by Cynthia Chow
& Nancy J. Cohen
This week we have a review of the latest Bad Hair Day Mystery by Nancy J. Cohen along with an interesting guest post by Nancy about keeping a series fresh. Details at the end of the post on how to enter to win an ebook copy of the book, and a link to order it from Amazon.
Styled for Murder: A Bad Hair Day Mystery by Nancy J. Cohen
Review by Cynthia Chow
It’s never a good time to receive a call from one’s mother announcing the news that there’s a dead guy in her shower. It’s even more challenging when attempting to juggle a ten-month-old son, stepdaughter graduating from high school, and owning and running a hair and day spa. The one thing that’s in Marla Vail’s favor is that she’s no stranger to murder, but for once she’s not the one discovering the body. Marla’s mother and step-father were in the midst of a big bathroom renovation, and the tile installer seems to have discovered the body of their project manager in their shower. While Marla had hopes that the death was accidental, those are quickly dashed with the news that Jack Laredo was strangled to death with one of Marla’s stepfather’s ties. Marla’s husband Dalton Vail, being a Palm Haven Homicide Detective, doesn’t hold any sway with the detectives from another Florida county, but that won’t stop her relentlessness in proving her family innocent while tracking down who may have given the contractor a final Yelp review.
Since Marla’s new stepfather Reed Westmore was onsite and had the means to commit the murder, he quickly becomes the prime suspect in the eyes of the investigating Detective Wanner. That was even more Marla learns of the connection between Jack and Reed, who in his role as Professor Westmore had flunked out the victim’s son when caught him cheating. Rising on the list of those with motives are Jack’s business partners and unhappy former clients, not to mention the targets of his other various schemes. The arrival of a soap opera star, a few additional murders, and a garlic festival beauty pageant needing stylists all complicate Marla’s plans to help her mother, prove her stepfather innocent, and figure out just what is up with Dalton’s strange behavior.
In this seventeenth of the series readers will have the treat of seeing some of their favorite characters pop in to give advice or prod Marla along with the investigation. Longtime fans will remember deli and restaurant owner Arnie, once a suitor for Marla’s affections but now happily settled in with his own family. All-too-brief visits to Marla’s Cut-N-Dye Salon and Day Spa allow for appearances by her stylists and clients, as does a trip to her bestie Tally’s Dressed to Kill boutique. Marla’s complicated relationships with her family continue to be fascinating and relatable, especially when she fears that her sister-in-law may be considering a new career, a new move, and possibly a completely new life. Everyone’s lives would be easier if they would just talk openly about their feelings and fears, but few are willing to open up and be that vulnerable. The latter part of the novel does take readers in a very different direction, guaranteeing a surprise that does tie everything together. The discoveries that Marla makes will impact the future of her and her family, and readers will be happy to go along for the ride in this always entertaining, vibrant mystery series.
Keeping a Series Fresh
By Nancy J. Cohen
Styled for Murder is book seventeen in the award-winning Bad Hair Day mystery series. That bears the question of how to keep a series fresh. We don’t want to repeat a means of murder or a setting, nor do we want to have the killer be the same gender too many times in a row. So, what can we as writers do to make things new and exciting for readers as well as for ourselves?
The key component is character development. Throughout a protagonist’s life, her relationships change and evolve. She grows to meet these challenges. Friends come and go. Family conflicts bloom and fade. Colleagues act as rivals or become mentors in an ever-changing landscape. In my series, hairstylist Marla Vail goes from a divorced woman of thirty-four who doesn’t want children due to a past trauma to a more mature thirty-nine-year-old married woman with a baby and a stepdaughter. The people that surround her provide fodder for stories along with giving readers a sense of community. You enter Marla’s world each time looking forward to seeing old friends in a familiar setting.
However, the unique setting must change. My series takes place in Palm Haven, an affluent suburb just west of Fort Lauderdale. Within this town, Marla owns and operates the Cut ’N Dye Salon and Day Spa. Each mystery has its own unique milieu that I call the Setting within a Setting. In Styled for Murder, this would be the Amaze Design Center. The story starts with a frantic call from Marla’s mother that there’s a dead body in her shower. She’s in the midst of a bathroom remodel, and the dead guy is the project foreman. Expand out to the victim’s secretive colleagues at the design center, disgruntled suppliers, and other personal contacts. More examples of this element from my stories include a cruise ship, a dude ranch, a wedding party, a beauty trade show, and a bakeoff contest at a local farm festival. Change the setting within the setting, and you have a whole new cast of suspects. This gives each story a different ambiance.
As for crime scene details, we aim to vary the means of death to avoid repetition. Have I shot anyone yet? No? Great; we’ll use that one in my next book. Hopefully we’ll vary the killer’s motives as well.
There’s one more item that is crucial in my view to getting excited about a book. I need to learn something new. In Styled for Murder, I delved into remodeling scams, propane gas leaks, the benefits of garlic, copper crime, and other esoteric topics. I’ve already begun research for book eighteen. How do battle reenactments, Seminoles, tea, buttons, and Independence Day relate? You tell me. So far, I have no idea, but these are the topics that have snagged my attention. Now I just have to weld them into a plot.
Note–Although Styled for Murder is seventeen in my series, it can be read as a standalone.
To enter to win an ebook copy of Styled for Murder, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “styled,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen January 15, 2022. U.S. residents only, and you must be 18 or older to enter. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.
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