My guest today is Maggie Toussaint, author of the Cleopatra Jones mystery series from Five Star/Cengage as well as novels of romance and romantic suspense from Wild Rose Press. Like many of us, Maggie did not start out as a fiction writer. With marriage, family, and career to deal with, it was only later that she transitioned from scientist to freelance writer.
One of the things she likes about writing mysteries is the puzzle involved, the who-dun-it. And what works better than a secret to hide the identity of a killer or send the protagonist after the wrong suspect?
Secrets by Maggie Toussaint
Secrets grab your attention. Two long-running television programs by Mark Goodson and Bill Todman a few years back, “What’s my line” and “I’ve got a secret,” popularized at-home guessing and entertainment to solve a small mystery.
One aspect of “What’s My Line” that fascinated me was the imposters. They boned up on the secret-holder’s vocation, ad libbed, and lied with straight faces.
Years later, as I began writing mystery books, I realized it’s important to have imposters and secrets in a story. With multiple people who could be murder suspects, readers keep turning pages. With layers of secrets, characters have a lot at stake. Both imposters and secrets foster conflict and add reader interest.
In my cozy, On The Nickel, Mama’s car is the murder weapon, and my sleuth Cleopatra Jones has to not only prove Mama wasn’t behind the wheel, she has to figure out who ran over Mama’s rival. That’s not the easiest thing in the world, especially when Mama is keeping several secrets and has no alibi for the time of death.
Her secrets are enough to drive a daughter crazy.
Why won’t Mama come clean and reveal her secrets? That’s what Cleo wants to know. Why can’t Mama give a straight answer to a straight question?
Knowing Mama, that’s not possible. For one thing, she has a weak heart. For another, she hates being told what to do. Lastly, she doesn’t consider that she has to answer to anyone about anything.
So yeah, Mama’s got secrets, and she’d rather go to jail for murder than let the rest of the world and her immediate family learn her closely held secrets.
Must be pretty powerful secrets, eh?
Unraveling secrets is a time-honored plot device. I’d love it if you share about a book you’ve read that contains secrets. One lucky commenter will win a copy of On The Nickel.
Meanwhile, here’s an abridged excerpt from the book:
I entered the back of the meeting room in time to see Mama stride up to Erica’s podium. My eyes watered at the thick cloud of sweet perfume.
Mama planted her hands on her hips. “I’m saying what nobody else has the guts to say. You are despicable. That outreach activity was supposed to bring joy and laughter to those dying children. You crushed their hopes. Worse, you gave them false hope. They were crying, Erica. You caused those dying children to suffer more.”
“Errors happen,” Erica said.
“This one could have been avoided.”
Erica’s thin nose came up. “You think you could have done better?”
“I know so. All that hard work the committee put in. You wasted it. You hurt those kids. Those circus tickets were nonrefundable. You threw away money we worked hard to raise.”
“Don’t worry.” Erica barked out a sharp laugh. “We’ll find more needy kids to show our civic merit. The hospital has a never-ending supply.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. A glance at Mama’s flame-red face and I knew Mount Delilah was about to erupt. I hurried forward.
“I demand your resignation as chair of the Ladies Outreach Committee!” Mama shouted.
“You’re out of order, Delilah,” Erica shrilled. “Sit down and shut up.”
Mama’s mouth worked a few times with no sound emerging. I touched her shoulder. “Mama?”
She glared at Erica. “You can’t talk to me that way.”
“Think again.” Erica smacked her palm on the podium. “This is my meeting, my committee, my church, my town. I can talk any way I want.”
Poor Mama. We needed to get out of here before both of us did something we’d regret. I tapped Mama’s shoulder again. “Excuse me, but I have to leave. Please come with me now.”
Mama nodded to me and inhaled shakily. She narrowed her eyes at Erica. “This isn’t over.”
Maggie, thanks so much for being my guest blogger today. You took me back a few years when you talked about "I've Got a Secret" and "What's My Line?" My family and I used to watch those shows every week. They had a pretty long run, starting not long before my dad bought our very first television set.
To learn more about Maggie and her books, visit her website. She also blogs at Mudpies and Magnolias. That's where I found this nice quote from the Kirkus review for On the Nickel: "The second in this amusing and romantic series (In for a Penny, 2008) is a welcome addition to the cozy ranks."
And don't forget, your comment on today's post gives you a chance to win a copy of On the Nickel.