Liss MacCrimmon, purveyor of all things plaid at the Moosetookalook Scottish Emporium in Maine, can’t wait to cozy up to the town’s first annual mystery book conference. The outlook seems very bonnie indeed for all the local businesses, including her fiancé’s family-owned hotel. But when a reviewer with a grudge takes a swan dive off a scenic lookout, Liss discovers the crime scene bonanza a bit too real. With a conference full of potential suspects—from a famous actress-turned-bestselling author to her power-broker agent, to an overextended events coordinator with plenty to hide—it will take a killer instinct to figure out which writer belongs in the true crime section…before the murderer pens The End for another innocent victim.
Praise for the Liss MacCrimmon Mysteries!
“Enjoyable…vivid descriptions of Maine during mud season and a quirky cast of characters lift this cozy.” —Publishers Weekly on Scone Cold Dead
“High-kicking fun with characters as colorful as the tartans…a delightful new series.” —Dorothy Cannell on Kilt Dead
From Liss MacCrimmon’s Scottish Emporium to Angie
Hogencamp’s new and used bookstore, Angie’s Books,
it was only a short walk across the town square of Moosetookalook,
Maine. Liss could have been there in two minutes
flat. Instead, she dawdled, enjoying the delights of a
glorious morning in mid-May.
This particular spring in the mountains of central Maine
was warm and sweet-scented. The apple blossoms were in
bloom, all pink and white and pretty. One tree stood next
to the merry-go-round and two others flanked the bandstand.
Volunteers had spruced up the flowerbeds that lined
the paths through the square, putting in their own particular
favorites. Liss strolled past an eclectic assortment. She
recognized pansies, bright yellow daffodils, blue forgetme-
nots, and the purple of grape hyacinth but was less certain
she was correct in identifying creeping phlox, candy
tuft, and star of Bethlehem. There were tulips, too, but
they were a bit bedraggled, having almost reached the end
of their season. The crocuses had already gone by.
There would be varieties of iris in bloom soon, Liss
thought, and the ever-present lupines would show up in a
few weeks, followed in July by one of her personal favorites,
orange day lilies. Smiling to herself, Liss began to
sing under her breath as she left the square and crossed
Main Street. “It’s May! It’s May! The darling month of
Frowning, she broke off, glad no one else was within
hearing distance. Not only couldn’t she carry a tune in a
bucket, but she had a habit of plugging in the wrong
words—“darling” went with “buds of May” and came
from some old poem, not a Broadway musical. The song
she’d been trying to sing talked about the merry month of
May. Didn’t it?
Shaking her head, Liss took the porch steps at Angie’s
Books two at a time. She should not try to sing. Her voice
was bad enough all by itself, but the effort was always a
disaster when combined with her terrible memory for
lyrics. She’d always had a tendency to get the words mixed
up. And if she hadn’t realized it before, this failing had
been brought home to her just a few months earlier. She’d
committed a major blooper, and in public, too.
In late December, Moosetookalook had celebrated “The
Twelve Shopping Days of Christmas.” Liss had been put in
charge of the pageant. To go with the lyrics of the yuletide
carol, she’d duly rounded up nine lords a-leaping and ten
ladies dancing, as well as appropriate representations of
the gifts named in the other ten verses of the song. That no
one appeared to have been bothered by her mistake did
not make Liss feel any better. She was certain dozens of
people had noticed and just been too polite to say anything
to her. She’d been horrified when the music director
from the local high school had casually mentioned—in
February!—that “The Twelve Days of Christmas” actually
featured nine ladies and ten lords, not the other way
around. It had been some consolation to realize that he assumed
she’d rewritten the lyrics in order to accommodate
a casting problem, but the whole incident embarrassed her
whenever she thought about it.
Angie’s Books, like all the other storefronts around the
square, was a converted residence with a shop on the first
floor and living quarters above. The front porch was big
enough for a couple of chairs and a small table. They’d
been pushed back to make room for a huge, freestanding
“Great advertising,” Liss said as she opened the screen
door and stepped into the shop.
“One of Ms. Quinlan’s people brought it by,” Angie
“I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who had ‘people’
before,” Liss said with a laugh.
The featured author for Angie’s Saturday afternoon
reading and book signing was actress-turned-mysterywriter
Yvonne Quinlan. The sign featured a life-sized
photo that showed a willowy beauty with dark brown
eyes and a short cap of blue-black hair highlighted with
Angie had big brown eyes, too, and dark, wavy hair, but
the resemblance stopped there. The bookstore owner was
a little overweight and a lot flustered. Her face, devoid of
makeup, had turned pink with exertion. Cartons of books
surrounded her, three of them clearly labeled with the title
of Yvonne’s latest novel.
“I may have ordered too many copies,” Angie said.
“Think positive.” Liss made her voice bracing as she approached
the sales counter.
Liss, too, was a brunette. She was taller than Angie. At
five foot nine, she loomed over most of the women in
town. Like Yvonne, she was on the slender side, but her
eyes were light, not dark. Liss herself called them blue, but
she’d been told more than once that their color changed
with the clothing she wore and was, on occasion, closer to
green in hue. Today, Liss was certain, they were a very ordinary
shade. Her outfit consisted of well-worn jeans and
a baby blue sweatshirt that said MOOSETOOKALOOK, MAINE
on the front—right beneath the picture of a cross-eyed cartoon
“There are around a hundred mystery fans coming to
the conference.” She rested her elbows on the sales
counter. Additional cartons of books were stacked on the
floor behind it. “They all love crime novels. They will buy
the latest titles from you because they want to get them
signed by their favorite authors.” Almost a dozen mystery
writers would be attending the conference and taking part
in panel discussions.
Angie swatted at a lock of hair that kept falling into her
face. “I hope you’re right. At the moment, I’ll settle for
getting these boxes out to the hotel. It’s going to take forever
to set them up on the tables in the dealers’ room.
They’ll have to be alphabetical by author’s last name so
people can find what they’re looking for. Do you think I
should put hardcover books in one place and paperbacks
in another or lump them all together?”
“Better put all the books by one author next to each
other. As for schlepping books, that’s why I’m here. I can
take some of the cartons over to The Spruces now and
swing back for more if you need me to. Take a deep
breath, Angie. We have plenty of time. It’s not even noon
yet, and the festivities won’t get started until six this
evening. And we don’t open the dealers’ room to customers
until nine tomorrow morning.”
Angie plopped herself down on the stool behind the
counter. “A whole three-day weekend! What was I thinking?
I never do this kind of thing.”
“It’s a new venture for all of us. Consider it a challenge.”
“The challenge was conning my sister-in-law into agreeing
to babysit and keep this place open for me while I’m at
the conference.” Angie grimaced. “I really hate owing her
Liss sympathized. She’d thought about asking someone
to work at Moosetookalook Scottish Emporium in her
place but opted to close down instead. These days most of
her business came through online orders anyway.
“It’ll be fun, Angie. How can it not be? Readers. Writers.
“And what is this conference called again?” There was
a hint of sarcasm in Angie’s voice.
“The First Annual Maine-ly Cozy Con,” Liss admitted,
wincing a little at the name. Still, it fit the occasion. The
attendees would all be fans of the traditional mystery—
crime stories with limited violence and no graphic sex that
tended to feature amateur detectives inspired by such classic
sleuths as Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple and Ellis Peters’s
“Do the people coming to this conference know there
was a homicide at the hotel only a few months ago?”
Liss gave a snort of laughter. “Are you kidding? Apparently
that’s what sold the organizers on The Spruces. How
many gatherings of fans of fictional murders can say they
met at the scene of a real one?”
The worried furrow in Angie’s brow deepened. “Beth
wants to help out. You don’t think she’s too young, do
you? She’s only ten, and I have no idea what the people
who attend these conferences are like.”
“I’ve never been to one, either,” Liss said with a grin,
“but I don’t think the fans are violent. They may like to
read about murder and mayhem, but they aren’t likely to
Angie looked sheepish. “Of course they aren’t. Silly of
me to worry, I guess. Well, okay then. I’m keeping three
cartons of the new Yvonne Quinlan hardcover here for the
book signing on Saturday, but everything else that’s boxed
up goes out to the hotel. Some woman named Nola Ventress sent me a list of all the attending authors, and I ordered
the three most recent titles by each one of them. Plus
I’m bringing some books by other mystery authors, just in
case people are interested in them. If you’ll drive around to
the side of the building, we can load up from there.”
A few minutes later, Liss and Angie began piling cartons
of books into the back of the pickup truck Liss had borrowed
from her fiancé, Dan Ruskin. It was already half-
full with stock from Moosetookalook Scottish Emporium.
On the second trip out from the bookstore, Angie stopped
to stare at the distinctive, dark-colored vehicle just turning
in at another of the businesses on the town square. Like
the bookstore, it also had a side entrance.
Curious, Liss glanced that way and grimaced. “I’m glad
I don’t have a view of this from the Emporium,” she remarked.
Nor could she see it from her house, which was
situated on the lot next to her store.
“I could live without it,” Angie muttered. “Fair warning.
Doug’s son is a klutz.”
Frank Preston, age fifteen, emerged from the passenger
seat while one of the men his father regularly called to
make pickups slid out from behind the wheel. Almost invisible
wires ran from Frank’s earphones to his pocket. He
was very obviously listening to music. He jerked and
hopped to the beat of the song on his MP3 player as he
made his way around to the back of the vehicle and started
to unload the cargo. It, too, was unmistakable.
Liss felt neither shock nor surprise when Frank hauled a
body bag out of the back. His father, Doug, was the local
undertaker. It was hardly unusual for the hearse to arrive
with a new “client” for Preston’s Mortuary. But Frank’s
cavalier treatment of the remains bothered Liss. Without
waiting for Doug’s assistant to help, Frank tried to sling
the body over his shoulder in a fireman’s carry. He lacked
both the physical strength and the coordination to manage
the maneuver. The corpse slipped out of his grasp. One
end hit the pavement with a dull thump that made Liss
wince. The thought that it might not have been the feet
that struck the ground made her a little queasy. Frank
wasn’t just clumsy. He had no respect for the dead.
The assistant mumbled something Liss couldn’t hear.
She hoped it was a rebuke, but she was too far away to
catch the words. She doubted Frank heard them, either,
over the music blaring in his ears. He grabbed one end of
the bag while the assistant took the other and together
they carried the deceased the rest of the way into Preston’s
“That boy could care less about tending to the family
business,” Angie muttered.
“He’s always been a handful,” Liss agreed. The previous
winter, young Frank had gotten into trouble for
joyriding on a snowmobile. “Who died?” she asked, certain
Angie would have heard.
Moosetookalook was a very small town. The population
barely topped a thousand, even after several recent
additions. The local grapevine was quick to spread news
of births, deaths, elopements, and other assorted rites of
passage. Anything even remotely scandalous also spread
“Lenny Peet,” Angie answered. “Well, he had a good
long life, didn’t he? Ninety-five, I heard.”
Liss hadn’t known Lenny well, but she’d seen him just
about every day. He’d walked his dog in the town square
in the early morning and again in late afternoon, no matter
what the weather or the season. You could set your
clock by him. Incensed that Frank Preston should have
treated Lenny’s remains so carelessly, Liss promised herself
that she’d speak to Doug about his son’s attitude the next
time she saw him. Then she had another thought.
“Who’s taking care of Lenny’s dog?” she asked.
“It’s at the animal shelter down to Fallstown,” Angie
Liss added another note to her mental list—do something
about the dog. When Lenny’s ancient hound, Tatupu, had
passed away over a year before, he’d promptly acquired a
cute little fox terrier named Skippy. Liss was sure she
could find someone in the village who needed a new “best
Filing away both chores to think about later, Liss returned
to loading the back of the truck with cartons of
books. The weekend ahead would be a busy one, but she
fully expected to enjoy every minute of it. How could she
not? She was a huge fan of traditional mysteries herself.
She planned to slip away from the dealers’ room now and
again to attend some of the sessions. And she’d definitely
be putting in an appearance at that evening’s opening reception.
Sherri Campbell, née Willett, had her booted feet
propped up on the desk in the inner room of the Moosetookalook
Police Department. Leaning back in the creaky
wooden swivel chair that went with it, she held one hand
out in front of her so she could admire the shiny gold band
on the ring finger of her left hand. She was three months
married, but just looking at that wedding band still gave
her a thrill.
A loud knock had her all but jumping out of her skin.
Her feet hit the floor with a thump and she sat up straight.
A very tall, very stout woman in a gray pantsuit stood in
the doorway. She had a big head to match her big body—
a long oval squared off at the jawline. The shape was accentuated
by the way she wore her hair. Her iron gray
locks were cut very short. The effect put Sherri in mind of
an old-fashioned swimming cap of the sort her grandmother
wore in family photos taken in the 1950s.
“Can I help you with something?” Sherri’s voice came
out a bit higher pitched than she’d intended. They didn’t
get a lot of walk-in customers at the police department.
The abrupt arrival of this one had caught her off guard.
Most people phoned in with their questions and complaints,
and, as a rule, there weren’t very many of those.
Most of the time, Moosetookalook was a quiet, law-
“Are you Officer Willett?” the woman demanded.
“It’s Officer Campbell now,” Sherri corrected her. “I recently
“Congratulations.” The stranger stepped into the office,
at once making it seem considerably smaller. Without
waiting for an invitation, she settled her bulk into the
bright red plastic chair on the other side of Sherri’s desk. It
groaned ominously under her weight. “Since you’re not
busy, I’d like to ask you a few questions.”
“I’m here to serve the public.”
Sherri put more warmth into the words than she was
feeling. She told herself that it was ridiculous to feel intimidated.
At five foot two, almost everyone towered over her.
She should be used to it by now. But this woman was
nearly three times Sherri’s size and made her feel like a
house cat facing down an elephant. She upgraded herself
to lioness and reminded herself that she was the one with
“You say you have questions?” Sherri asked.
The woman had burrowed into a briefcase-sized black
leather purse and come up with a plain white business
card. She handed it over and waited while Sherri read the
lettering. It didn’t tell her much. In the center were the
words THE NEDLINGER REPORT and a Web site address. In
the lower left-hand corner was a name—J. Nedlinger—
with a P.O. box, e-mail address, phone and fax numbers.
“So, Ms. Nedlinger . . . what kind of questions are we
J. Nedlinger’s carefully shaped eyebrows shot up.
“You’ve never heard of me?”
“Sorry, but no.”
“Oh, well. They say fame is fleeting.”
Sherri didn’t like the way the other woman was looking
at her. That intense stare seemed to her to contain a strong
undercurrent of mockery. It was as if this Nedlinger
woman knew something Sherri didn’t and relished hugging
that secret knowledge to herself. Sherri tried to tell
herself she was being fanciful, as she had with that lioness
and elephant image, but the impression remained.
“I’m a journalist,” J. Nedlinger said. “I collect information,
in this case statistics. I’d like to know about the
crimes your little town has suffered over the course of the
last two years. Is that going to be a problem?”
Sherri tried to put her finger on why the woman made
her uneasy. Ms. Nedlinger was quite stout, but there was
nothing soft about her. She was physically fit. There were
muscles beneath the sleeves of the plain gray suit, and she
wore sturdy walking shoes. She was not someone Sherri
would fancy meeting in an alley on a dark night. But, curiously,
it was the image of a bulldozer that replaced that of
an elephant. No predatory beast—just one of those pushy
people determined to get her own way.
Sherri had no reason to deny the woman’s request.
When it came right down to it, she didn’t suppose she had
any choice but to comply. What Ms. Nedlinger had asked
for was public information, data that Sherri had, literally,
at her fingertips. She tapped a few commands into the keyboard
in front of her and heard the printer whirr into action.
One of the routine jobs Chief of Police Jeff Thibodeau
had assigned to Sherri when he’d first hired her had been
compiling the monthly statistics and feeding them into a
computer program specifically designed to keep track of
such things and report them to the state of Maine. The
task didn’t take much of her time. Moosetookalook had
been known to go for weeks at a time without a single
complaint that ended up creating paperwork. Arrests were
not an everyday occurrence.
Two sheets of paper spilled out of the printer. Sherri
glanced at them, then handed them over. “Here you go.
This runs from May two years ago up to this week.”
The stout woman seized the pages with an eagerness
that had Sherri tensing up all over again. She knew there
was one statistic that was out of proportion with the rest
for a village as tiny as Moosetookalook. Sure enough, Ms.
Nedlinger zeroed right in on it.
“Three murders in two years? Isn’t that a bit excessive?”
Hidden by the desk, Sherri’s hands clenched into fists.
When she felt her fingernails bite into her palms, she
forced herself to relax. She made an effort to keep her
voice level. “These things happen even in small towns, Ms.
Nedlinger. Now, is there anything else I can do for you?”
“Were you personally involved in any of the murder investigations,
Sherri glanced at the card in front of her on the blotter.
J. Nedlinger’s P.O. box was in Boston, Massachusetts.
Sherri wondered why an out-of-stater would care what
crimes were committed in rural Maine.
“Criminal investigations, Ms. Nedlinger, for the more
serious crimes, especially homicide, are handled by the
state police. And for almost anything more complicated
than a traffic violation, Moosetookalook usually asks for
assistance from the county sheriff’s department.”
“That was a somewhat evasive answer.” Ms. Nedlinger’s
pale blue eyes gleamed with amusement.