Mystery Novel Excerpts

Here are a descriptions of the plot and followed by excerpts from my first cozy mystery series SCENT OF MURDER, WHIFF OF MURDR and KILLER SCENT. The series features a young Latina Spanish professor with a keen interest in aromatherapy and her spirit guide who shares her name. Together they solve murders and uncover other heinous crimes on a seemingly quiet campus and beyond. THESE BOOKS HAVE NOT YET BEEN PUBLISHED If anyone knows a publisher or agent who handles Latinx cozy mysteries written in English, please contact me. These are charming books that also include a good deal of information on fragrances, herbs, etc. They deserve an audience.

 

SCENT OF MURDER:  the plot

Latinos, aromatherapy, theater, romance, skullduggery at the highest levels of academia, and a touch of paranormal magical realism—all these elements combine to create a spellbinding whodunit.

Issy Castillo, fresh from graduate school, is thrilled to land her first teaching job at a small university in her Boulder, Colorado hometown where she can reconnect with her Latino roots and perhaps find true love. Her enthusiasm soon wanes when she discovers all is not idyllic at the college. Seething jealousies and rivalries among faculty and students alike roil beneath the tranquil surface.

Issy’s life takes a decided downturn when she stumbles over her chief Prince Charming candidate strangled in his office with her scarf. To make matters worse, her prime suspect is found dead of carbon monoxide poisoning, and her fingerprints turn up in his bedroom.
Fearful of being convicted of two murders, losing her job, and shaming her family, the beautiful, but innocent young professor is driven to clear her name and ferret out the real killer’s identity. Inexorably she becomes entangled in an ever more complex web woven from the threads of passion, vice, rage, and pundonor—honor and integrity.

Amateur sleuth Issy gets help from friends and family, both alive and dead in the form of her proverb-spouting spirit granny, and also from her interest in aromatherapy. In fact, both the proverbs and aromatherapy provide keys that stimulate Issy’s ingenuity to solve the mystery.

 

EXCERPT FROM SCENT OF MURDER

In this chapter, Issy walks to her office on a summer evening to work and wait until time to meet Eddy Calderón, the Svengali-like theater professor Eddy Calderón, for a late supper date.

******

Chapter 16

“Hay un remedio para todo menos la muerte.”

 – Miguel de Cervantes

“There’s a remedy for everything except death.”

It was one of those clear, mild early June evenings when magic seemed to thrum along just beneath the surface of mundane events. Even the floral scented breeze bore on its wings the magic of Shakespeare’s Puck, Titania, and Lysander. I left the university to amble downtown and bought a book on aromatherapy that Brianna had recommended in her workshop. While I was at it, I stopped by The Trident for a quick double espresso and a pain au chocolat to tide me over until pizza time. Not exactly diet food, but I was in too good a humor to fret about my waistline.

Although it was not yet dark when I strolled back to campus, a big full moon had already risen. It brightened the Sistine-blue sky in the east with its bright white light. To the west, the sky over the mountains had turned a deep valentine rose color with the setting sun, tinting the peaks with a sensual red glow.

By now, most students had left campus for the night. I made my way along almost empty sidewalks with only the padding of my footsteps and stirrings of nature in the shrubbery to keep me company. Suddenly a crow cawed and I glanced up to the canopy of great old oaks that spread like a mantle above me. How many generations of students, faculty, and staff have those trees seen pass beneath their boughs? How fleeting our individual lives and concerns are considered against the backdrop of history.

The air was redolent with the intermingled fragrances of damp earth and conifers. As I sauntered past the botanical gardens, I drank deeply the aromas of night-scented phlox and spicy musk roses. In the workshop, Brianna told us that the rose is considered the queen of the flower kingdom, and jasmine, the king. Tonight the queen seemed to be holding court. I recalled that American Colonists had aptly named the June full moon the Rose Moon after the quintessential flower of love.

I stepped under the old-fashioned, electrified lantern that illumined the staircase to the Charles B. Kent Theater as it lighted up. The building’s front doors stood wide open to let in fresh air during rehearsal. Suzanne’s voice rang out clear and strong, carrying all the way to the sidewalk where I stood. Perhaps the big woman with even bigger aspirations had missed her calling as an actress. I wondered whether the stage crew had figured out the problems of the platforms and the rose petals. Turning away from the theater, I meandered along a tree-lined walk toward the Department, the moon lighting my path.

From a TV nature program I learned that the moon’s gravitational field pulls the oceans both toward and away from it, thereby causing the tides and influencing some weather patterns. The show also mentioned that since humans are largely composed of water, the moon also affects the flow of fluids within our bodies, creating fluctuations in biorhythms and hormonal shifts. It is said that more babies are born at the time of the full moon, more suicides and murders occur then, and emergency hotlines are flooded with calls.

Ever since I was a girl, the full moon has always filled me with excitement and anticipation. Certainly tonight I felt lunar energy coursing through my veins. I found myself reciting under my breath the old folk verse,

Pray to the Moon when she is round,

Luck with you will then abound,

What you seek for shall be found,

On the sea or solid ground.”

What would I discover on this enchanted evening? Would I, at last, find love?

As I approached the Department, I noticed several lighted office windows, including Juventino’s, whose office was the first to the right of the entrance. Evidently, my colleagues, like me, had procrastinated and were now hastening to finish their paperwork before the end of the short, first summer term.

From a distance, I recognized Vigil and Hinckley in conversation under the portico. Clive’s shadowy form gesticulated wildly like a scarecrow flapping at birds in contrast to Vigil’s stolid fireplug outline. By the time I reached the entrance, both had disappeared.

I descended the stairs through the stale air of the empty TA bullpen and headed to my office. I didn’t expect to see graduate students diligently hammering away at schoolwork on such a lovely evening. In the dark hall by my office, I felt for the keyhole and fit my key into the door lock. As I stepped in and snapped on the fluorescent light, my foot squished something soft that had been left against my door.

I bent to pick it up and saw that I held in my hand a kind of poppet. Made from dark purple material with a floral pattern, it was fashioned into the likeness of a female with a wax head and black curly yarn for hair. A big ebony hatpin pierced the figure’s heart. A Voodoo doll!

I dropped the disgusting effigy on the floor like it was a piece of burnt toast. From its mop of black hair, I understood the doll was meant to represent me.

Collapsing into my chair, I stared at the poppet. It stared back with sightless, brown button eyes and a red-beaded mouth that sloped down in a grimace. I had passed off the scorpions as a student prank, but this doll was a whole different ball of wax—literally. Growing up Latina, I’ve seen the results of black spells too many times not to take the dark side of magic seriously. Evidently, someone bore me a tremendous grudge. I shuddered, not so much out of fear, as from determination to block any negativity that might leak from the fetish and enter my body and psyche.

Not wanting to touch the poppet again, I took two pens from the pencil holder on my desk and gingerly lifted the doll. I was about to take it to the bathroom trashcan but hesitated. Something about the figure besides its resemblance to me looked familiar, but I couldn’t think what.

I carried the abomination to my filing cabinet. Prying open the empty bottom drawer with the toe of my sandal, I shoved it in, and slid the drawer closed as if it were a body drawer in the morgue. Then I fled to the bathroom and washed my hands with plenty of antibacterial soap and water to remove the dank odor of patchouli that had emanated from the doll and soiled my hands.

Back in my office, I tried to work on the letter of recommendation, but the words didn’t flow easily. Little noises—creaks, rustlings, clanking pipes, imagined or real footsteps above my head—disturbed my concentration, and my mind kept wandering to the file cabinet drawer.

When the phone rang, I almost jumped out of my skin.

“I’m back in my office finishing up some business,” said Eddy. “Come up soon and we’ll go for that pizza.”

“I’ll be there in a few minutes,” I said. “I need to finish writing this letter.”

“Listen. Suzanne, Dolores, Javier, and maybe Michael want to join us for a while.” He sounded apologetic. “Suzanne’s been itching for us all to get together. And it does help with building cast solidarity. They won’t stay long, I promise.”

“No problem,” I said, but my heart sank.

“Also, I keep forgetting to tell you that your scarf has been hanging on the back of my door since the night of Baldomero’s party.”

“Oh, I forgot about it now that the weather’s warmed up. I’ll pick it up when I come by.”

I hung up and went back to writing the recommendation. Again, I heard creaking, louder this time, sounding like somebody in the hall. I jumped up and flung open my door in time to see Bibi’s black-clad size 2 behind disappear up the back stairs. Nobody ever uses that staircase. It is narrow, only leads outside, and doesn’t have a light. I swung around to my door and minutely examined it and the floor for further unsavory donations. Nothing! Maybe the light under my door had warned off the girl. Or maybe her business wasn’t with me at all.

I was about to go back into my office when I noticed something white and crumpled on the lowest step where Bibi had been. I sprang on it, fearing another poppet, but it turned out to be merely a scrap of paper. Bibi must have dropped it. I picked up the paper and on examining it, saw that it showed four horizontal columns of numbers. Each line was preceded by a letter, which when read vertically, spelled W-I-N-K. Back in my office, I stuffed the paper into my purse and dashed off the letter of recommendation. It wasn’t purple prose but would have to do.

Cruz!” I exclaimed aloud while combing my hair and applying fresh lip gloss in the bathroom. Suzanne and Dolores kept turning up like bad centavos whenever I was with Eddy. In fact, it seemed that lately, anywhere I went with him somebody else tagged along. I wanted us to be alone, and not only because of my attraction to him, which was true enough. I wanted to find out what he was really like when only the two of us were together without the herd of sycophants hanging around him. Oh well, it couldn’t be helped. I checked my watch. Between writing the letter and checking on Bibi, I had managed to let twenty minutes slip by.

I sped through the TA room, up the two flights of stairs, and down the corridor to Eddy’s office as fast as my sandal heels could take me. Not wanting to appear too eager, I slowed my pace as I got closer. His door was ajar and the light was on.

“Sorry I’m late.” I announced, “but it took forever to finish that . . .” I stopped short as I collided with something solid. Eddy was stretched face-up on top of his Indian rug with my scarf wound tight around his neck. His red-rimmed eyes stared sightlessly at the ceiling and his face and neck had turned dark red.

“Eddy!” I cried.

I knelt by him, and with one hand, ripped away the scarf that had left a deep horizontal contusion around his neck. I bent close to his face and registered a cloyingly sweet scent. Putting my shaking hand to his nose and mouth, I checked for breathing then felt for a pulse. Lifeless!

Shivering almost uncontrollably now and blinking back tears, I scrambled in my purse for my cell phone. At the same instant I heard the voice at 911 come on the line, Suzanne, Dolores, and Javier appeared at the doorway. On seeing Eddy’s body and me, crouched over it with my scarf in one hand and cell phone in the other, their faces blanched.

“What have you done?” shrieked Suzanne.

“You’ve killed him!” shouted Javier.

Dolores screamed, “Murderer! Murderer! Murderer!”

 

 WHIFF OF MURDER Description to follow 

I’m ecstatic to have finished the second book in my Issy Castillo LatinX aromatherapy series, titled A Whiff of Murder. And just to give you a whiff of the book, here’s Page 1.

Chapter 1

“Cuando existe unpeligro real, los perros no ladran.”

“Where there’s real danger, the dogs don’t bark.”

— Spanish Proverb

Thursday, 7:10 AM

He slid as silently as a cat across the dew-kissed grass that trembled in the early morning sun. The little droplets shone like so many tiny pearls before he crushed them underfoot. The birds swooping across the treetops greeted the new day with exuberant song. But he couldn’t have cared less about the birds or the beauty of nature.

It had been a frustrating night. The dorms and each and every off-campus apartment were locked up tight as a virgin’s chastity belt. Not even the invitation of an open window in this heat! Just the ACs buzzing like so many bumble bees. You’d think the stupid bitches were afraid of the campus rapist. He let out a mirthless chuckle and reached into his pocket to clasp the small white bottle to satisfy himself that it was still there. He hadn’t gotten the opportunity to use it last night, but he kept it within reach just in case. And the longing, that deep, dark, mind-bending longing that only one action could alleviate, still plagued him like a ferocious itch. He might have to expand his horizons and settle for some anemic white girl.

Hold on! There was something! His perambulations had taken him past a long, low campus building. And in one of the basement windows there was a light showing. Signs of life. Slowly he stepped around to the entrance, and slithered downstairs.

Which door was it? Might as well try them all.