It started with the petits-fours. I saw them in the catalog of a certain Maven of Style (note initials). Cute little cakes in different shapes, beautifully decorated with fine-lined frosting curlicues. I wanted them. I was turning 50, and thought it would assuage my pain to have fifty little cakes for my birthday (not to eat alone; I planned to share them).
So I ordered the petits-fours kit from the catalog; the cost was about the same as my upcoming birthday. The kit was nicely packaged in a metal tin, with tools and instructions full of lovely pictures of the darling little sweets.
Luckily I got to work a day before the actual birthday party. Luckily a knowledgeable friend helped me. Even so, we spent eleven hours on our task, and not one of our petits-fours looked as nice as those photographs. The kitchen was a wreck, covered with fondant (an evil substance I advise you to have nothing to do with ever) and drips of royal icing. The party was the next day, so I had to spend another hour cleaning, and then make the tea sandwiches. The petits-fours didn’t look too bad displayed on doily-covered cake stands, but was it worth it?
That’s when I thought, somebody ought to kill that woman, that Maven of Style, before she brings the female half of the population to their knees. And that someone was me.
I began writing Murder Follows Money, the last in my series featuring Liz Sullivan, a sleuth who scrapes by financially with temp work and frugal habits. I gave Liz the temp job from hell: Act as media escort for motherly, comfy-looking Hannah Couch, whose cookbook and decorating empire make her a powerful figure, and whose behind-the-scenes personality leaves a good deal to be desired. Naturally I made up everything about Hannah, because the real-life Maven of Style, whom she in no way resembles, has excellent attorneys (I have none). Liz has to gopher around, fetching groceries for food demonstrations, being on tap for errand-running, and pandering to the raging egos of Hannah and members of her entourage. (I have always wanted an entourage, and this was my fictional opportunity to have one.)
Of course, the plan was that Hannah would be the murder victim. I could have had the killer stuff petits fours cutters down her unconscious gullet, achieving my revenge. I could have had her suffocated when her face got dipped in fondant, which hardened into an impenetrable mask. I thought of various ways, but to no avail. The fictional Hannah had a strong will and overwhelming personality (remind you of anyone?) and she refused to be a victim of anything. I had to settle for killing off someone else in the book. Because of this struggle, Murder Follows Money may not be for those with weak stomachs; it teems with vegetable mutilation, gratuitous luxury, and forced shopping.
I’ve learned my lesson. Now I recycle those catalogs the moment they arrive. And in my new mystery (Another Fine Mess, now available from Perseverance), I gave Liz a break and let her friend Bridget be the one confronted with too much tasty food at a tony writers’ retreat that takes a lethal turn.