Deadly Summer Nights
About Deadly Summer Nights
A summer of fun at a Catskills resort comes to an abrupt end when a guest is found murdered, in this new 1950s set mystery series.
It’s the summer of 1953, and Elizabeth Grady is settling into Haggerman’s Catskills Resort. As a vacation getaway, Haggerman’s is ideal, and although Elizabeth’s ostentatious but well-meaning mother is new to running the resort, Elizabeth is eager to help her organize the guests and the entertainment acts. But Elizabeth will have to resort to untested abilities if she wants to save her mother’s business.
When a reclusive guest is found dead in a lake on the grounds, and a copy of The Communist Manifesto is found in his cabin, the local police chief is convinced that the man was a Russian spy. But Elizabeth isn’t so sure, and with the fate of the resort hanging in the balance, she’ll need to dodge red herrings, withstand the Red Scare, and catch a killer red-handed.
About Vicki Delany
Vicki Delany is one of Canada’s most prolific and varied crime writers and a national bestseller in the U.S. She has written more than forty books: clever cozies to Gothic thrillers to gritty police procedurals, to historical fiction and novellas for adult literacy. She is currently writing four cozy mystery series: the Tea by the Sea mysteries for Kensington, the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop series for Crooked Lane Books, the Catskill Resort mysteries for Penguin Random House, and the Lighthouse Library series (as Eva Gates) for Crooked Lane.
Vicki is a past president of the Crime Writers of Canada and co-founder and organizer of the Women Killing It Crime Writing Festival. Her work has been nominated for the Derringer, the Bony Blithe, the Ontario Library Association Golden Oak, and the Arthur Ellis Awards. Vicki is the recipient of the 2019 Derrick Murdoch Award for contributions to Canadian crime writing. She lives in Prince Edward County, Ontario.
Dining in the 1950s? Maybe Not
By Vicki Delany
It’s 1953: What’s on the menu? Jell-O salads made with canned pineapple. Aspic molds, cheddar cheese stuck on toothpicks, Cheez Whiz spread on celery sticks, angel food cakes bright red maraschino cherries in just about everything, including drinks, overcooked beef, boiled potatoes and boiled spinach.
Tastes have changed, and you don’t often see Jell-O salads or boiled spinach on the menu at a fancy restaurant. Which is why I have no recipes in my new book, Deadly Summer Nights, the first of the Catskills Resort series from Berkley. The series is set at Haggerman’s Catskills Resort, owned by former Broadway star Olivia Peters and managed by her daughter, Elizabeth Grady. Since she was a small child Olivia’s life was devoted to dance so she never learned to cook. Elizabeth was raised by her Aunt Tatiana and Uncle Rudolph and taught to prepare good solid Russian immigrant meals. But these days Elizabeth has her hands full enough managing a three hundred guest hotel and overseeing more than a hundred staff, so she doesn’t cook.
So instead of offering you a recipe inspired by Deadly Summer Nights, here’s a family favourite of mine. As made in 2021
Oatmeal Molasses Cookies from Vicki Delany
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 tbsp molasses
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1 ¾ tsp baking soda
2 cups rolled oats
2/3 cup dried cranberries
2/3 cup chopped walnuts
In large bowl mix all ingredients in order given
Drop by teaspoon onto greased cookie sheet
Bake at 350 for 10 – 12 minutes
Deadly Summer Nights is the debut of A Catskill Summer Resort Mystery series. Vicki Delany transports readers back to the 1950s to Haggerman’s Catskills Resort. Olivia Peters, Elizabeth’s mother inherited Haggerman’s from an admirer. Olivia is not the type to run a resort which is why she convinced her daughter, Elizabeth to manage it. Elizabeth goes out of her way to ensure her guests have a swell time. I enjoyed the lush descriptions of summer in the Catskills at Haggerman’s. I just loved the vivid word imagery of the threads worn by the ladies especially the evening and cocktail dresses. Elizabeth Grady is a strong female protagonist who is smart and has a good head for business. There is a great cast of characters that includes Elizabeth’s best friend, Velvet. Aunt Tatiana is head of housekeeping who brought Winston, an English bulldog with her. Winston is a cute, waddling bulldog who manages to get the run of the resort despite Elizabeth’s attempts to corral him. The author captured the time period with the clothing (Velvet was the ginchiest), vehicles, food (anyone for Jell-o salad), alcoholic beverages (a pink squirrel anyone), attitudes (I just not worry my little head over the death and just head back to the kitchen), and behaviors. I did feel that the language missed the mark just a touch. It could have been more retro with some more slang thrown in. I truly appreciate that there was no foul language or back seat bingo in this story. The mystery was intriguing. We are lucky that Olivia did not flip her lid. A guest is found dead in the river and the local chief of police believes the death is related to communism. Elizabeth is not really interested in solving the crime. But she soon finds herself involved. People talk to her and Elizabeth tends to stumble upon clues. Gossip runs rampant at the resort, but it is not word from the bird (the whole truth). Making the victim out to be a Red certainly with the paranoia in the 1950s. The reveal was dramatic and complete. The author ends the story with readers wanting more. There is a hint of romance for Elizabeth. I do not know when this poor woman would find time to date with all that she does at the resort during the season. I bet you are tired of listening to me, so I had better cut the gas. Deadly Summer Nights razzed my berries with a wet rag pursuer, a comedian with a good bit, a goof dishwasher, a lumpy magician, a jazzed bartender, the heat with a Mickey Mouse idea, a peachy keen manager, and a killer lighting up the tilt sign.
“My neighbor Mrs. Francesco heard him at a club in the city. Vulgar, unamusing, and all-around offensive were the words she used. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he was even worse the second night!” Mrs. Brownville blew a plume of smoke into my face. I gave her my best professional smile, but it wasn’t easy.
“She was so offended she went a second time?”
“They were taken by friends. Please keep up, dear. One doesn’t refuse the hospitality of friends.” Another plume of smoke lunged toward me.
I tried not to cough at the same time I struggled to keep my smile fixed to my face. Mr. and Mrs. Brownville were here for four weeks. They’d taken one of the best lakefront cabins in order to have room for a rotating roster of visiting friends and relations. At Haggerman’s Catskills Resort we were not so flush with high-paying guests I could afford to offend one.
“Don’t just stand there gaping, girl. What are you going to do about it?” Mrs. Brownville was in her sixties, and she was a woman not to be trifled with: approaching six feet tall, broad-chested, broad-shouldered, midnight-black hair sprayed into an unmovable object, small, dark intense eyes. She wore a powder-blue wool suit over a blue blouse with a floppy bow tied at the neck, and blue shoes with kitten heels. Not what most people would consider appropriate attire for a hot summer’s day in the Catskills, but I’d never seen her in anything but a designer suit of one shade of pastel or another.
I glanced around, seeking escape. To my dismay, none was forthcoming.
“Elizabeth Grady, are you listening to me? Or must I speak to your mother?”
“No need to bother Olivia, ma’am,” I said. “She trusts me to make decisions regarding the running of Haggerman’s.” I cleared my throat. “I’ll have a chat with our entertainment director and with Mr. Simmonds himself to ensure he’s fully aware that at Haggerman’s Catskills Resort we’re proud of our family-friendly reputation.” We didn’t actually employ an entertainment director, but I decided not to mention that that task, along with so many others, largely fell to me.
“You do that. I will, of course, be in the audience to be sure that his entire act is acceptable for young people and ladies.”
Not a good idea. Charlie Simmonds was a rapidly rising comedian in the smoke-filled clubs of New York City and in the equally smoke-filled lounges of the Catskills precisely because he was, supposedly, cutting-edge and risqué. New York City comedians weren’t normally hired as children’s entertainers. Or to pass muster by the likes of Mrs. Brownville, always on the lookout for something to be offended about.
I shifted from one foot to the other. Mrs. Brownville had waylaid me on the lakefront path at midday. The hot sun beamed down, the air almost dripped with humidity, and I was dressed in work attire of stockings and a girdle under a blue-and-yellow-print dress that fell slightly below my knees, with a Peter Pan collar and long sleeves. I thought fondly of the pretty sundress I hadn’t had a chance to wear yet. Too informal for a professional woman on a working day, my mother sniffed when she suggested (ordered?) that I change.
“I have to point out, Mrs. Brownville,” I said, “that Mr. Simmonds will be doing two shows each day for the three days he’s engaged to be at Haggerman’s. A family-friendly performance at nine and a more . . . adult-oriented one at eleven, following the dessert buffet.”
Surely Mrs. Brownville would be long abed by eleven. A day spent finding fault with everything and everyone had to be exhausting.
“Adults,” she pronounced, “also need to be protected from filth. I will attend both shows this evening. Now, about the other matter I wanted to discuss with you.” She dropped the end of her cigarette onto the path and rummaged in her cavernous handbag for the pack.
Attempting to be discreet, I moved my right foot and ground out the still-lit end before it could set the whole place on fire. I checked my watch. “Will you look at the time. I have to be off. I have . . . uh . . . something important to do.”
“Won’t take long.” She popped a fresh Lucky Strike into her lipsticked mouth, flicked the gold engraved lighter, lit the cigarette, and took a deep breath.
Unfortunately Mrs. Brownville could talk while smoking. I suspect Mrs. Brownville can talk while sleeping. Another smoky plume wafted my way. I held my own breath.
“I’ll walk with you, Elizabeth,” she said. “The exercise will do me good. Don’t just stand there, girl. Let’s go. About the chicken à la king served last night at dinner. I myself am blessed with the constitution of my Scottish forebears. Hearty Highland stock the lot of them, but Mr. Brownville is not so fortunate. He—”
My heart leapt for joy as I spotted salvation heading my way. “Randy! Randy!” I waved my arms and called.
Randy Fontaine, the resort’s aquatic director, swimming instructor, and head life guard, saw me, and who I was with, a second too late. He knew I knew he’d seen me and turning tail and fleeing would not be a good career move. His eyes stopped darting about, seeking escape, and he slapped on a big smile. “Good morning, Mrs. Grady, Mrs. Brownville. Beautiful day, isn’t it? Don’t let me keep you.”
“Randy,” I said. “It’s almost lunchtime, so you have no appointments for the next while. Mrs. Brownville and I were chatting about the meals. You know that’s primarily the domain of Chef Leonardo and Rosemary, but I’m always happy to hear what our guests have to suggest about the food we serve here at Haggerman’s. Why don’t you escort Mrs. Brownville to lunch and report back to me later?”
“Uh—” he said.
“Excellent idea.” Mrs. Brownville grabbed Randy’s bare arm and hauled him away. I couldn’t help but notice they didn’t take the most direct route to the main building. She’d want all her friends, and all her enemies, to see her hanging on to the arm of our tall, blond, tanned, muscular swimming director. He’d pulled a shirt on over his bathing suit to take his break, but he hadn’t done up the buttons.
A slim figure slipped out of the bushes lining the path and fell into step next to me. “I saw that. Nicely done. Let Randy earn his wages for a change.”
“I think Randy more than earns his wages,” I said. “I’m convinced some of the young women, and the older women too, rent other people’s kids so they can watch them taking Randy’s swimming classes.”
Velvet McNally laughed. “You’re probably right about that. I’ve had a couple of the daughters ask me if he gives private lessons.”
I didn’t laugh in return. “I hope you squashed any mention of that. I do not need trouble from irate fathers.”
“Even Randy, as confident as he is about his supposed appeal to women, knows better, Elizabeth. That is, I hope he does.”
“Supposed appeal?” I asked.
Her eyes, the color of lake water on a sunny day, slid to one side. “I’ve been told women find him attractive. Can’t see it myself.”
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