Happy Friday! I’m pleased to welcome R.J. Lee back to the blog. His third Bridge to Death mystery, Cold Reading Murder, is out now and and he’s here to tell us about how deadly bridge can be…take it away, R.J.!
During a recent virtual literary festival in my hometown of Natchez, Ms, I remarked with a sly grin that the heroine of my BRIDGE TO DEATH MYSTERY series, Wendy Winchester Rierson, ought to give up the game of bridge for good. Why? Because it seems that someone gets murdered every time she sits down for a casual game or even a teaching session.
I exaggerate, of course. As her creator, I always allow Wendy at least a year in between her amateur sleuth adventures in Rosalie (modeled after Natchez). In the third novel just released—COLD READING MURDER—the plot is set after Covid when the world has truly regained its equilibrium. Virus, begone!
What is dealt with is Wendy’s status as a bridge player. Her Rosalie Country Club group is a big success—even after the murder of major benefactor and toxic male, Brent Ogle, in the hot tub in the second novel in the series, PLAYING THE DEVIL. Wendy’s reputation is such that people seek her out for instruction. COLD READING MURDER opens with our heroine agreeing to teach the basics of the game to five people.
Here’s the eclectic group: Charlotte Ruth, whose running joke about herself is that her name sounds like a dessert with a lisp, is a middle-aged widow hoping to get a new start by meeting people through playing bridge (not a bad strategy, actually); Vance Quimby is in Rosalie to do research for the next Great American Novel, set in the Deep South; Sarah Ann O’Rourke is a student at the College of Rosalie hoping to use her degree to become a teacher; Milton Bagdad is a Theater Arts graduate who has taken a job delivering singing telegrams in Rosalie for a New Orleans company; and finally, Aurelia Spangler claims to be a psychic, set to do readings for Rosalieans in a mansion on the High Bluff which has a reputation of being haunted and after its owner fell down the stairs to his death.
Whew! Is that a cast of characters or what? Aurelia offers to give her friends a free cold-reading after their first bridge lesson. She hopes that will send them out into Rosalie raving about her services. Aurelia turns out to be on point, including revealing the plot of the novel that is still hatching in Vance Quimby’s head. Furthermore, the ‘vision’ she has for Milton Bagdad is so disturbing to him that he goes AWOL. But…
Two days later when Wendy finds Aurelia slumped over her desk in Overview with a suicide note and traces of cocaine scattered about, it appears that one of the cold readings may have cut too close to the bone for someone. Wendy does not believe the suicide attempt, however, even though the crime lab verifies that the note was indeed done in Aurelia’s handwriting. She had worked closely with Aurelia in planning the first bridge lesson and saw nothing despondent going on.
It’s later revealed that Aurelia told Milton that she clearly saw a knife being plunged into the chest of a man wearing a tuxedo. That’s Milton’s uni: a tuxedo, along with a top hat and a pitch pipe in his hand. So…
Wendy, along with her police detective husband, Ross Rierson, and father, Chief of Police Bax Winchester, set about to uncover the chicanery behind Aurelia’s death; revealing something far more insidious and widespread than could be imagined initially.
Readers, what do you think – is COLD READING MURDER in your future? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
R. J. Lee is the second generation of his family to write mysteries at the New York level. His father, R. Keene Lee, wrote pulp-fiction, detective novellas for Fiction House after WWII, and R. J. Lee is following in his footsteps with the BRIDGE TO DEATH MYSTERY series from Kensington. Lee was born in Natchez, Ms and received his degree in English and Creative Writing from Sewanee (the University of the South), studying under Andrew Lytle, then the editor of the Sewanee Review. COLD READING MURDER is the third novel in this cozy mystery series, with the next installment, THE KING FALLS, to be released in April, 2022.