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Chili Con Corpses: A Supper Club Mystery
by J.B. Stanley

Published: 2008-01-01
Paperback : 275 pages
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They're in deep guacamole...When Lindy suggests the supper club members join a Mexican cooking class, the five friends jump at the idea. For James, the cervezas and black bean dip provide a welcome distraction from his relationship woes, since Lucy's romantic feelings for him have turned as frosty ...
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Introduction

They're in deep guacamole...When Lindy suggests the supper club members join a Mexican cooking class, the five friends jump at the idea. For James, the cervezas and black bean dip provide a welcome distraction from his relationship woes, since Lucy's romantic feelings for him have turned as frosty as a frozen magarita. At least the cooking class heats up when a spunky reporter and her friends, twin sisters with supermodel physiques, enroll. But when people start turning up dead, and the evidence points toward Lindy, things become hotter than a jalapeño. Featuring authentic Mexican and Spanish recipes "Heavy on fun, light on gore, this savory mystery comes complete with yummy recipes." ?Publishers Weekly The Supper Club Mystery Series is..."...appealing to anyone whos ever experienced the horrors of dieting."?BookPage"...a well-plotted mystery sprinkled with delightful characters and topped off with a dash of suspense." ?Romantic Times Book Reviews"...just plain fun to read?with quirky, small-town characters and enough action to keep readers interested." ?CozyLibrary.com

Editorial Review

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Excerpt

Chapter One °©Turkey Bacon Ranch Wrap

“I’m sick to death of being on a diet,” Bennett complained as he curled two free weights up and down from his waist to his collarbone.

James heartily agreed. The lunch he had eaten composed of a turkey bacon wrap with lettuce, tomato, and fat-free ranch dressing served on a whole-wheat tortilla seemed like a faint, unsatisfying memory.

“I know what you mean.” James pushed himself backward on the leg press machine, his thighs and buttocks burning as he moved the grudging stack of weights into the air. “Thinking about the nutritional content of every item I put in my Food Lion shopping cart is killing me. And I used to really enjoy going to the grocery store.”

As James got up from the leg press and selected a pair of twenty-five pound free weights, Murphy Alistair, the editor and foremost reporter of The Shenandoah Star Ledger, entered the cardio/weight training room. Even though this was the only YMCA within a hundred mile radius, and was therefore always busy, Murphy was hard to miss. She was wearing black nylon sweats, a form-fitting yellow tank top, and a yellow headband. Waving hello to James in the mirror, she stepped onto a treadmill and began to jog. Murphy’s chin-length brown hair, streaked with golden highlights, flapped up and down on the sides of her head like bird wings as she moved. She looked completely at ease as she ran, her hazel eyes glued to the early news program playing on the wall-mounted TV, a towel draped casually round her neck.

“Spot me while I bench, will you?” Bennett asked James a few minutes later and prepared to lift a heavy dumbbell above his torso.

James examined the size of the circular weights attached to each end of the bar over his friend’s chest. “Two hundred pounds, huh?”

Bennett scowled. “Hey man. I’m gonna do more than one set.”

“No, I’m impressed. That’s quite a load you’re lifting.” James quickly soothed his friend, noting how muscular Bennett’s arms and legs had become over the past several months. “You meant it when you said you’d be spending the summer getting buff. Well, now you’re buff.”

“Thanks, but I’m still the short mailman with the big gut,” Bennett took a deep breath and removed the weights from the stand. “You’re the guy who needed all new belts and pants.”

James stole a glance at himself in the wall length mirror. It was true. After pursuing a low-carb diet with his supper club friends and then counting points and pursuing a regular exercise routine, James had lost over thirty pounds of unwanted flab and several inches from his doughy waist. Even his second chin, which had once given him a rather bullfrogish profile, was nearly gone. He still had slightly floppy jowls and was a long way from resembling the fit and toned specimens that paraded around the cardio room in tight biker shorts and T-shirts advertising the previous marathon they had run.

“Okay, James.” Bennett lifted the barbell so that James could settle them gently back onto the stand straddling the padded bench. “Let me just catch my breath before the next set.” Bennett closed his eyes and focused on his breathing. While he waited, James watched Murphy’s trim figure as she ran with a seemingly effortless stride and the black rubber of the treadmill moved beneath her feet like a fast-flowing stream. As he stared, Murphy’s attention was drawn to the reflection of two blonde-haired women entering the cardio room. Her face broke into a smile and she waved at the pair vigorously.

James did his best not to drool, nudge Bennett in the side, or blatantly ogle every square inch of the newcomers. He believed the women must be visitors because he would have certainly noticed the gorgeous blondes if they lived within the county, which was located in a rather isolated area of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. His town, Quincy’s Gap, did not have a shopping mall, trendy restaurants, or boutiques selling the latest in haute couture, but today, apparently, two movie stars were present in the middle of Shenandoah County. After all, James reasoned to himself, no one else but a starlet could have such shiny blonde hair, flawless skin, enormous blue eyes, and a body with more curves that a road on Skyline Drive. And what’s more, there were two of them. Twins, it looked like!

The young women moved with languid grace as they crossed the room, seemingly unaware that all of the men had ceased their activities and stood like mute statues in front of weight machines, ellipticals, or stair climbers.

A squeaking noise below James’s chest distracted him from the sight of the beautiful women. Bennett, who was slowly suffocating beneath the weight of the barbell resting on his chest, was desperately trying to get his friend’s attention.

“Oh, sorry!” James grabbed the barbell and struggled to return it to its metal holder.

Bennett took in a great breath and then, his lungs recovered, hollered, “What kind of spotting is that? You almost killed me, man!” Bennett sat up, rubbing his sore pectorals. “Do I have to send you to Gillian for some of her hocus-pocus herbal remedies to improve your attention span? Jeez!”

“Hey, you can’t blame me,” James mumbled, poking Bennett and pointing in the mirror so that he’d see the two blondes who were standing next to Murphy’s treadmill, beaming at her with two sets of blinding white teeth.

“Damn.” Bennett stubbed rubbing his chest. “Those girls are not from around here. You think Murphy’s doing some kind of Miss America story or something?”

“Twins in the same pageant? Doubtful.”

“They could be from two different states,” Bennett argued. “The one on the left could be Miss Virginia and her sister could be Miss West Virginia.”

“That’s pretty unlikely, Bennett.” James observed the women more closely for clues as to who they were. “Look, the one on the right is wearing shorts with the Blue Ridge High Red-Tailed Hawks logo.”

Bennett cleared his throat as he gawked. “Those shorts never fit any high school girl like that! They’re tight as a wetsuit. That sweet thang must have dug that pair out the lost and found at the elementary school.”

James laughed. “They’re a bit snug, that’s for sure.”

“And those two are almost as dark as me,” Bennett continued his appraisal. “Where’d they get color like that?”

“Probably from tanning.”

“In the dead of fall?” Bennett asked in disbelief.

“Yep. There are salons where you can go just to get a tan.” James smiled at his friend. “Some people spend their hard-earned money to look like they’ve been to the beach when really they’ve been sitting inside a claustrophobic capsule, frying beneath light bulbs supposedly free from ultra-violet rays, while they wear purple goggles and listen to relaxing music.”

“Sounds like sitting in a coffin while your own cremation’s going on.” Bennett gave James a strange look. “And exactly why do you know so much about this tanning nonsense?”

“I’m a librarian, remember?” James said as they headed over to the water fountain. “I read lots of magazines. In this month’s issue of Time, there was an article about ‘tanarexia.’ Fascinating stuff.”

“Tan-a-what?”

“It’s a new addiction, like alcoholism or being addicted to drugs, shopping, coffee…”

“Now, now. There’s nothing wrong with coffee,” Bennett interrupted defensively. “In fact, due to caffeine, regular coffee speeds up the metabolism, reduces the risk of heart disease and certain types of cancer, and can even stop an asthma attack.”

“Bennett, I’ve never met someone who knew as much trivia as you. You have got to try out for Jeopardy! some day.”

“They’re comin’ to D.C. again this year,” his friend said quietly. “You know, for a contestant search.”

James took a long drink of cold water and then patted his dripping mouth with his sweat-soaked gym towel. “When?”

Bennett shrugged. “This winter.”

“You’ve got to go! You always said it was your big dream to appear on Jeopardy!”

His friend looked forlorn. “I don’t think I’m ready.”

“Just go to the tryouts. What have you got to lose?”

Bennett brightened. “You’re right! Besides,” he opened the gym door, casting one last look over his shoulder at the three attractive women clustered by the Y’s single treadmill, “I could use a bit of a shake-up. My life has gotten kind of dull these days. Same old routine, day in and day out.”

“I know what you mean,” James said, eyeing the beige parka he had worn for the last six winters with distaste. He looked at his watch. He didn’t want to go home as his father was repainting the dining room and would demand help and he didn’t feel like making a last-minute date with Lucy because their previous one had ended awkwardly. Still, he felt strangely restless and wanted to do something other than drop by Food Lion or rent another lackluster movie from the video store. Suddenly, he got an idea. “Feel like spoiling your dinner?” James asked Bennett once they were in the parking lot. “We could stop by Custard Cottage.”

Bennett zipped his navy blue uniform coat provided by the United States Postal Service and shivered. “Frozen custard in November?”

“Willy’s got a coffee-and-custard deal going on right now. We’ll get Sweet Lucy Light custard and skim milk in our coffees. A no-guilt snack.”

“Twist my arm why don’t you?” Bennett sniggered. “You’re on.”

“Well, well!” Willy beamed as James opened the canary-yellow door of the purple and pink Victorian abode known as the Custard Cottage. “It’s good to see you, my friends!”

“What happened to your garbage cans?” James asked, pointing out the window where the trashcans shaped like giant ice cream cones were normally placed.

“Graffiti,” The jolly proprietor issued a deep belly laugh. “Apparently, Billy loves Jamie and in ways I don’t think Jamie’s parents would appreciate.”

“Ah,” James and Bennett replied in unison.

“I’ve got the stuff to clean ‘em up with, but I figure they can stay inside for the winter anyhow. No one’s eatin’ outside these days—not even the teenagers who like to act like they’re too cool to feel cold.” He tugged on his starched, pinstriped apron. “Now what can I get for the most eligible bachelors in Quincy’s Gap? I’ve got the most delicious Pumpkin Nutmeg custard you’ll ever get on your tongue. Wanna try some?”

“Better not, thanks.” James gestured toward a nearby chalkboard. “We’ll each take your Cup & Cone special. Decaf and Sweet Lucy for me, please.”

“I’ll have full octane and a Chocolate Mousse cone.” Bennett shot a glance at James. “I burned enough calories today—I gotta give myself a reward sometimes.”

“Nothin’ wrong with that.” Willy completed their orders and then came out from behind the counter to sit with them while they ate. He stirred a packet of sugar into his own coffee mug and then took a sip. All of a sudden, he looked out the front picture window and began spluttering and fighting for air. Bennett thumped him on the back while Willy gasped. During the commotion, the front door opened to the tinkle of merry bells.

“What a darling place!” stated an appealing but unfamiliar female voice. James turned to see what the speaker looked like and was surprised to see Murphy and the gorgeous blondes hustling through the doorway, rubbing their bare hands together against the chilly November evening air.

“Don’t worry, I’m not stalking you guys,” Murphy teased and winked at James. “I’d like you all to meet my friends, Parker and Kinsley Willis.”

The twins said, “Hi, y’all,” and smiled. James could feel his heart flutter.

“Aren’t Parker and Kinsley names of towns in Kansas?” Bennett wondered once he found his tongue.

“Wow! You’re the only person who’s ever known that without us saying something!” The twin named Parker exclaimed. “You must be a master of geography.”

“Well…” Embarrassed, Bennett looked to Willy for help, but the proprietor seemed to have forgotten all about the notion of providing customer service.

“Can we interrupt you for some hot tea, Willy?” Murphy prompted kindly.

Willy leapt out of his chair while issuing apologies. “Forgive a man for staring, ladies, but are you two famous or something?”

Kinsley laughed. “Nope. Just tall, blonde, American girls with big, white teeth. And these teeth would like to sink into a double scoop of Chocolate Cookie Dough Chunk, if you please.”

Her sister examined the ice cream flavors carefully. “They all look delicious, but I’ll just have a Diet Coke.”

“And for you, Ms. Alistair?” Willy handed the twins their orders. “The usual Peanut Butter Cup Perfection?”

“You got it, Willy.” Murphy linked her arm with the blonde sipping Diet Coke through a straw. “Parker and I were roommates at Virginia Tech,” She explained to the three men. “Can you imagine what it was like to share a room with someone who looked like a super model and had the brains of a neurosurgeon?” Murphy smiled fondly at her friend. “But Parker was so nice that I liked her despite the fact that boys only hung around me to get inside info on Parker. What was her favorite flower? Was she dating anyone, yada, yada. Now she’s a vet with her own practice in Luray and between our two crazy jobs, we don’t get together nearly enough.

“But we’re working on it,” Parker chimed in. “I’ve got a wonderful partner at my office, so I can leave the animals in good hands and we can hang out some more.”

“Don’t leave me out! I’m hoping you give Mr. Perfect Partner Dwight lots of cases so that you can show me all the sights,” Kinsley said to her sister.

Turning back to the men, Kinsley offered them a winsome smile. “See, I’m brand new to town—a transplant from the North.” She then paused in order to devour her frozen custard with gusto. James was amazed at how fast she could eat. After she licked a stream of custard from the back of her hand, Kinsley added, “but don’t hold being a former fast-paced New Yorker against me.”

“I don’t think I could hold much against you, sugar,” Willy said in appreciation and watched the beautiful young woman polish off her frozen treat.

After downing a cup of water, Kinsley wiggled the fingers on her left hand in farewell and headed back outside with Murphy and Parker.

“Did you get a load of those blonde bimbos?” Lindy squawked as she entered Custard Cottage as few seconds later.

“They’re kind of hard to miss,” James said with admiration. “And I don’t think they’re bimbos.”

Lindy chose to ignore James. “I saw your mail truck outside, Bennett, and thought I’d join you. I need some sugar to perk me up after finding out that Barbie Number One is going to be joining the staff at Blue Ridge High.”

Bennett gave Lindy an odd look. “What’s the problem with that?”

Lindy thumped her fist on the counter. “What’s the problem? I finally decided that I’m going to ask Principal Chavez out…well, by the first of the year anyway. And now how am I supposed to do that? I’d be competing with a Heidi Klum lookalike. Every man in this town is going to be licking his chops over that girl.”

“Ask him out anyway, Lindy,” James advised.

“It’s about damn time you did.” Bennett commented. “You’ve been dreaming about that man for over a year, so why wait until January?”

Lindy ordered a hot chocolate with extra whipped cream and caramel drizzles. “Because I want to lose just a few more pounds. Especially now, with that young Christie Brinkley on staff. I need a boost of confidence. ”

“You don’t need to lose any more weight,” James offered. “You look terrific.” It was the truth. Lindy had had her long black hair cut just above her shoulders. Layers snipped at sharp angels softened Lindy’s round face and she wore subdued makeup that enhanced her latte-hued skin and enormous dark eyes. Though Lindy was still quite curvaceous, especially around the bosom and hips, she had lost enough weight that her new and improved hourglass figure was strikingly voluptuous. Lindy had gone from being pudgy all over to being soft in all the right places.

“I wouldn’t kick you out of bed for eatin’ pork rinds,” Willy teased as Lindy blushed.

“That’s two resolutions for the new year, then.” Bennett raised his coffee cup in the air. “Here’s to you bagging your man, Lindy. Me? I’m trying out for Jeopardy!”

Willy looked at James. “And what about you, Professor? You five always do stuff together, so you must be planning something big, too.”

James shook his head and stared fixedly at the light brown drips swimming around in the bottom of his mug. “Not me. I’m fine with the status quo.”

But he was lying. There was something he would very much like to change and for once it had nothing to do with his appearance. Suddenly, James felt the beginnings of a major headache coming on. He never used to get headaches, but lately they had been plaguing him more and more frequently. Rubbing his temples, he said goodbye to his friends and climbed into his old white Bronco.

For a moment, he gazed at his own reflection in the rearview mirror and then answered Willy’s question truthfully. “I’d certainly like to change something. Yes, indeed. I’d like to know what a guy’s gotta do to score with his girlfriend?” view abbreviated excerpt only...

Discussion Questions

1. Early in the book, the reader learns that James and his friends are tired of eating diet food. Did you ever give up on a certain diet because you got bored of the food choices?

2. Folks seem to pass judgment of the Willis sisters based on their looks. How are Kinsley and Parker assessed upon first glance? Do you think there is more to these young women than meets the eye?

3. Have you ever taken a tour of a cave? If so, how did you feel down in those dark depths? How does the cave setting increase immoral behavior in Chili Con Corpses?

4. The relationship between James and Lucy grows more and more strained as the book progresses. What are some of the factors causing such trouble for this couple?

5. Animals are important catalysts in Chili Con Corpses. Give an example of how an animal propels the plot forward.

6. Jackson Henry is becoming less gruff and reclusive with ach supper club installment. How has he further softened his hard edges in Chili Con Corpses?

7. At what point did you begin to doubt that Gary (Kinsley’s boyfriend) was such a stand up guy?

8. James gave Murphy quite an unusual and creative Christmas gift. Have you ever given (or been the recipient of) a gift specifically customized for someone you cared about? Do they (or you) still own the gift?

9. The lottery ticket subplot created a minor mystery. How did you feel about having to keep track of two very different mysteries? Did the lottery ticket add anything to the narrative or not?

10. What changes would you like to see in James’ future? Do you think he’s chosen the right woman?

11. Who is your favorite character? Why?

12. Did any of the food described in Chili Con Corpses produce some cravings in you? Did you or do you plan on cooking any of the book’s recipes? (Don’t worry if your answer in ‘no.’ It counts if you just make a pitcher of margaritas and share them with some friends!)

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

Dear Book Clubbers,

Librarian James Henry has a closet filled with new clothes, a trimmer waistline, and a closer bond with his father. His only real problem is that his girlfriend Lucy's interest in him seems to have inexplicably cooled. When schoolteacher Lindy suggests the club members join a Mexican cooking class, James jumps at the idea. Over cervezas and black bean dip, the supper club members warm to their new adventure. The class heats up even more when a reporter and her friends, twin sisters with supermodel physiques, enroll. But when people start turning up dead, and the evidence points toward Lindy, things become hotter than a jalapeño.

This cozy is stuffed with recipes for Spanish and Mexican dishes and will warm you up during the long winter. To win signed books for your club as well as Virginia peanuts and the author’s favorite local coffee, email [email protected] You can also visit www.jbstanley.com for book club questions. I’d love to call your group and have a cozy chat! We can always toast one another with margaritas over the phone. Cheers!

J.B. Stanley

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