzoh Ball of Death and the soon-to-be-released A Pain in the Tuchis and Oy Vey, Maria!) as well as the political thrillers Made in China and Sister-in-Law: Violation, Seduction, and the President of the United States (the latter under the pseudonym M. R. Morgan). He and his wife, Analee, live in University Place, Washington.
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