Erica Coleman, a gifted and quirky private investigator with OCD, is with her family in the picturesque town of Florence, Oregon, happily anticipating Grandma Blanche’s eighty-first birthday celebration. But when the feisty matriarch, a savvy businesswoman, suspects wrongdoing and asks Erica to investigate her company, things get sticky. Before the investigation can begin, Blanche passes away. But her unexpected death leaves Erica with more questions than answers. It soon becomes clear Grandma’s passing was anything but natural: she was murdered.
When another relative becomes the next victim of someone with a taste for homicide, Erica uses her flair for cooking to butter up local law enforcement and gather clues. As she works to unravel the case, Erica’s OCD either helps or hinders her—depending on who you talk to—but it’s those same obsessive/compulsive traits than enable Erica to see clues that others miss. When she narrowly escapes becoming the third victim, Erica is more determined than ever to solve the case but wonders if she’s bitten off more than she can chew.
As a special bonus, ten of Erica’s favorite recipes are included!
Shirley – I’ll have you know, Marlene, that the only reason I agreed to this interview about your new book, “Death in the Family,” is because we aren't related.
Marlene –That doesn’t mean you’re safe, you know. . .
Shirley – In that case, you go ahead and walk in front of me. I have to wonder, how did you come up with this plot, how does your family view you now because of it, and why are we walking in the woods?
Marlene – My weird brain comes up with all kinds of things. My family’s kind of used to it—they avoid me a lot. Also, they don’t like to eat what I cook—especially those chocolate covered strawberries I brought to the last family party.
Shirley – Well, what's wrong with them? I like chocolate covered strawberries. Hey, this can’t be the shortest way through the woods, even though it is the weirdest way. Look at those sticks laid out on the ground, sorted by size. Does that mean your obsessive compulsive (OCD) protagonist, Erica Coleman, has been here?
Marlene –It must be. Who else would do such a thing?
Shirley – It could have been a really bored bear. Is it true that Erica was stalked by an unseen something in some spooky woods?
Shirley—(Gasp.) Seriously Marlene? Don’t you know that it’s the sidekick who always gets killed from something sinister that's following them? As the author, you’re the main character, so that makes me the sidekick! Maybe you should walk behind me. You owe me a whole plate of fresh chocolate covered strawberries for this one.
Marlene –Uh, are you sure you want the strawberries . . .?
Shirley – Ahhh! I hear screaming!
Marlene – I think that’s a meow.
Shirley – No, it’s screaming!
Marlene – That would be you.
Shirley – Someone’s being tortured by a stalker we can’t see! Someone’s dying! Erica’s aunt died in these woods, didn’t she? Ahhh! Something’s touching my leg!
Marlene – It’s a kitten.
Shirley – Oh. A little lost kitten. Poor orphan. (In a whisper) Maybe the stalker killed his mama. (Sniff) Wait… I smell food. Look! Up ahead! There's the end of these creepy woods! Here, can you fit this kitten in your purse? Now that we’re out of danger, I’m feeling mighty hungry. I heard that your book has 10 new recipes in it. Does that mean you’re a good cook?
Marlene – I wish. And my family wishes. No, I’m the opposite of Erica. I hate to cook. And I don’t follow recipes. If I have a smidgen of anything left over, I throw it in the pot. And I never taste my cooking WHILE I’m making something. Life’s short, be adventurous I always say. Besides, I can tell soon enough if my family likes it from the looks of disgust they give me, and whether or not the dog will eat what they slip to him under the table.
Shirley – Well it’s a good thing we didn't reach your house first, then. Ah, here we are. Let’s see. I could be happy with some of Kimmi’s Chicken Enchiladas. Wait a minute. There’s something on there that doesn't look natural. Are those…chicken bones in the shape of a skull and crossbones? Maybe I’ll pass on the enchiladas. Didn't you recommend Carolyn’s Dream Dessert? (Whisper) Who’s that lady watching us? Is that Carolyn? Why is she staring at us with such anger? And why does she look so guilty?
Marlene – People who look guilty often ARE guilty. But you’ll have to read the book and see.
Shirley – Well, someone killed Grandma, and if Carolyn’s not guilty, she wouldn't mind being asked, would she? Uh, oh, watch out! I told you to watch out, Marlene! Carolyn must have heard what I said. Oh, well, it’s not so bad. You actually look pretty good with Dream Dessert all over your head. Now is anyone else going to throw something at me or threaten to kill me if I take some of these chocolate covered strawberries?
Marlene –You weren't paying attention earlier, were you? Okay, I’ll repeat myself—avoid the strawberries. You’re better off with the Dream Dessert.
Shirley – Um… it doesn't look as appetizing since you turned it into a fashion statement. Maybe I’d be better off eating something from a can. Was there any cat food that came with that kitten?
Marlene - Yes. It’s called Chicken Surprise. Guaranteed to put a look of surprise on your face when you keel over after eating it.
Excerpt from A Death in the Family
“It’s hard to believe she’s gone,” Kristen said dolefully. “When I moved here, I thought I’d have years with Grandma. She was always so active—I thought she’d keep going for years.”
“And all the time, her heart was getting weaker,” Trent said glumly.
Walter commented, “The last time I saw her, Blanche said the doctor told her she had the constitution of a mule.”
There were a few smiles at this, but Martha’s brow furrowed in confusion. “But Mom’s death didn't have anything to do with how healthy she was.”
“What are you talking about?” Trent’s impatient voice billowed out and filled the small room.
Martha squirmed but fluttered on, “Well, after what Mom said when she came to visit me, you know—about how something wrong was going on in the company—I worried that something might happen.”
Her response reverberated around the room. Everyone went very still—as if they were holding their breath.
Martha’s eyes went from one to another. “I didn't mean—oh, I shouldn't have said anything,” she stammered. Her voice was pure distress. “It’s just that . . . well, we’re all family here, so it’s okay, isn't it? I mean, no one else knows.”
“No one else knows what?” Trent said brusquely.
Visibly flustered, Martha’s hands twisted in her lap. “And . . . and Mother was very old and—and the police haven’t even come, have they?”
Erica wondered what Martha could be getting at. Everyone darted quizzical looks at each other, trying to make sense out of Martha’s confused chirruping.
After meeting blank looks all around, Martha blurted, “I mean, that’s good . . . isn't it? For the family?”
The room remained deadly silent as Martha’s cheeks flamed red.
There was a rumble as Walter cleared his throat. “Why would the police come?”
“Why, to arrest someone.” Martha sounded surprised—as if he had asked something that was completely and absolutely self-evident. She stared at Walter, as if he and he alone could straighten everything out. “Isn't that why they’re doing an autopsy? I mean, don’t they always do an autopsy when someone has been murdered?”
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Marlene Bateman Sullivan was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, and graduated from the University of Utah with a BA in English. She is married to Kelly R. Sullivan and they are the parents of seven children.
Her hobbies are gardening, camping, and reading. Marlene has been published extensively in magazines and newspapers and has written a number of non-fiction books, including: Latter-day Saint Heroes and Heroines, And There Were Angels Among Them, Visit’s From Beyond the Veil, By the Ministering of Angels, Brigham’s Boys, and Heroes of Faith. Her latest non-fiction book is Gaze Into Heaven; Near Death Experiences in Early Church History, a fascinating collection of over 50 documented near-death experiences from the lives of early latter-day Saints.
Marlene’s first novel was the best-selling Light on Fire Island. Her next novel was Motive for Murder, which is the first in a mystery series that features the quirky private eye with OCD, Erica Coleman.