Title: Shortbread and Dead
Author: Jo A. Hiestand
Genre: Cozy Mystery
It’s two weeks before Christmas. In the small Missouri town of Beaudin Trace, the holiday spirit is revving up: shops are adorned in seasonal decorations and the annual Winter Scavenger Hunt is in full swing. This year, the grand prize for the hunt winner is provided by The Cookie Cutter, a bakery owned by 40-year-old widow Kate Dunbar. It’s her first time to supply the prize since moving to the town several years ago. And she’s thrilled to give Pam, the winner, something Pam loves: a huge basket filled with muffins, scones, jams and hot chocolate mix…and shortbread.
But the thrill doesn’t last long, for an hour later Pam’s found dead outside the bakery—conveniently close to Kate and her employees.
Despite pleas and stern warnings from her friend, Deputy Sheriff Josh Cline, Kate decides to investigate, needing to discover who murdered such a beloved resident, and taking the heat off her and her staff before her business crumbles.
Complicating her inquiry is the string of cookie cutter-style art gallery burglaries in surrounding towns. Are they linked to Pam’s murder? Perhaps Harold—the affable retiree who writes outlandish songs such as “Penguins, Arise!”—has something to do with both incidents: it wouldn’t be the first time beautiful icing has disguised a burnt cookie.
As Kate hunts for the killer, she uncovers secrets that reveal the killer’s identity. The trouble is, that revelation may turn her into victim #2.
The last customer in the current crowd had just left when the door opened to admit an elderly man. Kate looked up from replenishing the cinnamon buns in the display case and smiled at the newcomer. “Harold. Good morning. One of us has a calendar that must be broken. I certainly thought this is Sunday.”
Harold Gibler stopped in front of the case, rubbing his chin. He was tall and skinny, and his crop of thick salt-and-pepper hair was precisely combed back from his face. The hair style was in keeping with his entire being, for his clothes, although casual, were neat and of a high-end label. At Kate’s remark, he consulted his watch, frowning. “No. It’s Sunday. I’ve not mistaken the date, although I do concede this is not my regular day to partake of your masterpieces. No. I was in the mood for a muffin and thought I’d trot over.”
“I’m glad you did. You always brighten my day when I can chat with you.”
“I too, though in the reverse, of course. Your cheery countenance and intelligent conversation are a tonic to me. As are your delicacies. Now…” He peered at the various flavors of muffins, seeming to waffle between the apple pecan and the lemon. “My, after coming here so often, I shouldn’t be so indecisive, but both the apple and lemon call to me this morning, as it were.”
“If you buy both, there’s no decision to make. Eat one now and eat the other later.” Kate grabbed the serving tongs and waited with her hand on the counter edge.
“That is a most intelligent solution to my dilemma. Thank you, Kate. I would like the lemon and a cup of tea to consume here, and the apple pecan in a bag for later. Oh, and please add two slices of gooey butter coffeecake to the bag. They’ll be my dessert tonight and tomorrow.”
“I think there’s a coffeecake cooling now in the kitchen. Lynsey, would you see if it’s ready?”
Lynsey disappeared into the kitchen.
“Thank you, Lynsey.” He called after her before paying for the items and accepting the plate with the muffin. “Thank you. This is just what I need for a pick-me-up.” He wandered over to a table near the window—‘his’ table, as it had become known from his daily patronage. He placed his plate down, seated himself so the sunlight fell onto his back, and took a sheet of paper and a pencil from his jacket pocket. He had been concentrating on it for a minute when Kate came to his table and set down his cup of tea and a small pitcher of milk. Harold abandoned his attention to the paper and looked up, smiling, his blue eyes mirroring his appreciation. “Ah, thank you. Just what I need. I admit I usually visit weekday mornings, but is it normally this quiet on Sunday afternoons? Or has last evening’s event chased away the good folk of Beaudin Trace?”
Kate crossed her arms over her chest and leaned against the vacant chair. “It’s been a usual day, though somewhat busier. You chose a quiet time to come.”
“I’m glad your business hasn’t suffered. I would have come this morning but I wasn’t certain if the bakery would be closed due to the police investigation. I assume it is still ongoing. One doesn’t usually solve a crime so quickly. Not even the officers of our esteemed force would manage that, I shouldn’t think.”
“No, the investigation hasn’t impacted us. The crime scene, such as it is, is outside.” She paused as he added a dash of milk and two cubes of sugar to his tea and stirred it. The sound of metal clanking against china lent a calming familiarity to the uncomfortable topic. She cleared her throat, forcing her mental picture of the crime scene from her mind. “Are you, uh, making any of your artwork pieces? I wonder, because the community festivals start in a few months and carry through the fall.”
Harold took a sip of tea and eased the cup onto the saucer. The sunlight backlit his hair, giving the gray strands a halo effect. “I’ve made some sculptures, yes. Several on the same themes. Musicians and hikers. I think they turned out quite nice.”
“I’m sure they did. Your work is always…unique.” It was a good word choice, she thought, describing the conglomeration of wood, wire and nails making up his freeform shapes.
Lynsey reentered the room and came up to Harold’s table. She set the bag down. “Two slices o’ fresh-from-the-oven gooey butter.”
“Thank you. Such service!” Harold peeked into the bag and smiled.
Kate nodded to the sheet of paper beside his plate, wanting to get him off the subject of the murder. “Are you writing another song?”
Lynsey craned her neck to see the writing on the paper. “You’re a professional songwriter, are you, Mr. Harold? Will I hae heard any o’ your songs?”
Harold laid down his pencil and leaned against the chair back. It creaked slightly but held firm. “Kind of you to inquire, but I doubt that you have. I write them for a creative outlet and sing them for friends, for the most part.”
“Although,” Kate added, “Harold does sing them at our town festivals. You’ll probably hear some this summer. He has a fifteen-minute slot in the entertainment tent, and the songs are very well received.”
“It’s kind of you to say so, Kate. I do put a lot of energy and time into my creations, so it’s rewarding many people find them worth their time to listen.”
Lynsey picked up Harold’s empty plate. “I’ll be sure tae wander over tae the tent when it’s yer time. Summer cannae get here soon enough fur me.”
He thanked her and consulted his paper as Kate brushed a wrinkle from the tablecloth. “Now, what in the world rhymes with kumquat?”
Trade Paper – https://amzn.to/3hEepkk
What’s the first binge-worthy book you read and why was it a must-read?
I can’t remember which one, but it was one of the P.G. Wodehouse novels featuring Bertie Wooster and Jeeves. Wodehouse’s verbs are hysterical, and of course the problems that Bertie gets into are mind boggling. I couldn’t get enough of Wodehouse, so I bought a huge omnibus of a dozen novels and read through them in about a week. They still are one of my favorites.
What makes your featured book a binge-worthy read?
“Shortbread and Dead” combines several elements that many cozy readers love: the Christmas season, a bakery, an independent heroine, and a zany character in the form of a retired gentleman who creatures sculptures out of old wood and tin cans and other tossed items. Plus, he’s an amateur songwriter. He takes himself very seriously although his songs border on hysterical. People laugh at his songs but not at him. The story takes place in a small Missouri town, Beaudin Trace, which also adds to the cozy feel. I think if you read this, you might like to read books in my Linn House mystery series – another small Missouri town. You might get our fill of Midwestern small towns and mysteries with all these!
One lucky reader will win a $75 Amazon (US) gift card.
Open internationally. You must have a valid Amazon US account to win.
Runs August 1 – 31
Drawing will be held on September 1.
Jo A. Hiestand grew up on regular doses of music, books, and Girl Scout camping. She gravitated toward writing in her post-high school years and finally did something sensible about it, graduating from Webster University with a BA degree in English and departmental honors. She writes a British mystery series—of which two books have garnered the prestigious N.N. Light’s Book Heaven ‘Best Mystery Novel’ two years straight. She also writes two Missouri-based mystery series that are grounded in places associated with her camping haunts. The camping is a thing of the past, for the most part, but the music stayed with her in the form of playing guitar and harpsichord and singing in a folk group. Jo carves jack o’ lanterns badly; sings loudly; and loves barbecue sauce and ice cream (separately, not together), kilts (especially if men wear them), clouds and stormy skies, and G.F. Handel. You can usually find her pulling mystery plots out of scenery—whether photographs or the real thing.
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