A Very Merry Murder
Published by: Camel Press
Release Date: October 1, 2018
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It’s December in Copper Bluff, and from hillside to hallowed hall, everyone is merry—or will be as soon as semester break arrives. Students are studying, professors are grading, and Emmeline Prather is anticipating the university-sponsored holiday concert. Friend and colleague Lenny Jenkins will be accompanying the visiting quartet, Jazz Underground, and Em can’t think of a better way to kick-start the holiday season.
But before she can say “Jingle Bell Rock,” trouble arrives at Candlelight Inn, the bed and breakfast where the quartet is staying. One of the band members dies unexpectedly, and suspicion falls on Em, whose altercation with the man ends with him on the floor. He never recovers, and now she’s worried her reputation might not either.
When Emmeline starts to see parallels between an Agatha Christie novel she’s teaching and the victim, Lenny claims she’s read one too many mysteries. But as the clues unravel, so does the murderer’s patience. Em is close to finding the truth, but will the truth—or the murderer—push her over the edge? It will take a Christmas miracle to solve this case, but if there’s one thing in surplus this time of year, it’s faith.
Book Three of the Professor Prather Mystery Series
A Very Merry Murder is available in 5×8 trade paperback at bookstores near you, including Barnes and Noble and independent booksellers. Don’t see it at your library? Ask for it! Librarians are awesome resources. Bookstores and libraries can order wholesale through Ingram, Baker & Taylor or by contacting [email protected] Libraries can also order from Brodart Company. Or find it in multiple eBook formats and online, including iBooks, Indie Bound and Kobo.
Book Club Questions for A Very Merry Murder
In book three, an old friend of Lenny’s comes to Copper Bluff, and though Em won’t admit it, she’s jealous. How important are connections with old friends and acquaintances? What makes a relationship valuable? When does it lose value?
Mrs. Gunderson is Em’s next-door neighbor, and in A Very Merry Murder, readers see a lot of her (spoiler alert: they even learn her first name!). Em can’t help but like her despite her outdated views. How accommodating should we be to previous generations? Is it disrespectful to challenge their viewpoints? How do we communicate with people who have different views?
Baking is an activity many people do during the holidays, and like everyone around her, Em is getting into the spirit by making cookies. How important are holiday traditions, like baking cookies? Why do we repeat them each year? Are there times when we need to make room for new traditions? When?
"Author Angela has a nifty talent for description, and although it was still full summer when I read this book, her painting of the South Dakota wind had me shivering [...] A delightful holiday read," Betty Webb Mystery Scene Magazine Read more
"Cozy mystery fans will love the small town scene and protagonist—spirited, clever, and very human professor Emmeline (Em) Prather." Charlene D'Avanzo for New York Journal of Books
"I was thrilled to have found A Very Merry Murderby Mary Angela. This is a perfect cozy mystery to curl up with on a cold winter’s night. The storyline is a page turner from the first chapter to the last and the reader will be pleasantly surprised with climactic suspense." Reader Views Read more.
"This was a tightly woven whodunit that captured my attention as I had to know what happened next. The pacing was on par with how the story was being told keeping me riveted to the pages as one by one, the suspect pool dwindles and Em is closer to the revealing the killer’s identity." Dru's Book Musings Read more.
"This series is becoming more of a favorite with each book I read." A Cozy Experience Read more.
"Another carefully woven plot by Mary Angela with a tip of the hat to Agatha Christie." Map Your Mystery Read more.
"I felt like decorating for Christmas, going to a Christmas performance and baking Christmas cookies while I was reading this book. Christmas wasn’t gaudy or over done. The entire story was well written. I appreciated the references to Agatha Christie and Shakespeare peppered throughout the story. Good mystery. I didn’t solve it! 5 stars!" Katie's Cottage Books Read more.
"This book overflows with the sounds and smells and music of the winter holiday season. I was carried away to Copper Bluff, South Dakota." Laura’s Interests Read more.
"A VERY MERRY MURDER is a warm and endearing cozy mystery into which the reader slips, similar to slipping under a warm afghan near a glowing fire on a cold winter's night, ready to wrap oneself in the story..." Mallory Hearts Cozies Read more.
"Lots of twists, turns, and surprises that you won't see coming all leading to a great reveal scene that made me think of Sherlock as Em laid it all out for them. I highly recommend it to fans of the genre." Books A Plenty Read more.
"A Very Merry Murder is a classically crafted and masterfully methodical mystery with carefully placed subtle clues. It is a gem of a read with its Agatha Christie feel." Book Club Librarian Read more.
"If you haven’t found a chance to read this series, now is the time. You will be enjoying a new friend, strong community and mysteries that are exciting and fun." Bibliophile Reviews Read more.
"Overall this Cozy mystery had ambiance, fun, mystery and loads of Christmas spirit!" The Cozy Page Read more.
"What makes this story a good read is the charm of the characters and their relations, because after reading this series, you’ll love to discover more about them..." Varietats Read more.
"I liked the protagonist and found myself rooting for her all through the book. I was surprised by the ending, which is what I like in a cozy mystery." Melina’s Book Blog Read more.
Also in this series:
Excerpt and Recipe
Up and down Oxford Street, Christmas decorations were beginning to twinkle, lighting up the snow in globes of red, green, and gold. In my little bungalow, nestled in the middle of the block, I was decking the halls (or porch, rather) with tiny white lights. I danced delicately between tacking up strands and shooing away my cat, Dickinson. It was late Thursday afternoon, and with Dean Martin crooning in the background and my first batch of sugar cookies in the oven, the holiday spirit was upon me. The Grinch himself couldn’t have stolen it away.
December is a magical time in Copper Bluff, South Dakota, and to say so isn’t hyperbole. This I discovered my first Christmas on campus when a group of carolers stopped to sing at my front door. At first I was stunned; I’d never seen a caroler in Detroit, my hometown. When they finished, I hardly knew what to say. But eventually I remembered my manners and grabbed a package of Oreos out of the cupboard. This year, I would be armed with homemade treats. I had candy, sprinkles, and sugar in every color. When the carolers arrived, I would be ready.
As I fastened the lights to the windows of my screened-in porch, I noticed Mrs. Gunderson, my neighbor, approaching. Cloaked from neck to ankles in faux fur, she looked festive in her red pill hat and matching scarf. Her hands were clutching a plastic-wrapped plate. My goodies! I jumped off the stool, landing on my feet with a thud. Dickinson, my tabby cat, claimed the space, her spotted orange paws dangling off the miniature ladder.
I rushed to open the door. “Hello, Mrs. Gunderson.”
“My goodness, what beautiful lights,” she said, slowly making her way up the front path. When she reached the porch, she carefully wiped her feet on my Ho! Ho! Ho! mat and handed me the covered plate. “Merry Christmas, dear.”
“Oh thank you, Mrs. Gunderson. You’re too kind.” I glanced at all the different confections on the plate. “Did you make those little—”
“Thumbprints?” She smiled patiently. “I know they’re your favorite.”
“And I have something for you,” I said. “Come in.”
When I entered the house, I sensed the timer had beeped already, for the smell of burnt sugar tinged the air. I rushed to the kitchen, checking the digital clock on the stove; it read END. I stomped my foot. Damn Dean Martin. “Have a seat, Mrs. Gunderson,” I called from the kitchen, hastily grabbing the cookies from the oven. “I’ll be right there.”
“Anywhere in particular?”
“You choose,” I said. “Would you like coffee?”
“I’m just going to stack these folders ... here. Yes, coffee please. With cream.”
I brewed a K-Cup and slid the sugar-sprinkled snowmen, which looked more like wrinkled Michelin men, onto the decorative tray I’d purchased at Winkles Pharmacy. When the coffee finished, I searched the fridge for cream, and finding none, put in a little Coffee-mate. Maybe Mrs. Gunderson wouldn’t notice the difference.
“Well, they’re not as pretty as yours are, but hopefully they taste good.” I placed the tray of warm cookies and coffee on the table. Then I went back to the kitchen to get my cup. When I returned, she was studying the cookies.
“Thank you, Emmeline. These are cute ....”
“Snowmen,” I said, taking the seat across from her.
“Of course. Snowmen.” She took one, dusting off the excess sugar sprinkles. “Did you refrigerate the dough?”
I shook my head, unwrapping the plate of treats she had given me. It was jam-packed with peanut butter kisses, cherry bars, frosted sugar cookies, thumbprints, fudge, and peanut brittle. It had taken me an hour to make one bad batch of sugar cookies; it must have taken her days to prepare all these treats. “I didn’t. I didn’t have time. I wanted to make sure I had some on hand in case the carolers came.”
“You have to refrigerate the dough, dear, if you want it to keep its ... shape.”
“I’ll remember that for the next batch.” I took a bite of fudge. It was a heavenly marshmallow nut masterpiece. Even if she critiqued my baking skills for the next thirty minutes, the fudge alone would be worth it. “This is amazing.”
She took a sip of coffee to wash down the not-so-soft sugar cookie. “That’s my mother’s recipe. It’s said to have captured at least one man’s heart, my father’s. He loved it so much that he bought all four pounds at the church bazaar. Of course she made it every year afterwards.” She looked out the window. “I always think of that when I make it. Isn’t that silly?”
“Not at all,” I said, wiping my fingers with a napkin. “It’s terribly romantic.”
She smiled, showing off perfectly straight dentures. “I’m making some for the Winter Festival next weekend. First Lutheran will have a table downtown. Maybe you’ll stop by with your sweetheart.”
“What sweetheart?” I said, but I knew very well to whom she was referring. Despite her grandmotherly appearance, she was as smart as any professor on campus. She made it her business to know the town and all its residents, including me.
She pushed aside her half-full coffee cup. Maybe she detected the artificial creamer. “You know. That big fellow with the blond hair? He comes around quite a bit.”
“Lenny? Oh, he’s not my sweetheart.” Not that we hadn’t considered the idea. We had, but lately, life had gotten in the way. He spent the summer in Concord, Massachusetts, teaching a workshop on Transcendentalism, and I spent most of the fall attending conferences and writing lesson plans for my first proposed course on campus: Crimes and Passion: Women Writers of the 21st Century. It was a class about mystery and romance authors, and I was knee-deep in research, which actually meant I was rereading many of my favorite novels. Jim Giles, the English chair, thought the class was an excellent idea and hoped it would quench my thirst for solving crimes. Here was a formal way to study it—and not get personally involved. It was a win-win, for the students and me. They got to study something besides the classics, and I got to teach something besides composition.
Mrs. Gunderson raised her eyebrows. “Well it’s something to keep in mind. I had been married a decade by the time I was your age.”
“I’m only twenty-nine!” I said.
“And thirty is knocking at your door.” She stood and put on her coat. “Thank you for the cookies, Emmeline. It was very thoughtful of you.”
I stood too. “You’re welcome. And if you’d like me to hang up some lights for you, just let me know. I’m pretty good with a hammer.”
“Lights do detract criminals, you know, and my front stoop is so dark.” She considered the offer as she donned her red pill hat. “Yes, my front stoop. That wouldn’t cause you too much trouble, would it?”
“No trouble at all,” I said. “I’ll need a way to work off all those goodies.”
After she left, I took my cat, Dickinson, off the stool and placed her on the wide wooden windowsill. I had one more strand of lights to string and wanted to finish before tomorrow. Fridays I taught on campus and had promised Lenny I would meet up with him and a quartet from Minneapolis Friday night. The quartet, Jazz Underground, would be performing Saturday in the Holiday Music Series. Lenny knew one of the players and would be joining the quartet as a guest guitar player. The other acts in the month-long series were folk and classical, so I imagined the quartet’s music would add a jazz and blues component. Whatever Lenny played would sound terrific. Though he was Jewish, he loved Christmas music because “Yeah, Neil Diamond.” Besides, he wasn’t going to turn down his first formal invitation from the university. Although he played many local venues, he’d never performed for a college event, unless you counted the English Department’s holiday party, which was more a semester’s end hootenanny.
After tacking up the last twisted cord, I walked outside to admire my handiwork. My house looked cute and cozy with the icicle lights highlighting my little spot on the block. On the corner, white clouds of smoke puffed from the chimney of my neighbor’s square brick abode, which was decorated with gingerbread men, and all six windows of the two-story across the street were outlined in multicolored lights. To my right was Mrs. Gunderson, with her twinkling miniature tree framed by old-fashioned tieback drapes, and to my left was the pair of psychologists with no lights but a beautiful rope of greenery festooned to the front railing. Of course there were the students, about a block down on Oxford, who were less careful with their decorations. But some were graduate students and took time to put in a colored light bulb or count down the days until finals in fake snow on a window. It always gave me a chuckle when I passed because, really, I was counting down the days too. For an English professor, finals meant grading— and a lot of it. In the upcoming weeks, I had many portfolios, papers, and projects to read and tabulate. Before I could enjoy one day of winter break, I would have to mow through sundry comma splices, dangling modifiers, and sentence fragments. The reminder was unwelcome, and I pushed it out of my mind, focusing instead on the quiet beauty of Copper Bluff.
It was as if the tiny town was sleeping, I decided. Not sleeping, exactly, but napping under a light blanket of snow. It had put away the busyness of fall harvest and rested under the peaceful promise of the holiday. People took time to volunteer at churches, visit the elderly, and write Christmas cards (yes, write!). Shopping was fun, not stressful, because it usually aided a local charity or family, and the whole town turned out, paying inflated prices for someone’s benefit. The Winter Festival that Mrs. Gunderson mentioned was an all- day block party. The entire downtown came alive, and it was one of my favorite events of the year. I anticipated it like a child anticipates Christmas morning, waiting to unwrap the package that was Copper Bluff. As I picked up my box of holiday décor, Dickinson pawing the trail of gold garland, I decided there was no place I’d rather be.
Mrs. Gunderson’s Marshmallow Nut Masterpiece
2 ½ cups sugar
½ cup butter
5-oz. can (2/3 cup) evaporated milk
7-oz. jar (2 cups) marshmallow crème
12-oz. pkg (2 cups) semi-sweet chocolate chips
¾ cup chopped walnuts
1 tsp. of vanilla
2 cups of miniature marshmallows
1. Line a 9x9 pan with foil. Make sure ends extend over the sides of the pan for easy lifting. Butter foil, and set aside.
2. In a large saucepan, combine butter, milk, and sugar. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil over medium heat for five minutes. Keep stirring!
3. Remove from heat. Stir in marshmallow crème and chocolate chips. Add vanilla.
4. Stir in walnuts. Then add two cups of marshmallows. Stir gently. Don’t let the marshmallows melt. (You may omit them and the walnuts if desired.)
5. Spread in prepared pan. Cool to room temperature. Refrigerate until firm (about an hour).
6. To cut, remove fudge from pan using foil as a handle. Turn onto a glass cutting board, and remove foil. Use a large knife to cut into pieces. Store fudge in an airtight container in the refrigerator.