Strangled by Silk: A Poppy Cove Mystery
Darlings! Here’s the scoop on my latest mystery STRANGLED BY SILK. It’s all about Daphne and Margot –– two independent young California women in 1957 –– who own their own dress shop called Poppy Cove.
When one of their top clients –– Constance Stearns-Montgomery –– is strangled to death with her own silk scarf at the opening ceremonies for her new girls’ academy, Daphne and Margot are shocked. They can’t believe that such a horrid crime could take place in their sleepy little oceanside village of Santa Lucia. Worse, they've lost one of their best clients. The two women quickly become embroiled in solving the crime. After all, if anyone can track down the killer, it should be them. Margot’s long-time beau is the town’s top cop, and Daphne is a master at using her flirtatious wiles to extract information from unsuspecting men.
Of course, neither girl will let their snooping get in the way of more urgent tasks such as choosing new textiles and accessories for Poppy Cove or planning their fall fashion show or –– most important –– selecting the appropriate ensemble to wear for each and every occasion. But these two fashion detectives are on the case, and the murderer –– and the poorly attired –– had better watch out!
Barbara Jean Coast
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Strangled by Silk is a very good read, and a very fun read, set in 1957 in fictional Santa Lucia, California. (1957 also happens to be the year that Leave It To Beaver premiered on TV. I can just imagine June Cleaver shopping at Poppy Cove, before a "date night" with Ward.) Poppy Cove is the dress shop owned by Margot and Daphne, the amateur sleuths of this cozy mystery. In Poppy Cove, customers can select garments "off the rack" in the latest fashions, or they can order a custom-made dress — designed by Margot, sewn on the premises, perhaps by Head Seamstress Marjorie, and accessorized by Daphne.
The characters in Strangled by Silk are well-written, even the "supporting cast," and well-rounded. The "villains" are not totally unlikable. The mystery story line is interesting and believable. The world-building is done well. Santa Lucia is described so meticulously, that it's almost like Barbara Jean Coast is describing her own home town. Barbara Jean does an excellent job describing little details of the era, such as the "new" Swanson TV Dinner — cooked in the oven, mind you; no microwave ovens back then — and all of the foundations that the well-dressed woman wore back then.
As a fun bonus, after Strangled by Silk concludes, there are Barbara Jean's Fabulous Fashion Tips for the Modern 1950's Woman. Here are a few of the highlights: On a picnic, avoid wearing gingham, so as not to look like the tablecloth. Two-piece bathing suits are new and daring (but to be modest, the top should be fully supported, and the bottom skirted). One should wear gloves to any social event, even in the daytime. Ballerina flats are new, and as fashionable as stilettos. For men, Hawaiian print shirts are the new modern casual look, along with Huarache sandals — but make sure he wears them without socks. To look trim and "carefree," the modern girl wears a "simple" combination of brassiere, girdle, garter, slip (full, camisole, half, or crinoline), and stockings — even in the hot California summertime.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Strangled by Silk. I recommend Strangled by Silk to all Cozy Mystery fans, especially to those who are fashion-conscious or are fans of the '50s, and grant it my Five-Kitty seal of approval.
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As some of you may know, Barbara Jean Coast is the pseudonym for us -- Andrea Taylor and Heather Shkuratoff. The concept of her started as a joint name to refer to the both of us, but when we came up with it, evocative of the 50's/60’s time period in which our Poppy Cove Mysteries are set and a loving tribute to the sense of place -- the central California coast. As fledgling new writers, we're sensitive, but try not to take responses (or lack there of) to our stories personally yet we are attached to our characters and want to share that with our readers. Balance and surrender are a challenge for a couple of neurotics like us; excited about the exposure, ignoring and then over-analyzing the results, wanting to tell the world about our bright, shiny new project and at the same time, wanting to just hide away and keep writing, not thinking, will people really enjoy it? Does it matter if all we really want to do is share our stories? Can we provide for ourselves in other ways so we can just keep going, regardless of sales and rankings?
This is where Barbara Jean comes in. She's a social butterfly, a flirty throwback party girl, fun-loving and delightful, without a care in the world. To her, every problem can be solved with a wink and a smile, all while wearing kitten heels an sipping a cocktail with a fine young man.
Having this lovely alter ego take charge of the process helps us keep focused on telling the tales, living life, not worrying about the small growing steps and stumbles. Whenever we get too caught up, stressed out or too serious about the whole darn thing, we stop, look at each other and say, "What would Barbara Jean do?" Then we have a good laugh at ourselves, relax, take a deep breath, maybe pour a glass of wine or two and put our feet up, all the while counting the blessings for the great lives we already do have.
We've had a lot of people asking us about what it's like to collaborate and work together, who contributes what, how do you combine two perspectives to make on cohesive story that flows well and makes sense.
We talk. A lot. Out loud. Sometimes at the same time. We laugh a lot. We find that as we bounce around ideas, a new direction comes into view with a plot twist, and a new scene develops. Usually when one of us gets stuck, the other spurs on a new situation and it switches all the time. Then there's times when we both run dry, we put down the pen, pick up the wineglass and call it a day.
On the whole, we share the vision for the concept of our series of stories. We both individually have a great love and passion for the place, the time, the social aspects, the clothes, the community we're creating. Work shared is work halved and we're discovering sometimes when one of us gets an idea of a group of character traits, mannerisms, attitudes, appearance and runs with it, it becomes one of our beloved characters. Another time someone else will see in their mind's eye an ensemble that begs to be described or a situation that must be explored with our fine Santa Lucians. A town gets built, weather and climate described, plot formed. It gets written out, honed and then incorporated in the story, tossed or set aside for a later date.
All we can say is that we're happy it works and when it doesn't, tomorrow's another day to get it right, Barbara and Jean switching back and forth from one to the other, at it all over again.
Warm Regards to You All,
Andrea Taylor and
Aka Barbara Jean Coast
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One autographed trade paperback copy of Strangled by Silk
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Ends 10/14/13 midnight
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