A 1950s Cozy Mystery series by USA TODAY bestselling author Lee Strauss!
Murder's a trip!
It's early 1957, and Rosa Reed and her new beau Detective Miguel Belmonte fly from California to London to follow up on the cold case: the murder of Rosa's good friend Lady Vivien Everleigh.
The investigation is complicated, if not awkward, as the deceased is the sister of Rosa's former fiancé. Thankfully, Rosa's parents, Ginger (aka Ginger Gold of Lady Gold Investigations) and Basil Reed are there to help.
Rosa stumbles onto a dangerous truth. Can she find her friend's killer and save her own life too?
If you love early rock & roll, poodle skirts, clever who-dun-its, a charming cat and an even more charming detective, you're going to love this new series!
Clean read: no graphic violence, sex, or strong language.
A brand new 1950s series!
THE ROSA REED MYSTERY SERIES
Murder at High Tide (Book 1)
Murder on the Boardwalk (Book 2)
Murder at the Bomb Shelter (Book 3)
Murder on Location (Book 4)
Murder and Rock 'n Roll (Book 5)
Murder at the Races (Book 6)
Murder at the Dude Ranch (Book 7)
Murder in London (Book 8)
Hop aboard the 1920s!
THE GINGER GOLD MYSTERY SERIES
Murder on the SS Rosa (Book 1)
Murder at Hartigan House (Book 2)
Murder at Bray Manor (Book 3)
Murder at Feathers & Flair (Book 4)
Murder at the Mortuary (Book 5)
Murder at Kensington Gardens (Book 6)
Murder at st. George's Church (Book 7)
The Wedding of Ginger & Basil (Book 7.5)
Murder Aboard the Flying Scotsman (Book 8)
Murder at the Boat Club (Book 9)
Murder on Eaton Square (Book 10)
Murder by Plum Pudding (Book 11)
Murder on Fleet Street (Book 12)
Murder at Brighton Beach (Book 13)
Murder at Hyde Park (Book 14)
Murder at Royal Albert Hall (Book 15)
Murder in Belgravia (Book 16)
~more on the way!
Don't miss LADY GOLD INVESTIGATES, the short story companion series!
Genre: cat cozy mystery series / historical mystery / women amateur sleuths / female detectives
Release date: August 20, 2021
Publisher: La Plume Press
Print pages: 228
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Murder in London: a 1950s cozy historical mystery
Murder in London
A Rosa Reed Mystery book 8
Lee Strauss and Norm Strauss
Miss Rosa Reed returned the telephone receiver to its cradle on the desk in the Forrester mansion study. Her breath hitched as she mentally replayed the conversation she had had with her mother, who lived in London, several time zones away from Rosa’s new home in Santa Bonita, California. With her eyes closed, she inhaled deeply and exhaled slowly. If it hadn’t already felt like her worlds were colliding with the unexpected arrival of her former fiancé, Lord Winston Eveleigh, this phone call had really brought the point home. Rosa’s head felt dizzy from the juxtaposition.
In a near daze, she walked back to the dining room where a dinner party was underway. Along with the awkward addition of Winston were Rosa’s family members, consisting of Aunt Louisa Forrester, Grandma Sally Hartigan, and her cousins Clarence and Gloria. Aunt Louisa’s new gentleman friend, dude ranch operator Elliot Roundtree, and Rosa’s boyfriend, Detective Miguel Belmonte, were also in attendance.
The room quieted when Rosa entered.
Aunt Louisa, who managed to eat without losing her lipstick, asked, “Is everything all right?”
Rosa, remaining poised, took her seat. Miguel’s copper-brown eyes narrowed in concern, and he reached under the table for her hand and squeezed.
“I’m not sure,” she answered, then looked across the table at Winston. “My parents have heard from the police. About Vivien. There’s a new lead with Vivien’s case.”
Winston’s face immediately drained of all expression. No one else spoke.
Elliot Roundtree, the one person at the table who’d never heard the name before, stroked his thick white mustache and asked innocently, “Who’s Vivien?”
“Lady Vivien . . . my sister,” Winston said, still staring at Rosa.
“She was my best friend,” Rosa added.
Aunt Louisa, not seeing the need for tact, clarified. “She was murdered.”
Mr. Roundtree, a rugged outdoor man who was rarely shaken, looked stunned. “Golly. Sorry to hear it.”
“Almost six years ago,” Rosa explained. “The case was never solved.”
“A fresh break in the case?” Gloria said eagerly, pushing her short dark hair behind her ears. Seven years younger than Rosa, Gloria worked at a newspaper as a junior journalist and had a strong interest in Rosa’s work as a private detective. The phrase “break in the case” was one of Gloria’s favorite new expressions.
“I don’t know all the details yet,” Rosa said. “Apparently, they’ve captured a fugitive robber who they believe may be responsible for the crime.”
Winston drank what remained in his wine glass then waved about for a servant that didn’t exist. Rosa passed an open bottle to him, and he poured himself a generous portion. Then, holding the nearly empty bottle in the air, he said in his thick English accent, “Is anyone else interested?”
Clarence, who until this announcement had been enduring the dinner engagement with barely concealed boredom, held up his glass, and Winston emptied the bottle.
“As much as I regret it, I must cut my trip short,” Winston said after another sip of wine. He gave Rosa a meaningful look. “I don’t suppose you’d like to join me?”
Miguel’s grip on Rosa’s hand tightened.
With her free hand, she cupped Miguel’s reassuringly. “I do plan on returning to London as soon as possible, but not as your companion, Winston.” She turned to Miguel. “Would you’d like to come?”
Miguel’s dark brows shot up in surprise. “To London?”
“We’ll fly! You can do that nowadays, you know. It’s how I traveled last time.” She paused for a moment. “I know it’s sudden.”
Miguel smiled, and the dimples that Rosa simply adored appeared. “Absolutely,” he said. “Delvecchio owes me some vacation time.”
Winston abruptly pushed away from the table and whipped his cloth napkin onto it like a gauntlet. “I will see you in London, Rosa.” He stormed out of the room, leaving everyone speechless.
Mr. Roundtree smirked. “Why do I have the feeling there’s more to this story than meets the eye?”
Aunt Louisa folded her arms, having given up on the rest of her meal. “I’ll tell you about it someday, Elliot.” She steadied her gaze on Rosa. “It has all the elements of a Perry Mason novel.”
The following day, Rosa, Gloria, and Aunt Louisa stood looking down at Diego, Rosa’s brown tabby cat, who was curled up on the blue Scandinavian-style living room sofa. Aunt Louisa presented herself in a powder-blue dress with capped sleeves, a thin matching belt which emphasized her narrow waist, and a dramatically printed skirt, extra full thanks to the two or more crinoline slips underneath. But her face expressed doubt. Her arms crossed, and her foot tapped in annoyance.
Diego stared innocently up at them, his green-yellow eyes blinking slowly, as if he had a heart full of good intentions.
There wasn’t one person in the room who believed that to be true.
“Are you sure you can’t take him with you?” Aunt Louisa said.
Rosa shook her head. “I’m afraid not. The long journey would be very hard on him, and it would complicate matters.”
“It’s not exactly uncomplicated leaving him here,” Aunt Louisa returned.
Rosa looked at her apologetically. Ever since she had brought the shivering and abandoned kitten home to the Forrester mansion, the tension between her aunt and the poor kitten had been evident. Then there was the incident with the imported drapes, the debacle with the expensive carpet in the library, and the scandal of the claw marks on the leather lounge chair. The list was extensive, and the cat unrepentant.
Even though “Deputy Diego,” as Miguel liked to call him, had serendipitously helped to uncover evidence in several murder cases, his stock had not risen in Aunt Louisa’s eyes. Grandma Sally had recently warmed to him somewhat, though. Rosa regarded this as miraculous, considering the numerous times the cat had startled the elderly lady by suddenly streaking through the living room, bounding on top of furniture, and knocking over plants in one of his trademark bursts of energy. One time, he had even knocked her reading glasses off while she attempted to read a book.
“He will be my responsibility,” Gloria offered as she scooped his limp, furry form into her arms. “Diego loves me. And when I have to go to work at the paper, Señora Gomez will watch him.”
As if on cue, the Forrester mansion’s housekeeper and cook breezed past the open door, slowing when she registered the three women congregating. Her gaze settled on Diego in Gloria’s arms. “Aww, look at him. Es un ángelito. A little angel!” She smiled at Diego before continuing to the kitchen.
Gloria buried her nose in the top of Diego’s furry head as she spoke to Rosa. “I’ll help you pack.”
Rosa’s bedroom had generous space with matching ornate wooden furniture and its own bathroom—something Rosa would miss when she was back at Hartigan House in South Kensington. Gloria placed Diego on the jade-green quilt and dramatically threw herself down on her back beside him. Rosa smiled. She knew that when Gloria offered to help pack, what she really meant was, “I’ll lie on the bed and talk your ear off while I watch you work.”
“You know, I don’t leave until tomorrow afternoon,” Rosa said. “I’m only going to pack a few things right now.” Her suitcase lay open on the floor with a few sundry items in it.
“I wish I could go with you.” Gloria sighed as she rolled onto her side to look at Rosa. “This place will be dullsville without you here.”
“Well, I don’t doubt that,” Rosa returned cheerily, “but I’m sure you’ll manage to keep soldiering on without me for a little while.”
Gloria rubbed the bridge of Diego’s nose, a gesture that always caused him to close his eyes and calm down, if only for a few moments. “I don’t know that much about Lady Vivien. Care to tell me more?”
Rosa lowered herself onto her vanity chair and regarded her image in the mirror. Like Gloria, she had short dark hair, curled stylishly at the nape of her neck. Though she’d taken after her father, Basil Reed, in looks, she’d gotten her mother’s eyes, a striking green, and like her mother, did her best to choose dresses and makeup that brought them out. Rosa and Vivien had been opposites that way. Vivien had found fashion and society a challenge, preferring reading and scribbling in her notebooks to social gatherings. As a Lady, her duties rarely allowed for such personal indulgences, and she often confessed to envying Rosa’s freedom in that regard. It wasn’t until Rosa had become engaged to Winston that she herself had felt the burden of social conventions to that degree.
“Vivien and I were the closest of friends since we were young girls. We shared a love for the law and a certain fascination with bringing those who broke the law to account. Though it was extremely unconventional, Vivien found her way to Birmingham to study law. Winston was livid and tried to prevent her from going to university, but, as she said, these were modern times, and men didn’t own women anymore. Vivien had her own trust fund and could do what she wanted. Fortunately, Winston wasn’t the type to hang around the house, and Vivien was free to come and go as she pleased without having to deal with his constant disdain.”
“Seriously, Rosa,” Gloria said. “You paint a grim picture of Winston. How did the two of you ever get to the point of engagement to be married?”
Rosa’s shoulders fell. “Winston is older than Vivien and me by five years, and I’d created a romanticized version of him in my mind. He was older, dashing, and adventurous, or at least that’s how he presented himself in those days. When he enlisted in the army, we both worried together if he was going to survive the fighting on the Western Front.” Rosa watched Gloria in the reflection of the mirror, her youthful eyes bright with interest.
“As it turns out, he never was sent to the front, but he did look dashing in his uniform.” Rosa sighed. “I confess to fantasizing about marrying him, more because he was Vivien’s brother than from feelings of love. I wanted us to be sisters, if only by marriage.”
Rosa twisted in her chair to face her cousin. “In my defense, I was only thirteen.”
Gloria laughed. “Completely understandable.”
Diego brushed against Rosa’s leg, and she reached down to pull him onto her lap, where he instantly purred.
“Our emotional attachment didn’t happen until after Vivien died. Our grief brought us together, and we found comfort in one another. Over time, we just settled into a friendship that, in hindsight, meant more to Winston than to me. He’s the type of fellow who’s used to getting what he wants. And he can be very persuasive. I think he just convinced me we should be married. We had such a comfortable friendship. I thought perhaps he was right.”
Rosa gazed out the window at the palm trees swaying in the breeze; the Californian sun hung in the sky like a bright beacon. “I’d been in love before, and I didn’t believe that could happen more than once in life, so I finally relented.”
“Who did you love?”
Rosa looked at her cousin, who stared back at her, fists on her chin and eyes dreamy.
“I know you love him now, but who did you love before?”
Rosa smiled. Gloria had only been a child when Rosa had lived with the Forrester family during World War Two. So she hadn’t known about the forbidden love affair.
“Miguel. He was a soldier stationed in Santa Bonita. I was a senior in high school.”
“Golly!” Gloria sat up so quickly, she startled Diego. Rosa “umphed” as the cat sprung off her lap and shot under the bed. Gloria continued undaunted. “That is the dreamiest thing I’ve ever heard. But, hey, did Mom know?”
“Not at first, and believe me, she wasn’t happy when she did.”
“Oh, Rosa. I can only imagine. But how romantic! And now he’s going to London with you. No wonder Winston is so frosted.”
They were interrupted by a soft knock on the door.
“Come in,” Rosa called.
Bledsoe, the Forresters’ butler, opened the door but was careful not to step into the room. “Lord Winston asked me to let you know he would like to talk to you right away.”
Rosa shot Gloria a look. “Speak of the devil.”
To Bledsoe, she said, “Please tell Lord Winston I’ll be with him shortly.”
Winston stood in the morning room, glancing out at the expansive Forrester mansion’s backyard. He inhaled from his cigarette and exhaled a swirl of smoke. The kidney-shaped pool, three Mediterranean-style water fountains, and a tennis court were impressive, but the most eye-catching was the sparkling Pacific Ocean in the distance. He breathed in another puff and exhaled quickly. Rosa had mentioned she’d often enjoyed having her breakfast sitting poolside.
“I’m beginning to see why you’ve stayed here for so long,” Winston said as Rosa entered the room. As usual, he was dressed casually but fashionably. This morning he wore a cardigan sweater over a white button-down shirt with a black tie and gray trousers. His hair, parted on one side, was held in place with a good portion of oil. Dotting his long, aristocratic nose were a few freckles, suggesting he’d spent some time at the pool. It was a profile Rosa had spent a lot of time looking at. While she, Gloria, and Clarence, who were all different shades of brunette and had similar features, Winston and Vivien had borne little resemblance to each other, with sharply contrasting complexions and hair color.
Rosa, in a very un-English sort of way, got straight to the point. “You wanted to talk to me?”
Winston glanced at her sideways with his penetrating blue eyes. “Yes, please.” He gestured to one of the chairs at the empty table and sat down opposite it. “Am I right to assume that the reason you are eager to return to London is to take part in the investigation?”
“That’s correct,” Rosa said, refusing the proffered chair. Despite her sense of goodwill, she was rather enjoying the slight look of irritation on Winston’s face at her defiance.
Winston crossed his legs and lit another cigarette. “I really wish you wouldn’t.”
“I think this time you should just let the police manage my sister’s murder investigation.”
The unnecessarily possessive use of the words ‘my sister’ was not lost on Rosa.
“She was my best friend.”
“Precisely why you should not get involved. You know what it did to you last time.”
Rosa had gone through a wretched time of loss and grief, which had manifested physically in weight loss and sleeplessness.
“I’m concerned about you,” he pressed.
“Nonetheless, I’ll be taking part. I’m sure the police will allow it.” Rosa didn’t like the defensiveness that had crept into her voice. “Besides, Miguel will be there and can offer an objective viewpoint.”
Winston snorted derisively. “By gosh, Rosa. Your naivety astounds me. Do you think he’s going to be any kind of help? It seems bringing your latest fling with you will only complicate matters.”
“He’s not a fling!”
“See here, I’m glad you’re returning to London,” he said, ignoring her protest. “In fact, I think it would be good for you to see your parents, perhaps visit some of your old haunts, renew your friendships, and so on, but to get entangled once again in all of this torrid affair . . .” He flicked long fingers in the air.
“You forget that I am a police officer—”
“You were a police officer,” Winston corrected. “You left the force, did you not? Regardless, I can assure you that I’ll be in close contact with the police the entire way, and I can keep you thoroughly updated as we go along. Besides, it’s been a while since I visited Hartigan House, and I would be glad to see your parents again.”
Rosa glared. How dare he minimize her talents and her capabilities. “I—”
“I want this murder solved as much as you do, Rosa.” He stood and placed a warm palm on her arm. “Knowing Vivien’s killer is still on the loose doing God knows what eats me up. He may even kill again for all we know.” He whispered in her ear. “I’d hate anything to happen to you.”
Rosa stepped back and pulled her arm free. “I can take care of myself, Winston.”
He grinned. “You always were a fiery one. Still, I think it’s best that you just trust me to take the lead on this, for your sake and the sake of my sister’s memory.”
Rosa gritted her teeth. Worried she’d say something she’d later regret, she didn’t trust herself to speak at that moment.
“I managed to get a flight later tonight,” Winston said. He nodded curtly and walked out of the room, pausing briefly to add, “I’ll see you in London.”
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