During the frenzy of the December holidays, the last thing salon owner Marla Vail needs is a dead body slathered in a green facial mask at her new day spa. The victim, Valerie Weston, had been a major donor for Friends of Old Florida, a historic building preservation society. Marla’s stylists are scheduled to work backstage at their upcoming gala fashion show, but Val’s demise might put a crimp in their plans. Hoping to salvage her reputation, Marla determines to track down the suspects. Although Val had been well-liked by most people, she may have stumbled onto secrets that others would kill to keep.
As more bodies pile up, Marla races to uncover the clues. What are the connections between a greedy land developer, a dress designer whose husband may have links to the Asian mob, a mortician who might be involved in the human hair trade, and members of the non-profit group’s board of directors? Are the latter as dedicated to their cause as they’d like Marla to believe, or do they have their own self-interests at heart?
Sparks are sure to fly when this smart stylist joins forces with her sexy detective husband to solve a decades-old mystery that includes a secret journal, pirate tales, and shipwrecks along the Florida coast. With the rollercoaster excitement, you might need a trip to the day spa to relax. But beware of body treatments that have nothing to do with herbal scrubs and hot stone massages and everything to do with murder.
Facials Can Be Fatal is a 2017 Readers’ Favorite Gold Medal Winner in the Fiction – Southern genre and is a Finalist in the Royal Palm Literary Awards for the Published Book-Length Fiction Mystery/Crime category.
“Take a twisty mystery, and add a cast of amiable characters, a dash of family drama, and a pinch of South Florida during the holiday season–they all add up to the recipe for a delightful cozy!”—Lucy Burdette, bestselling author of the Key West Food Critic Mysteries
“Marla and Dalton solve a mystery that includes pirates and shipwrecks off the Florida coast, and readers will be standing in line to get on this series as fast as possible. Marla and Dalton work extremely well together and are a whole lot of fun to read. This is one book in a series but is also a fantastic standalone for anyone who might not have met this couple before.” Mary Lignor, Suspense Magazine
“The death of a philanthropist has Florida salon owner Marla Vail tearing her hair out… Marla needs Valerie’s death solved pronto so she can go back to planning her blended family’s joint Christmas-Hanukkah party and fending off their inquiries about when she and her new husband plan to have a baby. Routine poke-your-nose-where-it-doesn’t-belong fare, with results as expected.” Kirkus Reviews
“Facials Can Be Fatal (A Bad Hair Day Mystery) by Nancy J. Cohen is a nice, comfy, cozy mystery starring Marla Vail and her new family. Dalton and Marla have reached their first year of marriage, and Marla’s friends and family are pushing her to have a baby. She and Dalton work well together, and she is content with her life the way it is. It is enjoyable to read how they balance their sleuthing around their lives. Although this is one book in a series, it is a great standalone. I recommend this book to those who are cozy mystery fans and enjoy a sleuth mystery with many twists and turns.” 5 Stars! Susan Sewell, Readers’ Favorite
“This is the 13th Bad Hair Day Mystery by Nancy J. Cohen and she still keeps coming up with great ideas for a story. This one drew me in right from the beginning and with all the possible suspects, the twists and turns, I had no idea who was responsible for killing Val Weston in the Spa…A fun cozy read with mystery, family drama and some romance.” Carla Loves to Read
“Nancy has done such a brilliant job in growing Marla’s character from book to book. You get such a sense of who she was in the beginning and how she has changed throughout each read. I look forward to what will come next!” Taryn’s Reviews
“Marla and Dalton make a wonderful sleuthing team. They, as well as the secondary characters, are realistic, well-written and well-developed. Marla is someone readers can connect with. She’d make a great friend. She’s an everyday person who finds herself in not everyday situations. The storyline is fast-paced and keeps readers guessing to the end. There were several different twists and turns this story could have taken. I was surprised at the outcome. I’m looking forward to reading more of Marla’s adventures.” Socrates Book Reviews
“This one kept me guessing and my inner history nerd was made even happier with the talks of diaries, shipwrecks and preserving old architecture. The setting for the final showdown alone is worth giving this book a read! If you enjoy cozy mysteries this is a fun, light series, with a likable main characters and enjoyable side characters.” Katherine Pitts, I Wish I Lived in a Library
“Pirates, hidden treasures, secret identities, murder… Book 13 in Nancy J. Cohen’s Bad Hair Day Mystery series has that and a whole lot more! This is the first cozy mystery I’ve read where the main character is married to the sexy detective on the case and I love that!…The Bad Hair Day Mystery series books are captivating and exciting. It only took reading one book for me to become a fan.” Missi S., Cozy Mystery Book Reviews
“With a mix of humor and light suspense, unveiled connections, and an old mystery somehow connected, the pace is maintained as Cohen adds more pieces to the puzzle. If you enjoy humor in your cozy mystery, you’ll like FACIALS CAN BE FATAL. This book is part of a series, but can easily be read as a standalone.” Christa Nardi, Christa Reads and Writes
“Plan to spend all weekend at the day spa! With all the twists and turns between these covers you will need to plan a relaxation day to recover. The book starts with a scream and the action never slows. We are treated to the inner workings of the beauty industry and more facts about hair than I ever thought I’d need to know. For a while I suspected a few of the long term friend/employees of the salon. This story is indeed a treasure hunt.” Laura’s Interests
“This book kept me guessing as to whodunit. The twists kept coming and there was a plethora of suspects to choose from for the more than one murder! I enjoyed the pirate tangent a lot. It seemed to add a historical twist (beyond the obvious Friends of Old Florida tie in) which I found interesting. I also quite liked the respect and importance that Marla and Dalton gave to their family over the holiday season. The mingling of Christian and Jewish holiday cultures was wonderful. Never did they make solving the crime interfere with their holiday plans with family, a bonus as far as I am concerned. If you would like to read an enjoyable, entertaining and engaging cozy mystery, with some romance thrown in (though this one did have a few more dead bodies than in previous books), then Facials Can Be Fatal is your book!” Open Book Society
“I enjoyed this book reading about how Marla was a lot more than facials, hair and nails. This book is great for cozy lovers of all sorts. Can’t wait to see what is next!” Paula Mitchell, Community Bookstop
“What better place for chaos and murder to happen while at a spa…I loved the fast pace of the story and how the author throws curve balls just as you think you have solved the mystery. Marla and Dalton are a great couple and I love the interaction between the two. I never could figure out who the killer was, but I loved the ending.” Deana Dick, Texas Book-aholic
“The story had more twists and turns than a pretzel. And I ate them all up! It is really fast-paced and kept me thoroughly engaged to the end. I especially liked Marla and her detective husband as a sleuthing duo and Marla’s relationship with her step-daughter. The combination gives a relatable real-world feel to the story.” Mayor Sonni, Readerpolis
“If Cut ‘N Dye hair salon owner Marla Vail was hoping for a quiet holiday season, she’s in for a disappointment. Instead, it’s going to be a Hanukkah and Christmas season of murder, secrets, a hidden treasure, and family expectations. It begins with shrieks from the adjoining spa… Longtime fans will feel fully invested in following Marla’s personal development, while mystery lovers will be surprised by the increasingly complex plot and numerous villains. The fast pace will have readers swiftly turning the pages of this compelling holiday mystery, and its auspicious conclusion leaves them anxiously hoping for more.” Cynthia Chow, Kings River Life Magazine
“When a well-to-do client dies mid-facial, Marla Vail decides to track down a killer to save her salon’s reputation. This cozy has a great cast of characters and suspects galore. It’s a fast moving story that will keep you guessing, and rooting for Marla all the way through. While it is the 13th Bad Hair Day Mystery series, you’ll be able to catch on and not feel lost even if you haven’t read the previous 12 books. You will most likely want to go back and read them when you’re done, however!” Erika Kehlet, The Book’s The Thing
“Author Nancy J. Cohen once again takes readers on a tantalizing ride of mystery, murder, mayhem, and humor in FACIALS CAN BE FATAL…Cohen’s characters are quirky and well-developed, the type of friends you wish lived down the street. The setting quickly draws you in and the twists and turns hold you spellbound until the end. The author blends the murder mystery with family life and drama for a well-balanced story with touches of romance and humor…FACIALS CAN BE FATAL is entertaining, intriguing, and captivating. You’ll never look at a cream facial mask quite the same ever again.” Mason Canyon, Thoughts in Progress
The nice thing about this series—one of the nice things, that is—is that Dalton, Marla’s police detective husband, actually values her input in his investigations. It’s always a pleasure to see familiar folks in Marla’s life and a cast of characters was most welcome in keeping track of potential suspects. I’ve stuck with this series since the beginning and enjoyed this installment as much as any of them. I wonder what Marla and her crew will be up to next time. Lelia Taylor, Buried Under Books
Marla was busy sorting foils at her salon station when screams pierced the morning air. She glanced up, her nerves on edge. And here the day had started so peacefully.
Nicole, one chair over, paused in the midst of cutting a client’s hair. “What is that God-awful noise?” the other stylist asked.
Marla dropped the foils on her roundabout. “I don’t know, but it sounds as though it’s coming from our day spa next door. Maybe someone found a palmetto bug.”
But as she hurried outside and across the pavement to the adjacent spa facility—a recent expansion under her ownership along with the Cut ’N Dye hair salon—she doubted those blood-curdling shrieks could be due to an insect. They sounded too shrill and terrified.
A black bird squawked and dipped over the parking lot. Along with November and the season’s first cold front, the birds had returned from up north to South Florida. That wasn’t a vulture portending some disaster, was it?
Inside the day spa, patrons in the waiting area stood with their cell phones lifted, taking videos for social media. Her mouth compressed, Marla sped past them toward the rear, where staff members in smocks gathered. They all stared in one direction.
Traci, the receptionist, spied Marla and called out to someone beyond her range of vision. Just as abruptly as they had started, the screams stopped.
Marla reached the group huddled in front of one of their facial and waxing rooms. “What’s going on?”
An aesthetician, her complexion white as her lab coat, wiped her teary eyes. “I am sorry,” she said with an accent, her voice wavering. “Val was fine when I put the cream mask on her face. I only left for ten minutes to let her relax. When I returned, she didn’t move and I thought she must be asleep. I did not realize at first she was not breathing.”
“I’ve already called 911,” Traci said in a quiet undertone. “The cops and medics should be here any minute.”
“Your customer isn’t breathing?” Marla pushed past the crowd to enter the room and administer CPR, but the sight inside made her stop midtrack.
A woman lay supine half off the table, her hands encased in cloth mitts and her mouth wide open. Her face, coated with a greenish substance, aimed a glassy stare at the ceiling. New Age music played in the background, the soothing melody an incongruence to the scene. Air-conditioning blasted cool air into the room with a citrus scent. A discarded towel lay on the floor.
“Oh. My. God.” It might be too late for CPR if the woman had lain like this for longer than ten minutes. Could she have suffered a seizure? Her bluish lips could indicate anything.
Marla forced herself to at least palpate for a pulse at the lady’s neck. She tamped down the bile in her throat at the clammy feel of her skin. The hardened face mask gave the lady an almost alien appearance. Was that consistency normal for a facial?
Not feeling a beat at the carotid, Marla backed away. The best thing she could do would be to secure the room until the cops arrived.
She swallowed uneasily, anticipating her husband’s reaction. Would Dalton, a homicide detective with the Palm Haven police force, arrive on the scene when he heard the address from the dispatcher? From previous experience, she knew that unattended deaths were investigated. That would apply in this case since the aesthetician had left the client alone.
Returning to the corridor, she drew the sobbing woman aside. “What’s your name?” she said, her brain foggy under the circumstances. Consuelo? Magdalena? It hovered on her tongue.
“Rosana Hernandez. Do you think she had a heart attack, senora? Val might have been trying to get up and call for help.” Her gaze misty with tears, Rosana bent her head.
“Yes, you could be right. Had you done a medical survey on her?”
Rosana, a couple of inches shorter than Marla’s five feet six, nodded. “Si. Val had been with me for years. She followed me when I came here from my last salon in east Fort Lauderdale. She did not have any history of heart problems or other sicknesses.”
“So you’ve known her for quite some time.” Marla glanced inside the room and grimaced. “What are those things on her hands?”
Rosana drew a deep breath. “I was giving the lady a paraffin treatment. She had a manicure scheduled next. I don’t know how this could have happened.”
Stomping footsteps drew their attention. The other staff members parted like the Red Sea under Moses’ command. A pair of uniformed rescue workers headed their way carrying a load of equipment. Following at their heels were two patrol officers and a tall, broad-shouldered fellow whose piercing gaze made Marla’s heart flutter.
She exchanged glances with Dalton but avoided embracing him in front of the staff, even when she wanted nothing more than to sink into his arms.
“I’m glad you’re here,” she told the EMTs. “The patient is in that room. I don’t think you’ll be able to do much for her.”
A quick examination on their part confirmed her assessment. Dalton and one of the uniformed cops entered the room while the other officer began questioning onlookers.
“What happened?” Dalton asked Marla, tucking his cell phone away as he rejoined her. He must have made a call from inside the room.
“Rosana was giving her customer a facial. She put on the woman’s face mask and left the room for a few minutes. When she returned, the lady wasn’t breathing.”
“Can I speak with Rosana somewhere private?”
“Sure. How come you’re here? Did you recognize the address from the dispatcher?”
“That’s right. Good guess.” The corners of his mouth lifted. This was far from the first time he’d been summoned to her place of business.
“We can use one of the empty massage rooms,” Rosana suggested in a weak tone.
Marla introduced the aesthetician to her husband. She patted the woman’s shoulder. “It’ll be all right. Dalton will ask you some questions, and then you can take the rest of the day off. Traci will notify your clients.”
Dalton pulled out a notebook and pen and followed Rosana into another treatment room. Marla joined them, intending to offer moral support to her staff member. To her gratitude, Dalton didn’t object. But then, he’d come to value her contributions. He had even identified her as his unofficial sidekick to an Arizona sheriff during their recent honeymoon.
“Okay, can you please tell me exactly what happened?” he asked Rosana.
Her lower lip trembled. “I was giving Val a facial. She has been my customer for years, and we never had a problem before.”
“Her full name is . . .?”
“Valerie Weston. She lives east on the Intracoastal. Anyway, when I took the job here, Val followed me to this salon even though it was distant for her.”
“So you’ve given her facials before. And she’s never had a bad reaction?”
“No, sir.” Rosana gave a visible shudder. “Everything was fine. I put the facial mask on, set the timer for ten minutes, and left the room so she could relax. I went to get a cup of coffee. When I returned, I found her . . . like that.” Her voice choked on a sob, and she covered her face with her hands.
“Rosana, why don’t you make a copy of your client’s medical survey for Detective Vail?” Marla suggested.
“Si, I get it now.” The white-coated woman shuffled from the room like a condemned prisoner on her way to execution.
Marla’s heart went out to her. She knew how horrible Rosana felt. She’d been in the same position of losing a client when crabby Mrs. Kravitz died in the midst of getting a perm. The image of her head lolling against the shampoo sink remained with Marla even now. How many years ago had that awful incident occurred? She’d met Dalton, the detective assigned to the case, as a result. Back then, he’d suspected her of poisoning the woman’s coffee creamer.
“Won’t you be reassigned?” she asked him, leaning against the treatment table. “I mean, I own this place. You have a conflict of interest here.” Same as when our neighbor was found dead in his house next door after we’d argued with him.
“We’re short-staffed this time of year. A couple of the guys requested vacation time before the holiday crush. Come here.”
He held out his arms, and she rushed into them. She leaned her head against his solid chest, her anxiety easing under his embrace.
“I’m glad you came, even if your partner takes over later. I suppose you’ll order an autopsy?”
“It’s normal procedure. Does the woman have any close relatives nearby?”
“I have no idea. I’d never met her myself.”
“What can you tell me about Rosana? Is she an immigrant? Does she have citizenship papers?”
Marla stepped away, perturbed by his return-to-business tone. “Yes, she’s from Venezuela and married an American. Rosana is very good at what she does. Her customers highly recommend her.”
“What was her relationship to Valerie Weston?”
Marla spread her hands. “As Rosana said, Val was her customer, and they’d known each other for years.”
Rosana approached and handed a paper to Dalton. “Here is Val’s client survey.”
“Thank you.” He scanned the contents. “It says here Ms. Weston had a latex allergy.”
“That is correct, Detective. I was always careful not to use latex products in her presence and to wash my hands before touching her.”
“May I take a look?” Marla snatched the paper from his fingers.
The Confidential Consultation Card, as the survey was labeled, consisted of three sections. Marla scanned Val’s responses on the general health record. Topics ranged from dietary habits to female problems, sun exposure, implants, disease listings, skin-related ailments, and medications.
She nodded at that last one. Meds could affect hair as well as skin reactions. Most people didn’t think to tell their hairdressers when they started on a new drug, but certain medications could cause a stronger response to chemicals such as bleach.
According to this report, Val Weston appeared to be in good health. The next two sections regarding skin care and the beautician’s analysis didn’t raise any red flags.
“Was she married?” Dalton asked the beautician. “Do you know who her next of kin might be?”
“She was single. No children. I know she had a sister who died recently from breast cancer.”
Dalton asked a few more questions before dismissing Rosana.
Marla walked her out. “Go home and get some rest. This wasn’t your fault. Val might have had an unknown medical problem to cause her death.”
Rosana sniffled. “Gracias, senora. It is horrible.”
“I know, but the police will find out what happened.”
Once the staff member had left, Marla sought her husband again. He’d been conferring with one of the other officers and broke off at her approach.
She drew him aside. “What’s your theory about Val’s death?” The woman’s image kept replaying in her head. The glassy eyes and weird greenish tint of the facial mask became increasingly grotesque in her imagination. Her stomach lurched.
Stow it, Marla. You have to remain strong.
Dalton’s gaze grew warm as he regarded her. “Could be anything. Brain hemorrhage? Aortic aneurysm? Heart arrhythmia? Who knows?” His cell phone buzzed, and he squinted at an incoming text message. “The M.E. is here. Marla, you can go back to work. I’ll catch you later.”
“Shouldn’t I stick around to support the staff?”
“It’s not necessary. I’ll help the uniforms interview witnesses, and then we’ll close down the day spa until we complete our investigation. I know you want to keep chaos to a minimum, so I’ll tell the body removal guys to use the rear entrance.”
“Thanks. That’ll help.” But not by much. “I know this might sound harsh, but I don’t need the negative publicity right now. I’m in the running for that educator position with Luxor Products, and this won’t look good.”
“You’re right. It does sound harsh in view of a woman’s death. That’s unlike you, Marla.” The fine lines around his mouth tightened.
She knew her husband wasn’t thrilled about her accepting another job, especially one that would mean more travel. They were celebrating their one-year anniversary in a couple of weeks, and she had enough to do between work and her new family. While it was a second marriage for both her and Dalton, they’d become a tight unit in a short amount of time. Marla still felt odd as Brianna’s stepmother, but the role had grown on her. The teenager needed a woman’s guidance.
Still, gaining the new position meant a lot to her. She had contacted the hair product company—whom she’d worked for at a beauty trade show—to let them know she’d like to do the models’ hair on any advertisements they shot in the area. They’d called back saying they had an opening for an educator and asked if she would be interested. Her affirmative response had prompted the admission that they were considering one other candidate as well. Would this incident jeopardize her chances?