Title: The Charleston Challenge
Author: Barbara Barrett
Genre: Cozy Mystery
Oh, her aching feet! Micki Demetrius questions her sanity for agreeing to compete in Serendipity Springs’ Annual Charleston Challenge when clearly she and her partner, Guy Whitney, have no chance of winning or even placing. Just ask the reigning champion, who points out their low odds of taking home the trophy every chance she gets.
But then, Micki’s only dancing in this contest because Guy wouldn’t enter without her, and the poor man needs something to occupy his days. Retirement hasn’t come easy for him. Not that there’s anything special going on between them, as much as Guy would like or his daughter suspects. There isn’t, is there?
Micki can’t wait to put their performance behind them—until one of the top competitors is found dead on the ballroom floor. The sheriff warns Micki and her three mah jongg pals not to play amateur sleuth again, but he can’t stop this persistent freelance journalist from pursuing her inside scoop, with a little help from her friends. The trouble with being on the inside, though, is that being so close to her sketchy subjects might just let the killer get dangerously close to her.
Guy managed to change and shower before Micki and met her at the door to his two-story Tudor when she arrived. He blocked the way and leaned toward her. “Luann went a little overboard with the party. Just so you know, it wasn’t my idea, but she’s so pleased with herself, don’t let it get to you.” He kept his voice low so no one else would hear him.
“Gotcha,” she said, planting her best guest-of-honor smile on her face and pushing past him.
She’d barely gone a few feet when Luann handed her a flute of champagne. “Congratulations, you two. You may not have brought home the trophy, but you’re champions as far as we’re all concerned.”
“Hear, hear,” Trip said, holding his glass in the air.
Kat shouldered her way past Luann to hug Micki. “We are so proud of you.”
Syd and Marianne joined her. “You hung in there through all these weeks of practice and performed brilliantly,” Syd told her.
“And that costume,” Marianne added. “You looked beautiful.”
“Thanks, guys.” She pulled out of their embrace and addressed Luann. “We haven’t met yet, but the house looks great. I’m Micki, although I’m sure you know that.”
Luann stuck out her hand. “Oh, I know that quite well. It’s so good to meet you finally.”
Finally? How long had Guy been talking about her?
“I second what Micki said,” Guy told his daughter, hugging her. “You didn’t need to go all out like this, but we appreciate it.”
“It was the least I could do, Dad. Besides the dance contest, we have a lot to celebrate tonight.”
Though Micki heard Luann’s words, they didn’t have a chance to resonate because Trip and Beau approached her with their own bear hugs.
“You slipped in without my hearing you,” Portia Whitney said, emerging from the kitchen. “Trust the oven timer to go off at the wrong moment. The food is almost ready. I’m glad Luann handled the champagne.”
“Those aromas coming from the dining room smell fantastic,” Guy said.
“Then let’s party,” Luann replied as she herded the group from the front door to the dining room.
Something wasn’t washing as far as the way Guy’s daughter was acting, but she had no idea what. Maybe she herself was just coming down from the last several weeks of torture. Despite her fatigue, Micki enjoyed being the center of attention. For the first time in weeks, she allowed herself to graze on the delicious food and chatted with her friends. Maybe this party hadn’t been such a bad idea after all. The next hour flew by.
Luann approached her again. “I’m sorry we haven’t met before now. I’ve been buried in work at my job in Nashville until recently. Although Dad’s been widowed for several years, you’re the first woman he’s shown more than a passing interest in.”
That was news. Well-off financially with his graying dark hair, almost-six-foot height and previous legal career, Guy would be considered a “catch” by some, though not necessarily her. “Your dad is a good man. I never would’ve competed tonight if he hadn’t been so intent on being in it.”
“But you’re more than dance partners, right?” Wink, wink.
What was she getting at? “He escorted me to a few events.”
“He’s clearly indebted to you and your friends for clearing Aunt Portia’s name when her partner was killed.”
“I didn’t know he’d shared that with you.”
“Oh, yes. He said he’s helped solve a couple other murders after that. Maybe not the safest way to spend his retirement years, but he seems to have come alive once he met you.”
What had Guy told her? “Thank you, but your father and I …”
“Micki? Sorry to interrupt,” Kat said. “Rick had to leave. He asked me to apologize for him before he was able to congratulate you and Guy on your performance.”
“I’m sorry, too, but I’m glad he could be there for the contest. Did he share why he had to leave?”
Kat bit a lip and glanced at Luann, who picked up on the cue and excused herself.
“I guess it’s okay to tell you. You’ll know soon enough. But you’ve got to promise me you’ll stay here and enjoy your party. We’ll figure out what to do next tomorrow.”
Kat was being very mysterious. Something told Micki she wasn’t going to like this news. Nonetheless, she wanted to know now. “Kat! What aren’t you telling me?”
“The hotel staff found a body in the ballroom. It was Nedra Perkins.”
Why is your featured book a must-read?
This is a must-read book 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. Although this is the seventh book in the series, it is stand-alone, although readers who want to start at the beginning can check out Craks in a Marriage, the first book in the series. 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 as a human resources analyst for Iowa State Government. After releasing eleven full-length romance novels and one novella, 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.
The Charleston Challenge, the seventh book in her “Mah Jongg Mystery” series, features four friends who seek the murderer of another mah jongg player’s husband before she is charged. 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 married to 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, knits and enjoys lunches with friends.
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