Several years ago, I was the “on duty” agent at Camden Real Estate Company when a call came in from a woman visiting the area from Florida. In a strong, no-nonsense voice she said she wanted to look at houses as soon as possible and she ticked off a few she’d chosen. I met her that afternoon – a thin, sharp-nosed woman with a beautiful smile, expensive clothes, and take-charge manner. We tromped in and out of some lovely properties, including a gracious Dutch Colonial on a tree-lined street in the village. “I’ll take it,” she announced, adding that if her husband was still alive, he’d never agree to the purchase. “But he’s not here to object,” she added, with the tiniest hint of mischief.
That day was the beginning of my friendship with Lucy, a fiesty, fun, CNN-addicted chain smoker with a soft spot for dogs (she had three) and a talent for decorating. Eventually I would help her buy more property, including two lots downtown (where she built a fabulous store to showcase her antique dollhouse collection) and a breathtaking estate on Camden Harbor, a sale that remains one of my biggest. With every transaction, I was impressed with her forthright attitude and her ability to make decisions decisively. She knew exactly what she wanted, her taste was impeccable, and she wasn’t afraid to spend money.
Lucy was a dream client, but what cemented our friendship was her love of mysteries. An avid reader, she devoured — cover to cover — one book every night. I’d visit her home or the store and she’d list the titles she’d finished, critiquing each one in incredible detail. True to form, she showed no mercy if she thought a plot was weak or an ending thin, and no writer — famous or not — escaped her opinion. Blunt? Lucy could be brutal.
And so it was with trepidation that I asked Lucy to read the manuscript of my first mystery, A House to Die For. Constructive criticism be damned — I was just plain petrified. I knew she’d tell me exactly what she thought, and frankly, I wondered if I could take it.
Lucy read the 300-odd pages in a night and called me to say she loved it. ”Especially the ending,” she barked, adding that it wasn’t just a dashed off thing like some (insert a big name writer here) people slapped together. Big sigh of relief! The world’s most voracious reader of mysteries liked my book. Surely editors, agents, critics, and mystery fans everywhere would as well.
The release of Killer Listing this spring coincided with Lucy’s struggle and death from cancer. She accepted her diagnosis with her characteristic courage, and elected to die on her own terms, just as she’d lived her life. I managed to bring her an advance copy before she became too ill to read. She’d helped inspire the book’s setting by allowing our family to stay in her Siesta Key home one Christmas, and I knew she’d enjoy the story’s twisted plot.
Lucy couldn’t put Killer Listing down, she said. She sent me a note on her stationary saying that I should continue with the series because there weren’t enough good mysteries in the world. I saved her note, and when I sit down to write my stories, it’s Lucy that I picture, ready to read them.