Tag Archives: Nancy J. Cohen

The queen of the cozy mystery pens another suspense-filled delight

A “Florida Writers” Review by Phil Jason

Easter Hair Hunt, by Nancy J. Cohen. Orange Grove Press. 304 pages. Trade paperback $14.99.

Family, friends, and community – that’s what Ms. Cohen’s novels are all about, just as much as they are about crime and its detection. The blend is intoxicating. This latest addition to her Bad Hair Day mystery series is bound to please her large body of readers. Her main character, hair salon owner Marla Vail, once again finds herself running into a crime that she can’t help investigating. After all, when good friend “Blinky” Morris, last seen in an Easter bunny suit during an Easter egg hunt, is suddenly missing, and the bunny suit is found worn by a corpse, what would any self-respecting amateur sleuth do?

Though Ms. Cohen’s narrative takes us to many locations, by far the main setting is Tremayne Manor, a restored, privately owned historic mansion. Blinky, her friend and customer, had agreed to meet her there.

The owner of the mansion, Lacey Tremayne, had turned the estate into a business – a venue for special events like the Easter egg hunt for children with an accompanying fundraiser. The mansion is filled with gorgeous and tempting objets d’art collections. Marla suspects that the expense of purchasing and maintaining this showplace required that it become an income producer as well as a private residence.

There are signs that the balance sheet is on the negative side. In part, this is because the staff is rather large. However, there are signs that money is not being handled well. Could there be some crooked employees? Would any of these speculations shed light on Blinky’s disappearance or on the murder of the person found garbed in Blinky’s bunny suit?

Marla’s husband, police detective Dalton Vail, is soon on both cases: the murder and the disappearance. As ever, he is respective of Marla’s investigative skills while concerned about her safety, especially as she is now in the late stages of pregnancy with their first child.

Soon enough, there are signs of items missing as well as rare items having been replace my imitations. Marla finds her way of asking productive questions, even if they sometimes become accusatory. She thinks out loud with her friends, testing theories about means, motive, and opportunities of staff members and others who are frequently at the mansion. These include Lacey’s secretive son Daniel; Steve, the person who heads up security; the café manager; the beekeeper, those who attend to the estate’s copious plantings; Heather the head docent to oversees tours of the mansion; and many others.

That’s a lot of interviewing to do without getting people upset, but Marla holds her own when the conversation gets testy. Suspense? There is plenty of it, and the suspense thermometer heats up the investigations (both Marla’s and Dalton’s) uncover more and mores surprises.

By the way, there is a second murder.

Marla’s characteristically busy life is complicated by several other concerns beyond her pregnancy. Her mother Anita’s remarriage is pending, Marla will organize much of the Easter holiday feasting, and – don’t you know – she has a business to run. She also has become a kind of second mother to Dalton’s teenage daughter Brianna.

Marla is connected to so many people in so many ways. She is a nexus in the world of her South Florida suburban community, and through her Ms. Cohen brings that imaginary Broward County community fully to life.

In what has become a hallmark of cozy mystery writing, of which Nancy J. Cohen is the undisputed queen, readers will find a lot about preparing food, including an appendix of recipes.

Titles in Ms. Cohen’s “Bad Hair Day” series have been named Best Cozy Mystery by Suspense Magazine, won a Readers’ Favorite gold medal and a RONE Award, placed first in the Chanticleer International Book Awards and third in the Arizona Literary Awards. Nancy’s instructional guide, Writing the Cozy Mystery, was nominated for an Agatha Award, won first place in the Royal Palm Literary Awards and the TopShelf Magazine Book Awards and a gold medal in the President’s Book Awards. Active in the writing community, Nancy has served as president of Florida Romance Writers and Mystery Writers of America Florida Chapter. When not busy writing, she enjoys cooking, fine dining, cruising, and visiting Disney World.

Note: This review was accepted for publication by Florida Weekly,  in my “Florida Writers'” column, but FW has stopped using many freelancers, including yours truly. “Florida Writers” reviews, like this one, will continue to appear on this blog from time to time. 

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A Florida farm’s fall festival becomes a setting for murder

Trimmed to Death, by Nancy J. Cohen. Orange Grove Press. 288 pages. Trade paperback $14.99.

This is #15 in “The Bad Hair Day Mysteries” that have won Ms. Cohen many fans – and many imitators – over the years. The author continues to maintain her status as the queen of the cozy mystery, a genre that she not only exemplifies in her own fiction but also defines and gives advice about in the expanded second edition of her guidebook “Writing the Cozy Mystery” (Orange Grove Press, 2018). There are four essentials: the sleuth must be both female and an amateur, and readers must encounter that sleuth fitting her crime-solving into a larger, multifaceted life within a well-defined community.  

Marla Vail, who runs a hair salon in the South Florida town of Palm Haven, is all excited about participating in a fall harvest festival sponsored by Kinsdale Farms, located at the western edge of Broward County. Local business bring attention to themselves by sponsoring competitions that attract entrants who sign up months in advance. The general public just loves the goings-on, the food, and the high spirits.

Marla has entered the baking competition, hoping that her coconut fudge pie will take the prize.

Cohen

Ms. Cohen introduces a very large cast of characters who are involved in the festival in some way. One, Francine Dodger, runs a magazine, another is a chef, and another is a food critic. The festival is a time for people to re-acquaint and to network. It’s also a time for fun.

Francine has set up a Find Franny contest for the festival, a kind of scavenger hunt that involves collecting cards, getting each stamped by answering a question correctly, and being the first to report to Franny with all of them stamped.

Only problem is that when Franny is found, she is dead: murdered!  

Marla’s husband – Detective Dalton Vail – will lead the murder investigation. Yes, you guessed it. Marla will be very busy doing her share of the investigation in her own way. For Dalton, it’s just another case – one of many that will occupy him every day and often for long hours.

For Marla, it’s a task (more like an addiction) squeezed in along with running her business, mothering Dalton’s 18-year-old daughter Brianna, running the household, networking all over own, dealing with her parents, etc., etc. Meanwhile, she is concerned about her clock running out before having a child by Dalton. . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the November 29, 2018 Naples Florida Weekly and Bonita Springs editions, and the December 5 Fort Myers edition, click here: Florida Weekly – Trimmed to Death

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Hairstylist sleuth works to discover who smashed into her friends’ car with murderous intent

Hair Brained, by Nancy J. Cohen. Orange Grove Press. 276 pages. Trade paperback $14.99. Ebook $4.99.

This is Ms. Cohen’s 14th Bad Hair Day mystery, and given its vigor, humor, and inventiveness, the series has a lot of life left in it. Her protagonist, Marla Vail runs her own hair salon. However, this occupation has never kept her from getting involved in dangerous mysteries. Even before her marriage to Dalton, a local homicide detective, his cases had sort of become hers, and vice versa. Once again, they will work together and apart to solve a complex series of murders. 

When Dalton comes home with the news that their friends Tally and Ken are missing, the Vails’ life is rocked by the possible changes in their lives. Until they find out what happened, someone will have to take care of Luke, the couple’s infant son. And Talley had made Marla guardian.  Soon enough, the remains of a suspicious wreck find Ken dead and Talley seriously injured and deep in a coma.

Upon investigation, what first looked like a possible accident starts to look more like murder. Ken, head of a local insurance company, has somehow become involved in a case pursued by a state agency that investigates insurance fraud. Was Ken being investigated, or was he assisting in an investigation? If the latter, was he killed because of what he knew? Or was the auto collision set up with Tally as the intended victim?

Marla’s musings lead her to realize that her relationship with Tally, long an intimate friend, had waned. What was going on in Tally’s life that she hadn’t shared with Marla? Marla discovers that Tally had joined a somewhat peculiar women’s club, some of whose members had been lured into a Russian criminal enterprise. This is the most exotic, but not the most important discovery that Marla makes. How do these discoveries connect with someone wanting Tally dead? Did Tally have a disgruntled employee working in her dress shop?

Cohen

While Marla pursues the Tally side of their investigation, Dalton presses the Ken dimension, sometimes with Marla’s assistance. Would one of Ken’s employees want to get rid of him? Had he or his company given a client a motive for murder? Why has a member of his staff been murdered? Why was someone working for the state anti-fraud agency murdered?

Dear reader, you will find out and there will be surprises.

But that’s not all. . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the September 13, 2017 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the September 14 issue of the Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and other editions, copy and paste this UR: https://fortmyers.floridaweekly.com/pageview/viewer/2017-09-13#page=55

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Honeymoon brings Florida sleuths to imperiled Arizona setting

Peril by Ponytail, by Nancy J. Cohen. Five Star. 292 pages. Hardcover $25.95.

Certain formulas help focus a writer’s effort. Adaptations of the so-called classical unities of time, place, and action advanced by Aristotle (for drama, not prose fiction) put helpful limits, and the pressure of limits, on the writer and the reader. That’s why island motifs are so popular. In theater, the arrival/departure frame has long been a design staple. Nancy J. Cohen exploits these conventions effectively in her in twelfth “Bad Hair Day Mystery,” featuring hair salon owner Marla Vail, recently married to Dalton, a South Florida homicide detective. PerilByPonytailFront

The romantic Arizona honeymoon that they are planning at the Last Trail Dude Ranch, to which they’ve been invited by Dalton’s cousin Wayne Campbell, the general manager, ends up being short on romance but long on adventure. Strange happenings, disappearances, and even deaths plague the resort and threaten to stall the completion of the companion effort – the ghost town at Craggy Peak. Both enterprises are owned by Dalton’s uncle, Raymond Campbell.

Someone, or some group, seems to be sabotaging both facilities. Equipment valves are left open, accidents abound, a forest ranger is found dead, and a worker is mysteriously missing. Raymond blames it all on a neighboring rancher, former friend turned nemesis Hugh Donovan, and Hugh in turn blames problems on his ranch on Raymond. Dalton has pledged to help his cousin and uncle investigate these problems that threaten to bring the family enterprises to ruin.

Naturally, Marla will help out. After all, this series in not yet Mr. and Mrs. North (or Vail). Marla was solving crimes before she and Dalton were an item.

The grounds of the resort are both beautiful and treacherous. Ms. Cohen lavishes attention on both aspects with vivid descriptions mostly cast from Marla’s point of view. She also presents the operations of the resort and the planned entertainments of the ghost town in vivid, engaging detail. Part of the fun is watching Marla’s slow adaptation to appreciating an environment and lifestyle so different from the one she has known in South Florida.

Cohen

Cohen

Readers will also enjoy her addiction to shopping and “what-to-wear” considerations at each step of her compromised honeymoon, which has turned into a test of nerve. Her days are punctuated by make-up touch-ups.

Nancy J. Cohen is the queen of the cozy mystery, but there is plenty of violence mixed in with the gentle tone and the good-natured humor found here.

And there are plenty of questions to answer. . . .

To read the entire review as it appears in the October 7, 2015 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the October 8 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte, and Palm Beach Gardens / Jupiter editions, click here:  Florida Weekly – Peril by Ponytail 

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Florida homeowners’ association meeting plants seeds for murder

Hanging by a Hair, by Nancy J. Cohen. Five Star Publishing. 288 pages. $25.95.

Fans of Ms. Cohen’s “Bad Hair Day” mystery series will be totally satisfied with this latest outing in which, aside from the main story line, readers enjoy the delightful maturation of Marla as she adjusts to her recent marriage to Detective Dalton Vail. Readers have waited to see these characters coupled and tested, and now the test is underway. What happens when Dalton brings his work home to curious, often headstrong Marla – who is used to acting on her own ideas about how a mystery should be investigated?  HangingByAHairFront

She has a very good track record, too.

The couple has recently set up housekeeping in a new Broward County community. It’s one of those typical South Florida communities cursed with a rule-bound president of the homeowners’ association and a bunch of nosey residents. Things don’t go well when the enforcer, association president Alan Krabber, breaks the rules and Dalton calls him out on his unacceptable sense of entitlement. Others on the board have mixed feelings about Alan’s behavior.

When the bullying president is found dead in what looks like a suicide hanging, Dalton suspects foul play. Removed from the case because of an obvious conflict of interest, he is smoldering as Marla gets to do her compulsive investigating – in spite of his warnings – while he is assigned to desk work for a while.

Who would have wanted Alan Krabber dead? Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that skeletal remains of indigenous Native Americans were found in his back yard excavation that was awaiting the installation of an emergency generator. But what, exactly, is the connection?

Cohen

Cohen

A Native American spokesman is making all kinds of noises about protecting sacred places. If there are other such sites in Royal Oaks, further development might have to be stopped. A woman with a professorial stake in Native American history and culture, consulted to authenticate the remains, is found dead soon after. Who’s next? How do these two murders connect? What motives lie behind each killing?

All these questions become very much Marla’s business. Could Alan’s nephew be rushing the payoff of his inheritance? Could a woman whom Alan spurned have decided the ultimate payback? And what about all those boxes that come and go from Alan’s house? What had he been buying – or selling?

How does a woman continue to run her successful beauty salon, find a replacement for a treasured departing employee, build a strong relationship with her new husband’s teenage daughter who lives with them, placate her never-pleased mother, and get ready to host (1) a Passover Seder and (2) an Easter holiday meal?

. . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in April 16, 2014 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the April 17 Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Naples editions, Click here: Florida Weekly – Hanging Hair

 

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“Shear Murder” is a Sheer Delight

Shear Murder, by Nancy J. Cohen. Five Star. 246 pages. $25.95.

Nancy J. Cohen extends her “Bad Hair Day” mystery series with this latest entry in which Marla Shore, beauty parlor owner and expert hairdresser, once again has trouble find her. And once again, Marla cannot resist taking a lead role in solving the crime.

It all begins at a wedding. One of Marla’s best friends, Jill Barlow, is marrying Arnie, owner of Bagel Busters, a business located near Marla’s. Everyone at the wedding reception is in a celebratory mood until Jill’s sister Torrie is discovered under the cake table with a knife plunged into her chest. Need you ask who made the discovery? 

Fortunately, Marla’s fiancé – homicide detective Dalton Vail – is with her and keeps things under control until other policemen show up to begin the investigation. The shock of such an experience threatens to overload Marla, who has several other matters to juggle. These include the final arrangements for her own upcoming marriage, handling the bickering relatives, and expanding her business.  There is also a new house awaiting Marla and Dalton that requires a lot of frenzied attention. A great planner and manager, Marla tries to hold everything together while dealing with the irresistible lure of investigating the death of her friend’s sister.

Torrie, who is the fashion reporter for a local lifestyle magazine, has made some enemies. She is one of two women carrying on with the magazine’s photographer, Griff Beasley. Does Hally Leeds, the society columnist, want Torrie out of the way? Is Scott Miller, Torrie’s husband, fed up with her cheating? Is the photographer making a rather blunt choice between the two women? Was Hally jealous enough to murder Torrie? Well, no, because Hally turns up dead soon after. Was there something Griff wanted to hide that both women had discovered?

And what about Jill? The two sisters seem to have been bickering about how to handle a piece of commercial property that they inherited. Torrie’s death could resolve that disagreement in a hurry. Also, Torrie may have had some secret to hold over Jill’s head – something about Jill’s past.

Marla, in her straight-ahead manner, asks the questions that push the investigation along. She does such a good job that someone sets fire to her hair salon! Is she getting too close to the truth?

. . . . .

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the February 8, 2012 Fort Myers edition of Florida Weekly and in the February 9 Naples edition, click here: Florida Weekly – Nancy J. Cohen pdf

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Nancy J. Cohen heads Naples Writers’ Conference

To see this article as it appears in the March-April 2011 issue of Fort Myers Magazine, click here: Ft.Myers magazine – Nancy J. Cohen

When Nancy J. Cohen retired from her first career as a clinical nurse specialist in order to write full-time, she continued keeping people in stitches. This witty writer, who had earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of Rochester and a master’s degree from the University of California in San Francisco, knows that vicarious adventure and the release of laughter are effective cures for what ails us.

Cohen’s most recent title, Silver Serenade, is a smashing good combination of two genres: romance and science fiction. Two highly motivated, extremely able, and extremely attractive characters have goals that both intersect and interfere. Jace Vernon, a young leader from the domain of Kurash, has been charged with the murder of his parents. Jace needs to bring the intergalactic plunderer, Tyrone Bluth, to justice so that his name can be cleared and his ancestral estate restored.  Government security agent Silver Malloy, an Earthling, has been tasked with the assassination of Bluth, but her motives are highly personal as well as official. 

Cohen manages the novel so that the missions of the two dynamic figures bring them into conflict even as an all-consuming passion draws them together. Jace cannot clear his name and prove that his own cousin had plotted the murders and framed him if Bluth does not live to testify. Silver cannot allow anything to interfere with her monomania about ending Bluth’s life as soon as she can. Jace and Silver are suspicious of one another, but form an uneasy, fragile alliance – one that is complicated by the magnetic attraction each has for the other.

They are both suffering from overwhelming personal losses. As Ms. Cohen puts it, “They both carried around enough emotional baggage to fill a cargo hold.”

The author draws a fascinating world of intergalactic politics, futuristic technologies, and clashing moral priorities. She also paints a delicious cast of secondary characters – a population drawn from the variegated worlds that intersect in her plot.

Principal among these is Mixy, the Elusian, who is bonded to Jace as his valet. Elusians, who have essentially emotionless lives, are programmed to bond with species whose emotional dimension is powerful. This bonding is not physical, but psycho-spiritual. Their garments absorb and reflect emotional waves from those to whom the Elusians are bonded, signaling the emotions by changing colors. Elusians have a kind of telepathic awareness of emotion – and they can magnify and retransmit it.

This characteristic provides a paranormal dimension to the novel, a dimension that links Silver Serenade to Cohen’s earliest books, written under the pen name of Nancy Cane. It also provides, in this novel, a good deal of comic relief, as the guarded feelings that Jace and Silver have for one another are vividly revealed through the warmer colors radiating from Mixy’s garments, creating some embarrassment. Mixy, appearance-conscious and finicky, is a delightful, over-the-top comic character who is almost unbearably loyal.

The sex scenes between Jace and Silver are hot and heavy, but in themselves do not resolve the issues of trust, respect, and conflicting loyalties. Nancy J. Cohen teases the readers along to see if Jace and Silver can each achieve mission success without abandoning the growing need each has for the other, and if the need transcends physical attraction.

But wait, isn’t Nancy J. Cohen the author we know from her popular “Bad Hair Day” series? The series with the catchy titles like Died Blonde, Highlights to Heaven, and Permed to Death? The series whose protagonist, hairdresser Marla Shore, gets caught up in crime-solving in South Florida’s resort towns while building her relationship with detective Dalton Vail? Yes, she’s the one. Cohen packs mystery, humor, popular culture, and plenty of attitude into this delightful series, and several of these books have been listed as best sellers by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association. Her next “Bad Hair Day” mystery, Shear Murder, will appear early in 2012 from Five Star Publications.

Nancy J. Cohen knows her worlds well, both the complex, imagined worlds of outer space, which she draws with sure-handed detail, or the more familiar worlds of the beauty shop and the sunshine state. Just as important, she knows how to craft plots, develop characters, and – what it all adds up to – satisfy her readers.

Aspiring writers can learn a lot from this talented and successful writer, who is also well-known for giving her time to writers’ organizations and speaking at conferences. She has served as President of Florida Romance Writers, and as Secretary for the Florida Chapter of Mystery Writers of America. 

Nancy J. Cohen

On April 9 and 10, Nancy J. Cohen will be featured at the Naples Press Club’s 9th annual Writers’ Conference / Authors and Books Festival. On April 9, she will be giving a keynote address at the Celebrity Author Luncheon, to be held at Vergina Restaurant on Fifth Avenue South. Cohen will discuss the digital devices that promise to morph tomorrow’s reading—and publishing—experiences. She’ll also delight and entertain attendees with anecdotes from her writing life.

On the morning of April 10, Ms. Cohen will present “Writing Fiction for Fun and Profit” as part of the Writers’ Conference.

Other Conference presenters include fantasy author Sandy Lender (conference chair); forensic mystery novelist Lisa Black; marketing guru Randy Jones; financial news reporter and editor Lawrence J. DeMaria; Diane Gilbert Madsen, author of the “Literati Mysteries” series and fact-checking expert;  and Zachary Petit, managing editor of Writers’ Digest.

Conference sessions will separate into three tracks: “Business and Marketing,“ “Creative Writing,” and “Journalism.” However, conferees will be able to switch from one track to another. A selected number of conferees will be able to schedule pitch sessions with representatives of Barringer Publications and Night Wolf Publications.

Registration for both the Luncheon and the Conference can be achieved by clicking on the Naples Writers’ Conference tab on the website http://authorsandbooksfestival.org.

Authors and publishers who wish to exhibit during the book fair along Fifth Avenue South on April 9, should check out the information on the same website and register via the Authors and Books Festival tab. [Note: exhibitor registration is now closed.]

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