Title: Why Me? Chimeras, Conundrums and Dead Goldfish (a modern cozy)
Author: Charlotte Stuart
Genre: Cozy, Female Amateur Sleuth, Mystery
In Greek mythology the chimera was a bad omen. In Why Me? Chimeras, Conundrums and Dead Goldfish it’s a motive for murder.
Bryn Baczek, a Seattle consultant, is vacationing in Scotland, hiking alone in a downpour, surrounded by midges, when she discovers the body of a biotech scientist at the bottom of a ravine. Rumors that Bryn has the scientist's laptop with his cutting-edge research make her a target of both legal and illegal businesses that want to make fistfuls of money by growing customized human organs in animal chimeras.
The Midges and Me
It was like standing under a waterfall. My rain hat was battered down around my ears by the plus size raindrops. Water plunged off the rim, struck the front of my poncho, and pinged back up at my face. Both my shoes and my spirits were not just dampened, but sodden. Water cascaded down my rain pants, bypassed my trail gaiters, and went directly into my hiking boots. Once inside, it did not seep out. Not quite what I’d had in mind when I’d purchased the expensive waterproof footwear.
To top it off, I was surrounded by a swarm of midges, tiny vampire bugs that had no business being out in a downpour. They hung there, inches from my face, waiting for my DEET to wash off. One thing for sure, I wouldn’t be sending any selfies back to friends from this hike.
I had definitely chosen the wrong friend and the wrong season for a hiking trip to Scotland. Sophie’s been my best friend since high school. She and I had decided it would be fun to explore some remote hills and lochs in Scotland, maybe venture into the Highlands region. We’d planned to spend most of our time on day hikes, staying in what we envisioned to be quaint villages along the way. We had our passports in hand, our reservations set, our schedules adjusted, pet care arranged, and I had even purchased a satellite communicator with 100% global coverage. But at the last minute, Sophie wanted to postpone. Why? Because Sophie has men issues.
When we were younger Sophie went through men like there was an endless supply. She didn’t have a “type.” She liked variety. After a disastrous marriage in her twenties, she went back to playing the field. I gave up trying to remember names and labeled each one “Sophie’s latest.” That continued into our thirties, until she hit thirty-five. Then she started looking for “the” one, the one she intended to spend the rest of her life with. And, unfortunately, she met her most recent potentially perfect someone a week before we were scheduled to take off on our adventure, and she didn’t want to risk leaving during this “critical time” in their relationship. She was sorry and hoped I understood. I did, but I was also angry. So, I damn well decided to go on the trip without her.
How was I to know Scotland had a midge season? Sophie had done most of the planning. Not only had she failed to mention the midges, she had also omitted the fact that we would be hiking in an area the guidebook referred to as “one of the wettest places in Scotland.” Okay, so I should have helped more with the itinerary. But Sophie is a take-charge kind of woman, and I’d been more than happy to let her handle the details.
So, there I was, hiking by myself in the rain, regretting that I hadn’t had the good sense to read the guidebooks before I’d hopped on the plane.
After slogging up a steep incline for about fifteen minutes, I stopped to catch my breath at the edge of a deep, narrow ravine. Although the landscape seemed barren compared to what I was used to back home, the hillside was covered with a tangle of bracken and plush groundcovers. At the bottom a few stunted looking trees hugged a stream that ran through the middle of the gorge and disappeared around a bend to my left. Directly below were some huge boulders that looked like they had been tossed there by a giant as ravine art.
There was also something else down there. Something that didn’t quite belong.
I blinked the rainwater out of my eyes and peered through the veil of bugs. Just this side of one of the large boulders was something that looked suspiciously . . . like a person. A person sprawled on the ground. And the angle of repose did not look natural.
“Dammit,” I said. Why me? Why had I stopped and looked down at those boulders? Now I was morally bound to find out what or who I was looking at. But dammit all, the last thing I wanted to do in a downpour was climb down a steep hillside to check out what could turn out to be a pile of clothes someone had tossed over the edge. On the other hand, if that was a person down there, they were either injured or dead. That was certainly a lot worse than being wet and buggy.
On the off chance there were fellow hikers nearby, I shouted: “Anybody there? Can anyone hear me?”
Not surprisingly, no one responded. I hadn’t seen another human being since I left the car park. Even the car park had been nearly empty. Anyone with an ounce of sense was safely in their home or a hotel room or in a pub, relaxing in a comfortable chair, dry and warm, with the midges hovering outside instead of scant inches away. There wasn’t anyone else; it was all up to me. I had to find a way down. And clearly it wasn’t going to be easy. Perhaps even dangerous. I could fall and end up next to whoever or whatever it was down there.
Damn, damn, damn. Why me I asked myself again.
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In this modern cozy the village has been replaced by an urban marina community in Seattle, and the story actually starts in Scotland. There’s even a mild swear word or two expressed when appropriate to the situation. But no graphic violence. If you like the upbeat tone and quirky characters of a traditional cozy but want a more serious “conundrum,” then this book is a must-read.
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In a world filled with uncertainty and too little chocolate, Charlotte Stuart has a passion for writing lighthearted mysteries with a pinch of adventure and a dollop of humor. Her first Discount Detective mystery, Survival Can Be Deadly, was a Foreward INDIES finalist. Number 2 in the series, Campaigning Can Be Deadly, will be available September 29. Why me? Chimeras, Conundrums and Dead Goldfish made the semi-finals for the Chanticleer Murder and Mayhem contest. A former management consultant who also spent time commercial salmon fishing in Alaska, Charlotte has a PhD in communications and is the VP of the Puget Sound Sisters in Crime. www.charlottestuart.com
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