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Publisher: Midnight Ink Books (2018)
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When a not-so-beloved literary agent dies under suspicious circumstances, a local mystery writer becomes the prime suspect in the death and must use her honed sleuthing skills to prove her innocence and find the real killer.

Colorado mystery writer, Charlemagne “Charlee” Russo, longs for the “halcyon days when authors were held in high esteem, and agents and publishers took care of all business except for putting the right word on the page.” The reality of the day is Charlee must deal with Melinda Walters, an unpleasant and dismissive, high-powered agent who can’t or won’t explain Charlee’s recently declining book royalties. Meanwhile, Charlee takes compliments and criticism from the likes of her Monday Morning writer’s group and volunteer beta readers comprised of family, friends, and neighbors. When she suddenly gets word that Melinda has been killed and her unusual death mirrors the specifics of events Charlee wrote about in her latest unpublished fictional manuscript, all eyes are on Charlee.

Soon Charlee is ticking off her own list of suspects while highlighting their motives, means, opportunities, and alibis. Her focus is primarily on anyone who had access to her manuscript, including fellow writers, boyfriend Ozzie, volunteer readers, Melinda herself, Melinda’s assistant “Q,” and a car mechanic. Clark ignites the story with an eclectic supporting cast that runs the gamut from a Mensa-card-carrying “Einstein” and a Goth who writes children’s books, to a neighbor with a shark-tooth smile who spent time in a mental health facility and appears to have a penchant for stealing books. With themes of money, love, jealousy, and revenge, the usual motives for murder, Charlee considers her suspects, one by one, but continues to entertain new possibilities along the way. Clark cleverly incorporates some unexpected reveals amidst this diverse group.

Through an intricate first-person narrative, readers remain invested in the story via the barrage of questions surrounding the murderous main event. As Charlee concedes that someone used her imaginary crime scenario to kill her agent, with questions like, “Was it to frame her? Was the prose so compelling they couldn’t help themselves? Why now? Why me?” Clark creates a pondering central character both witty, and on edge.

Clark’s writing style conjures out-of-this-world visuals, detailing the melting pot attributes of her Aurora town complete with bodegas, authentic ethnic restaurants, meth houses, and red-light districts.

Touches of humor also add an enjoyable lightness to the intensity of this drama. And, while the final reveal is unexpected, the tidbits of a backstory help the swirling pieces of this puzzle fall into place.

In this delightful and diverting debut, Charlee Russo proves a likable and plausible heroine.  Readers will love her desire to consume a perfectly satisfying toasted grilled cheese sandwich, and her all-out efforts to exonerate herself and friends from the pointing fingers of law enforcement. Clark delivers fun and witty entertainment, with a double-edged appeal for mystery fans and bibliophiles alike.

Fiction Can Be Murder: A Mystery Writer’s Mystery won first place in the CIBA 2018 M&M Awards for Mystery and Mayhem.