Murder Outside the Lines
reviewed by Barbara Saffer
Amateur sleuth Florrie Fox is the manager of the Color Me Read bookstore in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, DC. This is the perfect job for Florrie, because she loves to read mysteries and she creates her own line of adult coloring books. The bookstore’s owner, Professor John Maxwell, has an office on the building’s third floor, where he entertains his erudite friends.
It’s the Halloween season, which is serious business in Georgetown. Residents compete to have the most elaborate decorations, stores have seasonal events, and ghost sightings increase dramatically. For Color Me Read, Florrie has scheduled a reading by psychic author Hilda Rattenhorst, who says she can speak to the dead. To heighten the ghoulish atmosphere, Professor Maxwell has received a package containing a human skull, with a note claiming the sender, Ellis Willoughby, is in a dangerous situation.
When clairvoyant Hilda Rattenhorst arrives at Color Me Read to give her reading, she’s disheveled and flustered, claiming to have seen a rolled up rug with a foot sticking out. Hilda says she feels the vibes of a murderer in the room, and – as if to reinforce Hilda’s observations – a loud shriek reverberates through the building.
Florrie and Professor Maxwell don’t believe in ghosts or psychics, and think Hilda is just putting on a show. However, a body in a rolled up rug is soon found in Georgetown, and the victim is identified as a Washington, DC resident named Manny, who works at the bakery where Florrie shops. The police, including Florrie’s boyfriend Sergeant Eric Jonquille, launch a murder investigation, and Florrie takes an interest in the proceedings. There are numerous suspects for Manny’s murder because he had disreputable friends; was accused of cheating in a judo competition; and was generally disliked.
Georgetown seems to be experiencing a crime wave because Florrie’s delivery man is bitten by a snake; Professor Maxwell’s friend is attacked and almost killed; Florrie’s acquaintance is knocked out in his apartment; and a private detective is found dead. Florrie suspects these incidents may be connected, and makes her own inquiries, bringing pastries and pumpkin cookies to loosen people’s tongues.
On a more personal level, Florrie helps a friend with marital problems and she and her cat Peaches provide comfort to the Professor’s butler, who’s afraid of ghosts.
In between shifts at the bookstore, detective work, and assisting her friends, Florrie is enjoying the Halloween season. She walks her dog Frodo past the decorated Georgetown houses to look at the vampires, witches, corpses, coffins, giant spiders, and skeletons; goes on a ghost tour with her colleagues; sees a headless spirit walk through a cemetery; hears ghost stories from Professor Maxwell’s friends; and gets dressed up for Halloween.
The story has numerous threads and a large cast of characters, but the diligent reader will be rewarded with an entertaining mystery filled with surprises. There are also recipes for Russian tea, cinnamon apple pancakes, pumpkin cupcakes, and French apple cake.
Though this is a Halloween themed book, it’s a fun read for any time of year.