by Grace Topping
Finding a suspenseful private eye mystery with a good dose of humor and a sense of fun is always a pleasure. Lida Sideris, in Gambling with Murder, the latest in her Southern California Mystery Series, delivers on all counts. Corrie Locke, a Hollywood lawyer and P.I. wannabe, takes readers on a merry romp—this time to a luxurious retirement community, where the residents get up to more shenanigans than people half their age.
Gambling with Murder
A late-night call is all it takes for rookie lawyer Corrie Locke to kiss her day job at the movie studio goodbye and do what she does best: flex her sweet P.I. skills and go undercover to find a senior who’s missing from a posh retirement community. One small stumbling block: skirting past security to gain inside access to the exclusive Villa Sunset. Time to call in the heavy artillery. Besides former security guard turned legal assistant—now wannabe P.I.—Veera, Corrie relies on a secret weapon: her mother, a surprisingly eager addition to Corrie’s team. Armed with enough pepper spray to take down a band of Navy Seals, Mom impersonates a senior to infiltrate the Villa, Corrie and Veera in tow. Turns out the job’s not as easy as they’d thought. These seniors have tricks tucked up their sleeves and aren’t afraid of using them.
The action gets dicey when the missing senior case turns into attempted murder by a criminal mind who’s always one step ahead. Corrie’s hot on the trail, but finds more than she bargained for…when her mother becomes a target.
Welcome, Lida, to Writers Who Kill.
In Gambling with Murder, Corrie Locke is a Hollywood studio lawyer who frequently moonlights as an unlicensed private investigator. Why the desire to work as a P.I.?
Corrie’s day job as a movie studio attorney is not nearly as exciting as P.I. work. After all, sitting behind a desk and drafting legal contracts hardly measures up to tracking down a missing person or investigating covert criminal activity. Plus, investigative work is in her genes. Corrie’s dad was a well-known Los Angeles private investigator, and together they cracked a few high-profile cases. Let’s just say that Corrie learned a thing or two from Dad. In the SoCal Mystery series, Corrie is investigating on her own…and without supervision.
Corrie and her assistant, Veera, find themselves at Villa Sunset investigating the disappearance of a resident. How does she get time away from her studio job to take on an adventure like this?
Corrie’s boss, a legendary film actress, has been overseas on a movie shoot for a while now, which give Corrie plenty of down time. Also, she’s adept at giving the head of the legal department the slip…most of the time. She does a lot of P.I. work after hours (kind of like us writers with full-time jobs). And fortunately, the weekend is always just around the corner.
Corrie’s mother says she wishes they could spend more quality time together—but working undercover at a retirement community may not be what she had in mind, or was it? Please tell us more about Corrie’s mom.
You’re so right. Working undercover was not what Mom had in mind, but she snaps up the chance to spend time with her daughter. Mom is currently jobless and has long harbored a secret desire to see what P.I. work was like, up close (Mom says she actually taught Corrie’s dad a thing or two about investigations). Add to this a posh retirement community in one of the loveliest locations in Southern California, Santa Barbara, and it’s a done deal.
Veera says the wild and wooly seniors at Villa Sunset are like out-of-control teenagers. Corrie describes the place as high school all over again. Bullies, jealousy, and all the alcohol you could drink without supervision. What accounts for their behavior? Is it typical for a retirement community?
Over the past few years, I’ve spent a lot of time visiting seniors who were either family or friends. One even lived in a swanky Santa Barbara retirement community. I discovered that although seniors may appear a bit frail or slow to act, when given the opportunity, they rise to the occasion and then some. They’re all about having fun. Although most seniors in retirement communities seem content in engaging in the usual pleasures of gardening or bingo, the thrill-seeking seniors at Villa Sunset are out to experience the time of their lives.
Veera, who worked as a security guard when Corrie met her, shows occasional glimmers of useful insight. Is there more to Veera than meets the eye?
Veera is a highly motivated wannabe P.I., whose objective is to get villainous types off the street and out of the way of decent folks. She views P.I. work as a type of community service; it gives her purpose in life. Veera’s often the voice of reason, ever loyal and ever ready to assist Corrie. It helps that Veera is enthusiastic and has an excellent attitude. She’s a very willing participant in getting the job done. Yes, there’s a lot more to Veera than meets the eye.
Veera wants them to start their own P.I. firm with the motto: We keep everything under control so you don’t have to. In Gambling with Murder, Corrie allows her to take the lead when they face a certain challenge. Why?
By book five, the two have become fast friends. Plus, Corrie is maturing in her views on life. She truly appreciates and values the people around her. When she realizes how badly Veera wants to learn the P.I. ropes, Corrie gives her the lead in one particular scene. She provides Veera tasks with room to learn and grow, and by extension, Corrie herself is growing right before our very eyes.
Corrie has become quite the expert at picking locks and getting into places she shouldn’t, saying that, “Nothing is illegal unless you get caught.” If she becomes a licensed P.I., will she be governed by more restrictions?
I’d like to say yes, but I’ll be surprised if that happens. She’s already walking a tightrope with no safety net in sight because she’s a licensed attorney who bends the law regularly. She’s continually pushing the boundaries and thrives on risks. She’s good at what she does. But something occurs in the next installment that will reel her in…a bit.
I read several chapters before I realized that each chapter has a song title heading. How did you select the song titles for each chapter? Are the songs from a specific era?
I had great fun naming the chapters with songs (almost all chapters are song titles). It sets the mood and tone for whatever action or scene unfolds. In this book, the songs are from the fifties (for instance, “Catch a Falling Star”) and sixties (“Devil in Disguise”), a time when the senior citizens in the story were teens. I’m a fan of old movies and songs (kind of like Corrie) and enjoyed picking them out. Though it was little hard getting them out of my head afterward. 😊
The residents of Villa Sunset play combat croquet. Is that an actual thing?
Oh yes, it is. It’s also known as “Extreme Croquet.” It’s a battle of the mallets, where rules are thrown out and anything goes. Kind of sounds like something Corrie would excel at. Wikipedia describes it as “…a close relative of the croquet played in backyards…but expanded for more adventurous enthusiasts....” Play can take place deep in the woods or on unmanicured lawns. The more obstacles the better. For instance, if an interloper runs off with the ball, it’s played from wherever it’s dropped. I couldn’t make this stuff up. It’s also a good way to let off some steam.
Corrie keeps a burner phone locked in her car trunk. What does a burner phone provide her?
A burner phone (aka, a prepaid cell phone or “dumb phone” since burners lack smart phone features) isn’t all that Corrie keeps locked in her trunk. She has all sorts of tools, gadgets, and weapons. In Gambling with Murder, her mother forgot to bring her cell phone, so Corrie pulled out the burner for ease of communication. Burners are disposable, necessary in case of emergencies, and to ensure privacy. All essential elements needed for P.I. work…even by the not-yet-licensed P.I.
Corrie tells Michael, her friend and accomplice, that most cynics don’t realize they have the power to improve the lives of others and their own lives in the process. Is Corrie always so upbeat?
Definitely. To get any job well done, enthusiasm and an upbeat attitude are necessary attributes. If you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will. Plus, how can one not feel upbeat when pursuing one’s passion? P.I. work is Corrie’s passion.
What’s next for Corrie, Veera, and Michael?
Something happens at the end of this book that makes someone think that Michael is a psychic. In the next installment, word gets around that Corrie has a psychic on staff. And that’s how she and her team secure their next gig.
Now that you’ve written several books in your Southern California Mystery series, what is the most important thing you’ve learned since beginning your mystery writing journey?
I’ve learned that I can actually finish a first draft. Every time I start that dreaded first draft, those two small words, “The End,” seem impossible to reach. I keep reminding myself that I CAN do it! P.S. I recently discovered that the word “can’t” doesn’t appear anywhere in Gambling with Murder.
Thank you, Lida. Gambling with Murder was a delight.
For more information about Lida and her Southern California Mystery series, visit her at www.lidasideris.com
Grace Topping is the author of the Agatha nominated and USA Today Bestselling Laura Bishop Mystery Series.