Saturday, December 21, 2013

25 Days of Christmas Stories: DEATH, ISLAND STYLE by Maggie Toussaint

Recent widow MaryBeth Cashour moved six hundred miles to escape memories of her late mother’s betrayal and her husband’s mysterious death.  While beachcombing for seashells to use at her artsy Christmas shop, MaryBeth finds a corpse rolling in the surf on Sandy Shores Island.

The horror doesn’t end there. When detectives uncover a connection between the murdered man and MaryBeth, she’s their prime suspect.  It’s not her fault the dead guy had one of her hand-painted Christmas sharks in his pocket—she doesn’t even know him.  Besides, lots of people from the Mid-Atlantic region vacation in coastal Georgia.  She insists it’s a coincidence he’s here.  The cops don’t believe her.

As her world comes unglued, MaryBeth strips the shellac from her memories, discovering secrets that endanger her life.  But time to prove her innocence is running out faster than a rip tide.  The killer is crafting up a new murder – MaryBeth’s.


One of the perks of my new life is walking on the beach. I love to sink into the crisp morning sand, leaving behind perfect impressions of each plump toe, slender arch, and narrow heel. Those footprints proclaim to the world that MaryBeth Cashour lives here on Sandy Shores Island.
At least until the wind changes, the tide comes in, or someone else tramples my tracks. Oh, who was I kidding? My footprints were transitory, just like me. That’s the worst part about starting over, figuring out who I am and what I’m doing.
I turn to face the wind, taste the salty spray on my face, and bask in the unfamiliar warmth of the October sun against my skin. Back in Maryland, a warm fall day like this was called Indian summer, but here in coastal Georgia, short-sleeved weather is standard fare. In time, I’d relinquish that northern concern that a howling snowstorm could hit at any minute, but for now, I was still stuck in that cold weather mindset of a nasty storm on my horizon.
After my husband of ten years drowned unexpectedly in April, I sold everything but one framed picture of the two of us and moved back home, only to discover that my mom had kept her terminal cancer a secret. I spent the next three months watching her die.
Two deaths in three months gave me the willies. Worse, it made me responsible for all their possessions. Grandmother Esther’s gilt-edged porcelain lamp was a family heirloom, but I hated it. And Uncle Wallace’s faded latch-hooked rug? It had clearly seen better days. The marble-topped buffets I listed on e-Bay, and I gave away Mom’s junky old car, which was in worse shape than mine. The horrid checkered tile bathroom floor I left as was, and the house sold anyway, thank goodness.
By the time I’d finally gotten to the point of sorting through Mom’s personal papers in August, I believed I could see daylight. I couldn’t wait to finish this chore and do something, anything, else, but I learned a hard lesson. Be careful what you wish for. The information I discovered in her bank lock box knocked the wind out of me.
I’m adopted.
You would think that being thirty-five years old, I might have heard about this by that time, but my mom never mentioned it. Not once. I can’t blame my dad for his silence, as he passed away two decades ago, but Mom had years upon years to tell me the truth.
She sewed my prom dress, mailed me crafty care packages all through college, and single-handedly created beautiful decorations for my wedding. No mention of my adoption. Not even a hint. And it wasn’t like her death was unexpected. She knew the end was coming as surely as one ocean wave follows the next.
Secrets. I hate them. And yet the shores of my life were littered with them, much like the scattered shells dotting this deserted beach.
I stopped at another deposit of seashells and chucked them one at a time into my plastic pail. Justine Mossholder, the vibrant woman who’d sold me her gift shop named Christmas by the Sea, told me that part of owning the craft store was continually harvesting shells to make into Christmas ornaments. “Tourists love buying these local crafts as souvenirs,” she’d said.
She’d left detailed instructions on how to make oyster shell Santas, scallop shell angels, and sand dollar snowmen. “Paint the shell until the color suits your eye,” she’d said. “Use a dollop of glue to hold the ornament together, and accent it with a clump of tulle.”
Her instructions might as well have been in Greek. Turns out I had no eye for color, glue guns hated me, and I couldn’t tell tulle from organza. So here I was, collecting shells as instructed, only I didn’t want the nice big paintable shells.
I wanted the little itty bitty shells. I picked up one shell, then another, but that pace wasn’t satisfying. I wanted great glopping handfuls of them. Something about these little shells felt urgently right.
I couldn’t explain my sudden unfathomable craving for them, but I needed these tiny shells as much as I needed air. With increasing fervor, my fingers grabbed clumps of miniature colored shells and tossed them in my pail. It was as though I was in a timed contest, and I only got to keep as many shells as I could cram into my hot-pink pail in the next ten minutes.
Stupid, I know, but so was trying to start fresh when I’d lost myself along the way. I’d gone from functioning as a devoted wife and competent receptionist to a berserk seashell-grabber. What was I going to do?
I had no friends.
I had no family.
I had no roots.
All I had was a yellowed piece of paper that said I was adopted. How the hell was I supposed to deal with that? My whole life was a lie.
My throat tightened. I sat down and allowed the shells and dry sand to drizzle through my curled fingers. How could I figure out who I was? My past was a jumble of secrets, my lonely future too dismal to contemplate.
I touched my gold heart-shaped locket, a treasured gift from Bernie on our first anniversary. Engraved inside were the words, “All my love forever.” Hollow words for a hollow life. I’m supposed to grieve and go on with my life, but the little kid in me wanted to stand up and shout, What happened to my Happily Ever After?
That sappy fairy tale sentiment wasn’t real. It was fiction, and I’d best realize that MaryBeth Cashour was a ghost of a person.
The offshore wind whipped my hair under my glasses. I flicked the tangled locks away from my eyes and stared out at the sea buoys on the watery horizon. Sea gulls lazily rode on currents of air above the cresting surf. I huffed out my disgust at their freewheeling lifestyle. Oh, to be so unencumbered. To let go and glide on the wind. If only I could be so free, so uninhibited.
After all the changes of late, I couldn’t fathom living like that. I needed to know what was coming next. I needed structure and anchors to keep me grounded.
The tides were regular. I’d learned that in a few short weeks. Natives of McLinn County, Georgia, set their watches by tidal fluxes. High water meant big waves, depth in the winding creeks, and delightful onshore breezes. Low water meant lots of beach sand, fish and crabs that could be caught moving with the tide, and offshore breezes. And nasty, biting flies.
I smacked one that was stupid enough to land on my ankle. Take that you bloodsucking varmint. I buried the insect carcass in the dry sand. My gaze drifted back to the hopeful blue sky above the cresting waves and noticed those sea gulls were still wheeling over the same part of the sea as before, just off the beach. That was unusual.
I caught sight of a dark shadow in the water. Something was out there beyond the breakers. Something big. Like a dolphin or a shark. Only it wasn’t swimming. It was drifting with the current.
Curiosity had me rising to my feet. I brushed the sand and crushed shells from my Bermuda shorts and cupped my hands around my glasses. The dark shape appeared to be quite long, maybe six feet long was my guess. And it was definitely cylindrical, like a log.
The object approached the shore. It bobbed in the surf, slowly rolling over, a dark back, a light underbelly. That’s when it hit me. My upside-down life wasn’t completely ruined. Things could be a lot worse.
I could be the dead guy floating in the ocean.
Review by Gemma Juliana:

   What a refreshing and delightful story. This book spoke to me on so many levels I hardly know where to begin.

   The author’s love of the ocean reeled me in. I was right there on the beach in the opening chapter, along with its shells, waves and tidal patterns. In the same way the tide rolls in and out, so too do the phases of our lives.

   What more perfect place for MaryBeth to reflect on her dysfunctional and broken life?

   MaryBeth Cashour’s theme of abandonment is evident in every aspect of her life. She is vulnerable and fragile when she arrives at Sandy Shores Island, deeply flawed with her self-confidence in the bucket. I want to be her friend, hug her and assure her everything will be fine.

   She’s honest to a fault, with herself and everyone else. She could lie, but won’t. Her innocence and honesty are endearing qualities.

   MaryBeth bought Christmas by the Sea – a craft-store – because it was her mom’s dream. She never had a dream of her own. The locals call her Mary Christmas… how endearing is that? As MaryBeth finds inner strength, she identifies with her store.

   The secondary characters are amazing. Daisy Pearl Washington just about needs her own book. This woman represents the cornucopia of plenty; the wise, loving goddess, always there for those she takes under her wing, like a lighthouse in a storm. Gabby the barber is a magical man. The kids in the craft class are hilarious.

   There is some deep wisdom on these pages, but not in a preachy way. A woman who obeyed her husband and always tried to please him must sink or swim (no pun intended) as she struggles to figure out who she is and where she fits. Each time the rug is pulled out from beneath her feet, MaryBeth explores her newfound independence.

   Some of my favorite lines…“My footprints were transitory, just like me.” And, “Oh, that I could drift through life again.” How many of us haven’t felt this way? When our carefree lifestyle shifts to one filled with challenges, we yearn for the times when ignorance was bliss.

   Russ Marchone is the hot hero, a guy who misses nothing. I like the way he plays out.

   The author’s ability to blend humor and necessity to conjure a vivid image in the reader’s mind is evident in such simple lines as, “I had a frozen dinner at home just begging to be nuked.”

   What a refreshing story this is. It reminds us that we can’t change our past but we are the authors of our future.

Available for purchase:

Author Bio:

Formerly an aquatic toxicologist contracted to the U.S. Army and currently a freelance reporter, Southern author Maggie Toussaint loves to blend murder and romance in her fiction. With ten published books to her credit, her latest release is Dime If I Know, which is book 3 in her Cleopatra Jones mystery series. Gone and Done It, the first in her new paranormal mystery series, will release May 2014. She’s an active member of Mystery Writers of America, Romance Writers of America, and Sisters In Crime. Visit her at

The author is offering (1) Kindle copy of DEATH, ISLAND STYLE to a lucky randomly drawn commenter.


  1. Sounds like a great read. I love mysteries.

  2. I love mysteries, and there's nothing like the hypnotic pull of waves crashing on the shore. Sounds like a win, win to me!

  3. Hi, Everyone. Thanks for coming to 25 days of Christmas stories. I hope you'll try my book and those of the other authors featured here. Hello to Cara and to Debra. You two are in the running for a copy of Death, Island Style. I'll announce the winner of the giveaway tomorrow morning.

    How's the weather where everyone is? I'm visiting in New Jersey today and there's snow on the ground. I don't get snow in southern Ga very often, so its a bit of a treat, even though it comes with cold temps.

  4. A thoughtful excerpt. Thanks for posting!

  5. You're missing open window weather & record highs in NE Florida. Glad to see an excerpt from a favorite author.

    Warm up those fingers & write another!

  6. Hello, Ashantay. Welcome to the blog post. You are entered in the drawing, as in Beth Irwin. Thanks for your support and encouragement, Beth.

  7. THis looks wonderful, Maggie! Can't wait to read it! and YUP, you're missing a gorgeous day in Florida, although I'll trade you since I miss the seasons up north. Well, for a week or so each winter. Write ON!

  8. I'm hooked. I live in Georgia and love the beach. I also love mysteries. Perfect book for me. Thank you for sharing your talent. I hope you have a safe and Merry Christmas.

  9. Maggie,
    I'm a huge fan of your stories!!!

  10. I've already read Death, Island Style and if you check my review on Amazon, you'll see I gave the
    book five stars. This is a fun mystery.

  11. Ooh, another seaside story. I love seaside stories. This is definitely joining my wish list!

  12. Hi Maggie,

    Your story sounds like an interesting read.

    No rolling ocean waves for me. Currently, here in freezing cold Wisconsin, the best I can do is stare out over the frozen bay or arctic waters of Lake Michigan:) The snow prediction for tomorrow is in the neighborhood of a foot or so.


  13. Hi Maggie,

    I'm a bit discombobulated today as I'm just now saying welcome to the Snarkology! :-)

  14. I'm delighted to have so many comments and friends stopping by. Hullo to Heather from Florida who is having nice weather. And a big sunny Georgia welcome to Mary Anne Edwards. Always nice to meet another Georgia peach. A big hug to longtime friends Diana Cosby, Jacqueline Seewald and Valerie Bowman. It means a lot to me that you stopped by the blog today. Hello to Stephanie Cage who loves seaside books - I hope all your Christmas wishes come true. And the same to Val Clarizio - nice to meet you, and wishing all the best for you.

    What fun! Loving the comments!

  15. I really loved this tease. I would love to read more of it!

  16. Hey cc7b7516 etc Make sure you leave your email addy hereabouts. That goes for the other folks who want to be included in the drawing.

  17. Love mysteries. Sounds like a good one! :) Happy Holidays!

  18. Oh! I really want to read this book! Anything to do with the ocean is a plus in my book.

  19. Maggie, I don't read a lot of mysteries--don't read much of anything anymore except for what I'm editing--but I always LOVE your stories and your characters! You have such a way of bringing them to "real" life and their problems become the reader's. I enjoyed your first person POV in this story! That's not always easy to carry off, but you did a great job of it.

  20. Wow! I feel like its Christmas with so many comments! Thanks for having me here, Melissa! You are truly the hostess with the mostest. Hello to Karen and thanks for your kind words. Hello to Selena Fulton, My FCRW buddy. I'm so glad we share a love of the ocean. And a big Oklahoma welcome to Cheryl Pierson. I don't know how you do everything you do. It boggles my mind that you could start up a publishing company, write, and continue your freelance job. I thank you for your kind words and your sharp editorial eyes. Your compliment about first person means a lot to me.

  21. I'll come back in the morning and select the winner of the Kindle ebook. In the meantime, it's still Dec 21 and comments are still open! Everyone has a chance to win!

  22. I love a good mystery and this sounds like a good one :)

  23. Sounds like the heroine is really in a pickle!

    Morgan Mandel

  24. Hello to Crystal Benedict, a fellow mystery lover. and hello to Morgan Mandel who sees the pickle MaryBeth is in. Nothing like finding a dead body from your hometown while on vacation to become a person of interest!

  25. Hey friends and fans! I've selected my winner for the Kindle version of Death, Island Style. My official winner is Stephanie Cage. Stephanie, if you would email me at maggietoussaint at darientel dot net, I will send you the free copy.

    And as a bonus for this post's commenters who checked back in hopes of a win, I will also gift 3 copies of the book to those who have already commented and wish to have a copy of the book - y'all write to me at the addy above, and I'll gift those additional copies.

    Melissa, I'm so happy to have been your guest. Thank you for hosting me here.

    Merry Christmas, everyone!

  26. Squee! I'm excited! Emailing you now...

  27. I love the opening. Can't wait to read this story. Anything with a beach setting draws me in! Great review, congrats.

  28. Hi Nancy,

    I'm thrilled that you stopped by. Thanks for your kind words.

    And Merry Christmas everyone!!!

    Love, Maggie Toussain

  29. I enjoyed this book, Maggie, as much as I've enjoyed your others. Good writing and use of humor never ceases to pull me in!