Literally Murder (A Black Cat Bookshop Mystery)

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9780425261545: Literally Murder (A Black Cat Bookshop Mystery)

From her Brooklyn bookstore, Darla Pettistone not only sells mysteries, but solves them, aided by her big-boned black cat, Hamlet—who has suddenly pounced into the spotlight after unleashing his fists of furry...  
 
After a video of Darla and Hamlet performing at a martial arts tournament goes viral, the Florida chapter of the Feline Society of America invites the “Karate Kitty” to be the guest of honor at their championship cat show in Fort Lauderdale.
 
Upon arrival, Darla discovers that not everyone in the Sunshine State has a sunny disposition. Animal rights activists are on the march, and a cat show contestant stages his own angry protest when his special breed Minx—half Sphynx, half Manx—doesn’t win. Then Hamlet disappears—only to be found next a dead man's body. Now it’s up to Darla and Hamlet to take best in show and collar the killer...
 

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About the Author:

Ali Brandon is the pen name for Diane A. S. Stuckart, author of the Leonardo da Vinci Mysteries, as well as several acclaimed historical romances and numerous works of short fiction under the names Alexa Smart and Anna Gerard. The New York Times bestselling Black Cat Bookshop Mysteries include Double Booked for Death, A Novel Way to Die, and Words with Fiends.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

ONE

DARLA PETTISTONE FROWNED AS SHE PAGED THROUGH THE sheaf of blueprints spread atop the table in her bookstore’s upper floor lounge. Seeing the shop’s planned coffee bar neatly laid out on paper was one thing. Being confident that the design would translate into satisfactory reality was another.

“I’m still not sure, Cecil,” she told the beefy construction superintendent seated across the table from her. “Maybe we should change the angle of the main seating area. Oh, and are you sure we should put the sinks right there?”

Cecil heaved a patient sigh redolent of the sausage breakfast sandwich he had been eating when he’d arrived thirty minutes earlier. His bald, black head gleamed with sweat despite the fact that it was late February in Brooklyn and the temperature outside was hovering in the teens. He swiped said shiny dome with a yellow bandana and then crossed bulky, sweatered arms over his ample gut.

“Here’s the deal, Ms. Pettistone. You want to turn your kitchenette into a nice little coffee bar for your store like you asked for, this is it,” he said, and stabbed a stubby finger at the blueprints. “You want the Taj Mahal, I’ll build that instead. But if you want us to get started this weekend, you gotta sign off on the design now. Otherwise, it might be another couple of months before Mr. Putin has a break in his schedule to fit your job in.”

“But that’s part of the problem,” Darla explained with another worried look at the drawings. “I’m leaving tomorrow morning for Fort Lauderdale. I’m going to be in Florida for more than a week, so I won’t be here to keep an eye on things.”

“True,” came a voice from behind her, “But remember, I will be.”

The speaker was Darla’s store manager, Professor James T. James. The unflappable retired university instructor had run Pettistone’s Fine Books for more than a dozen years, well before Darla had inherited the business the previous spring from her late great-aunt, Dee Pettistone. In addition to his managerial duties, James was an expert on rare and collectible books, which in the past couple of years had become a major revenue source for Pettistone’s. The new coffee bar that Darla was commissioning would, she hoped, be yet another cash stream. Given the current unsettled business climate facing independent bookstores, serving specialty brews would be another way to draw in customers—and, with luck, keep them in the store long enough to encourage a book purchase along with their lattes.

“The timing actually is rather fortunate, if you think about it,” James went on in the same sonorous tones that, back in his teaching days, likely had held the attention of even the most lackluster student. “Not only did Mr. Putin assure us that will the job be finished in under two weeks—quite an amazing feat in itself—but the bulk of the construction will take place while Hamlet is safely with you at the cat show.”

Darla shot a fond look at Hamlet, the bookstore’s oversized feline mascot, who was snoozing on the arm of a nearby love seat like a small black panther lounging on a tree branch. She had inherited Hamlet along with the bookstore, and their initial relationship had been rocky, to say the least. Darla had never been much of a cat person, but then Hamlet wasn’t the kind of bookstore feline that curled up in cute wicker baskets and purred nicely for customers.

Rather, he ran the place with an iron paw, stalking up and down the aisles like a furry potentate when he wasn’t sprawled on a shelf somewhere. Darla’s regular customers all knew their place in the Hamlet hierarchy and did not dare pet him or call “kitty, kitty” without his lordship’s express permission. More than one innocent transgressor had found himself unceremoniously chased to the front door for violating those rules, to the point where Darla finally had posted a not-so-tongue-in-cheek sign reading, “Beware of Cat.”

In fact, Darla often wondered just who was in charge at Pettistone’s, her or Hamlet.

But in the year since Darla had owned the bookstore, the two of them had developed a bond. Not that she’d yet made Hamlet’s BFF list, Darla told herself in amusement—James and her teenage goth salesclerk, Robert Gilmore, likely ranked above her—but she and Hamlet now coexisted in a mutually respectful manner that, given the fact Darla had never considered herself a “crazy cat lady,” was good enough for her.

And James had a point about the advantages of her and Hamlet being gone during the construction, she realized. Hamlet was used to having free rein of the three-story brownstone that housed Pettistone’s Fine Books in its first two floors and Darla’s apartment on the third. (This didn’t count the garden apartment below rented by Darla’s best friend, Jacqueline “Jake” Martelli.) Hamlet was a moody enough feline on good days. Chances were that construction in the bookstore would send the finicky cat into a major snit that could last for weeks.

“You’re right, James,” Darla agreed with a determined toss of her red braid. Then she turned to the superintendent again. “It’s settled. We might as well do this now, while Hamlet is busy being guest of honor down in Florida.”

Cecil flashed crooked teeth in an approving smile as he plucked a pen from the pocket of his flannel shirt and handed it to her. “Good decision, Ms. Pettistone. We’ll get the job knocked out in no time. You and your little kitty will come back to a fancy new store, and everyone will be happy.”

At those last words, the “little kitty” in question slit open one emerald green eye and shot a baleful look in Cecil’s direction. Darla paused in midsignature and gave Hamlet a warning look of her own. Cecil had not yet had the dubious pleasure of meeting the store mascot up close and personal. Last thing she needed was for Hamlet to take offense at the man’s innocent words and give him feline what-for, putting the kibosh on the project before it even began!

Fortunately for the future coffee bar, the finicky cat had apparently decided to let the superintendent’s lapse slide. After briefly flexing one oversized paw to display a formidable set of claws—just for effect—Hamlet shut his eye again and went back to his nap. Darla allowed herself a relieved smile at the reprieve. She finished signing the documents and wrote out the requisite deposit check to Putin Construction.

Darla had hesitated to use the company at first, given Alex Putin’s reputation in the neighborhood as the “czar-father” of construction with rumored ties to the Russian mob. But her NYPD detective friend, Reese, had assured her that the man was a legitimate business owner with no criminal record beyond the usual parking violations. Jake also had given Putin the thumbs-up, as she’d done a little PI work for him (and gotten a bit too chummy with the man, in Darla’s opinion). Since his online reviews for his construction work were uniformly positive, Darla had decided to give his company a shot.

As Darla and James escorted Cecil downstairs, Darla said, “You saw the alley and courtyard behind the building. If you can bring in all your materials that way, that would be great. But just in case you need to use the front door, too, we can move the bookshelves out of the way so you have a clear path either way to the stairs.”

“That’ll work fine, ma’am.”

While Cecil pulled on a bright blue down coat big enough to fit her and James both, Darla pointed out the projected pathway. Once the maze of bookshelves filling the store was realigned (Great-Aunt Dee had cleverly had casters added to each shelf unit), it would be a straight shot from the front door, past the stairway to the room beyond, and then to the back door. In fact, the brownstone’s layout reminded Darla of what back home in Texas they called a shotgun shack. Not that the elegant Federal-style building which housed the bookstore resembled anything shacklike.

The shop’s main room—originally the brownstone’s parlor—opened into what previously had been the dining room. Other than replacing the connecting doorways with open arches, Great-Aunt Dee had basically left the parlor intact, meaning that a majority of the original, ornately carved wooden built-ins remained. Now those built-ins served as additional bookshelves as well as display space for old crockery and bric-a-brac. The parlor had undergone a slightly greater revamping, with much of its original mahogany wainscoting repurposed to build a narrow, U-shaped counter near the store’s front window, where the register was located. Overall, the bones of the old brownstone were clearly visible, unlike with other similar buildings that had been totally gutted and modernized.

“Don’t worry, Ms. Pettistone,” Cecil assured her again, tugging a crimson knit cap over his bald pate and sticking out a calloused hand to shake. “We’ll get you taken care of just fine.”

Refusing to hear anything ominous in that promise, Darla shook, smiled, and saw him out. She hurriedly shut the door after him, but not before an insidious blast of frigid air whipped its way in.

Florida can’t come too soon, Darla thought with a shiver as she straightened the “Sale” sign that the wind gust had blown away from the nearby display of cookbooks. Given the fact that she’d lived in Dallas for most of her thirtysomething years, she was not yet acclimated to the frigid weather in New York.

Then she heaved a sigh. “Well, it’s done. In another couple of weeks, Pettistone’s will be entering a new era. Books con coffee . . . you know, like café con leche,” she explained when James raised a gray brow. “I wonder what Great-Aunt Dee would have thought about this.”

“Dee was quite the businesswoman, so I am sure she would have approved,” the man assured her, adding, “And may I again thank you for not asking me to take on barista duties? Much as I enjoy a nice latte, I would not relish serving them all day . . . particularly if I would be expected to draw—ahem—cartoons in the foam.”

“Don’t worry, that’s Robert’s department,” Darla told him with a smile. Then, spying her clerk unpacking a box a few shelves away, she called, “Robert, wasn’t last night your final class in barista training?”

Robert poked his head around the shelf and grinned back, his dyed black hair flopping over one kohled eye. Darla bit her lip but didn’t say anything about the black eyeliner. Since the youth had diligently followed her rule these past months about no visible piercings while on the clock, she had finally relented and allowed him a minimum of goth makeup at work.

As long as you don’t scare the customers, had been her main stipulation.

“Yeah, last night was our final exam, and I, like, aced it,” he bragged. “They gave me a certificate and stuff. I even got first place in latte art because I drew a picture of Hamlet’s face in the foam that everyone thought was sick.”

Knowing that “sick” was a major compliment, Darla gave him an approving nod. “That’s wonderful. Maybe that cat face can be the Pettistone’s Coffee Bar trademark.”

Robert’s black-rimmed eyes widened. “Hey, great idea, Ms. P.!”

James gave a genteel snort as he headed toward the rear of the store. “Yes, a great idea. I suppose we will also be ordering coffee cups with Hamlet’s image upon them.”

Logo coffee cups?

Darla was about to echo the “great idea” sentiment in regard to James’s cynical suggestion when Robert abruptly spoke up again. “Wait, I almost forgot. While you and Professor James were upstairs with Mr. Cecil, some guy brought a package. I left it on the counter. And it’s not, you know, books or stuff.”

Before Darla could inspect her package, however, the string of small bells hanging on the front door jingled. In hurried a small female figure wrapped in a full-length, balding mink coat and an incongruous pink-and-orange scarf that swaddled her from throat to eyes. Then, like a thrift-store houri, the woman raised a gloved hand and, clutching one fringed end of the scarf, gave it a swirl. The pashmina promptly spun away to reveal a familiar, wrinkled face.

“Mary Ann!” Darla exclaimed as she recognized her elderly neighbor. “You shouldn’t be out in this weather.”

The old woman gave a dismissive wave. “Really, Darla, I’ve lived in Brooklyn all of my life. I’m used to a little cold. Besides, young Robert does an excellent job of keeping our steps free of snow and ice.”

She smiled in the youth’s direction. Robert had finished unpacking his box and was headed to the back toward the recycling pile. Hearing his name, however, he paused and turned and gave the woman an enthusiastic wave.

“Hey, Ms. Plinski. Great coat.”

Mary Ann tittered as she gave a little pirouette to better show off the garment.

“Of course, I would never purchase a new fur,” she confided to Darla while Robert trotted off. “I found this one boxed up in our storeroom. Who knows how long it’s been sitting there? Brother probably bought it in an auction years ago and forgot all about it.”

Mary Ann and her older brother owned the brownstone next door to Darla. In addition to the apartment the two shared, their building also housed their antiques and collectibles shop, Bygone Days. Robert helped out the elderly pair on occasion with the heaving lifting. In return, Mary Ann had leased out her garden apartment to the youth at a substantially reduced rate. She had even waived her “no pets” rule on his behalf, allowing him to keep his tiny Italian greyhound, Roma, there with him.

“So what brings you here on a freezing cold day like this?” Darla asked her with a smile.

The old woman gave her a wide-eyed look. “Why, I wanted to know all about your upcoming trip to Florida. Robert said it had something to do with Hamlet, but for the life of me I couldn’t guess what.”

“I don’t know why he made it sound so mysterious. Hamlet is going to be the guest of honor at this year’s Feline Society of America National Championship show.”

“How exciting! But however did you ever manage that?”

“Remember that video of Hamlet at the martial arts tournament that Robert and I competed in last year? You know, the one of Hamlet out on the mat mimicking me as I did my karate routine? Well, the video went viral. That means—”

“Really, Darla, I know what viral means,” Mary Ann replied with a smile, cutting Darla off with another wave of her gloved hand. “I am quite Internet savvy, if I do say so, myself. Why, I even have three boards on Pinterest now.”

Since Darla had no clue what Pinterest was, she conceded the win to the older woman.

“Sorry, Mary Ann. Anyhow, when you combine all the different videos of Hamlet’s performance at the tournament that people uploaded, he had close to a million online hits, and that was back before Christmas. When Jake saw that, she called her mother in Fort Lauderdale. Apparently, Mrs. Martelli is good friends with the man who is president of the Feline Society of America, which is headquartered there. Jake suggested that her mom should tell the FSA folks to bring Hamlet down to Florida as their celebrity guest for this year’s annual championship show.”

Darla smiled. After all, who could resist a cat who mimicked his human with such sly accuracy? Even she laughed every time she saw the video, and she was the one who’d been unknowingly mocked. She’d even forgiven Hamlet for the fact that his performance at the tournament had caused her to be disqualified from her first and only karate competition.

Darla had scoffed when Jake first mentioned the cat-show idea, but her friend had been of the opinion that it never hurt to ask. Hey, kid, the...

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Descrizione libro Berkley Books, United States, 2014. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. From her Brooklyn bookstore, Darla Pettistone not only sells mysteries, but solves them, aided by her big-boned black cat, Hamlet who has suddenly pounced into the spotlight after unleashing his fists of furry After a video of Darla and Hamlet performing at a martial arts tournament goes viral, the Florida chapter of the Feline Society of America invites the Karate Kitty to be the guest of honor at their championship cat show in Fort Lauderdale. Upon arrival, Darla discovers that not everyone in the Sunshine State has a sunny disposition. Animal rights activists are on the march, and a cat show contestant stages his own angry protest when his special breed Minx half Sphynx, half Manx doesn t win. Then Hamlet disappears only to be found next a dead man s body. Now it s up to Darla and Hamlet to take best in show and collar the killer. Codice libro della libreria ABZ9780425261545

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Descrizione libro Berkley Books, United States, 2014. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Language: English . This book usually ship within 10-15 business days and we will endeavor to dispatch orders quicker than this where possible. Brand New Book. From her Brooklyn bookstore, Darla Pettistone not only sells mysteries, but solves them, aided by her big-boned black cat, Hamlet who has suddenly pounced into the spotlight after unleashing his fists of furry After a video of Darla and Hamlet performing at a martial arts tournament goes viral, the Florida chapter of the Feline Society of America invites the Karate Kitty to be the guest of honor at their championship cat show in Fort Lauderdale. Upon arrival, Darla discovers that not everyone in the Sunshine State has a sunny disposition. Animal rights activists are on the march, and a cat show contestant stages his own angry protest when his special breed Minx half Sphynx, half Manx doesn t win. Then Hamlet disappears only to be found next a dead man s body. Now it s up to Darla and Hamlet to take best in show and collar the killer. Codice libro della libreria BTE9780425261545

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Descrizione libro Berkley Books, United States, 2014. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. From her Brooklyn bookstore, Darla Pettistone not only sells mysteries, but solves them, aided by her big-boned black cat, Hamlet who has suddenly pounced into the spotlight after unleashing his fists of furry After a video of Darla and Hamlet performing at a martial arts tournament goes viral, the Florida chapter of the Feline Society of America invites the Karate Kitty to be the guest of honor at their championship cat show in Fort Lauderdale. Upon arrival, Darla discovers that not everyone in the Sunshine State has a sunny disposition. Animal rights activists are on the march, and a cat show contestant stages his own angry protest when his special breed Minx half Sphynx, half Manx doesn t win. Then Hamlet disappears only to be found next a dead man s body. Now it s up to Darla and Hamlet to take best in show and collar the killer. Codice libro della libreria ABZ9780425261545

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