Murder on the Orient Espresso
I love classic mysteries. Suspects trapped in an isolated country house. Or the premise of Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express, a train stranded during blizzard conditions. The locked-room puzzle, with nature providing the lock. As a longtime Christie fan, I can't believe it took me eight books in my Maggy Thorsen mystery series to come up with the title, Murder on the Orient Espresso. As my kids would say, 'Duh.'
In Espresso, Wisconsin coffeehouse owner Maggy accompanies her main squeeze, Sheriff Jake Pavlik, to South Florida, where he's been asked to speak at a crime-writers' conference. Maggy is anticipating a romantic arrival in their hotel suite, but the couple is expected to attend a preliminary event: an excursion by train into the Everglades--a subtropical wetland of sawgrass marshes, scrub trees and mangrove swamps covering more than three thousand square miles--to re-enact Christie's own classic.
Dropping their suitcases in their postponed love nest, Maggy and Pavlik are hustled off to the departure station. In keeping with the conference's 'Murder on the Orient Espresso' theme and a limited budget, this inaugural train ride will feature a cash bar, caffeine-infused martinis and a sheet cake shaped like the fictional murder victim, serving knife plunged into his icing-covered chest.
Like Dame Agatha's novel, Espresso has a diagram of our fictional train, but I've also included a 'playbill,' pairing my characters with the Christie roles they play. My cast includes a gaggle of aspiring writers of varying talents and ambition, a literary agent and two guests of honor--womanizing reviewer Laurence Potter, who will play Hercule Poirot, with legendary suspense author Rosemary Darlington in the role of Mary Debenham. Darlington has just released her first novel in five years, an erotic romp which Potter absolutely eviscerated in a recent review.
Driven by an unseen engineer, the train chugs into the Everglades. Populated by native alligators, invasive pythons and even the occasional crocodile, this desolate "sea of grass" was transected east to west by only two routes until I built, however ineptly, my fictional railroad bed across it.
Soon--no surprise--things begin to fall apart on the train. Laurence Potter's wife, a cunning stowaway, suddenly appears. A raging storm rattles the cars with hurricane-force wind and torrential rain. Rumors of infidelity and stolen manuscripts abound. One guest of honor passes out after chasing Dramamine with an espresso martini, and the other goes missing. That cake knife disappears and the train slams to a stop, as though the locomotive hit a brick wall.
But what lurks outside the cars makes the interior drama seem like a tea party. Or at least a coffee klatch.
As you can probably tell, I had great fun writing Murder on the Orient Espresso. It's my hope you'll enjoy coming along for the ride.
The Murder on the Orient Espresso Martini
1 1/2 shots vodka
1 shot Kahlua
1/2 shot crème de cacao
1 shot cold espresso
Into a shaker filled with ice, pour the vodka, Kahlua, crème de cacao and espresso. Shake well and serve in a martini glass. If desired, top with whipped cream.