The current Lord Easterbrook inherited Deadly Dagger Press from his grandfather, Lord Easterbrook, who had a taste for murder mysteries, and made a fortune he didn’t need with a publishing house devoted to this particular genre. Our Lord Easterbrook carries on the family business as a rich man’s hobby, continuing to publish writers who were no longer in vogue. When Kimberlee Kalder’s chick lit tale of handbags, text messaging, and the glamorous life of fashion publishing crosses the desk of his sharp-witted assistant, Deadly Dagger Press makes another fortune Easterbrook didn’t need any more than his grandfather had. He spends a chunk of it putting up his authors, English and American, and a few agents and publicists, at the historic Dalmorton Castle, outside of Edinburgh, for the annual mystery writers’ conference. He also invites DCI St. Just, of the Cambridge police, to give a talk about police procedure for the benefit of the writers and wanna-be ones at the conference.
The writers are a colorful lot, eccentric in a variety of ways, but they all share one particular opinion: they all find Kimberlee Kalder insufferable. Kimberlee is petite, young, very blonde, and she affects a Valley Girl accent, peppering her speech with several uses of the word “like” in the same sentence. She is hot and she is rich, and her one-and-only interest is herself. She has also made no secret about her next book, a roman à clef that will barely conceal the identities of the Dagger Press authors, and expose their amazing variety of naughty presents and pasts. When the first dead body turns up, of course it will be hers, and not a single tear will fall.
While St. Just has no jurisdiction in Scotland, the local police are happy to invite his complicity in the investigation. He has, of course, been with these people for days, and he’s necessarily contained at Dalmorton Castle for the duration of it. However, so is the woman who has robbed him of his composure, the elegant and lovely Cambridge fellow and mystery writer, Portia De’Ath. With a name like that, one expects something terminally meaningful and dreadfully momentous.
He is not terribly taken by the other writers, who range from dark and brooding to frivolous and hyperbolic, he and leaves them largely to themselves– until there’s death to concern him with their various quirks. Then he learns more about what it takes to be a mystery writer than he ever wanted to know: the ferocious competition for representatives and publishers, the obsession with sales and ratings, the inventiveness that makes them superb liars, and the occupational hazards such as “writer’s butt.” He also learns a whole lot about their closeted skeletons, all of which would be brought into terrifying, kaleidoscopic view when Kimberlee Kalder’s new book sold a few more million copies.
Everyone has a reason for wanting Kimberlee. as gone as possible; which motive moved someone to see that it happened? Who, in fact, was telling the most whopping of lies? St. Just wades through repeated questioning, and the time lines written by each author, never sure if what he hears and reads is fact or fiction.
One would think, after reading Death and the Lit Chick, that G. M. Maillet has toiled at this particular medium for a long time. In fact, this is her first mystery, and a wonderful debut. It is not hard to imagine that Maillet has spent more than one week at a writer’s conference, listening to established writers do exactly what her characters will do (obsessing about their Amazon ratings). It rings true from the first line to the last, with a healthy dash of good-humored parody. I’ve added St. Just to my list of imaginary friends.