The murder of a local contractor may be the final nail in the coffin for Tricia Miles in the latest entry to Lorna Barrett’s New York Times bestselling booktown mystery series.
Contractor Jim Stark is in great demand: he’s overseeing a number of projects, including finishing the new brew pub, and gutting a stone mansion off Main Street destined to be the world headquarters for Nigela Ricita Asssociates.
Tricia Miles and her sister, Angelica, arrive at the mansion before their workday to check on the construction. They find the place unlocked and Stark’s right-hand man, Sanjay Arya, dead—bludgeoned to death. The loss of the contractor’s top man threatens all the projects in the works. Is Jim a suspect? But Stark also thinks his wife, who was very chummy with Sanjay, might have been cheating on him with the second-in-command, making him a likely suspect. But there are others who might have had reasons to see Sanjay dead, too.
Once again Tricia finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation, but can she find the killer before he or she has the chance to bring the hammer down?
A QUESTIONABLE CHARACTER is another hit for Lorna Barrett! The genius of her plot lines will always keep you on the edge of your seat, turning the pages faster than you want to. The interwoven subplots bring all of our favorite characters into the various storylines with ease and great entertainment. Wait until you read about a particular haircut – every woman’s nightmare!
What I love most about this series is it always feels like you’re visiting friends in the cutest, albeit most murderous, town. As a book lover, who doesn’t dream of a cozy town dedicated to bookstores of all genres?
A QUESTIONABLE CHARACTER is the seventeenth installment in Lorna Barrett’s Booktown Mystery series. This can be read as a stand-alone, but I would highly recommend reading this series from the start. There is so much backstory with each of these characters that it would just add more depth to each of them as you move along. As always, we also get a few delicious recipes to try out too. Grab your baking supplies and your drink of choice and prepare to get cozy and captivated in this latest release.
— FRESH FICTION
“At the start of this book, I was somewhat taken aback by how snippy so many of the characters were with one another, especially in comparison with previous installments of the Booktown Mystery series. As A Questionable Character progresses, though, our main characters’ motives become not only clear but completely understandable as they deal with their relatable fears and neuroses. Tricia, especially, is large-hearted and empathetic despite her own self-doubts and occasional moments of being judgmental. No one is perfect, and her flaws only make her that much more believable and compelling as a heroine.”
— CRIMINAL ELEMENT
“I was very surprised, ultimately, at who the killer was and at the motive behind it. I love how this author can still surprise me! The end was satisfactory. I recommend this book and series, and look forward to visiting Booktown again!”
— OPEN BOOK SOCIETY
“If you like memorable murder mysteries being solved by female amateur sleuths and cozy animal mysteries, then put “A Questionable Character” by cozy mystery novelist Lorna Barrett at the top of your reading list.”
— MIDWEST BOOK REVIEW
Hours had passed since the sisters had found Sanjay Arya’s body and McDonald was finished speaking with them. By then, Angelica had a Zoom meeting to attend with her NR Associates team. It was Tricia’s job to drive to Nashua to pick up the Chamber’s summer intern. Although most of the interview process had been conducted via email, Tricia had had a dental appointment and missed the final online interview where Angelica offered David Price the job and he accepted. Not knowing what the young man looked like, Tricia made a sign to hold up, like the signs she’d seen scores of times held by limo drivers at airports. She, however, was heading to the bus station.
After parking her car, Tricia grabbed her purse and the sign. The bus was late—as she should have anticipated—but only by fifteen minutes, which had given her an opportunity to buy a cup of vending machine coffee that she’d taken one sip of and quickly dispatched to the nearest trash can.
The bus finally arrived and the crush of passengers disembarked. Tricia stepped back and studied the faces, a mix of middle-aged and elderly men and women. The only young person was a teenage girl who whooped with delight and fell into the arms of an older woman with cries of “Grandma, Grandma!” Had Tricia’s charge missed the bus?
She lowered the sign and was about to trudge back to her car when the bus belched another gust of air and a pair of booted feet tromped down the steps to the asphalt. They weren’t just any boots but were perfectly polished and reached to the knees. Above them were black pants and a purple pullover sweater with the sleeves pushed up to the man’s biceps. Pinned to his left shoulder was a large brooch of colored glass in the shape of a bumblebee. His hair was a mass of tight, shoulder-length curls that he’d captured in a ponytail, and he sported a toothy grin surrounded by a few days’ worth of whiskers. “Ms. Miles?” he asked hopefully.
“Tricia,” she insisted, catching sight of the manbag slung over his left shoulder and the laptop case he held in his right hand. He tucked the latter under his arm and offered his hand. “David Price. Glad to meet you.”
His damp grip could hardly be called firm and when Tricia released his hand she fought the urge to wipe her own on the back of her slacks.
“Thanks for this opportunity. I’m looking forward to the greatest summer of my life,” David gushed.
Tricia refrained from judging just how disappointing his existence must have been prior to his arrival in New Hampshire.
The driver pulled the last of the luggage from the bus’s belly. Four large cases sat on the tarmac. The rest had been retrieved by the other passengers. It seemed that David didn’t travel light, but then he’d be working for the Chamber for just under three months.
“How did you manage all this on your own?” Tricia asked.
“I didn’t. My dad dropped me off at the station before he left for work. All I had to worry about was this stuff.” He gestured to his bag and laptop. “How long will it take us to get to Stoneham?”
“About twenty minutes.” Tricia reached for one of the suitcases, realizing she would have to haul two of them to her car if they hoped to get going anytime soon. They weren’t light. What had this guy stuffed into them? Lead weights?
“I thought the other Ms. Miles would be meeting me,” David said, attaching the laptop to one of the bags and grabbing the other by its handle.
“We’d originally planned to come together but something came up.” There was no need to tell him that one of those somethings had been a corpse.
David followed Tricia to her Lexus. Perhaps it was just as well Angelica hadn’t ridden shotgun because the trunk and back seat were needed to contain all the luggage.
They got in the car and Tricia started the engine and pulled out of the lot.
“Where will I be staying? The other Ms. Miles said I’d get an apartment.”
“Uh, yes,” Tricia agreed. She wasn’t about to tell the young man that its two previous residents had been romantically involved with her and had died violently. She hadn’t wanted to stick the kid in the apartment she knew all too well, but it had been deemed unrentable by its exasperated owner, who was only too happy to have it occupied for the summer and had offered the Chamber more than a 50 percent discount in hopes of breaking the curse that seemed to have been placed on the joint.
“Some of the other places I interviewed for were only offering a room. This should be great.”
“I hope you’ll enjoy your stay,” Tricia said with forced cheer. She braked for a red light.
“Uh, I did my due diligence before I signed on for the job,” David said.
Tricia’s hands tightened around the steering wheel. “Oh?”
“A lot of people seem to die in your village—and not of natural causes,” he amended.
“It’s unfortunate,” Tricia said succinctly.
“I saw your name mentioned a number of times in the news reports.”
Tricia swallowed, feeling distinctly uncomfortable. “As you know, I run a vintage mystery bookstore. I’m quite familiar with all aspects of crime. I’ve consulted with law enforcement in the past.” Whether they wanted her opinions or not.
“Uh-huh,” David said, sounding unconvinced. “I didn’t mention the village’s reputation to my folks. My mom would have pitched a fit if she knew and never let me come.”
“Then why did you accept the job?” Tricia asked, and risked a glance in his direction, seeing him shrug.
“It seemed like it might be fun. If there’re antiques shops, thrift stores, and tag sales, I want to go to them on my time off.”
“Then you’ll love my assistant manager, Pixie Poe. She lives for estate sales and acts as a picker for a number of stores in the village.”
“Is her name really Pixie?” he asked skeptically.
“It’s on her birth certificate.”
“Wow. I can’t wait to meet her. I’d also like to visit the library and all the booksellers, too.”
David was a library science grad student, after all.
“I’ve also pulled up the websites of the all businesses. The Dog-Eared Page looks charming. How’s the grub? Is it authentic?”
“I was in Ireland last fall. It’s on a par with what I had there.”
“Too bad the Bashful Moose craft beer tasting room won’t be open until after I go back to school.”
“The pub serves several of their brews.”
“Great. I’d like to give them all a try,” he said enthusiastically.
“Do you have any other questions for me?” Tricia asked.
“How often will I be interacting with you? Will you be training me?”
“My sister, Angelica, and I will both show you what needs to be done. We don’t expect you to start today. I’ll get you settled and give you a tour of our offices and the rest of the village.” And try not to talk about what they’d discovered earlier that morning. “I’d also like to take you to lunch. The village has several eateries.”
“Would it be presumptuous of me to ask to go to the Brookview Inn? I’d figured I’d never be able to afford it.”
He really had done his homework. Since the Chamber was paying for David’s apartment, he would be receiving only a stipend. It would be out of his price range.
“I’d be happy to take you there.”
The conversation turned to the Chamber and its procedures, the hours, and the duties he would be asked to perform. He seemed amenable to the tasks.
They entered the village and David took in his surroundings with wide-eyed interest. “This place is friggin’ charming. I love the urns with all the flowers. Did the Chamber pay for them?”
“They were donated by Nigela Ricita Associates.”
“Ah, the village’s elusive benefactor. What are the odds I’ll get to meet her?”
“Pretty poor. You’d probably do better playing the lottery.”
“She doesn’t live locally,” Tricia said, glad her nose wouldn’t grow with each lie she told.
“Then what’s her interest in Stoneham?”
“That’s hardly an answer.”
Tricia pulled up in front of the building where David would be staying, glad for the diversion. She really didn’t like being grilled when it came to Nigela Ricita.
They got out of the car and David stared up at the brickwork, his gaze traveling from the first to the third floor. He scowled. “Am I right in assuming I’ll be living on the top floor?”
Tricia grinned. “Think of the stairs as a way to keep fit.”
The scowl remained.
“If it makes you feel better, I also trudge up three flights multiple times every day.”
David turned to look across the street to her store. “Wow. Your store looks just like Sherlock Holmes’s digs.”
“That was the idea,” Tricia said with pride.
“I’d love a tour.”
“That’s part of today’s plan.” She glanced back to her car. “I think it’ll take us two trips to get everything up to the apartment. Shall we get started?”
They retrieved the suitcases from the back seat and Tricia led the way. She liked to think that her daily three-mile walks kept her fit, but she was puffing by the time she reached the third floor after hauling up one of David’s heavy bags. She unlocked the door and pulled the suitcase inside, with David following. Tricia deposited the case in the middle of the small living room and watched as David took in the space .
“Wow—this place is nice. Much better than I expected.”
Tricia hadn’t visited the apartment much when her ex-husband, Christopher, had lived there, but she’d gotten to know it quite well when her friend with benefits, Marshall, had occupied the space.
“There are staples in the kitchen cupboards and some perishables in the fridge. That should give you a start.”
“Where’s the nearest grocery store?”
“In Milford, the next town over, I’m afraid. But I’m sure someone can take you there. Otherwise, just about everything else you’ll need is within walking distance.”
He nodded. “Do you mind if I take a look around?”
“Not at all.”
Tricia moved to stand by the window overlooking Main Street. She really didn’t want to visit the bedroom again. There were too many memories there.
David was gone only a minute or so and finished his walk-through by checking out the fridge and kitchen cupboards. “Looks like you thought of everything. I really appreciate it.”
“We want you to be happy during your stay,” she said, meaning it.
“Let’s get the rest of the bags. I’m eager to visit the rest of the village and see where I’ll be working.”
“Let’s get to it,” Tricia said brightly.
The two trundled down the stairs to fetch the rest of David’s luggage. Tricia’s first impression of the young man was that he was personable.
It struck her that Angelica had used that same expression. It bothered her but she couldn’t really say why.