blue background. Yellow text reads Hard Dough Homicide. White text on right reads Olivia Matthews. To left, white ghost of a skull rising from slices of hard dough bread.

(written as Olivia Matthews)
A St. Martin’s Press release
Cozy mystery
May 2023
ISBN-10: 1250839068
ISBN-13: 9781250839060

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Hard Dough Homicide: A Spice Isle Bakery Mystery, Book 2

Someone in Brooklyn’s Little Caribbean neighborhood has an appetite for murder in Hard Dough Homicide.

Spice Isle Bakery owner Lyndsay Murray is always looking for new ways to grow her family’s business. But she already regrets agreeing to host the retirement dinner for local high school principal Emily Smith. The tyrant used to be her mother’s boss and they did not get along. Six guests arrive for the celebration, but only five survive. Emily starts convulsing—right after eating the curry chicken—and dies soon after. It’s not long before the police are knocking on Spice Isle’s door, bringing the Murray family back into the heart of another murder investigation—driving away customers in the process. Lyndsay can’t help but wonder if this is the end of the bakery, even though it’s just begun. She must put aside her reservations about investigating another crime, because the Murrays refuse to go down without a fight.

Hard Dough Homicide: Excerpt

“Grace, how long you been coming here, you still don’t know the menu?” My maternal grandmother, Genevieve Bain, looked at our bakery’s customer in disbelief. Her Grenadian accent rolled out her complaint in waves. Granny called herself helping me process our patrons’ orders early Friday morning. If she wasn’t careful with her tone, she’d find herself chasing our guests away.

My family and I had opened our West Indian eatery, Spice Isle Bakery, in Brooklyn, New York’s Little Caribbean neighborhood about four weeks ago. The shop was becoming a hub where the community gathered to get a taste of our culture, not only in the dishes we served but also in the décor, the music we played, and the stories we shared. Our customer base had grown quickly with a solid foundation of familiar faces and new customers discovering us every day.

The scents of confectioners’ sugar, melted butter, warm chocolate, and fresh pastries mingled with the sharp aromas of bush teas. The soft chime from the bell above the bakery door had become a constant beat beneath the old-school reggae music bouncing from the bakery’s sound system. Several of our customers shook their shoulders and rocked their hips to the captivating rhythm.

I loved the energy in the bakery, especially when it was crowded with guests. The banter, whether it was good-natured or grumpy, was like the exchange you’d find at any family gathering. That’s one of the things I loved most about our shop. I also loved baking, a skill I was continuing to work on with Granny’s help.

Grace Parke was one of our bakery’s regulars. The middle-aged woman looked very professional in a soft gray skirt suit. “I’m in the mood for something different.” She studied the menu as though she’d never seen it before.

A tearing sound came from the center of the line. A man who appeared to be close to my father’s age leaned forward. “You’re in the mood to hold up the line, you mean. Some of us have to get to work.”

“Grace, you should do what Benny and I do.” Tanya Nevis spoke from the dining area where she sat at a table for two with her beau, Benny Parsons. The petite older lady had been friends with Granny for years. Her Grenadian accent flavored her words. “Come back when the line’s not so long if you want to try something new.”

Grumbles rose from other guests in the line, which extended out the door. If customers in the bakery were agitated, I didn’t want to think about how annoyed patrons who waited in the crisp late-April-in-New-York weather were. How many of them had given up and left?

Desperate to avert an angry confrontation in the middle of our shop, I pasted an encouraging smile on my lips and offered Grace one of our printed menus. “Ms. Parke, why don’t you come stand by me? You can look over this menu so we can help our other customers. As soon as you’re ready, I promise to take your order.”

“Oh, all right.” Grace adjusted the strap of her brown purse on her sturdy shoulder before accepting the menu. “Thank you, Lyndsay. Some people can’t wait a few minutes.”

An older woman toward the back of the line grunted. “We’ve been waiting a few minutes. But you were taking a few days.”

Granny and I waited on other customers while Grace mulled over her choices. My grandmother refused to wear the Spice Isle Bakery “uniform,” which consisted of a black chef’s smock, matching chef’s cap, and slacks. Instead, she was stunning in a sapphire-and-gold-patterned cotton dress that flowed over her slender curves. A matching head wrap protected the food from strands of her hair.

Tanya called across the customer line. Her tone was coy. A teasing smile curved her lips and brought a twinkle to her dark brown eyes. “Joymarie, are you going to see Devon this weekend?”

Joymarie Rodgers had just started dating my older brother, Devon. Dev was part owner of Spice Isle Bakery along with Granny, my parents, and me. He also was the youngest junior partner with a midtown-based international law firm. I loved saying that. And I loved that after months of Joymarie showing an interest in my brother Dev had finally asked her out. I was certain they were meant to be together just like Mommy and Daddy, who’d been married for more than thirty-five years.

Tanya’s question brought an explosion of attractive color to Joymarie’s brown cheeks. She was a striking image in a figure-hugging violet-and-pink-patterned, knee-length dress beneath a tan spring coat. Soft ebony curls framed her heart-shaped face. “We hope to. He may have to work, though.”

Grace looked up, straightening her rigid posture. “He may have to work? Shouldn’t you be his priority?”

“Grace.” Granny’s tone was sharp. “Shouldn’t you be studying the menu?”

I managed to smother my laughter, but several patrons didn’t even try. Their amusement bounced around the shop. A few guests repeated the exchange for those who’d missed it. Grace shrugged carelessly before returning to the menu.

Another regular, the Knicks Fan, stepped to the counter. He was tall and slender like a basketball point guard in a smoke gray suit. His skin was dark and smooth. Thick, tight black curls shaped his head. “Lemme get a banana bread and sorrel to go.” He handed me his credit card as Granny turned to get his order from a batch of pastries fresh from the oven. “Enzo Fabrizi sold his father’s bakery.”

Enzo’s father, Claudio, had owned and operated Claudio’s Baked Goods.

“I saw that a couple of days ago.” I processed his order and returned his card. “It was sold to a fast-food chain.” The idea of Claudio’s shop becoming part of a fast-food franchise seemed unreal.

Even before we’d opened, Claudio had vowed to shut down my family’s shop. Instead, he’d been murdered the day of Spice Isle Bakery’s soft launch and his business was the one to close. His killer had tried to frame me for his murder based on the fact that Claudio and I’d had a heated argument in front of a dozen customers in the middle of Spice Isle Bakery.

“Claudio’s probably spinning in his grave.” José Perez, the Brooklyn Daily Beacon crime reporter, stepped into the bakery as the order line advanced, letting additional customers in. His Puerto Rican heritage was present in his voice. He was tall and lean in straight-legged faded blue jeans and a pearl gray fisherman’s sweater. A lock of his thick, wavy raven hair fell across his forehead like Superman.

The reporter was probably right. Claudio would hate the idea of his beloved bakery turning into a chain fast-food restaurant, but Enzo didn’t have a choice. Claudio’s bakery wasn’t the only business affected by his death.

Grace returned the menu to the stand in front of the cash register. “I know what I want now, Lyndsay. May I have a currant roll, please?”

Granny gaped at the other woman. “All that and you get currant rolls all—”

I cut my grandmother off. “One currant roll coming up. Thank you, Ms. Parke.”

I ignored the sound of my grandmother kissing her teeth.

On his way out, the Knicks Fan stopped beside José. “What’s the latest on Claudio’s murder trial?”

José seemed happy with himself. His lean, tanned features shone with excitement. “The defense’s still trying to negotiate a plea deal.”

I shifted my shoulders to release the tension. “I hope they’re able to come to an arrangement, because I don’t want to have to testify.”

Granny hummed her agreement. “I don’t want you to have to get on the stand in a murder trial, either. No, sir.”

“Neither do I.” The comment came from my mother, Cedella Bain Murray. She and my father, Jacob Murray, were busy in the kitchen, working to keep up with the volume of orders. Obviously, they weren’t too busy to pay attention to the conversation that carried into the pass-through behind the customer service counter.

“It’s unanimous.” Daddy’s voice was dry but firm. Both my parents’ accents revealed their Grenadian roots.

I struggled to hold back a smile. Under New York’s criminal justice system, I didn’t think a note from my father would outweigh a subpoena, if it came to that. I’m just saying.