Title: The Penhallow Train Incident
Author: M. S. Spencer
Genre: Cozy mystery/Romantic suspense
In the sleepy coastal Maine town of Penhallow, a stranger dies on a train, drawing Historical Society Director, Rachel Tinker, and curmudgeonly retired professor, Griffin Tate, into a spider’s web of archaeological obsession and greed. With the help of the victim’s rival, they set out to locate the Queen of Sheba’s tomb. Their plans are stymied when a war erupts between the sheriff and a state police detective who want to arrest the same man for different crimes. It’s up to Rachel to solve a mystery that includes two more murders, if she wants to unlock the soft heart that beats under Griffin’s hard crust.
Excerpt (G): We Meet Griffin
“Another Geary’s, Rachel?”
“Yeah, I guess so. Just to keep you company, Maude.”
“Thanks.” Her companion, a woman of about sixty with close-cropped, iron-gray hair and the beginnings of jowls, gave the word all the sarcasm she had available. The bright brown eyes that reminded Rachel of an intelligent squirrel sought out the waitress. “Hey, Katie, can you bring us a couple more?”
The waitress, a compact brunette with a wide grin, brought two bottles over. As she uncapped them, she nodded at the window behind the two women. “Looks like we’re in for a blow.” The sky to the north held piles of white cloud, cascading down the cliff to hover over Penobscot Bay.
Rachel stared at them dubiously. “They don’t look all that threatening to me.”
Katie shrugged. “Ask Griffin. He considers himself our resident weather expert.” All three shifted to stare at the tall man seated at the bar, his back to them. The cap, flannel shirt, and worn trousers with suspenders should have signaled an old salt, grizzled and wrinkled, but they knew better. Griffin was only about fifty, but he liked to pretend he was time-worn and crusty. It rarely worked. Any vulnerable woman who took note of his strong chin, deep blue eyes, and thickly curling, salt-and-pepper hair would immediately recognize a sexy man with depths of feeling only a special strategy could penetrate. Add to that a barrel chest, long-fingered hands, and shapely legs, and you had what Maude described as a latter-day Prince Valiant—“Only without that stupid hairdo.”
Griffin twisted on his stool. “Cumulus. Five thousand feet. They’ll pass out to the bay.”
Katie shook her head, but Rachel noticed a gleam in her eye. “No sirree, those are storm clouds. You folks from away can’t read ’em like we do. See that gray mass over there by Young’s?”
“Huh.” He peered at it, his eyebrows wiggling. “Most likely smog.”
“Smog! That’s ridiculous. How could we have smog in Maine?”
“Wood fires.” The man turned back to the bar.
Maude rolled her eyes. “Griffin gets less verbose every day.”
Rachel demurred. “To be fair, he’s never been much for words.”
“True. Hardly said two or three since he arrived in Penhallow…how long ago? Two years? Wait, wasn’t that just about the time you moved here?” She winked. “You sure there was nothing going on between you two down at Queenstown University?”
Her companion glared at her. “I told you before. I didn’t know him then. He was a professor of Middle Eastern history at the Institute, and I was a lowly instructor in Anthropology in the college. Paths like ours never crossed.”
“Institute of Higher Learning.” She raised her voice. “It’s a glorified think tank for the most eminent scientists and academicians. Gives ’em an excuse to laze around dreaming up inoperable systems and unworkable theories to gum up our lives.”
“Whoa, somebody has a chip on her shoulder.”
“I can’t help it.” Rachel pondered her former colleague, his head bent over his plate, and whispered, “Griffin was a prick then and he’s a prick now. Too bad he’s so handsome.”
Maude sniggered. “Yeah, too bad.”
The subject of their abuse did not react, and after a moment the women returned to their beers. When Katie arrived with two plates piled with lobster rolls, French fries, and coleslaw, Rachel asked her, “So, have they identified the corpse yet?”
The waitress nodded, her eyes alight. “Yeah—Sheriff Quimby was in this morning. He says the guy was a foreigner—Omar something. I couldn’t possibly pronounce his name. Some kinda Middle Eastern type.”
Maude glanced toward Griffin. “Middle Eastern, huh? Hmm. And he was shot, you say?”
“That’s what the sheriff says. Shot with a .45 caliber—just like the ammunition in Elmer’s and Hank’s guns. Only theirs were blanks. Somebody used real live deadly bullets.”
“Gracious me.” Maude dunked a French fry in ketchup and splashed Tabasco sauce on it. “So how come no one heard the shot?”
Rachel snorted. “Maude, hello? Elmer and Hank were banging away at the same time. Come to think of it, the murderer must have planned it that way.”
“Oh, really. Now you’re Miss Marple. What makes you think it was murder?”
“Well, what else could it be?”
Rachel showed these suggestions the disdain she was sure they deserved.
Katie had remained standing by their booth, ignoring the increasingly desperate signals from the two tourists at the next table. “Say, Rachel, weren’t you taking tickets for the excursion on Saturday? You must have seen the victim. What did he look like?”
Before Rachel could answer, they heard an angry growl from the bar. “God damn it, can’t a man eat his lunch in peace? God damn ghouls around here.” Griffin scratched his stubbly chin and pointed a fretful finger at the women. “You’d think no one had ever been killed before, the way you people go on and on.”
Rachel, enchanted by the way his eyes shimmered in the sunlight, didn’t respond. Maude snapped, “Professor Tate, just because you’re an old roué doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy a little mystery. Not much happens in Penhallow after all. We’re entitled to some excitement.”
Griffin bristled at her. “A man is dead, Maude. This isn’t a movie.”
“Well,” she bristled back, “at least he was from away.”
Griffin gave her a long, hard look and, before turning back to his plate, muttered, “Like me.”
For some reason his words struck hard at Rachel’s heart. She couldn’t see his face, and knew it wouldn’t show the hurt anyway, but she could feel it from across the room. To a Mainer, anyone who couldn’t trace his Maine lineage back to at least the French and Indian War was considered “from away.” Locals usually felt no more than amiable indulgence for the odd critters, but now and then the innate prejudice came out. “Maude—that wasn’t nice. After all, I’m from away too.”
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If you enjoy mysterious strangers, quirky romance, small town intrigue, more than one murder, and hidden treasure, you’ll love The Penhallow Train Incident. Set in Maine, it nonetheless manages to import Middle Eastern archaeologists, who set the hero and heroine on a search not just for the murderer, but for the tomb of the Queen of Sheba.
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