Daring resort manager Elizabeth Grady will need to think fast to bring a killer into the limelight in this charming 1950s set cozy mystery series.
Famous director Elias Theropodous has chosen Haggerman’s Catskills Resort as a shooting location for his next film. It sounds glamorous to much of the staff, but resort manager Elizabeth Grady is less satisfied. Dealing with the ridiculous demands of the antagonistic director is bad enough, and his attempts to walk all over Elizabeth are making her feel like her position at the resort has been changed into a bit part.
But when Elias is poisoned during a dinner at the resort, the future of the film and the resort itself are on the line. Between an aging movie star, a harried producer, and former victims of the deceased director’s wrath, Elizabeth has a full cast of suspects to examine, and she’ll need to investigate every lead to catch a killer.
About the author
Vicki Delany began her writing career as a Sunday writer: a single mother of three high-spirited daughters with a full-time job as a computer programmer. The years passed, as they tend to do, and the three daughters, somewhat hesitantly, flew the coop, leaving Vicki more time to devote to her writing. She was able to write three novels of suspense, set in Ontario, two of which, Scare the Light Away and Burden of Memory, were published to critical acclaim by Poisoned Pen Press of Scottsdale, Arizona. In 2007, In the Shadow of the Glacier, the first book in a police procedural series set in the British Columbia Interior was published. Born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Vicki was raised mostly in Ontario. Vicki majored in modern history at Carleton, her interest more in the lives of ordinary women and men and the circumstances of their times than ‘big men’ and their wars. It was on a canoeing trip in Algonquin Park that Vicki, realizing that she was doing for fun what people in the past would have considered a hardship, told her trip mates stories about the incredible difficulties people endured in their attempts to get to the Klondike in search of gold, and the idea for a series of Klondike Gold Rush mysteries was set.
Excerpt: Deadly Director's Cut (by (author) Vicki Delany)
"Lights. Camera. Action!"
Velvet McNally clapped her hands. "This is so exciting, Elizabeth. I can't believe I'm watching a real-life movie shoot."
"Quiet!" a clipboard-bearing man bellowed. "Or I'll have the set closed." He gave us a furious glare, his right cheek bulging with chewing gum, and Velvet dipped her head and mumbled, "Sorry."
"Quite all right, Gary. Enthusiasm does get the better of attractive young women sometimes." The director turned in his chair and gave my friend a smile and a slow wink. "Which is why we love them so."
Velvet giggled and blushed to the roots of her sleek blond hair. I refrained from rolling my eyes. As the manager of a Catskills resort, I've learned not to let my feelings show on my face. Not too much, anyway.
"Now, shall we try again?" the director said. "Miss Grant, when you are ready. Which I sincerely hope is this very moment."
The woman in front of the camera lifted her arms, and the emerald-green silk of her dress flared around her. It was a hot day, and the sun was strong, but she appeared cool and composed, hair and makeup flawless, dress unwrinkled. She cried, "This is a mistake, Reginald. You'll regret it for the rest of your life."
"I have to take a chance, Grandmama," the heartbreakingly handsome man facing her said. "Surely you, of all people, can understand that." A light wind blew off the lake and rustled his slightly-too-long black hair. He wore perfectly tailored casual beige slacks, an open-necked shirt, and his accent was direct from the Upper East Side.
The camera, mounted on a tripod of legs on a wooden plank, closed in on her. One man stood behind it, peering through the lens, while another crouched alongside, guiding the big wheels. Two canisters containing film were mounted on the top. A box, which I'd been told held sound recorders, dangled from a boom held above the actors' heads. Even though it was full daylight, giant lamps poured light onto the actors' faces. "I've made mistakes, Reginald," the woman said, her own aristocratic voice breaking with emotion. "Dreadful mistakes. I don't want to see-"
I touched Velvet lightly on the arm to get her attention, and when I had it I raised my eyebrows and tapped my watch.
She shook her head and mouthed, "Nothing."
I nodded, gave her a wiggle of my fingers to say goodbye, and turned my back on the lake and the movie shoot. I couldn't get over the number of people and the amount of equipment needed to film one short scene in one Hollywood movie. A great many of the people seemed to do nothing but hang around in the background, looking bored and smoking one cigarette after another.
I carefully negotiated my way past catering tables laden with lunch and cold drinks and around the maze of thick black cables crisscrossing the lawn, up the small hill toward the main hotel building. We employ our own security staff, of course, but the movie had brought theirs, who were keeping an eye on the crowd. This was a well-heeled, well-behaved bunch, and the guards didn't have much to do.
I could understand why Velvet, the outdoor activities coordinator at Haggerman's Catskills Resort, had nothing to do today. Almost every one of our guests was gathered on the hillside watching movie magic being made. Who would want to do calisthenics on the dock, take a paddleboat out for a slow tour of the lake, or play rounds of tennis when the great Gloria Grant was being directed by the equally great Elias T. Theropodous.
Not only guests were entranced by the movie production. At the sight of me rapidly crossing the lawn and rounding the flower beds, hotel staff scurried inside, where they would pretend to be hard at work.
Various paths meet in front of the hotel at a circular flower bed, into which a tall pole filled with brightly painted direction signs points to the swimming pool, the beach, the boat dock, the tennis and handball courts, the cabins, and the parking lot. Something had been nibbling at the flowers at the base of the sign, and the earth was disturbed as though tunnels were being dug beneath. As it was unlikely to be anything that would threaten the foundations of the hotel, I simply made a mental note to ask the head gardener about it.
In the circular driveway that sweeps around the front entrance, a group of bellhops were clustered around Mr. Theropodous's shiny baby-blue 1953 Buick Skylark while cars tried to edge past it. Another bunch of my male employees peered into the back of the equipment van pulled onto the verge and chatted to the movie technician.
"Excuse me," I said to Mr. Theropodous's chauffeur, a tall, thin, scraggy-faced Black man in his late sixties, dressed in a plain dark uniform. "I'm sorry, but you can't park here. You're blocking the driveway."
He touched his uniform cap. "Apologizes, ma'am. Mr. Theropodous instructed me to remain here with the car."
"Perhaps he did, but this is my resort, and I'm instructing you to park around the back. With the exception of that one truck in case something's urgently needed, we agreed that your cars, equipment trucks, and trailers use our staff parking lot. I need you to park there with them."
He lowered his eyes and shifted his feet. "Mr. Theropodous insists that the car be available the instant he's ready to leave. He's staying at Kennelwood, ma'am."
"Yes, I know that."
The director and most of the major cast had rooms at Kennelwood Hotel, a resort considerably larger and more famous than us. The crew and lower-ranking actors were stuck in an assortment of bungalow colonies or cheap hotels near the town of Summervale. Only Gloria Grant herself was staying at Haggerman's, and that's because she'd taken my room in the house I share with my mother, Olivia Peters, the resort owner. To the delight of our guests, Gloria didn't tuck herself away but used the pool or enjoyed walks along the lakeside and woodland paths. Most people kept their distance, but if anyone approached her for an autograph she was always polite and signed cheerfully. I'd told my security guards to keep an eye out and if they thought anyone seemed to be bothering her to send them on their way, but their intervention had not been necessary.
I was bunking in with Velvet. By bunking, I mean sleeping on the floor on a reed-thin mattress, which had been taken out of service long ago.
I gave the chauffeur a bright smile, to show him how reasonable I was being. "Guests will be arriving throughout the day, and they have to be able to unload. I can't have the driveway blocked."
He twisted his hat in his hands. He looked genuinely concerned, and I felt awful. The man had his orders from his employer, but I had 350 guests to think about.
"Is there a problem here?" A man stepped off the veranda, flicking his half-smoked cigarette into a flower bed. I was glad the geraniums had been watered this morning. We hadn't had a drop of rain for more than a week, despite the constant humidity, and the temperatures remained in the high eighties. The surrounding woods were dry and brittle.
The chauffeur let out a sigh of relief at the sight of the new arrival. "Lady needs me to move the car, Mr. Oswald."
Mr. Oswald smiled at me and thrust out his right hand. He was also in his sixties, dressed in a dark suit and blue tie, close-shaven with thick silver hair, of average height, and the bearer of a round belly that might have been a basketball stuffed under his starched white shirt. "I'm sorry, but I don't think we've met. Matthew Oswald. I'm one of the producers of Catskill Dreams."
I took his hand in mine, and we shook. His grip was strong but not excessively so, and his hand smooth. "Elizabeth Grady, resort manager. My mother's Olivia Peters."
"Darling Olivia," he drawled. Louisiana, I guessed. "It's been years since I had the pleasure. I'd like to have a chance to catch up. Is she around, do you know?"
"Probably. But this car has to be moved. Either that or the truck."
"The truck's needed if a light bulb blows or another piece of equipment's called for in a hurry."
"Then move the car. Please."
Matthew studied my face for a moment. The bellhops, dressed in their red-and-blue uniform with the Haggerman's logo-two pine trees forming an H silhouetted against an orange sun rising over the lake-on the breast pocket, watched us. The chauffeur twisted his hat in his hands.
Oswald snapped his fingers in the direction of a hovering bellhop. "You. You'll be my runner."
The man-a decorated World War II veteran in his thirties-blinked. "Me?"
"You. Go with Freemont here and see where he parks the car. Then wait by Mr. Theropodous's side. The moment he looks like he's ready to call it a day or take a break, run and get Freemont and the car. That should work. You'll be back with the car," he said to the chauffeur, "and he won't need to know you moved it."
"Good plan. Thanks, Mr. Oswald," Freemont said.
"My staff work for me," I said. "I need Gordon here. We have a substantial number of new guests arriving this afternoon."
"What you don't need, Miss Grady, is an angry movie director."
"It's Mrs. Grady, and I guess not. Okay, Gordon, you can do as the man asks."
Gordon gave the watching bellhops an enormous grin. "Sounds like I'm in for a tough day, fellas. Standing around in the sun by the lake watching a movie being made. Better than unloading suitcases and trying to mollify guests tired and disgruntled after the long drive. Have fun, guys." He rounded the car and opened the door. "I don't suppose you can take the long way around and show me what this baby can do?" he said to the chauffeur.
"Not on your life," Freemont said.
We watched the Skylark drive slowly away. The bellhops returned to their jobs, and the technician clambered back inside his truck, leaving me alone with Matthew Oswald.
"You'll find," he said, "that Elias is demanding. He expects nothing but the best of everyone around him. That's why he's got three Academy Awards under his belt."
"At Haggerman's Catskills Resort," I said, "we give our best. To every one of our guests at all times. Unfortunately, that occasionally means some individuals can't have their pet needs accommodated. Not if it inconveniences others."
"I like you, Mrs. Grady," he said. "You've got spunk."
I tightened my lips rather than express what I was thinking.
"How much are we paying you to let us film here? Never mind answering, I can look it up fast enough. A great deal, I'd guess." He slowly looked around him, taking in the white four-storied main hotel shining in the sun, the spacious veranda dotted with tables and chairs, the line of cabins by the lake, the manicured lawns and perfectly maintained flower beds, the tennis and handball courts, the swimming pool, the small sandy beach. The lush green hills curving down to the sparkling waters of Delayed Lake. "Nice place you got here. Your mother inherited it last year, meaning this is your second season. You've got, what, two months, three at most, to earn enough to see you through the year, never mind maintain the place all year-round. You need the revenue; it's no secret Olivia Peters doesn't have any money of her own to put into the place."
"Do you have a point?"
"My point, Mrs. Grady, is you need us. You need Elias and WolfeBright Pictures. They're filming only a couple of scenes here, but they're important ones. After this one, there'll be more movies. Folks love the Catskills, and folks love seeing places they've been, or hope to go to one day, on the big screen. Because Elias is a perfectionist he insisted on coming all the way out here, rather than using a swimming pool and plastic pine trees on a Hollywood back lot to stand in for your mountain paradise. Make Elias happy and word will get around. He might even come back with another picture."
"I'm not entirely sure what you mean by making Elias happy," I said.
"Probably not what you're thinking," he chuckled. "We're having dinner here tomorrow, right?"
"Yes. Your group's dining in one of our private dining rooms and later staying for the evening's entertainment in the ballroom. Mr. Theropodous is hosting the dinner in my mother's honor."
"Good. Those old-time stars have a lot of appeal to Elias."
"He's older than she is."
"Not professionally, not by a long shot. Elias is on the top, and he's determined to stay there. Olivia Peters is finished."
I bristled at his comment and bit back a retort. What he said might be true, in one way, but he could have phrased it better. Her career might be finished, but that was only one part of my mother's life. I like to think her relationship with me, her only child, was growing stronger now that we were living and working together.
"Because I like you, Mrs. Grady, I'll give you a tip for nothing: don't worry too much about the food tomorrow night. Elias doesn't care. He'll eat anything. And everything. But make sure your waitstaff and bartenders are the best you have and that they're on the ball. When Elias orders something he expects it to be in front of him before the last words of the sentence are out of his mouth."
I wasn't sure if this man was giving me kindly advice or trying to frighten me. Probably even he didn't know.
"I'll be around most of the week, keeping an eye on my investment. I'm also staying at Kennelwood. Call me there if you need any advice on handling Elias. His secretary's been delayed and should be arriving on tomorrow's train." Matthew Oswald walked away without another word, pulling a cigarette packet out of his jacket pocket.
I watched him go. He'd been right about one thing: this hotel is all Olivia has left in the world, and it provides the livelihood of me and my aunt Tatiana. So far we're squeaking by and even running a small profit, but the hotel business is high-risk, and a seasonal resort even more so.
Richard Kennelwood, son of the owner of the neighboring hotel, had suggested the film crew work here, and I was more than grateful.
The substantial fee WolfeBright Pictures was giving us in order to film on our property would give us a comfortable amount of breathing room. Aside from the direct fee, word had quickly spread that we had movie people here, and reservations were pouring in from outside for our restaurant and ballroom as people hoped to get a glimpse of the stars. First thing this morning, I'd been told all seats at dinner were taken for the rest of the week, and we'd be squeezing them into the early-evening cocktail hour and the late-night entertainment.
Praise for Vicki Delany's Catskills Summer Resort Mystery Series
“Pitch-perfect period descriptions, a likable heroine, and a surprising conclusion will leave readers yearning for the sequel.”—Kirkus
Praise for Vicki Delany's Year-Round Christmas Mystery Series
“Delightful…[A] humorous tinsel-covered tale that made me laugh out loud even while keeping me guessing.”—Jenn McKinlay, New York Times bestselling author
“Witty writing, an unexpected solution, and truly likable characters ensure that the appeal of this holiday-themed series will last long past the Yule season.”—Kings River Life Magazine“
This is a cozy mystery filled with murder, mayhem, warmth, and Christmas cheer. What more could you want?”—Carstairs Considers
“Delany has given us a story full of holiday cheer, an exciting mystery, wondrous characters all in a place I would love to really visit. Its charm just lit up my day. This is one mystery you shouldn’t miss this holiday season.”—Escape with Dollycas into a Good Book
Other titles by Vicki Delany
Murder Spills the Tea
Deadly Summer Nights
Murder in a Teacup
A Curious Incident
A Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mystery
Tea & Treachery
The Ray Robertson Series Ebook Bundle
Coral Reef Views
An Ashley Grant Mystery
There's A Murder Afoot
A Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mystery
A Scandal in Scarlet
A Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mystery
Blue Water Hues
An Ashley Grant Mystery