Don't you love the title of M.S. Spencer's new release? I do. It creates all sorts of "wants-to-know."
Thanks so much, L.A., for letting me talk to your readers about my new cozy mystery The Pit and the Passion: Murder at the Ghost Hotel. Set on Longboat Key, Florida, it takes place on the spot where John Ringling began building a luxurious hotel in the 1920s. Left to slowly disintegrate over the decades, it inevitably came to be called the Ghost Hotel.
At midnight, in the darkness of a deserted hotel, comes a scream and a splash. Eighty-five years later, workmen uncover a skeleton in an old elevator shaft. Who is it, and how did it get there? To find out, Charity Snow, ace reporter for the Longboat Key Planet, teams up with Rancor Bass, best-selling author. A college ring they find at the dig site may prove to be their best clue.
Although his arrogance nearly exceeds his talent, Charity soon discovers a warm heart beating under Rancor’s handsome exterior. While dealing with a drop-dead gorgeous editor who may or may not be a villain, a publisher with a dark secret, and an irascible forensic specialist, Charity and Rancor unearth an unexpected link to the most famous circus family in the world.
Excerpt: April in a Paris Jail
Charity dropped the phone. After picking it up and waiting for the panicky breaths to slow, she said as calmly as she could, “Before I shell out any more money, you need to answer a few questions, mister.”
“Fire away. It’s funny—here in France I’m allowed not one but two phone calls.”
“I presume your first one was to the American embassy.”
“That’s next on my list. This may come as a surprise to you, but I so longed to hear your voice that I decided to check in with you first. Get the money ball rolling, as it were.”
“It’s always about money, isn’t it?”
“Well, in this case, it’s pretty crucial. The French police may be enlightened as to telephone communications, but not so much about accommodations. So what do you say?”
“I say, get on the horn to the embassy without ado.”
He was silent for a minute. Finally, he said gently, “Don’t you want to hear what happened?”
“Let me guess. You were caught in flagrante delicto with a beautiful fugitive from justice.”
“Not at all. My heart is true. I’ve been faithful to you even if you don’t deserve it.”
Charity decided to let that pass—and maybe revisit it later at her leisure. “Tell me then.”
“Well, said beautiful fugitive managed to turn the tables on me. I found her, but instead of consenting to come along quietly, she screamed bloody murder. In a performance worthy of Sarah Bernhardt—you know who she was, don’t you? The greatest actress of her age. The Divine Sarah. Why, her Tosca was emulated by thousands of would-be swans. I—”
“What did she claim?”
“Who? Oh, Isabella? That I—Rancor Bass, author of eleven wildly acclaimed books—had stolen her manuscript! The gall of the woman.” He subsided into incoherent rumblings.
“And since this is France, the gendarmes refrained from asking any searing questions for fear of injuring the nymphette’s fragile sensibilities. They swallowed her line without so much as a tittle of qualm and arrested me. It’s appalling, really. These chaps are totally sexist. Chauvinist dinosaurs…”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Well, I’d love the money as soon as you can send it. How’s that done nowadays? They used to say ‘I’ll wire it,’ but I’m pretty sure technology has moved on. No matter, that was five hundred if you recall. I guess I can exchange it here—ooh, I just thought of something. It’s euros, isn’t it? Not francs. What a shame…this Eurozone crap has got to stop. It’s ruining all the color and spice of Europe. Did you know French farmers can’t sell cheese that isn’t pasteurized? Criminal.”
“Rancor? Have you by any chance not eaten in a while?”
“What? No, la bonne femme—that’s ‘wife’ to you Yankees—of Monsieur le Brigadier Dumont provided me with a cheese omelet and a Picardie glass of a refreshing Sancerre. Her name is Antoinette. A very warmhearted woman.”
I’ll bet she is. “All right, then why are you babbling?”
“I think it’s the cell walls—so close, so confining. They’re beginning to get to me. Did I ever mention I have claustrophobia? I’m trying to fend it off with logorrhea.”
“Logorrhea. It’s like diarrhea except with words rather than…well, you know.”
Let’s just skip on ahead. “All right, I’ll see about the money. Who do I send it to?”
“My lawyer—a Monsieur Carotte. Hang on, let me find his email address…here it is. CarotteatAubergineCarotteAsperge-dot-com. That’s all one word. Do you want me to spell it?”
“No, I’ve got it. Wait—you have a lawyer? Why do you need me?”
“He was assigned by the judge. He doesn’t care about me the way you do, Charity. In fact, he actually hooted when I suggested he bail me out. Like a hyena, not like an owl. Most unsettling.”
“How do you know he won’t keep the money?”
“Oh dear, I hadn’t thought of that. Just a minute.” From a distance, she heard a dialogue in rapid French. Rancor came back on the line. “The officer has kindly offered to take custody of the funds. Send it to Brigadier Raoul Dumont, in care of the Commissariat de Police, eighth arrondissement, one Avenue du General Eisenhower, Paris, 75008. Got it?”
“All right. I’ll do it first thing tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow! Can’t you do it tonight? It’s not exactly Shangri-La here.”
What time is it there?”
More French. “Dumont informs me it is three o’clock in the morning. So it’s tomorrow.”
“Well, it isn’t tomorrow here. You’ll get the money when you get it.” When he didn’t answer, she said sweetly, “Do call me when you get out.”
“Will do,” he whispered his voice tight. “You’re a saint. I’ll be at l’Hôtel Paris, 13 rue des Beaux Arts, Paris 75006. Number is 33-1-44-41-99-55.”
“Hotel Paris? Where’s that? By the train station?”
“No, dear. That’s Hôtel de la Gare. It’s always Hôtel de la Gare. L’Hôtel Paris is one of the most famous of all French hostelries. I’m shocked you don’t know this.”
“Rancor, I’ve never been to France. I’ve never even been to New York.”
“Why, you sad, pathetic creature. While I still have you on the line, I shall tell you more. All kinds of famous people have rested their weary heads on the silken sheets of l’Hôtel, the most eminent being Oscar Wilde. I believe he breathed his last bon mot there. So naturally, it’s the most suitable hotel for a wielder of clever phrases such as I, don’t you think? Plus, it’s a five-star and really rather special. Did you know its rooms are classified Mignon and Bijou? That tells you how precious it is.”
Not having any response to this little speech, she said goodbye and hung up.
An hour later, money having been sent and receipt confirmed, she went to bed, resolved to force the little reptile to confess just how he managed to bunk in a five-star hotel and yet still had to borrow bail money.
Although M. S. Spencer has lived or traveled in five of the seven continents, the last thirty years were spent mostly in Washington, D.C. as a librarian, Congressional staff assistant, speechwriter, editor, birdwatcher, policy wonk, non-profit director, and parent.
After many years in academia, she worked for the U.S. Senate, the U.S. Department of the Interior, in several library systems, both public and academic, and at the Torpedo Factory Art Center.
Ms. Spencer has published eleven romantic suspense novels, and has two more in utero. She has two fabulous grown children and an incredible granddaughter. She divides her time between the Gulf Coast of Florida and a tiny village in Maine.