River City Dead
Nancy G. West
Amateur sleuth Aggie Mundeen, focused on a romance with Detective Sam on San Antonio’s River Walk, finds humor, mischief and murder.
Advice columnist Aggie Mundeen and SAPD Detective Sam Vanderhoven plan their first rendezvous at a San Antonio River Walk hotel during Fiesta Week—sumptuous sights, sounds, and festivities in the middle of America’s Venice. A vacation from crime and a reset for their tumultuous relationship. But murder descends on the Casa Prima Hotel. Disturbing revelations surface about the Fabulous Femmes, Aggie’s new friends holding a convention. Evil emerges at parties in La Villita. Calamity plagues Aggie’s debut dance performance at the Arneson River Theater, the celebration skewed by carousing, crazies, and corpses. Even in idyllic River City, crime complicates relationships.
Not every city has a river running through it. And not many women plan a rendezvous at a San Antonio River Walk hotel during Fiesta Week after years of self-imposed celibacy. I was about to make history. Sam and I were meeting at Casa Prima Hotel. Hopefully our first days and nights together in River City would be more fiesta than fiasco. And we could avoid dealing with crime.
To calm the jumping beans in my stomach, I decided to make a quick detour to Barnes and Noble. Instead of turning south from Hildebrand toward downtown, I turned north on Highway 281 and headed toward Loop 410. If SAPD called Sam away, I’d need something to read. He assured me they wouldn’t contact him, but sometimes they had to rely on an experienced homicide detective for a difficult case.
Barnes and Noble was packed. After a lengthy search through half the store, I found aisles brimming with romance novels. I didn’t relish being caught scouring this area. In my Flash-News column, “Stay Young with Aggie,” I answered readers’ questions about everything from fitness to relationships. As an “expert,” I wasn’t supposed to need help. It wasn’t as though I was innocent. I became painfully experienced after Lester the Louse seduced me when I was barely eighteen, impregnated me and vanished like mist. But stories of other people’s romances might be enlightening.
Slipping down an unoccupied aisle, I reached for a title that caught my eye, A Well-Spent Night. A bare-chested, muscled Scottish hunk wearing a plaid kilt bulged from the cover. I squinted at the title, which upon closer inspection actually read, A Well-Spent Knight. Worked either way. I flipped pages to the middle, found what I was looking for and started reading. There was a lot of heavy breathing and rippling biceps, but it never said why the guy wore a kilt or how he got it off. I’d wondered about that. Historical romance might not be the thing. I replaced the book and continued down the aisle.
The face-out cover of Steaming in Hawaii gleamed with electric blue ocean water and swaying palm trees. A gorgeous half-dressed couple grasped each other beside the cobalt ocean. Sam and I would have a swimming pool at our River Walk hotel. Close enough. I slipped the novel off the shelf and flipped through pages. The title did not refer to steam from Hawaii’s volcanoes. Skimming pages, I noticed contemporary novels offered details and felt my body parts tingling.
From the corner of my eye, I saw a young sales girl eyeing me. Was my face flushing? “Can I help you?” About twenty-five with swinging hair and a pouty mouth, she looked sexy, bored, and all-knowing. Whipping the novel under the arm laden with my shoulder purse, I reached blindly toward the shelf for another novel, hoping I didn’t look like a waif grasping for crumbs.
“So many choices.” I doused her with my superior bank teller expression. “I doubt if any of these books are really that good.” Another cover caught my eye with the title The Long Hard Ride. A shirtless muscle-bound cowboy stood spreadlegged front and center while a steer romped around behind him. I snatched the book off the shelf. “Imagine that,” I said. “You even have westerns.”
She smirked. Some urge compelled me to jabber. “I don’t think he could ride a steer dressed like that.”
The new-fangled phone jangled in my purse. I resented the impertinent metal box demanding my attention. Digging to retrieve it, I dropped the books. The sales girl swiveled over and scooped them up. “I’ll keep these at the counter while you search for more.” She cocked a corner of her sulky mouth before walking away.
I fumbled to flip open my Motorola StarTrac. “Where are you?” It was Sam, using his professional detective voice.
“I just needed a few things. Have you seen the…our room?”
“You need to get down here, Aggie. We have problems. I’ll meet you in the lobby.” He hung up.
That was the last thing I wanted to hear. Scouting the quickest route to the exit to avoid the sales girl, I skirted through rows of books, sailed out into the sunshine and headed for my Wagoneer. I rolled down the windows, leaned my head back on the seat and inhaled clean April air, convincing myself that whatever problem Sam encountered couldn’t be that bad.
Revived, I cranked up Albatross, my station wagon, headed south on 281 and turned right on McCullough toward Broadway, the main thoroughfare to downtown and the Fiesta parade route. Huge paper flowers with streaming ribbons decorated doors. Shop windows proclaimed “VIVA FIESTA!” Crews were setting up roadside bleachers for several hundred thousand people to watch parades later this week. Civic-minded ladies organized the first parade to honor President Polk’s visit, stopping horse-drawn carriages in front of the president’s viewing stand to lay wreaths in front of the Alamo, the shrine of Texas’ independence. Resuming their parade, they threw flower petals at onlookers, creating the Battle of Flowers Parade in 1891, the first Fiesta event.
How perfect that Sam Vanderhoven and I would begin blending our lives during Fiesta. At least that’s what I hoped we were doing. Since he was an SAPD Homicide Detective, I naturally tried to impress him with my investigate skills. Unfortunately, my headstrong (he might say, “irrational”) behavior frustrated him. The last time I intervened against his advice, I almost got myself killed. At least the crisis made us realize we loved each other. We’d even pledged to trust one another, which might prove to be the bigger hurdle. The towering Casa Prima Hotel loomed in the next block, re-activating my jumping beans. What did Sam’s call mean? Had he discovered a crime, considered the burden of my pesky interference and decided to jettison our rendezvous?
A very witty cozy mystery, and although this is the 4th book in a series, I was not lost at all, I was easily able to pick up with the book and get a nice grip on the characters. Would it have been better if I had gotten to know the characters from the first book? Of course, but the author does a nice job making sure readers new to this series can run with wherever they decide to begin.
Aggie is finally getting her romantic weekend with her beau, Sam, during Fiesta Week in San Antonio. But a crime gets in the way, and in the hotel room that Sam had booked for their getaway. As Sam investigates, Aggie does her own sleuthing.
This is a fun and entertaining read all the way through with enough twists and turns to keep mystery lovers happy and running back for more. The story felt clean and fresh and kept a nice pace and the author did a nice job keeping the characters believable and likeable. Reviewed by Cyrene