Savvy hairstylist and amateur sleuth Marla Vail enters a charity bake-off contest at a fall festival sponsored by a local farm. While she waits to see if her coconut fudge pie is a winner, Marla joins a scavenger hunt where people playing character roles are the targets. Instead of scoring points with a live person, she finds a dead body planted face-down in the strawberry field. Who would want to cut short the life of food magazine publisher and fellow bake-off contestant Francine Dodger?
Francine is wearing a jacket borrowed from another entrant, food blogger Alyce Greene. With their similar builds, hair colors, and pixie haircuts, the women could have been mistaken for each other from behind. Was it possible Alyce had been the intended target instead of Francine? When another entrant is killed, Marla fears the rest of the contestants might be next.
Marla’s friend, deli owner Arnie Hartman, knows the farm owner’s son. He begs Marla to investigate to help clear the smear on the farm’s reputation. She’s joined by her husband, homicide detective Dalton Vail, in interviewing the bake-off contestants and judges. There’s no shortage of suspects. A celebrity TV chef, food critic, olive oil importer, food truck owner, pastry chef, and cookbook author may be stirring up more than their next recipe. Can Marla unmask the killer before someone else gets trimmed from life? Recipes Included!
Booksellers and Librarians: This title is available at Ingram.
“One reason why Nancy J. Cohen is an award-winning cozy mystery author is that her stories are packed with personality, upbeat scenarios, and the solid pairing of a murder mystery with broader community entanglements. In this story, Marla isn’t just a sole proprietor operating independent of her world; she’s thoroughly connected to the community through her salon and work. Descriptions are thus nicely crafted and filled with atmosphere and detail that bring Marla’s world to life, sometimes with a touch of ironic observation…From fundraiser activity, culinary insights, and probes into Marla’s logic to recipes and romance which pepper the story line and embellish its twists and turns, readers who want a cozy mystery filled with atmosphere, intrigue, and adventure should settle a chair by the fire for a good evening’s read.” D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review
“This sweet cozy mystery has an interesting cast of characters along with plenty of suspects to thicken the plot.” FS Brown, InD’Tale Magazine
“Trimmed to Death is a solid cozy replete with olive facts, dogs, small town rivalries, entrepreneurship, and killer recipes. Another entertaining read from author Nancy J Cohen. She kept me guessing to the end!” Maggie Toussaint, Muddy Rose Reviews
“This is such a wonderful series filled with a solid cast of characters who I’ve grown to love with each new book. I feel invested in their lives and have enjoyed their progression throughout the series. I can’t wait to see where the author takes us next.” Taryn Lee, Taryn’s Reviews
“This was an enjoyable story, well researched with great characters and a wonderful setting. I recommend it to cozy mystery lovers, especially those who enjoy family dynamics that add to the story.” Carla Johnson-Hicks, Carla Loves to Read
“The Bad Hair Day Mysteries are cozy mysteries, but cozy mysteries with a bit of an edge. Trimmed to Death is no exception. The plot is well-developed, the characters have depth and the mystery is complex. There are a lot of suspects at the beginning and a number of clues to help you try and solve the mystery along with Marla. Don’t be surprised if you can’t, because there are also a lot of twists and turns and surprises. Marla’s profession as a hair stylist adds the dimension of hair and fashion info, and her interest in food supplies delicious meal and recipe ideas.” Sally Schmidt, Sally’s Reviews
“Here they come. Look sharp,” Marla Vail said to her friend, Tally Riggs. The judges headed down the line in their direction. Marla’s heart rate accelerated as they got closer. Being the last two contestants might be a good thing. Tally and Marla’s entries would linger in the judges’ minds more so than the other ten, even if those included chocolate Kahlua cake, blueberry crumble, and plum almond tarts.
“The money raised by the bake-off goes to a good cause,” Tally reminded her. “It doesn’t matter if we win or not.” She stood next to Marla behind a table displaying her lemon bread pudding. Tally brushed a stray blond hair off her model-perfect face. Her tall frame made Marla’s five-foot six-inch height feel short.
“I know, but a ten-thousand-dollar business grant is hard to let go.” Marla wanted to add a bistro to her hair salon and day spa. Winning the prize would allow her to move forward with her plans. But she’d be happier if Tally won. Her widowed friend had yet to reopen her dress shop after the horrific car crash that had killed her husband and put her in the hospital. Despite having generous benefits from Ken’s life insurance policy, Tally could use the money to raise her son and rebuild her business.
“Look at the crowd,” Tally pointed out. “Ticket sales must be good.”
People gathered by the cluster of tables under white tent awnings. From the paper plates and plastic forks in their hands, they couldn’t wait for the judging to end so they could sample the goods. As instructed, both Marla and Tally had brought extra portions.
A strong breeze swept by, lifting the corners of their tablecloths. An early October cold front in South Florida made Marla glad she’d worn a sweater along with jeans and ankle boots. Dry grass crunched underfoot as she shifted her feet. The day had turned out sunny with clear skies for the fall harvest festival at Kinsdale Farms. Located at the western edge of Broward County, the produce farm hosted this event each year. Various businesses sponsored the competitions that entrants applied for months in advance.
One of the judges lingered at table number eight to speak to the caramel-skinned woman there. He must have said something that displeased her, because her mouth thinned and her eyes narrowed. Marla recognized the judge as Carlton Paige, food critic. His pudgy face and rotund figure were hard to miss. Rumor said restaurateurs cringed when he entered their premises. The lady’s response made his lips curl in a sneer before he moved on.
Now only two entrants separated the judges from Marla. She glanced at the women but they were strangers to her. She’d been busy setting up earlier and hadn’t met the other contenders, although Teri DuMond was a familiar face. The chocolatier ran tours at the factory where she sold artisan chocolates. Teri had waved a greeting to Marla before the judging began.
Marla’s breath came short as the judges neared. It was silly to feel so nervous. Nonetheless, she scanned the throng looking for her husband Dalton’s reassuring figure but spied him nowhere. He had entered his own competition for best homegrown tomatoes. That contest awarded a hundred-dollar gift certificate to a plant nursery.
“Number eleven, what is it you have for us?” said the sole female judge in a Southern accent. Marla’s attention whipped forward. The judge wore her bleached hair piled high atop her head like cotton candy. Her rosy lips formed a pout as she regarded Marla with an assessing glance. Huge gold hoop earrings matched the heavy chains around her neck.
“My entry is a coconut fudge pie. You must be Raquel Hayes. I watch your cooking show on TV. It’s an honor to meet you. All of you,” Marla amended hastily.
Tristan Marsh looked down his nose at her. The pastry chef from The Royal Palate made up the last of their trio. He had a thin face with a pasty complexion like the flour he used in his confections. From his slender frame, she surmised he had a fast metabolism, spent a lot of time at the gym, or didn’t taste too many of his own creations.
Carlton Paige, the food critic, picked up a plastic fork and a sample slice of her dish. “God, I hope this isn’t as awful as the last few entries. They tasted like cardboard,” he said in an annoying nasal tone.
Raquel grimaced. “I’ve had my fill of sweets for the day. This one had better be good.”
“None of them can equal my artistry,” Tristan announced. He put a piece in his mouth and rolled it around on his tongue before he chewed and swallowed. His face gave nothing away about his opinion.
“Oh, come on, you can’t expect these amateurs to do anything fancy,” Carlton replied. His brows lifted as he tasted her dessert. Marla took that as a hopeful sign.
“Marla might not be in the food industry, but she’s a great baker,” Tally said in Marla’s defense. “She used to experiment with rare fruit recipes. You’d love her lychee upside-down cake. I told her she had to enter this contest.”
Marla’s cheeks warmed. “Tally likes anything with chocolate. She doesn’t have to worry about her figure like I do. If I didn’t love her, I’d be envious.”
Carlton gave Tally a smarmy onceover. “You’re not too thin, which is a good thing. A man likes a good handful, if you know what I mean.”
“Keep it in your pants, lover boy,” Tristan admonished him. He glanced at Raquel, who’d tasted Marla’s entry. “Well, how do you like it?” The pastry chef’s effeminate gesture matched his manner of speech.
“You know I can’t talk in front of the contestants. You’ll see after the tallies are done. Tally, you get it?” Raquel flicked a glance at Marla’s friend and chuckled at her pun. Her breasts jiggled with her movements.
Dear Lord, this trio of clowns is judging our entries? They seemed less than thrilled to be there. The publicity must be worth it. All of them would benefit from being in the spotlight.
“I don’t have a hope in hell of winning,” said the lady on Marla’s left after the judges departed. All the winners from the various contests would be announced later. “I’m Alyce Greene, by the way.”
Marla admired the woman’s white bomber jacket with silver trim decorating each sleeve. “I’m Marla Vail, and this is my friend, Tally Riggs. It’s our first time doing a bake-off contest.”
“I’m glad to see so many guests. Ticket sales must be brisk. That’ll be great for the Safety First Alliance.”
The non-profit organization educated the public against leaving children and pets in hot cars. Marla had signed up as a volunteer when she’d heard about their cause. “Yes, I understand eighty percent of the proceeds will be donated to the group,” she said. “I wish it could be more, but I suppose the sponsoring company has to make back some of their administrative costs.”
The contestants handed out dessert samples to the crowd that converged on their booths. The guests had each paid a dollar per ticket, which entitled them to one item. Some gluttons descended on the tables with handfuls of tickets.
“What would you two do with the prize money if you win?” Alyce asked Marla and Tally once the mob dispersed.
Each contestant had paid a fifty-dollar entry fee along with the submission of a business plan that included a food component. City council members had vetted the proposals and selected the entrants. Marla felt lucky to be chosen, although she’d entered more due to Tally’s urging than a desire to win.
“I own a salon and day spa,” she replied. “If I had the extra cash, I’d add a bistro menu to my services.”
“And I plan to open a boutique café,” Tally commented. “It’s a hot concept, combining a clothing store with food services. How about you?”
Alyce gave them a wry glance. “I don’t need the funds for myself. I write a popular food blog, and it’s monetized through affiliate ads. My husband owns a food truck operation. I’d pay off his starter loan so he could expand the business.”
“What’s this I heard about funds?” The contestant on Alyce’s other side wandered in their direction.
Alyce frowned at her. “I was just telling them about my food blog. Ladies, have you met Francine Dodger?”
Marla and Tally introduced themselves, while Marla noted similarities between the other two women. Both had brown hair and similar statures. Alyce’s eyes matched her brunette hair color, while Francine had green eyes, but otherwise they shared the same even features.
“I love your hairstyles,” Marla said. “Those pixie cuts look cute on both of you. Where do you get your hair done?”
“We go to the same stylist. It’s Karen at Salon Style,” Alyce replied.
“Are you related to each other?”
Francine darted a glance at Alyce before responding. “If we were, I’d convince Alyce to blog for my publication. I’m the publisher of Eat Well Now magazine.” She shivered in the cool air and wrapped her arms around her chest.
Without a sweater, Francine must be cold in her short-sleeved top. Its purple color along with her green eyes reminded Marla of Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
“I’m a subscriber,” Tally said in an eager tone. “I love the Vintage Finds column. That’s my favorite section.”
Marla had heard of the periodical but hadn’t read it. “I like to cook, but my passion is doing hair. My reading tastes lean toward trade journals and hair fashion magazines.”
“What’s the name of your salon?” Alyce asked.
“It’s the Cut ’N Dye. May I give you my card?”
The other women reached into their purses, and they all exchanged business cards.
“You must be freezing in that skimpy top,” Alyce said to Francine. She took off her white bomber jacket. “Here, wear this. You’ll need it to stay warm during the game, but don’t get it dirty or you’ll pay for the cleaning bill.”
“Thanks, it’s colder than I’d expected today.” Francine accepted the jacket and threw it on. “Are you ladies joining the live scavenger hunt?”
Tally gaped at her. “Don’t tell me you’re Find Franny?”
Francine’s mouth split into a grin. “Yep, that’s me. The game is so much fun each year, and Kinsdale Farms has so many places to hide.”
Marla glanced at her watch. They had to load their supplies into the car before participating in other activities.
“We’d better get this stuff cleaned up,” she said. “The kids’ craft corner starts in twenty minutes, and I see the organizers eyeing our tables.”