Liss hasn't been in Moosetookalook in over ten years, but the quaint little town, nestled in the hilly terrain of western Maine, looks exactly as she remembers it. Only home a day before her aunt takes off on a tour of Scotland, Liss mans the emporium's booth at the annual Western Maine Highland Games. There she gets reacquainted with some old friends and new local characters, including an obnoxious real estate agent and his spoiled girlfriend who insists on ordering a custom-made kilt sewn from a plaid called the Flower of Scotland.
Liss knows a sale is a sale and returns to the emporium that night exhausted yet happy. But her bliss soon turns to dread when she finds the dead body of her aunt's nosy neighbor, Amanda Norris, under a bolt of the Flower of Scotland fabric in the stock room. And if things weren't bad enough, the state police hone in on Liss as the prime suspect.
With the help of Dan Ruskin, a neighbor and former high school classmate, Liss begins her own investigation that uncovers secrets about the residents of Moosetookalook-secrets she wished had stayed buried. Now Liss will have to do some fancy footwork to prove she's innocent while avoiding becoming the killer's next victim...
About the Author
KAITLYN DUNNETT first caught the Scottish heritage bug when her husband learned to play the bagpipes. Many Scottish festivals and parades later, and after a brief stint as bass drummer with a bagpipe band, she decided to combine her love of things Scottish with her love of writing. The Liss MacCrimmon mysteries are the result. Kaitlyn lives in the mountains of western Maine and can be reached through her website at www.kaitlyndunnett.com.
Read an Excerpt
By KAITLYN DUNNETT
KENSINGTON BOOKS Copyright © 2007 Kathy Lynn Emerson
All right reserved.
Chapter One Liss MacCrimmon never felt more alive than when she was about to step onto a stage. As she waited in the wings, she drank in the essence of the theater hosting that night's performance, inhaling the mixed scents of freshly ironed costumes, stage makeup, and rosin. Even the slightly musty smell of the old velvet curtains delighted her senses.
Just behind her she could hear the soft creak of levers moving a bit stiffly on an old-fashioned light board as one of the crew tamed the antiquated system to his will. The members of Strathspey had presented their show on all sorts of stages. This venue, in a forty-year-old high school in a medium-sized town in New York State, was no worse than most and better than many.
The rest of the troupe-Americans, Canadians, and Scots bound together by their passion for Scottish dancing-wedged themselves into the cramped backstage area as their introductory music blared through the sound system, effectively drowning out audience chatter. Liss had peeked out earlier. They had a good crowd, considering it was mid-week and they were in an area without a large population of Scottish descent.
The company had launched its first tour eight years earlier on the premise that those who loved the romance of bagpipes, Braveheart, and kilts would take to the idea the way the Irish, and everyone else, had embraced Riverdance. Strathspey-named after one of the traditional Scottish dances-had fallen far short of the phenomenal success of that show, but the troupe still managed to get bookings in small venues fifty weeks out of every year.
To Liss it didn't matter where they performed, or for how many people. She got the same tingle in her toes, the same giddy rush of pleasure and excitement, whether they were in Boston, Boise, or Boca Raton. At the age of twenty-seven, she felt as much anticipation, as much enthusiasm for her career, as she had on the day she turned pro at nineteen.
Out front the recorded music came to an end. An expectant hush fell over the assembled spectators. Liss's pulse quickened and her heart beat just a little bit faster as she waited for the first stirring notes to be played on the Great Highland Bagpipe. She flexed one leg, then the other, rolled her shoulders, and took a deep breath.
The cue came right on schedule. This was it. They were on. A surge of adrenaline propelled her onto the stage.
Leading the others, Liss flowed with the music, her feet performing the intricate steps as they had thousands of times before. The rest of her body automatically assumed the familiar poses and her face wore a radiant smile. She whirled and leapt, reveling in the freedom and beauty of the dances. The company performed a variety of Scottish standards, from strathspeys and reels and jigs to sword dances and Highland flings, all woven together in a loose story of Scottish immigrants finding a new life in the New World.
When she danced, Liss was aware of nothing but the music, the other dancers, and her own joy. If she was short on sleep, or stiff from too much traveling, she could easily ignore those minor distractions. She was accustomed to performing in spite of aches and pains. Dancers lived with both day in and day out, taping up ankles and knees as necessary so the show could go on.
But this night, as Liss launched herself into the final round of step dancing, the "Broadway kick-line" the company counted on to bring the audience to its feet, something went terribly wrong. Her left foot came down awkwardly on the hard wooden stage. She heard a loud pop. Excruciating pain shot through her knee. If her arms hadn't been linked with those of dancers on either side, she would have collapsed.
Her smile frozen in place, Liss stumbled through the next moments of the dance, literally carried by the others until they could spirit her off stage. From the wings, while anxious members of the backstage crew got her to a chair, elevated her leg, and applied ice, Liss watched the company dance on without her. Although she knew they had no choice, she felt as if they'd abandoned her. When another wave of pain swept over her, it was deeper and more agonizing than mere physical torment. It was accompanied by the terrible fear that this injury was the one all dancers dreaded, the one that could end a career.
Impatience was Liss MacCrimmon's besetting sin. As a child, she'd opened her Christmas presents as soon as the brightly wrapped packages appeared beneath the tree. Even when what she was waiting for might be bad news, she always wanted to hear the worst quickly and be done with it.
She sat in Dr. Kessler's examining room, twisting a lock of dark brown, shoulder-length hair between her fingers, wishing she'd brought a book with her to pass the time. She suspected she'd be too fidgety to take in a single word she read, but anything was better than staring at bigger-than-life diagrams of the hand, the elbow, the knee, and the ankle.
The sound of the door opening brought her head up with a snap. Her heart sank as she read the expression on the orthopedist's jowly face. He hadn't been optimistic when he'd operated on her injured knee two months earlier, but she'd made such a rapid recovery after surgery that she'd convinced herself there was still a chance of resuming her career. Hadn't she just walked into the doctor's office under her own steam and with only the hint of a limp? She'd been hoping for a green light to go back on the road with Strathspey before the summer was over.
Her gaze dropped to the X-rays he carried under his arm.
Her X-rays. Her life.
"Give it to me straight," she said.
Dr. Kessler's expression turned even more grim and Liss felt the knot of tension in her chest pull tighter.
"For someone in almost any other profession, this would be good news," he told her. "You're healing well. Remarkably well. But you have plastic and metal in there now, Liss." He tapped the long, still-livid scar on her left knee. "A partial knee replacement is not designed to stand up to the high-impact step dancing you do for a living."
Liss held herself perfectly still. "If I continue with the physical therapy, surely I can-"
"If you keep up the strengthening exercises, in another month you'll be ninety-nine percent back to normal and flexible enough to do almost anything, but if you go back to dancing, that knee won't last. You'll end up needing more surgery. And every time you have work done on the same area, healing becomes more problematic. There are no two ways about it, Liss. You're going to have to find a new career."
Her hands tightened over the front edge of the chair as emotions flooded through her. She was on the verge of tears but she refused to let them fall. "No. Damn it, no! It can't end like this. I don't know how to do anything else. I don't know how to be anything else."
"Do you want to end up in a wheelchair?"
Liss's usual self-possession deserted her. She was adrift. Dr. Kessler's blunt assessment left her without an anchor.
For a moment, she couldn't breathe, couldn't speak. "Scottish dancing isn't just my career," she finally managed in a choked voice. "It's my life."
"I'm sorry, Liss, but you have to face facts. And you must have known all along that dancers don't keep working until they reach the normal retirement age."
"I know that. I do. But some of the others in the company are in their thirties. One is forty-one. I should have had years left."
"I realize this is hard," Dr. Kessler said, "but it isn't the end of the world. You could teach dancing." He registered her automatic moue of distaste and shrugged. "Manage a dance company, then. Anything but perform night after night." He leaned forward, his gaze intense. "With normal use, this new knee can last ten to twenty years without giving you much trouble. But if you abuse it, it will give out on you. Make no mistake, Liss, your days as a professional dancer are over."
For the next month, Liss continued to exercise religiously to strengthen her knee. She alternated between feeling sorry for herself and making plans. Most of them were impractical, but she told herself she might as well dream big. It wasn't impossible that she'd win at Megabucks. Then, founding an institute to promote folk dancing would make perfect sense.
She was almost through all the standard stages of grief before she realized she'd been in mourning. By then, she had acquired two things that promised to make her adjustment to life without performing a little easier. The first was a car, a quirky, three-year-old P.T. Cruiser. Liss had never owned a car before. She hadn't needed one. She'd lived in cities or been on tour since she was seventeen. The second was the offer of a job-temporary, it was true-but in a place Liss had once loved almost as much as she'd loved being part of Strathspey.
On a sunny Friday in July, Liss MacCrimmon returned to Moosetookalook, Maine.
Her first impression was that her old hometown looked smaller and more dismal than she remembered it. She supposed she shouldn't be surprised. It had been over ten years since she'd been back. She'd left shortly after high school graduation. A few months later, her parents had moved to Arizona. She'd had no reason to spend time in Moosetookalook after that ... until now.
The low-fuel alarm dinged, startling her. Since she had just come abreast of Willett's Store, she turned in to gas up, noting as she did so that at least this one place seemed exactly the same. Two gas pumps stood in solitary splendor out front, both designated as "full service." Inside the small, square clapboard building-painted bright yellow-she had no doubt the Willetts still stocked everything from milk to mousetraps.
Ernie Willett shuffled out to fill the tank and wash her windows. He looked, as always, as if his teeth hurt.
"Know you, don't I, missy?" His dark, beady eyes narrowed as he inspected her.
Liss gave him a friendly smile and told him her name. Within the hour, she thought, the whole town would have heard she was back in Moosetookalook. If they didn't already know she was coming.
"You Donald and Vi's daughter?" he asked.
"Yes, that's right. I'm here to give my Aunt Margaret a hand in the shop."
Small towns in Maine being what they were, Liss was certain he already knew about her aunt's stroke of good fortune. Margaret MacCrimmon Boyd had been offered a free trip to Scotland if she'd fill in at the last moment for a tour guide who'd fallen ill. A frugal New Englander, Aunt Margaret had seized the chance. Then she'd paid her luck forward and asked Liss to manage her business for her while she was gone.
"Margaret Boyd." Willett's craggy, grizzled face hardened as he said her name.
The animosity Liss saw in his expression sent a chill along her spine. She didn't understand his reaction at all. Most people liked Aunt Margaret.
Willett leaned closer, his cold stare inspecting both Liss and the interior of her car. "Heard you had some la-dedah job in the theater." His thin lips flattened with what Liss assumed was disapproval.
"I was with a dance company." The ache was still there. Every time she thought of all she'd lost, it hurt. "Could you fill it up for me, please, Mr. Willett?"
He slouched off to activate the gas pump, muttering under his breath. Liss caught the words "damn fool woman" and wondered if he was referring to her or to her aunt.
She dug her wallet out of her purse, then glanced into her side mirror. Willett was just dunking a squeegee into a bucket. He washed her back window, then rapped on the glass sunroof as he sidled past the passenger side on his way to the windshield. "Want me to do this peephole thing too?"
"No need." But his words made her look up. At one side of the opening she caught a glimpse of the highest rooftop of The Spruces.
Liss smiled as her memory filled in details. In her mind's eye she saw it as a postcard-perfect grand hotel. Against a darker backdrop of mountains and trees, white walls stood out in sharp relief. Four-story octagonal towers rose from each end of the building, flanking a central tower of five floors surmounted by a cupola. Built on the crest of a hill, The Spruces had dominated Moosetookalook from the moment it opened in 1910. It loomed over houses and stores, forcing its identity on the town below. Local folks called it "the castle."
In its heyday, the first half of the twentieth century, The Spruces had attracted the rich and famous, from divas to heads of state. The lure of fresh mountain air and pure spring water, combined with rail service, privacy, and luxurious accommodations, had once been enough to keep over two hundred rooms filled.
Sadly, The Spruces had been dying by the time Liss knew it. It had still hosted proms and weddings, and taken in long-term lodgers, but after years of barely making ends meet, the owners had finally shut its doors for good five years ago. The railroads had been long gone by then. Only one puny Amtrak line even reached Maine anymore. Air travel had made more luxurious vacation spots accessible, and at lower prices. Even the fresh mountain air had become suspect, thanks to acid rain from factories to the south and west.
Liss had paid scant attention to news of the hotel's closing at the time. She'd been busy with her career as a dancer. Her parents had already moved away. She'd honestly never expected to return to the small rural community where she was born. Then again, she'd never expected to blow out her knee and lose her livelihood, either.
Ernie Willett's quilted, blaze-orange vest hovered into view at the driver's-side window, jerking Liss out of her reverie. He wore that getup year round, she recalled, not just during hunting season.
The cost of the gas was even more startling. Owning her own car was proving much more expensive than she'd anticipated.
Liss handed over a sheaf of small bills.
Folding them with gnarled fingers, Willett gave her a positively malevolent look before he stalked back inside the store.
Liss stared after him for a moment, shaking her head. What an odd man. Obviously no one had ever told him that being courteous to customers was the best way to keep them coming back. Then again, if this was still the only gas station in Moosetookalook, he probably wasn't too worried about the locals going to the competition.
As Liss drove away, following the curve of the road toward the center of town, she shrugged off Ernie Willett's bad attitude. Now that she was really here, all the frustrations and disappointments of the last three months seemed a little less devastating. A sense of anticipation lightened her heart. She'd always been fond of Aunt Margaret. Although she hadn't visited her here, they had kept in touch by letter and email and seen each other at Liss's folks' house in Arizona. Liss looked forward to spending a little time with her aunt before Margaret left for Scotland.
And with more eagerness than she'd felt about anything in ages, she relished the prospect of immersing herself in the day-to-day operation of Moosetookalook Scottish Emporium.
The hum of a small engine from the quiet street below caught Dan Ruskin's attention. He'd been listening for it, he supposed, ever since Margaret Boyd told him Liss was coming home.
She drove a P.T. Cruiser. The choice surprised him. It was practical, but almost stodgy in appearance. He knew she wasn't a big-time movie actress or anything, but somehow he'd expected she'd pick a sportier ride. She'd had her own style, even as a kid, favoring colorful, flamboyant clothing and paying no attention at all to current fads and fashions.
"What do you suppose they call that color?" Dan's brother Sam asked, gesturing at Liss's car with the Ruskin Construction ball-cap he'd taken off to use as a fan. The roof of a three-story Victorian was a hot place to be on a steamy afternoon in late July.
"Tan?" Dan suggested.
"I was thinking ... putty."
Dan chuckled. "Probably some fancy name for it. Champagne, maybe? I'll have to remember to ask."
"Yeah, right. Talk about cars. That'll go over big. Might as well discuss the weather."
"I could invite her up here to look at the scenery." Dan was only half joking.
From this vantage point, he had a spectacular view not only of the town square below, but also of the countryside around Moosetookalook. In the distance he could see a good chunk of the hilly terrain of western Maine. Every shade of green was represented in the abundant vegetation.
Excerpted from KILT DEAD by KAITLYN DUNNETT Copyright © 2007 by Kathy Lynn Emerson. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Liss MacCrimmon is one of the few people who are ecstatically happy with her career. She is a professional dancer in the touring how Strathsprey and she knows every Scottish dance and each number in the show to perfection. Tragedy strikes when she injures a leg and the doctor tells her she can never dance again. She is depressed because her leg will work normally only as long she puts no extraordinary stress like dancing on it.------------- She returns to her child home of Moosetookalook, Maine where her aunt owns a store selling Scottish products. On the day she arrives, her aunt leaves for Scotland and Liss in charge during the Maine Highland Games. When Liss returns home from the fair, she finds the dead body of her third grade teacher, Amanda Norris in the stock room. The autopsy shows she was killed and state police officer LaVerdiere thinks Liss is the only suspect. Refusing to wait around to be arrested, Liss looks for other possible suspects, not knowing her actions could get her killed.------------------ KILT DEAD is a delightful cozy, the first in what this reviewer hopes is a long running series. The heroine is feisty, determined, and strong-willed when she believes she is right, she obstinately goes her own way and doesn¿t listen to the advice of others. The setting is a small quaint town in Maine (capital of American cozies) with a support cost of wonderful quaint characters. Mystery readers will welcome Kaitlyn Dunnett as a fresh author whose protagonist provides the audience with a delightful opening act.------------- Harriet Klausner
i am buying this series for my mother and she loves them i guess i would have to give them two thumbs up. get your today with nook and enjoy
I really wanted to give it four stars, but I thought the end was a bit predictable. Also, the xharacters were one dimensional and there didn't seem to be any room for developmment-yet. I really believe the author has the basics down on "how to write a mystery" and with more time, practice, and a strong editor, she could develop into a really great author in a genre filled with great authors. In short, lackluster, but filled with potential.
I liked the people, especially the Scottish heritage, and the story. I
I enjoyed this cosy mystery. It was a fun read with interesting characters. I have purchased more of her books in this series and plan to read them this summer,
Liss MacCrimmon returns to Moosetookalook, Maine to look after her aunt's Scottish merchandise store after she has a career-ending injury. It's not long after her aunt departs for Scotland that the body of the next door neighbor turns up in the store, and Liss becomes the prime suspect in the eyes of the quite incompetent investigating officer. There were a few suspects who could have done the dastardly deed for varying reasons, and Liss must figure out who before she lands up in jail herself. She's aided by her old high school friend Dan and her aunt's employee Sherri who is also employed by the sheriff's office. Imaginative literary liaisons kept me laughing as I tried to puzzle out what they could mean along with Liss and her allies. I look forward to the next installment. While this isn't great literature, it is fun!
Liss MacCrimmon has returned to her hometown in Maine to help her aunt run the Scottish Emporium she owns. But when the local busy body winds up dead in the stock room, Liss must clear herself of murder. I liked the characters well enough, but there wasn't enough plot to sustain a 300 pages novel. It would have worked better at 200 pages.
I found this story a good read!