This past summer at the Suffolk Mystery Authors Festival I had a chance to talk to Judith Lucci, a thoroughly delightful, funny, talented, and smart writer. She’s authored a number of thrillers and she’s here to talk about her most recent release, The Case of the Dead Dowager. Welcome, Judith!
Hi Amy, thanks so much for inviting me to Reade and Write. I’m delighted to be your guest, your friend and one of your fans!
My new book, The Case of the Dead Dowager released last week and it is the second book and my Michaela McPherson crime thriller series. Mic is a retired homicide detective from Richmond, Virginia (my hometown) who currently owns a bar, Biddy McPherson’s, located in Richmond Shockoe bottom. Biddy’s is the local watering hole for the Richmond police. Michaela lives with her retired police dog, Angel, her loyal canine partner who took a bullet and saved her life. Michaela’s best friend is Dorothy Borghase, an Italian Countess whose lineage dates to early papal Rome. Michaela, Dottie, and Angel solve international crime. In the first Michaela book, The Case of Dr. Dude the trio bring an international human trafficking ring to justice. In the Dead Dowager, Dottie and Mic are searching for two hideous and heinous serial killers whose weapon of choice is poison. Here’s the blurb for the Dead Dowager:
Dottie turned off the main highway and headed south to Blackstone Virginia. Madame Toulescent lived just outside of Blackstone and that’s where she conducted her psychic readings. She wished away the butterflies that cramped her stomach. She had a sense that what she was going to hear wasn’t good. She wished she didn’t believe in the value of psychics or the unknown but she did, and that was that. She’d seen psychic readings and prophecies come true time after time during her life. Mic wasn’t a believer at all but had grudgingly admitted psychics had helped them in a case about ten years ago.
The speedometer on her car registered over sixty miles an hour on a forty-five mile limit stretch of highway. I’d better slow down. The last thing I need is a Virginia state trooper on my tail. She braked and her car skidded but she handled it skillfully. The Cadillac was a big, monster car but she really liked it. Since Dottie had lived in the US, she had always preferred German-made cars and previously owned multiple Mercedes Benz. Of course, when Count Borghase had been alive, they’d always driven Italian cars, mainly Ferraris. But now she was pretty much American and she loved her Caddy. There was something about the Cadillac that was so plush and so American that she bought a new one every couple of years.
She saw an old gray mule in the pasture out of the corner of her eye and saw the fence that was lying on the side. Dottie didn’t know what she’d do if they ever repaired that fence. She’d been looking at that fence on the ground for years and it was her landmark just before she turned onto Madame’s private road. She knew her turn was just up ahead. She slowed for a farmer carrying a load of hay in an old truck. He was hogging the entire road. Now where in the hell am I supposed to go? She steered her big car to the side of the road as far as she could without falling into the ditch. She cursed and held her breath as the farmer passed her. She swore the farmer missed her by less than an inch. The old codger hadn’t even looked her way. She shook her head and cursed again softly. She threw her white Caddy into first gear and roared out of the ditch spewing gravel, dirt, and mud all over the road. She saw three rabbits running for their life and hoped she hadn’t interrupted their nest. Dottie drove a little further and made her left turn. She turned right on the first road and started the difficult trip along the horrible, rutted road to Madame Toulescent’s tiny home. The road was almost a mile long. Dottie’s tall, thin frame bounced all over her plush leather seat and her hair fell out of her neatly arranged bun. I’m going to have to take a pain pill. All this jumping around is killing my hips. Secretly Dottie new she needed to have her hips replaced but there was no way she was willing to do that, at least not while she could walk. I wouldn’t be able to help Michaela. And then, what would she do?
Madame Toulescent waved at Dottie from her front porch filled with flowers and beautiful hanging baskets of petunias and begonias. Her small white cottage was immaculate. Madame Toulescent watched her painstakingly steer her huge Cadillac down her battered road. Dottie brought the iron beast to a stop, looked in her rearview mirror and re-pinned a piece of white hair that had worked its way out of her perfect updo. Even though the Madame lived in a house that was little better than a house trailer, Dottie had been trained from birth to always look perfect when visiting. This task had become monumental at age 82. She reached for her purse and checked to make sure her Glock was nestled in its special pocket. She checked her lipstick in the mirror, pinched her lips together, cursed the fine lines around her mouth and got out of the car.
“Hello Madame Toulescent. Thank you for seeing me today on short notice.” Dorothy smiled her gracious smile at the psychic, showing her beautiful white veneers, once available for a large price from the famous, dentist-to-the-stars Dr. Michael Smirkowitz.
“You are so welcome, Countess Borghase.” Madame Toulescent looked around the empty fields and through the trees and gestured with her arm. “As you can see, there is no waiting line. Please come in. I’ve made us some tea.” She paused for a moment and said, “Watch the steps. They’re in need of repair,” she cautioned.
In need of repair, my butt, they need to be rebuilt Dottie climbed the rickety steps dodging rusty nails and wood splinters. She grasped the loose railing and posts that held up the old front porch. The last thing she wanted to do was fall and break something. She followed Madame Toulescent into her small but neat and cozy home. There was a wonderful scent in the air and Dottie’s mouth watered.
“Please have a seat in the easy chair,” the Madame offered. “I’ll bring us some tea and sweet bread.”
Dottie nodded and smiled her thanks as she carefully studied Madame Toulescent. She wasn’t sure of her nationality. She thought she was Eastern European but she seemed very much like the French and her house had several amazing pieces of French country furniture. In years past, she had asked the Madame about her former life, but the psychic seemed unwilling to share her past. Her voice had a strange accent Dottie couldn’t identify which frustrated her. Dottie had traveled the world and she knew the languages and dialects of most ethnic populations. But she couldn’t figure out Madame Toulescent’s origins. That puzzled her.
Madame handed Dottie a cup of herb tea. The aroma alerted her senses and she immediately felt more awake and inspired. The tea had given her energy and awareness. She took a sip. It was delicious.
“Oh my, Madame Toulescent. Whatever is in this tea? I feel a million times better just from smelling it. You’ve got to tell me where you got it because I know Cookie would love it too,” Dottie gushed as she sipped her tea.
Madame Toulescent smiled and said. “I made the tea. It’s a blend of ginger, mint, lemon verbena and a few other things I grow in my herb garden. I’ll send some home with you. It’s sweetened with honey I collected from my bees yesterday.” She smiled briefly, and her lips stretched over teeth that could benefit from a cosmetic dentist. “That’s probably what you love so much.”
Dottie nodded and studied the Madame. The years hadn’t treated her so well. Dottie didn’t know her age but her face was a mass of wrinkles that blended one into the other. Dottie guessed each wrinkle had its own story. Her skin appeared soft but deeply creased. Her jet black hair was streaked with gray and hung freely past her shoulders. She wore a simple blue shift with a silver belt and wore tennis shoes and socks. She smelled of lemon and freesia.
Dottie, as usual, smelled of Chanel #5. “It’s so lovely out here, Madame. Do you ever come to town?”
Madame Toulescent shook her head. “Very rarely. My neighbor collects my groceries for me when I need them and as you know, I have a huge vegetable garden and I can and freeze most everything I need. I like it here and I like to stay with my animals – my dogs, cats, cow, mules and horses. It’s quiet here and my love is nature.”
Dottie nodded. She couldn’t imagine staying in these four walls every single day. She supposed she didn’t have the patience and gentleness of spirit that the Madame had. But that was okay. Dottie was very happy in her own way.
The two women shared a comfortable silence and continued to sip their tea until the Madame asked, “How can I help you today, Countess?” She smiled at her and said, “I can tell you have some significant things on your mind and that you are troubled.”
Dottie put her teacup down and said, “Yes, I do. Have you been watching the news?” Dottie saw the woman pale under her sun-darkened skin.
Madame Toulescent nodded. “You’re here about the poisonings, aren’t you?”
Dottie held Madame’s dark eyes with her own and said, “Yes, I am. Camilla Rothrock was one of my dearest friends and I need to know who poisoned her.”
Madame shifted her gaze to the floor and said, “Countess Borghase, this is a very bad business that is happening. I’ve had some visions and they are upsetting. It reminds me of the evil work of Hitler in Germany.”
This time it was Dottie who paled, her heart beating so hard she could hardly breathe. “Oh my God, Madame. We both remember his devastation in Europe and the millions of people he murdered.”
Madame Toulescent rubbed her hands together, her face grim. “Indeed we do. A sad and sorry time. Let’s move into the back where I work and see what we can see.”
Dottie stood and followed Madame to the room in the far back of her modest home. It was a glass room with beautiful views into the forest. She left her teacup on the coffee table. Her heart thumped dangerously in her chest and she was short of breath. She was so terrified she almost lost her balance. She gripped her purse and cell phone in her hand. She was scared and just the idea of having the Glock made her feel safer. Could the evil be so strong it permeated her soul?
“Countess, why are you so upset? What can I do to help you?” Madame Toulescent looked at Dottie with concern.
Dottie stared at her but her eyes said it all.
“Let me get you something to calm you down so we can have a good reading. Please stay in the chair and I’ll be right back,” Madame Toulescent said as she left Dottie and walked to her kitchen.
Dottie sat quietly in a large wing-backed chair in the calm serenity of Madame Toulescent’s solarium. The herbs Madame Toulescent had given her had done the trick. She could feel herself calming down. She could hear the rushing of the James River in the distance and she was mesmerized by the cattle grazing in the field in the distance. Perhaps all was right with the world. She supposed she’d know soon enough.
Madame motioned her to a simple wooden table on the side of the room. Dottie arose from her chair and took the seat facing the psychic. Madame Toulescent’s eyes glazed through the glass window out into the fields. Dottie wondered what she was seeing but sat quietly and watched.
“Countess Borghase, you know I’m a psychic. Generally, when we meet, I do psychic readings. But, I also function as a spiritual medium. Would you like for me to see if I could talk with your friend, Camilla?”
Dottie’s stomach knotted up and she felt nauseous. She stared at Madame Toulescent and said, her voice hesitant, “I… I don’t know. I’ve never done that before. Will it help?”
Madame Toulescent could sense her hesitation. “You seem frightened to talk with your friend or at least have your friend communicate with us. Let’s see what else we can do.”
“I didn’t know you talked with spirits,” Dottie said. “Can you tell me how that works?”
“Well, there are quite a few things I can do,” Madame Toulescent said gently. She could see Dottie was upset about channeling Camilla. “We’ve mostly done psychic readings when you’ve visited. The psychic readings are about getting advice, guidance or direction around things that are happening in your life. There’ve been a couple of times when you’ve been here in crises and you wanted some help or direction. It is my belief that a reading is getting confirmation on what our own intuition is already telling us. Most of the time, I’ve simply confirmed what your intuition had already suggested. I’ve validated what you already knew. Often as a psychic, I only teach and help people confirm their own wisdom.
Dottie nodded, “Yes, I agree with that. Most of the time you’ve validated what I’ve thought and believed and have helped me decide what to do next.”
Madame nodded. “Yes, this is true.”
“But, Countess,” she said taking Dottie’s cold hand into her warm one, “I also work as a medium and I can contact your friend Camilla and we can learn about the last few moments of her life.”
Dottie’s eyes filled with tears, “But I don’t know if I want to know about Camilla’s last few minutes. She looked so horrible and I think she was scared and in pain,” she ended with a choked sob.
Madame Toulescent nodded. “I understand what you are saying. I just want to tell you that it’s possible we can learn from Camilla. Perhaps she can help us solve the poisonings.”
Dottie was silent for a moment as she considered the possibilities. Certainly, she could be uncomfortable and upset for a few moments, particularly if she could help Michaela and the police solve these horrible murders. Besides, that would prove to Mic that she wasn’t old and helpless… although she really didn’t think Michaela thought that. That was her insecurity popping up. “Um, okay. I’ll do it. But first, could we just look at the murders in general. Could you tell me what you see and perhaps give me some direction that I can share with the authorities?”
“Of course I can, Countess. In no way do I want to upset you or frighten you, but I’m sure your friend wants to send us a message. I can feel her trying to get though,” Madame Toulescent said. “In the meantime, let me focus on the poisonings. Give me a few moments to think and commune.”
It was a lovely day. The birds were singing, the cattle were grazing contently in the field. Dottie smiled and focused on a mother deer and her fawn that grazed in the grass about twenty yards from the back window. They were beautiful. The fawn was young and still had its spots. She watched as the mother nudged her and encouraged her to eat the grass, but the fawn just wanted to play. She smiled as she saw them frolic in the sunshine.
She heard a low moan come from deep in Madame’s throat. The sound sent shivers up Dottie’s back. She wondered what Madame Toulescent saw in her vision. The moaning became worse and Dottie could hardly sit still. Her eyes returned to the view outside. The mother and fawn were staring into the window. The birds were no longer chirping. I think they know something is about to happen here.
Madame Toulescent was in a trance and her body swayed from left to right as she moaned and said ‘no’ over and over. She had a conversation with someone, smiled gently and said, “Yes, yes. I will.”
Dottie’s eyes returned to the bucolic scene in front of her. Everything was okay now. The mother deer and her baby were gone, and she could see several cardinals feasting on the seed in the birdfeeder. She could hear other birds chirping in the distance. The cows chewed their cud contentedly in the fields and the sun was bright on the early spring wild flowers. Something must be right with the world, she thought. Yes, all is right with the world, at least for a moment.
It seemed forever before Madame Toulescent rose from her trance. She looked at Dottie and asked, “Are you okay?”
Dottie shrugged her shoulders and said, “Yes, yes, I’m fine. Can you tell me what you saw?”
A dark shadow flashed across Madame’s face and she said, “I saw a lot. I felt the fear of Camilla and the three young women at the bar. I could feel the pain the women endured as the poison struck their internal organs.”
Dottie nodded and waited for more.
“Regrettably, I heard the screams and felt the fear of the school children. I talked with the children that had died and wiped their tears.”
Madame Toulescent paused for a moment to rest. Dottie watched as her shoulders relaxed and her breathing returned to normal. She went into the living room and returned with the teapot. She refilled their cups and said, “There are two men who are killing these people. One man has an agenda to kill, but the other man kills for sport. They are evil and will stop at nothing to reach their goal.” Madame Toulescent was silent for a moment and sipped her tea.
Dottie waited patiently which was one of the most difficult tasks ever for her. She was simply not patient and wanted what she wanted the second she wanted to have it. As she waited for Madam to continue, she found herself replacing the bobby pins in her hair and picking at her nails. She crossed and uncrossed her legs several times until Madame Toulescent reached under the table and put her hand on Dottie’s knee to quiet her.
“Please stop that, Countess. I can’t focus. I’m trying to remember things. We’ll talk in a moment.”
Dottie fell like a child in kindergarten. She hung her head in shame because she had interrupted Madame. A couple of minutes later, Madame said, “The two men will continue to kill as they have for a few more days. Then they plan to poison a large number of people, possibly thousands at a major event. I don’t know where but it is coming soon.”
Dottie’s heart jumped into her throat. She was so frightened she could hardly speak and beside herself with anxiety and fear. She stared at Madame Toulescent until she found her voice.
“But wait… when and where will they attack?”
Madame Toulescent repeated, “I do not know when the attack will be. Perhaps the men have not planned a date and they do not know.”
Dottie could feel fear and anxiety creep up her spine and she asked, her voice quavering, “What else, what else is there that you won’t tell me?”
Madame Toulescent stared into Dottie’s ice blue eyes and said, “Camilla said to tell you the poison was in the tea. She said when she drank the tea she began to feel sick and then she couldn’t talk or see anymore. She also said to tell you that she is okay now. She wants you to tell the General she’s fine and not to worry.”
Dottie nodded slowly and said, “I guess that’s good, if you have to be dead, right?”
Madame Toulescent nodded as she watched Dottie pull herself together and gather her purse. She stood up and offered the Madam her hand. “Thank you. Thank you for seeing me on such short notice. I truly appreciate it.”
Madame Toulescent nodded and said softly,” There’s one more thing, Countess. Do you want to hear it?”
Dottie nodded and said, “I suppose so.”
“Michaela is in grave danger. You must watch out for her carefully.”
Dottie’s spine stiffened and she stood even straighter as she looked down at the psychic, “Danger how? What kind of danger?” Dottie’s heart fluttered in her chest and she held on to the back of the chair for support. She couldn’t let anything happen to Michaela.
Madame shook her head and said, “I don’t know. I could not see her danger but I can feel it and it’s real. Please watch out for her. These men are cruel and evil. They will stop at nothing.”
Dottie said simply, “I will. I always do.”
“And, Dottie,” Madame Toulescent, “I believe you are in danger as well. So I urge you to take no chances and to stay safe.”
Dottie grinned and flashed Madame Toulescent her favorite aristocratic smile. “I’ll be fine, Madame. I’m always in danger. After all, I’m eighty-two years old.”
Madame smiled, “I am serious, Dottie, please watch yourself and stay safe.”
“I will, I promise, thank you.” Dottie’s voice sounded a lot stronger than she felt as she left Madame’s modest home and walked the short distance to her car. She opened her door and sat down, grateful for the softness of the plush, soft leather cushions. She closed her eyes and a million rays of light invaded her head. She was stressed, deeply scared and worried. These were different feelings for Dottie who usually only feared forgetting something or losing her memory. I’ve got to take care of Michaela.
Madame Toulescent watched Dottie back up her big car and continue carefully down the deeply rutted road. She felt intense fear for the Countess but she feared mostly for Michaela McPherson. These were evil men.
I loved writing this book because I love the characters! Michaela is based on a friend of mine who is indeed a retired homicide detective and Dottie is exactly who I would like to be when I’m 82 years of age. Angel… well, anyone who knows anything about me knows that I love dogs and Angel is a personification of the perfect canine.
I have three goals in my books. The first is to engage the reader so they keep reading, the second is to entertain with a great story and the third is to education my readers. In both of my series, my Alexandra Destephano medical thriller series and my Michaela McPherson crime thrillers, I advocate for vulnerable populations and disenfranchised people. In the Michaela McPherson series, I bring attention to military and police working dogs such as Angel, and their value in law enforcement. I focus on the usefulness, respect and wisdom of the elderly such as Dottie. I also am very supportive of law enforcement in both of my series.
My medical thrillers, the Alex Destephano novels, are based in New Orleans and Virginia. Alex is a nurse attorney from a politically prominent Virginia family who moved to the Big Easy to run a hospital. The fictional Crescent City Medical Center is located near the French Quarter in NOLA and sees the wealthiest of the wealthy and the poorest and most violent criminals in the city. Alex is vulnerable … she’s been hurt in life and hurt in love, but she’s determined to make it alone. She smart, goal directed, ethical and a fighter. Alex’s personal values are high. So far, Alex hasn’t been able to catch a break and finds herself involved in one horrific situation after another. All of my books have won The Readers’ Favorite Five Star seal. Recently, The Case of Dr. Dude won ‘Best Read of the Summer’ in the United Kingdom.
In my ‘other’ life I’m a registered nurse, college professor and a researcher. Writing fiction was quite difficult for me from a technical standpoint because I’d been an academic writer most of my life and all of my early rejections comments on my ‘robot writing and characters’. I think I’ve finally achieved the ability to write good, expressive and meaningful dialogue and create memorable characters. I try to write every single day, generally in the mornings my goal is at least 2000 words per day but I really would prefer to do twice that. When I read, I read pretty much what I write… mysteries, crime thrillers, spy novels and action and adventure. I love historical fiction and I have many, many favorite authors – many of them are indie.
Thanks so much for allowing me to be a part of your blog. Feel free to follow me on Facebook. You can contact me at http://www.JudithLucci.com.
The links to my books are below.
Judith Lucci Book Links
Amazon Author Page: http://bit.ly/GetMedThrillers
Dr. Dude: http://bit.ly/ViewDrDude
Thanks for visiting Reade and Write, Judith! Congratulations on your new release!
Until next time,