Never one to turn away from a challenge—even when it goes against her better judgment—Nora Charles can hardly say no when an old friend of her mother’s comes to town seeking her help. The author of steamy romances has learned that her writing partner is severing their relationship and threatening to reveal dark and dirty secrets in a tell-all, and she pleads with Nora to intervene. Reluctantly agreeing to help, Nora pays a visit to the writing partner, ready to make her case—right up until the moment she discovers the woman’s lifeless body.
With the police convinced that Nora’s friend is the culprit, she and Nick begin delving into the dead woman’s past and her provocative tell-all. It soon becomes apparent that the woman had a knack for digging up dirt and wasn’t shy about exposing skeletons in closets, and before long Nora has a seemingly endless list of suspects who were at risk of having their darkest secrets revealed. With a police force intent on throwing the book at Nora’s friend and time running out, she and Nick must outwit a dangerous killer before they take their own secrets to the grave . . .
Cabot Cove Syndrome and how to avoid it! (Or can you?)
T. C. Lotempio
If you’re an avid reader of cozies, then you are no doubt familiar with one of the most famous cozy characters of all time. Yes, I’m talking about none other than Jessica Fletcher, the intrepid heroine of both the book and the television series, MURDER SHE WROTE, and the originator of what is fondly referred to as Cabot Cove Syndrome.
Just what is that, you ask? Well, basically it’s a phrase that was coined upon the success of the tv show to describe a location where dead bodies pop up with alarming regularity. Sometimes it’s not easy to deal with, particularly when you are a writer of cozy mysteries and need to produce a corpse.
Well, if you’re lucky enough to get a series that goes beyond three books, one way is to alternate the manner of death. For example, don’t have your victim get knifed in Book One, three, four and five. Alternate the murder weapon-a gun, poison, a knife, like that. Also, alternate just when the victim is found. Some like to have them found early on, in chapter one or two. I’ve always preferred to build up the background a bit, and have the corpse arrive around page seventy or so. Alternating that is also a good choice for variety.
Expanding the location is also good. If your character’s occupation is a bookseller, find ways to have them solve murders at other locations. So far I’ve never had one of the murders in the Nick and Nora series actually occur in the sandwich shop, although that’s a thought for a future book. But then, would people want to eat there? Lots of things to consider when choosing a location for finding your corpse.
You can try to avoid having your character suffer the same stigma as Jessica Fletcher –namely, the person with an uncanny knack for attracting murder – but it’s doubtful you’ll be successful. Even Nora Charles and her cat Nick have earned the nicknames “body magnets”. My advice?
Accept it for what it is, and just simply lose yourself in the adventure. After all, that’s what you bought the book for, right?
And leave Cabot Cove Syndrome in Cabot Cove.
I could hear the chimes echo eerily through the house, but no one came to the door. Nick suddenly let out a sharp meow. Next thing I knew, he’d hopped down from the railing and started to trot around the house. I hesitated only briefly and then hurried after him. Around the side of the house was a wall comprised of glass doors. Nick paused before it, his tail sticking straight out in back of him. I walked over to the doors and saw that one was slightly ajar. Nick turned and looked at me expectantly.
“Oh, no.” I shook my head. “That’s breaking and entering, buddy. We can’t just barge in here.”
Nick turned his back on me, and before I could do more than blink, he’d miraculously managed to squeeze his plump body through the opening.
“Great,” I muttered. Well, I couldn’t just abandon him. I walked over to the door and gave it a tentative push. It swung back, and I stepped inside.
The house was deceptive. It was definitely larger than it appeared, which might have been part of its charm and could account for Marlene’s decision to acquire the rental. As I moved cautiously around, poking my head into rooms filled with antique trappings and silk-covered sofas definitely too fragile to sit on, I realized why most people had been loath to rent it. Who wanted to live in a museum? I kept on meandering, calling out Marlene’s name, but only a thick silence answered me.
Nick was sitting in front of the circular staircase, tail wrapped around his paws. “Come on,” I said. “She’s not here. We’ll come back another time.”
With that, he uncurled his tail and scooted up the staircase. At the top landing he paused and looked back at me as if to say: What’s keeping you, human?
“I should leave you here,” I muttered, but my niggling sense of curiosity won out over my better judgment and I climbed the staircase, the sound of my heels muffled by the expensive carpeting that covered the stairs. A wide hallway extended itself on either side of me, and no sign of my tubby tuxedo. “Nick,” I hissed. “Where are you, you devil?”
No response, so I moved over toward the right side and opened the first door, which appeared to be a bedroom, and a holy mess. The bedclothes had been stripped from the massive canopied king-sized bed and thrown in a ball in its center. Drawers were pulled out of the cherrywood highboy and dresser and hung limply, their contents strewn helter-skelter around the room. A high-backed chair was overturned in the middle of the floor, and the closet door was half open. I could see dresses hanging half off hangers, and a half-open suitcase was propped up against the interior.
“Oh my God,” I cried. It certainly looked as if someone had been searching for something. A thief, perhaps? A chill ran down my spine at my next thought: Could he still be here? Had Marlene possibly caught him in the act? I stepped back into the hallway, uncertain what my next move should be.
The cry came from the left, so I moved in that direction. I saw Nick, squatting before a door at the end of the hallway; he looked up, saw me, and ducked inside. I hurried down the hall and peered into the darkened room. It was set up as an office, boasting a small cherrywood desk, file cabinet, and a laptop square in the desk’s center. “Nick,” I hissed. “Where are you?”
“I hear you, Nick, but I can’t see you. This room is too dark to spot a cat that’s mostly black.”
I felt along the wall and finally my fingers touched a light switch. I flicked it on, illuminating a table lamp that cast a rosy glow through the room—and highlighted the colorless face of the woman slumped on the floor just to the left of the desk. I sucked in my breath.
Even though I’d never met her in person, I’d seen enough pictures on the inside covers of her books to know the woman framed in the circle of dim light was Marlene McCambridge—and she looked to be stone-cold dead.
About T. C. LoTempio
While Toni Lotempio does not commit – or solve – murders in real life, she has no trouble doing it on paper. Her lifelong love of mysteries began early on when she was introduced to her first Nancy Drew mystery at age 10 – The Secret in the Old Attic. She and her cat pen the Nick and Nora mystery series originally from Berkley Prime Crime and now with Beyond the Page Publishing. They also write the Cat Rescue series from Crooked Lane and the Pet Shop series, originally published by Midnight Ink and continued in 2021 with book two, KILLERS OF A FEATHER, from Beyond the Page. Catch up with them at ROCCO’s blog, catsbooksmorecats.blogspot.com or her website, www.tclotempio.net