Authors: Ellen Byerrum
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #General
Praise for the Crime of Fashion mysteries
“Devilishly funny. . . . Lacey is intelligent, insightful, and spunky . . . thoroughly likable.”
“Byerrum spins a mystery out of (very luxurious) whole cloth with the best of them.”
— Chick Lit Books
“Fun and witty . . . with a great female sleuth.” — Fresh Fiction
“[A] very entertaining series.”
— The Romance Reader’s Connection
“Byerrum pulls another superlative Crime of Fashion out of her vintage cloche. . . . All these wonderful characters combine with Byerrum’s . . . clever plotting and snappy dialogue to fashion a . . .
— Chick Lit Books
“So much fun.”
— The Romance Reader’s Connection
“The read is as smooth as fine-grade cashmere.”
“Totally delightful . . . a fun and witty read.”
— Fresh Fiction
continued . . .
“Byerrum intersperses the book with witty excerpts from Lacey’s
‘Fashion Bites’ columns, such as ‘When Bad Clothes Happen to Good People’ and ‘Thank Heavens It’s Not Code Taupe.’ . . .
Quirky. . . . Interesting plot twists.” —
“Clever wordplay, snappy patter, and intriguing clues make this politics-meets-high-fashion whodunit a cut above the ordinary.”
“Compelling. . . . Lacey is a spunky heroine and is very self-assured as she carries off her vintage looks with much aplomb.”
— The Mystery Reader
“A very talented writer with an offbeat sense of humor and talent for creating quirky and eccentric characters that will have readers laughing at their antics.”
— The Best Reviews
“[A] rippling debut. Peppered with girlfriends you’d love to have, smoldering romance you can’t resist, and Beltway insider insights you’ve got to read,
adds a crazy twist to the concept of
‘capital murder.’ ”
— Sarah Strohmeyer, Agatha Award–winning
The Secret Lives of Fortunate Wives
“Ellen Byerrum tailors her debut mystery with a sharp murder plot, entertaining fashion commentary, and gutsy characters.”
— Nancy J. Cohen, author of the Bad Hair Day mysteries
“Chock-full of colorful, often hilarious characters. . . . Lacey herself has a delightfully catty wit. . . . A load of stylish fun.”
— Scripps Howard News Service
“Lacey slays and sashays through Washington politics, scandal, and Fourth Estate slime, while uncovering whodunit, and dunit and dunit again.”
— Chloe Green, author of the Dallas O’Connor Fashion mysteries
is a shear delight.”
— Elaine Viets, national bestselling author of
Raiders of the Lost Corset
A C R I M E O F F A S H I O N M Y S T E R Y
A S I G N E T B O O K
Published by New American Library, a division of
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street,
New York, New York 10014, USA
Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.) Penguin Books Ltd., 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
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Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices:
80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
First published by Signet, an imprint of New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
Copyright © Ellen Byerrum, 2006
All rights reserved
REGISTERED TRADEMARK—MARCA REGISTRADA
Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party Web sites or their content.
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Writing a book is an amazing journey, and it never ceases to amaze me how generous people have been to me with their gracious support and special knowledge. And if I have taken that information and twisted it to my own ends, it is not their fault; it’s mine. It’s just fiction.
I want to express my appreciation to Inara Apinis, Alex
Braguine, Regina Cline, Jack French, Lloyd Rose, and Pat Ware, all of whom shared much information over many lunches. Rip Claassen at Backstage Books in Washington, D.C., gave me his time and insight into the costumer’s art, for which I am truly thankful.
Many thanks go to Don Maass, Cameron McClure, and Rachel Vater at the Donald Maass Literary Agency for their support. I would also like to thank Martha Bushko, my editor at Signet.
My thanks as well to the city of New Orleans and its friendly and helpful inhabitants. This book reflects a little of the gracious Crescent City as it was just before Hurricane Katrina, and as it will someday be again.
This book would not have been written without the complete support and help of my husband, Bob Williams, who will no doubt want to sweep me off to Paris (again) after reading this acknowledgment.
“Find the corset!” the old woman gasped.
Magda Rousseau was never more enigmatic, Lacey Smithson-
ian thought, than with death at her door. She lay draped in a profusion of gaudy jewels on her tattered old sofa, one of its broken legs replaced by several large books.
The jewels were fake, of course. Anyone could see that. Yet the ropes of faux pearls and necklaces of rubies, emeralds, and diamonds gave the old Frenchwoman the air of regal hauteur she sought in life. Magda had a glazed look in her eyes, a half-smile playing on her lips, and a secret she refused to divulge: Who killed her — or rather, who had
to kill her. After all, Lacey realized, Magda wasn’t dead yet. Perhaps there was still time to save her life. But all Magda cared about was the corset.
“Magda, what happened to you?” Lacey reached for her cell phone. She dialed 911 for an ambulance. With her free hand she touched the woman’s forehead. A string of fake sapphires came loose and fell to the floor with a clatter.
Magda’s skin was cool, her face looked waxy, and her breath was shallow. She kept smiling, arrayed in her false glamour. She was still alive, though barely, when Lacey arrived at Magda’s little theatrical costume and corset shop, Stays and Plays.
The woman shook her head as if trying to clear her thoughts.
“Poison! You were poisoned? How? Who?”
Magda stared at Lacey, her brow wrinkled in concentration.
“Don’t drink — the wine, Lacey. It seems to be a very —
vintage. And it is not French.” Lacey saw the nearly empty wineglass tilting out of Magda’s loose grasp, its remaining red drops staining the pale pink rose of the sofa. She let go of the glass, but it stayed in position, held fast by the tangle of false gems.
So that’s where the poison was,
Lacey thought. Who would poison the eccentric old woman, and why? “Please try to conserve your strength,” she pleaded. “Help is on the way.”
The dispatcher came back on the phone, urging Lacey not to hang up, reassuring her that paramedics were en route. Lacey feared it would be too little, too late. Could the paramedics make it in time? She heard an ambulance wailing in the distance, but in Washington, D.C., that was an ever-present background noise. It might be headed anywhere.
“Do you know what kind of poison?” Lacey asked.
Magda managed a wry smile. “The fatal kind.”
“Let me get you some water; maybe it will dilute the poison.
We have to do something.” Lacey reached out to take Magda’s hands. “Come on, I’ll help you to the bathroom.”
“I can’t, Lacey.” She didn’t move. “He has my feet.”
“What are you talking about?” She looked down. Magda was barefoot, the large purple veins contrasting with her bluish-white skin. Lacey knew she preferred to work in her bare feet and often kicked off her scruffy black shoes. “Who has your feet?”
L’Ange de la Mort.
Death, with his icy hands.” Her French accent became thicker. “My feet are already gone. He has taken them. I can’t feel them anymore.” Lacey put the phone down on the coffee table and grabbed a bolt of soft blue flannel. She knelt to cover Magda’s feet with the material. “So this is how he comes, the angel of death. He starts with the feet and puts them in ice.”
“Good God, Magda, stop being so drearily European about
this.” Lacey rubbed Magda’s feet vigorously to jump-start her circulation. “This is America. Dying is a last resort here. Try a little optimism. Concentrate on fighting this. There’s an antidote. Usually. Maybe.” Lacey’s efforts weren’t helping, and the chill was seeping into her hands. “You really must wear your shoes and socks. Warm socks. Or your slippers, Magda. Do you have any slippers? I’ll get them for you —”
Lacey realized she was babbling out of fear and concern, and in any case, her advice was useless: Magda Rousseau seemed to be intent on taking the train to eternity with the icy angel. Lacey could feel the woman slipping away, but she carefully tucked the warm flannel around Magda’s feet. She was furious there was so little she could do.
“Who brought the angel of death here? Who did this to you?”
Lacey shouted. Magda was fading. The Frenchwoman merely
shook her head. “We have to find a way —”
“No!” Magda struggled for breath. “Find the corset! You promised me.” Lacey barely understood her slurred and accented speech. “The corset is more important than my feet. Find the corset!” she croaked in her thick French accent, running out of breath. “Promise me!”
“I promise. Please, Magda. Hold on, they’ll be here soon.”
Lacey realized she had done everything she could do. Now she could only wait. She held Magda’s icy-cold hands.
Magda Rousseau was a master corsetiere, one of the last practicing the not-quite-lost art of accentuating (or creating) the alluring curves of the female form with laces and stays. She created exotic special-order corsets and other fine and fancy underpin-nings for an interesting set of characters, including Lacey’s brassy hairstylist, Stella Lake, the numerous local corset fetishists, and a select group of high-priced call girls. She also put her needle to work making costumes for Washington, D.C.’s theatrical community. Her work had graced elegant costume dramas at many of the finest theatres in the Nation’s Capital.
The jewels covering Magda were just flashy baubles meant for costumes of kings and queens, jesters and fools, to make the illusion glitter in the footlights. The effect was startling, as if someone had emptied the shop’s entire inventory of junk jewelry over her, as if it were a set piece in an absurdist play, or a topsy-turvy robbery in reverse. Had she really been poisoned? Was she attacked by an enraged thief who didn’t find what he was looking for? And what was her assailant really after? Lacey didn’t want to take her eyes off Magda, but she glanced away quickly to take in the room.