by Kathleen Costa
This week we have a review of Laughing Can Kill You by Maggie King, along with an interesting interview with Maggie. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win an ebook copy of the book and a link to purchase it from Amazon.
Laughing Can Kill You: Hazel Rose Book Club Mystery #3 by Maggie King
“Just add a dead body!”
Hazel Rose is the popular author of eight bestselling romance novels, but the lack of success for her ninth book has been met with a swift “goodbye” from her publisher. Her cousin and best friend Lucy Hooper listened intently to her distraught friend, but she was a bit more pragmatic. “Turn [it] into a mystery. Just add a dead body or two…” Ok, they both admit it’s not as easy as that, but they agree the six-week mystery writing course they’d plan to attend may provide the insights needed to save Hazel’s writing career. The bestselling crime writer Claudia Marlowe is teaching the class, and although her style is more “noir,” they know it’ll be a great experience. Hazel knows Claudia as Claudia Brown, when decades before, they were neighbors and she saved Hazel’s sister Madeline’s life. She never thought she’d repaid her enough for such a selfless act, so reconnecting has been a pleasure.
The other attendees of the class are quite diverse in background and personality and range from baby boomer veterans needing a refresher to Gen-X novices needing direction. The one interesting participant, however, is Randall Zimmerman, Esq., who is not only the ex-husband of one of the members of Hazel’s Murder on Tour book club, he has a connection to a previous murder investigation that entangled Hazel. His ego, lack of filter, and a “laughing” taunt witnessed at a book signing may challenge everyone’s sensibilities and adherence to the fifth commandment: Thou shalt not kill. But, again an unwritten commandment has been violated: Thou shalt not “laugh” at people…they don’t like it. Hazel found she’d accidentally pickup Zimmerman’s manuscript, and in an attempt to return it to him, Hazel and her husband Vince Castelli, retired police detective turned true crime author, instead discover Zimmerman’s body…dead!
Laughing Can Kill You Earns 5/5 Manuscripts…Engaging Entertainment!
Maggie King has penned an engaging predicament for her author turned sleuth Hazel Rose in this third book of her Hazel Rose Book Club Mystery. Hazel had solved a few suspicious deaths before and connections to a previous investigation are made with this new murder, however, it didn’t seem necessary to have read those books first to keep one engaged. The victim is the perfect karmic choice described as despicable, selfish, and uncaring, so the suspect list is an entertaining challenge to weed through: an ex-wife, a wife, friends, family, colleagues, clients, the ones he laughed at…well, just about everyone had a motive. The book is longer than I prefer and at the beginning some accusatory banter and finger pointing seemed a bit of a stretch as legitimate and realistic motives, but as the drama unfolded, details, new connections, a few closeted skeletons, and another murder victim led to some compelling, if not perilous, justice. There was an abundance of talk about writing in Claudia’s course and later Hazel’s own class, individual projects, some mentoring, and the varying styles of the writers, which also contributed to lots of characters and took a bit away from the main issue. However, I loved it…clever, intriguing, and satisfying karma!
Hazel Rose Book Club Mystery
Murder at the Book Club (2014)
Murder at the Moonshine Inn (2016)
Laughing Can Kill You (2021)
Be a Big Maggie King!
“Stories of secrets, scandals, and…murder.” Maggie King is the author of the Hazel Rose Book Group Mysteries. She’s also published short mysteries for anthologies, including Murder by the Glass and 50 Shades of Cabernet.
Interview with Maggie King:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Maggie: In sixth grade I wrote my own girl detective mystery and read installments to my friends while walking home from school. Even though they enjoyed my readings, I didn’t stick with writing. In high school I found an outlet for my considerable adolescent angst in poetry and journal entries. I wrote long, long letters to friends and relatives.
Fast forward a few decades to 1995 in Los Angeles, where I lived for many years. When three of my co-workers took creative writing and screenwriting courses at UCLA Extension, I read their work and was impressed by their talent. My competitive side kicked in and I thought, “I could do this.” I belonged to a mystery book group (it became the model for the Murder on Tour group in the Hazel Rose Book Group Mysteries) and felt confident that I could turn out a mystery. When I moved to Virginia in 1996, I took a writing course at the University of Virginia and enjoyed it. I took more classes and started writing on a regular basis, and never stopped!
KRL: When did your first novel come out, what was it called, and would you tell us a little about it?
Maggie: Murder at the Book Group, a Hazel Rose Book Group Mystery, debuted in 2014. It’s the story of two women: Carlene Arness is a mystery writer who dies after drinking poisoned tea during a meeting of her book group in Richmond, Virginia. Hazel Rose is an aspiring romance writer who decides to find out who killed Carlene. Hazel doesn’t feel brave, and she didn’t even much like Carlene, but she has a strong sense of justice. And Hazel was once married to Carlene’s husband, and he has a special place in her heart.
Hazel is amazed when she learns that the refined and reserved Carlene had quite a checkered past. She’s equally amazed at the scandals and secrets the book group members harbor.
KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense and if not, what else have you written?
Maggie: Aside from short pieces I’ve written for writing classes, and the aforementioned epic letters, I’ve devoted myself to mysteries.
KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series?
Maggie: In recent years, Richmond, the capital of Virginia, has evolved from a traditional city to a hip place. Rich in history and culture, it’s fun to take readers on a tour of Church Hill, Hermitage Road Historic District, The Fan, Capitol Hill, and Bon Air.
In Richmond you’ll find a vibrant arts community (writing, visual, theatre), world-class museums, libraries, and bookstores. The city is home to schools like Virginia Commonwealth University, University of Richmond, and community colleges.
As for my characters, they’re a hodge-podge of the many people I’ve known over the years, so snippets of their experiences wind up on my pages. Hazel’s husband Vince shares many qualities with my husband. I’ve been in a number of book groups over the years and modeled my fictional members after ones I’ve known. I’ve met many authors, some very successful, some not so much, and I like to explore the reasons for the differences in their experiences.
I think people expect similarities between myself and Hazel Rose. Like Hazel, I was born on the east coast, moved to Los Angeles in my twenties, and started my career as a computer programmer. Like Hazel, I had a calico cat named Shammy who accompanied me when I moved back east in 1996 and settled in Richmond.
Hazel has five marriages to her credit -three ended in divorce, one in death, and her current one is a success. I, on the other hand, have enjoyed marital bliss for thirty plus years with my one and only husband! But the biggest difference between Hazel and me: I DO NOT hunt down killers!
In Murder at the Book Group, I introduced a couple of characters based on “real” people. One was a woman I used to see at a gym in Richmond. I never knew her name or even talked to her except for a “Hi” and a wave. She was partial to leopard prints and chartreuse. The last time I saw her she sashayed into the gym sporting chartreuse stiletto boots and a leopard cowgirl hat, platinum blond curls cascading down her back. She became Kat Berenger in Murder at the Book Group. As a perk, I gave her a personal trainer job at the same gym.
Another character is based on a woman with whom I once had an adversarial work relationship. I made her nasty as all get out, but I had a runaway word count and some ruthless editing was in order. Ms. Nasty got whittled down and, lo and behold, she became quite nice! I’m still scratching my head about that. Do other writers unwittingly transform their characters via literary nip n tuck? Is writing a vehicle for forgiveness? Someone with savvy in the spiritual realm can weigh in on this question.
KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to experience from your work?
Maggie: Mostly I aim to entertain, but I do sprinkle in social messages. In Murder at the Book Group, I weave that unholy trinity of forbidden topics – religion, politics, and sex – throughout the story. A range of issues that concern contemporary society are explored – alcoholism, the pro-life/pro-choice debate, sex addiction, sin, salvation and, of course, murder – all viewed according to the religious and political beliefs of the characters.
Lest this sounds way too serious, it’s all cloaked in humor, which prompted Mary Lignor of Suspense Magazine to say in her review: “ … for the side of humor that the author delivers, there is definitely a dark side to go along with it.”
Murder at the Moonshine Inn, #2 in the series, is purely for entertainment, but consider my tagline: “Murder at the Moonshine Inn is a tale of family, money, betrayal, a book group, a redneck bar … and murder.” Readers can catch messages about family: should you do anything to help your family? Are there limits? Along with family, readers will see how money defines the characters and drives the plot. Some have too little money, some maybe too much. Some fear their money will be taken away from them.
Laughing Can Kill You is #3 in the series. While primarily a murder mystery, it’s a story about writers, where they are on their writing paths, and the ups and downs they experience throughout their careers. How do writers cope with the vagaries of the publishing industry? How do some writers stay on top, continuing to publish bestsellers year after year? Do writers really need to spend copious amounts of time on social media?
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just work whenever you can?
Maggie: I write mostly in the late morning and the afternoon. By nature, I’m an afternoon person.
KRL: Do you outline? If not, do you have some other interesting way that you keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book when you are writing it?
Maggie: I outline, but it’s a very flexible outline that allows for detours and spur-of-the-moment side trips. The outline’s main purpose is to keep track of important scenes, characters, and discoveries.
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Maggie: Not at all. My agent sent my MS to several publishers. The seventh one, Simon and Schuster, took it.
KRL: Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?
Maggie: The acceptance of my first novel, Murder in the Book Group, was very exciting and kicked off a days-long celebration!
KRL: Most interesting book signing story-in a bookstore or other venue?
Maggie: My first short story was published in the Virginia is for Mysteries anthology in 2014. The anthology included stories written by Sisters in Crime members from the Central Virginia and Mystery by the Sea chapters. We had one of our first signings at the Poe Birthday Bash, an annual event held at the Poe Museum in Richmond. As Poe’s birthday is January 19, the event is always held close to that date.
We didn’t think to ask where we’d be sitting for the signing. Turned out we had a table outside, under a tent! Even though the tent was heated, it was freezing. Brrrrr! We still had fun meeting readers and other authors as our teeth chattered. The highlight was signing the anthology for Dr. Hal Poe, one of Edgar’s descendants. VERY exciting!
KRL: What are your future writing goals?
Maggie: A new series, possibly historical, and more short stories.
KRL: Who are your writing heroes?
Maggie: Jane Austen, Maeve Binchy, Agatha Christie, Dianne Emley, Sue Grafton, Paul D. Marks (miss him!), Marcia Muller, John Steinbeck, and Anne Tyler. This isn’t a complete list by any means.
I have a special category for my author mentors: Joan Smith, Gillian Roberts, and Melinda Wells (aka Linda Palmer). Some of the best advice I ever received was to study the works of other writers. I’ve done just that, analyzing the character development, story structure, and styles of those three gifted writers.
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
Maggie: I include backstories and tidbits about my settings. I visit the places I include in my story. I scope out the area for sights, sounds, traffic patterns, etc. to add authentic detail to my story. Online sources provide much detail and flesh out the descriptions.
For instance, in Laughing Can Kill You, there’s a scene at a Greek restaurant where a reproduction of Michelangelo’s David presides in the parking lot. The sculpture caused quite a stir when it first appeared, until it was deemed “art.” However, perhaps to protect the innocence of young’uns in passing cars, a wall was built around the lot to hide David in all his glory.
To date, my stories are contemporary, but I give background on historical sites. To that end, I must do research. An example is Historic Church Hill, home to St. John’s Church where Patrick Henry gave his famous “Give me liberty or give me death” speech. Also in Church Hill is Chimborazo Park, site of Chimborazo Hospital, built to service the needs of the Confederate Army.
My most enjoyable research was for Murder at the Moonshine Inn. Hazel Rose agrees to investigate the murder of a high-powered executive who died in a pool of blood outside the Moonshine Inn, one of Richmond’s most notorious redneck bars.
To investigate, Hazel needs to visit the bar – undercover. How does she act? How does she dress? How does she speak? In the interest of authentic detail, I needed to visit a redneck bar that would become the model for the fictitious Moonshine Inn (not undercover, though.).
My friend Marie served as my consultant. She assured me that she was an expert on redneck culture. She advised me on dress, dialogue, and any number of details. She sent me links to databases of redneck baby names. There is a wealth of online sources for “redneckiana” – not a real word, but perhaps it should be!
My husband and I visited three bars and I combined the three in to one for my story. Interesting experiences, believe me. I tried to capture the mood and Marie helped. Between these visits, Marie, online sources, and my vivid imagination, I put together a passable scene.
KRL: What do you like to read?
Maggie: All kinds of mysteries, light to dark. A few of my favorites: M.C. Beaton, Raymond Chandler, Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, Henning Mankell, Mary Marks, and Ruth Rendell. I also love literary fiction and biographies.
KRL: What are your favorite TV shows or movies?
Maggie: So many! Here’s a selected list of my favorite shows: Big Little Lies, Borgen, Brunetti, Downton Abbey, Midsomer Murders, Miss Marple, Poirot, Taggart, The Crown.
A few of my favorite movies (note that most are pre-1980):
Annie Hall, Best in Show, Bohemian Rhapsody, Dead Again, Double Indemnity (top favorite), Julia, Rope, Ship of Fools, Tension, Turning Point, Two for the Road.
KRL: Have you any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Maggie: Read a variety of authors and genres. Pick two or three authors whose style you like and study how they structure their stories and create characters.
While an aspiring writer, I met author James Pendleton when he was signing books in a B. Dalton store. His advice has stayed with me through the years: “Don’t ever let anyone discourage you.” I might tag on “including yourself” to his wise words.
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Maggie: On two occasions, I walked the length of Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles. This is a major thoroughfare in the city and stretches for 15.83 miles, but who’s counting? With my friend Jann, we started in downtown Los Angeles and walked through several neighborhoods, including Miracle Mile, Beverly Hills, Westwood/Brentwood, and Santa Monica, to the end point at the Pacific Ocean. We passed an amazing number of nail salons with customers enjoying pedicures in full view.
Why did we do it? Over the years, I had forgotten what prompted this unusual excursion, but recently Jann reminded me: I had read an article in Sunset Magazine that described this route – but the author suggested doing it by car!
A year later, we did it again!
Maggie: Olive and Morris, the loves of my life. Morris is a handsome orange and white Manx while Olive is a glam Norwegian Forest cat with an impressive hunting prowess. The two make #Caturday appearances on Instagram with hashtags #MorrisTheCat and #OliveAnnKing.
KRL: Is there anything you would like to add?
Maggie: Thank you so much for interviewing me. I enjoyed answering these questions.
KRL: Thank you for being with us this week and taking the time to answer our questions!
To enter to win an ebook copy of Laughing Can Kill You, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, with the subject line “laughing,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen March 12, 2022. Only US entries and you must be at least 18 to enter. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.
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