It’s time for cozy readers to return to the magic of Mackinac Island where sleuth extraordinaire Allie McMurphy solves another unsolved murder in Nancy Coco’s perennially popular Candy-Coated Mystery series.
FORECAST: FAIR WIH A CHANCE OF MURDER . . .
The Mackinac County fair is in full swing, and the air is rich with the scent of funnel cakes and the sound of carnival rides. Allie is focused on the fudge competition—another win would really put her hotel and fudge shop on the map. But she’s willing to take a little break and walk through the haunted house attraction with her friend Jenn.
When they come across a body, though, it turns out not to be a prop. Soon Allie’s cop boyfriend is on the scene, and the sleuthing confectioner is hunting for clues. Danger strikes too close to home when the hotel becomes the scene of a suspicious fatal accident, and Allie suspects the two deaths are connected. The case is turning into a real rollercoaster. Allie will need to hold on tight . . .
Praise for Nancy Coco and the Candy-Coated Mysteries
“I will be counting down the days until the next mystery with Allie McMurphy.”
—Cozy Mystery Book Reviews
“Full of disguises, danger, and one determined amateur sleuth.” —Fresh Fiction
“A sweet series for cozy mystery readers.”—Parkersburg News & Sentinel
Release date: May 23, 2023
Publisher: Kensington Books
Print pages: 352
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Give Fudge a Chance
“I’ve got fudge in the candy contest,” I said. “That’s enough competition for me.” Unlike Jenn, I wasn’t coordinated enough to even consider trying to toss a beanbag through a hole a few yards away.
It was August, and that meant the Mackinac County Fair was in full swing. Usually, the fair was held on the Upper Peninsula, but this year they had moved the fair onto the island as they renovated the regular fairgrounds.
Tents and booths filled every inch of Marquette Park, which was a large lawn at the base of Fort Mackinac. Exhibits were scattered throughout the island. Some of the exhibits were in the school a few blocks away, while others were located in the senior center and the community center.
As winner of the fudge festival, I had moved on to the county fair, hoping to qualify for the state fair. The more recognition I received for my fudge, the better the publicity for the McMurphy Hotel and Fudge Shop. The McMurphy has been in my family for over a hundred years, and I was the current owner and operator. With my friend Jenn’s help, we’d had a successful second season, and I wanted to continue that success.
The air was rich with the scent of funnel cakes and animal tents, as well as the sound of people riding rides.
“Oh, it’s the haunted murder mansion!” she squealed. “Let’s go inside.”
“But we have a haunted house on Main Street,” I pointed out.
“Yes, but this one is new,” she said. “I’ve already been through the one on Main Street twice.”
“Fine,” I said and gave the ticket guy my tickets. “You love these things, don’t you?” I asked Jenn as we walked through the dark entrance and into a spooky, green-lighted foyer.
“They’re so much fun!” Jenn’s eyes glittered in the strange light. The soundtrack began with loud, spooky laughter.
“Enter if you dare,” the soundtrack went on.
“Look, a bloody handprint on the door,” Jenn said. “It’s going to be great.”
We stepped inside, and a mannequin in a monster mask jumped out at us with a knife in his hand. We both screamed and ran to the next doorway. We entered a funeral home scene with the corpse rising out of the coffin. Ghostly music played as the coffin lid lifted and closed.
We continued to a man in a jail cell reaching for us. Jenn laughed and ran across the room. But he grabbed my arm. “Help me, there’s a murderer on the loose,” he said. “Be careful, or they’ll get you, too!” I broke free from his grasp, and he called out. “Wait! Please let me out!”
“What was that?” I asked Jenn. “He grabbed me.” Then a mechanical monster pushed out of a closet. We ran through the next door into a room where a man lay on the ground half in and half out the door to the outside. It looked like we would have to step over him to go out. “I’m not stepping over that,” I said. “I don’t want him to grab my leg.”
“But it’s the only way out,” Jenn said. “Just tell him not to grab you.” She walked up to the pretend corpse. “Look, I’ve got a dress on and I’m pregnant, so you’d better not grab me.” Then she took a big step over him and opened the door wide letting in the bright sunshine. Light flooded the room, and we could see bloody handprints on the floor next to the corpse. Curious because he didn’t even blink at the light, I squatted down to see if he was even real.
Oh, he was real, all right. A big pool of blood grew under him. “Those are some effects,” I said to the guy. Nothing. I snapped my fingers close to his face and still he didn’t flinch. My heart beat faster. “Mister,” I said and shook his shoulder. His head lolled to the side.
“What are you doing?” Jenn said. “Just step over him. He clearly isn’t going to grab you.”
I frowned and touched his neck. “He’s cold.”
“As in ‘not alive’ cold?” Jenn asked. “Because if he’s a mannequin, then I need to get my eyes checked.”
“As in ‘dead human’ cold,” I said. I’d found my share of dead bodies enough to know one when I saw one. “Don’t move,” I instructed Jenn, who held the door open.
Standing, I pulled out my phone and called nine-one-one.
“Nine-one-one, what is your emergency?”
“Hi, Charlene,” I said. “You’d better call Rex.” Charlene and I had never met in person, but we knew each other well, and Rex Manning was the lead police officer on the island and my boyfriend.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
“Yes, we’re fine,” I said. “We’re at the back of the haunted house.”
“The one on Main?”
“No,” I said and blew out a breath. “The one in the carnival on the makeshift fairgrounds.”
“Right,” she said. “Got it. Don’t worry, the police are on the way.”
“Have him come quick and bring Shane.” Shane was Jenn’s husband and the county crime scene investigator. “There’s a dead man near the back door.”
“They’re on their way,” she said. “You said you were at the murder mansion attraction. My husband and I went through that last night. Are you sure it’s not just a prop?”
“I’m sure,” I said. “It’s a very real dead man.”
“Stay on the line with me until the police get there, just in case something happens. Is there anyone with you?”
“Yes, Jenn Carpenter is with me,” I said. “I think we’re safe. I don’t see anyone else around.”
“Stay on the line anyway,” Charlene replied.
“Will do,” I said and looked back at the corpse to see if I could recognize him.
“Does Charlene want you to stay on the line in case we’re in danger?” Jenn asked as she held the door open.
“Yes,” I said. “It’s standard—”
“Hi, Charlene,” Jenn called into my phone. “Allie and I are safe. I’m outside, holding the door open and no one else seems to be around.”
“Tell her I still need you to be on the line until the police get there,” Charlene said.
“We need to remain on the line,” I repeated to Jenn.
“This is kind of exciting,” Jenn said and hugged herself as she held the door with her back.
“A man is dead,” I pointed out.
“Oh, come on.” She shook her head at me. “You love murders. You practically live for solving them.”
“I’d rather make fudge.” I straightened, glanced out the open door, and caught two people having an intense argument next to the corn dog stand. “Is that Hazel Green and Isabel Frank?” I pointed toward the two women. Their hands were flying a mile a minute as they tried to make their points.
“It is,” Jenn said. “The argument looks pretty heated.”
“I heard Hazel was into parkour,” I said. “And she was jumping onto Isabel’s balcony to get to the roof of the next building.”
“Parkour?” Jenn frowned. “Is that where they train by jumping from thing to thing?”
“They challenge themselves to get from one place to another as quickly as possible. It’s crazy. You should look it up,” I said. “But I bet that’s why they’re arguing.”
The sound of ambulance sirens grew closer. Motorized vehicles had been banned from Mackinac Island for nearly a hundred years, but when it came to emergency vehicles, they were state of the art.
Rex and Officer Charles Brown came up on bicycles. The ticket taker from the front of the haunted house came around the back with them.
“What’s going on?” the ticket taker asked.
“We discovered a dead man,” I said.
“It’s a haunted house,” the ticket taker said. His name tag read Smith.
“With a real dead body,” Jenn said and pointed at her feet. I held the door open and illuminated the body.
“That’s the employee exit only,” the ticket taker said.
“Well, we saw the daylight and thought it was the way out,” Jenn said.
Rex squatted down and felt for a pulse. “The body is real,” he said and looked up at me. “And very dead.”
“Only Allie can find a real dead body at a haunted house,” Rex said.
“Are you kidding me?” Jenn laughed. “If Allie hadn’t checked on him, there’s no telling how many people would have gone through and left him just like I was going to. It’s a good thing Allie has become a magnet for all things murder mystery.”
We were eating chicken salad on the rooftop of the McMurphy. I had placed several bistro tables and chairs up there so people could sit and enjoy the view. Rex and I had hard apple cider while Jenn drank sparkling soda.
The breeze blew in the familiar scent of lake, fudge, and horses. “At least you were able to identify the body quickly,” I said to Rex.
He sipped his cider. “Yeah, Mike Sanders was a good guy and didn’t deserve to die that way.”
“Any idea who did it?”
“Not that I’m going to tell you,” he said. “Just because you found him doesn’t mean you should investigate.”
“Fine,” I agreed. There was a sudden loud plop on the rooftop deck. It was Hazel. She was dressed in a white T-shirt, workout leggings, and athletic shoes, her red hair pulled back in a ponytail.
“Don’t mind me,” she said. “I’m just rooftop hopping.” She ran to the edge of the deck and leapt to the top of the Old Tyme Photo Shop next door.
“What was that?” Rex asked as we watched her continue her daring trek across the rooftops.
“Parkour,” Jenn said. “Allie told me all about it this afternoon.”
“She’s lucky if she doesn’t break her neck,” Rex said.
“There’s no law against it, so there’s nothing to be done but watch,” I said and took a bite of my chicken salad.
“There should be a law,” Rex said. “Or we’ll have a bunch of kids on the rooftops.”
“I suspect Isabel will be going to the city council soon,” Jenn said. “We saw her fighting with Hazel at the fair.”
“Speaking of the fair,” Jenn said, “I’m suddenly craving funnel cake.”
“Just don’t tell me you want to eat it with pickles,” I teased.
“Oh, that sounds good. I can text Shane and have him bring us all funnel cakes,” Jenn said and got out her phone. “I think the baby wants one.”
“He’s still at the fair?” I asked. It had been close to five hours since we found the dead guy. Rex had closed the crime scene nearly an hour ago.
“He had to take his stuff to St. Ignace. You know evidence, chain-of-custody stuff. Now that it’s at the lab, he’s just getting off the ferry,” Jenn said as she let her thumbs glide across her phone. “Shane said he’ll bring funnel cakes.”
“Yum,” I said. “I’ve got some ice cream that we can put on top.”
“That is a dessert I can get into,” Rex said.
“Say what about that guy in the fake jail cell?” Jenn asked.
“What guy?” Rex paused between sips.
“Oh, remember I told you there was a guy behind bars at the haunted house. He grabbed me and begged me to let him out,” I said.
“Oh, that was Paul Patterson,” Rex said. “According to the ticket guy, he’s an employee who was supposed to be watching the exit where we found the dead guy. You know, scare people away from the door.”
“What was he doing in jail?” Jenn asked.
“It seems he heard a noise that wasn’t right and went to investigate. They were getting kids destroying the displays. When he turned around, someone had locked him into the jail with the fake mummy,” Rex said.
“He must have seen the murderer,” Jenn said.
“Or kids locked him in as a joke,” Rex said.
“If you haven’t already, you should talk to him. I think he knows something,” I said. “Because he grabbed my arm and told me there was a ‘murderer on the loose’.”
“I spoke to him already,” Rex took a sip of his cider. “But he didn’t mention anything about a murderer on the loose.”
“Then he lied,” I said.
“Maybe he was just trying to scare you,” Rex said.
“Yeah,” I said. “He did a good job of that. Still, you might want to make him a person of interest. He was there, and he has to know something.”
“There you go, case closed,” Rex said.
“Oh, please, nothing is ever that easy,” I said. “And why lock yourself in a display? If you’re going to murder someone, the last thing you want to do is stick around the scene of the crime.”
“Unless you want to make people think you didn’t do it,” Jenn said.
“Do you think he’s a person of interest or not?” Rex asked. His blue eyes twinkled.
“Okay, fine, I’ll stop trying to do your job for you,” I said. “But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t question him again.”
“Allie . . .”
“I know.” I sighed. “Let you do your job.”
If only it was that easy.
“Good morning, Allie,” Isabel said as she entered the lobby of the McMurphy dressed in a sundress and sneakers, but with a full head of steam.
“Good morning, Isabel,” I said as I stood beside my general manager and dear friend Frances Devaney. “What can we do for you?”
She strode straight across the lobby and right up to the reservation desk, where Frances worked. “I need you both to sign a petition. I need two hundred signatures before I can get it in front of the city council.”
“Sure,” I said. “What are we signing for?”
“To keep people off the roofs unless they are working on them.”
“Ah, you mean Hazel and her parkour,” I said.
“She might be the first, but unless we enact a law, she won’t be the last,” Isabel said. “Can you imagine the danger we would all be in? What if someone slipped and fell? They could kill themselves and someone on the street. Not to mention the noise and the invasion of privacy when they come scampering over your balcony.”
“I’ll sign,” Frances said. “I agree, it’s pretty dangerous.” She picked up a pen and scrawled her name.
“Allie?” Isabel asked.
“I’ll sign, too,” I said. “My insurance is already high due to the rooftop deck. I’d hate to see what would happen if people used the roofs as a walkway.” I signed my name.
“Thanks, ladies,” Isabel said and took back her clipboard and pen.
“Did you hear about the dead man at the fair’s haunted house?” I asked.
“Yes,” Isabel said. “I heard you found another body.”
“It was Mike Sanders,” I said. “Did you know him?”
“I know his sister, Hailey,” she said and shook her head. “Terrible thing, losing a brother like that.”
“If you see her, give her our condolences,” I said.
“Will do.” Isabel turned on her heel and strode out of the lobby as fast as she’d come in.
“I hope she gets all the signatures she needs,” Frances said. “That roof stuff is dangerous. Hazel ought to know better.”
Frances was in her early seventies with brown hair, cut in a short bob. Today she wore a T-shirt and maxi skirt with a flower pattern. Frances had been a teacher who worked the summers for my Papa Liam. But then Grammy Alice had died, and Frances retired from teaching to take a full-time job at the McMurphy. With Papa Liam’s death, I was lucky that she’d stayed on. She knew all the nuances of running a hotel during the high season on Mackinac.
It was 10 a.m., and I’d finished making fudge to stock the shelves. The fudge shop was in the lobby of the McMurphy. I’d enclosed it in glass because I had two pets that roamed the building. My bichon-poo pup, Mal, who had just turned one a few months ago, and my calico cat, Mella. I was downstairs in full fudge-maker uniform because I planned a fudge demonstration at 11 a.m. It brought people in off the street and into the shop to taste and buy fudge.
My new fudge assistant, Madison, walked in dressed in black pants and a white polo. She was working the summer season and would be going back to college next month. My original summer assistants had been with me a few weeks, then gotten full-time jobs off the island, and Madison had saved the day.
Working a fudge shop by yourself was hard, but during high season, it was impossible.
Mal jumped up from her dog bed beside the registration desk and ran over to greet Madison. “Good morning,” Madison said cheerfully. “How are you guys this morning?”
“Hey, Madison,” I said. “Do you know anything about parkour?”
“Oh, yeah, I know some guys from school who do it. It can get pretty crazy for some. They seem to fling themselves around. Anyway, I wouldn’t do it. Why?”
I shrugged. “We signed a petition to keep people off the rooftops.”
“Oh, wow, yeah, rooftop parkour is really hard-core,” she said. “Even the guys I know wouldn’t try that.”
“It is one way to get around the crowds on Main Street,” Frances said.
“Not a good way,” I said. “Come on, Madison, let’s get set up for the fudge demonstration.”
The bells on the lobby door jangled, and Mal barked and went running. The scent of horses and lake followed Rex inside. “Allie, do you have a minute?”
“Sure.” I waved Madison toward the fudge shop. She knew what to do. “What’s up?”
“There’s been a development in the case,” Rex said as he took off his hat and tucked it under his arm.
“Should we go upstairs?” I asked.
“That’s probably for the best,” he said.
“I hope it won’t take long,” I said over my shoulder as we took the stairs to the fourth floor, where my office and apartment were located.
“Not too long,” he said as I unlocked my office door and we walked inside.
“Can I get you some coffee or something else to drink?” I asked as I moved toward my desk.
“No, thanks,” he said and stood while I sat down behind my desk. “Listen, what do you know about Ralf Smith?”
“Ralf Smith, the carnie ticket taker working the haunted house?”
“Nothing, why?” I sat up, put my elbows on the desktop, and rested my chin in my hands.
“I understand you have some of the carnie workers staying at the McMurphy. Is he one of them?”
“Oh, no,” I said with a shake of my head. “The carnie workers are all staying off the island at St. Ignace. Why?”
“He didn’t come to work today,” Rex said. “The fair manager thought it was odd and wanted me to check on him.”
“I hope he’s all right,” I said.
“Then you don’t have any of the fair employees staying with you?”
“No, we have a wedding party and two rooms of ladies who are showing at the fair. And speaking of the fair”—I checked my watch—“I’ve got to get my eleven o’clock demonstration done because I have to be at the judging tent at noon to watch the candy judging. I’ve got fudge in the candy contest, and I’m hoping for Best in Show.”
“Congrats on that,” Rex said. “Thanks for the info.” He opened my office door, and Jenn stood on the other side.
“Oh,” she said. “I didn’t know you two were in there.”
“Hi, Jenn, how are you feeling?” Rex asked.
“I’m good,” she said. “Not even showing yet. But nearing the end of the first trimester.”
“I heard you don’t show until at least six months along,” I said. “For your first child, anyway.”
“Wh. . .
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