BY: BENNI CHISHOLM
Everyone’s favorite amateur sleuth, Philomela Nightingale, visits her sister in the town of Saltaire. While coping with a thieving museum volunteer and a charlatan psychic, the two women become involved with an identity theft, a hit-and-run car accident, and a murder. The search for clues is overshadowed by a ladies fashion-show and a compulsive shopper and, this time, Philomela’s powers of observation and intuition might not be strong enough for her to help the police solve these three serious puzzles.
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Showman or Shaman by Benni Chisholm, Philomela Nightingale goes to Saltaire, Canada, to visit her sister, where she ends up involved in museum theft, identity theft, and murder. As she begins to investigate, Philomela soon discovers that things are not as they seem, and the most likely suspects appear to have solid alibis. Who can she trust, when everyone is a suspect and some people are not who she thinks they are?
Chisholm tells a charming tale, filled with delightful characters and intriguing mysteries. Just when you think you have it figured out, she surprises you—again.
REGAN MURPHY: Showman or Shaman by Benni Chisholm is the story of Philomela Nightingale, a magazine publisher from Calgary and an amateur sleuth. She gets a call for help from her sister Procne and flies to Saltaire to help Procne solve the mystery of some thefts at the museum where she volunteers part time. But when Philomela gets there, she discovers there is a lot more going on than simple museum theft. Procne’s neighbor is supposedly a shaman, but Philomela has her doubts. Something just isn’t right. Then the owner of the boutique dress shop where Procne works is murdered. And both Philomela and Procne are suspects, along with almost everyone else in town. It will take all of Philomela’s sleuthing skills and ingenuity to get them out of this one.
The story is cute, clever, and intriguing, the plot strong and the characters endearing. A delightful sequel to Chisholm’s Odd Odyssey.
Something was amiss! Philomela Nightingale dropped her hands on her lap and reread the disturbing email.
The weatherman said you had a big snowstorm. I hate to brag, but we have green grass, yellow crocuses, and purple heather.
My part-time job at Whimsical Woman is good. I just bought a smashing new outfit.
The Historical Museum is not so good. I suspect a male volunteer of theft and don’t know what to do about it. Selene, my psychic neighbor, might help, but she’s a bit airy-fairy.
Your input would be better. Could you possibly come to Saltaire for a visit?
Philomela was astounded. Her kid sister was asking for advice, something she never did. The kleptomaniac volunteer must really trouble her. A niggling thought made Philomela wonder if the request had something to do with Procne’s psychic neighbor. Like the proverbial curious cat, Philomela placed her right hand on the mouse and googled, “Selene.” Up came six items about the mythical Greek moon goddess and one item about a modern-day shaman. Philomela clicked the latter. A webpage with a violet surround appeared and a photo of a woman with wispy blonde hair and gentle gray eyes gazed out at her. Adjacent to the photo, a blurb praised Selene’s sensitive, intuitive nature. At the bottom of the page, a blue link offered free advice.
Philomela knew free advice was worth exactly what it cost, but she clicked the link anyway.
Good grief. Free advice would be hers after she filled out the included form and honored the Celestial Beings with a gift of $49.00.
What a rip-off. Should she do it?
Yes, for the sake of her sister, she should.
On the form she typed Rae–her seldom used second name, Nightingale–her always used last name, and 7 July, 1960–her birth date. She clicked PayPal to cover the $49.00 then pressed submit. A minute later a violet printed message popped up on the monitor.
Westerners suffer from guilt feelings due to lessons learned about Adam and Eve’s banishment from the Garden of Eden. These negative feelings rest deep in the subconscious. They cause subtle and not-so-subtle problems. With help from the Celestial Beings, I will be happy to eradicate all your bad feelings.
Like the proverbial cat, Philomela’s curiosity was satisfied. There was no question about her sister’s neighbor–Selene was a money-grubbing charlatan. Procne lived beside a fraudulent psychic and worked with a thieving volunteer. No wonder her kid sister needed help. Philomela flexed her fingers, clicked the reply icon, and tapped the keyboard.
Our new snow sparkles like diamonds. Brent is as excited as a kid with a new toy because he and his friend John leave early Saturday morning for a week of heliskiing.
The February issue of The Integrator is almost ready for publication. If my esteemed employee will take charge for a week, I hope to fly to Saltaire on Saturday afternoon.
She hit the send icon and the email disappeared in cyberspace. Five minutes later she received a reply.
Send your flight information and I’ll meet you at the airport.
Saturday 4 p.m., Mountain Standard Time:
Philomela sat in the 737-600 and thought of the reasons for her flight–a thieving volunteer and a money-grubbing shaman. She worried about Procne working with one and living beside the other. Fortunately, her sister was aware of the thief. But did she know about her neighbor’s less-than-honest internet activities? Philomela suspected the two people were just weirdly wired. She hoped they were not involved with more dangerous activities. It was a dilemma.
Brushing a few cookie crumbs from her green pantsuit, she hoped the scattered debris would not cause extra work for the airplane’s cleaning crew. She glanced up at the ceiling and felt her usual amazement–how could a large tin can with air vents, reading lights, windows, wings, and engines, fly so high in the sky? Even more amazing were the human beings who willingly sat inside and expected to come out alive at an airport thousands of miles from where they started.
And here she was–one of those amazing human beings.
Her eyes shifted from the ceiling to the oval window at her side. Gazing down at the sparkling peaks of the Rocky Mountains, she thought of Brent who would soon be heliskiing in powdery snow. She peered past the tree line down to dim valleys sprayed in dark green and draped in white. In a few months, the wintry scene would be replaced by the sights and sounds of spring–deciduous leaves, alpine flowers, green grass, singing birds. It would be a re-enactment of the Greek myth where Persephone departs from her husband, Hades, for an annual six month visit with her loving mother, Demetrius.
Those mythological Greek gods and goddesses knew very little of the great white north’s weather conditions. They didn’t have to cope with the drama of four seasons–spring’s cheery brightness, summer’s blazing heat, autumn’s peaceful calm, winter’s freezing cold. Nor did they have to contend with taxes and death. Being immortal, they probably paid no attention to the one constant of life–change.
Her own life had seen many changes. During the past decade most of her changes originated with Brent Lark, her type-A personality husband. Thanks to his desire to fly in a helicopter to a mountaintop and risk life and limb skiing down avalanche-prone snow, she now flew guilt-free to Saltaire. She hoped he would complete his adventure by coming home alive and intact. Looking around the fragile plane, she hoped she would, too.
Brent’s many attempts to persuade her to heliski with him had been easy to resist. Normally, she happily kept pace with him, but expending excessive energy flailing down steep powdery snow was not on her radar screen. More importantly, The Integrator, her eclectic magazine, hit the newsstands and mailboxes every two months, and it needed lots of work before the February issue could be published. When Brent’s friend, John, agreed to go with him, her qualms about declining the heliski invitation dissipated.
Philomela’s memory cells moved to Procne’s email. Was it coincidence or serendipity that Janice, Philomela’s reliable full-time employee, had completed an article about a shaman two days before Procne’s email arrived? Philomela didn’t know, but she did know Janice’s article brought her up to date on modern-day psychics. She also knew that her late nights of work had whipped the magazine into good shape. If necessary, Janice could add a few final touches and make The Integrator ready for distribution by the first of the month.
The magazine, though not a fortune-maker, covered its expenses. It also kept Philomela in stylish shoes. What more could she ask? She enjoyed her work, practiced a healthy lifestyle, and loved her energetic husband. Life was good.
Thoughts of her happy marriage abruptly contrasted with those of her sister’s troubled one. For nineteen years that disastrous relationship had been held together by Procne’s positive attitude. Over the years Larry’s verbal and physical abuse increased. Finally, much to Philomela’s relief, her sister declared, “Enough.”
Philomela was proud of her sister. After the divorce, Procne distanced herself from the philandering bully by moving from the bustling city of Vancouver to the sleepy town of Saltaire. Their two children now lived in university residence in the big city and on special occasions took the ferry to visit their mother.
With only a high school education and no real experience in the work-a-day-world, Procne used her positive attitude to start a new lifestyle. She settled into the Saltaire townhouse, volunteered at the local historical museum, and then, with newly acquired experience and increasing self-confidence, applied for a part-time job in a lady’s dress shop. The only person surprised when the owner hired her was Procne.
Philomela was not surprised at all. Her sister’s positive attitude, willingness to work, and innate flair for fashion was obvious to everyone who met her. Philomela suspected these qualities would lead Procne to bigger and better things. Doubtless, she soon would become a full time employee in the dress shop.
Gazing down at the snowy mountains, Philomela thought of last Christmas. Was it just four weeks ago that she and Brent had entertained Procne and her two children in their Calgary home nestled above The Integrator office? The get-together had been so jolly that Procne suggested they meet again in June in Saltaire. That timeframe was now fast-forwarding six months early. But this get-together would consist only of the two sisters.
Philomela recalled explaining to Brent why she wanted to fly to Saltaire. They were eating lunch in their kitchen above the magazine’s office. He listened to her and continued to eat her homemade soup. When she finished talking, he held his soupspoon in mid-air and nodded his head. He understood the sisters’ relationship very well. “Philomela, that’s the right thing to do. Right now your kid sister needs your encouragement and practical good sense.” He dipped his spoon in the soup bowl, slipped it into his mouth, and savored the thick, warm liquid. “Is this Garbage-Soup?” he asked.
“Of course not.” Feigning indignation, she vigorously shook her head, swishing her red hair back and forth. “This is Kitchen-Sink Soup.”
“Ah, yes. Everything’s in it except the kitchen sink. I think it’s also known as Weekly-Clean-the-Fridge-Soup.”
She burst out laughing. “You’re getting too smart for your own good.”
He finished his lunch, leaned back in his chair, and looked pensive. “Soon you and Procne will laze on a sunny beach and John and I will swoosh down a snowy mountain.”
“You and John may swoosh down a snowy mountain, but Procne and I will not laze on a sunny beach. Not on Vancouver Island at the end of January.”
Brent’s guffaw was as usual–contagious.
The airplane started its descent and Philomela’s thoughts shifted from past to present. Gazing out the window, she watched snowy mountains give way to the Fraser River’s muddy estuary. She admired sky scrapers of the coastal city whose eponym originated with Captain Vancouver. Seeing boats on the dark blue Georgia Strait, she checked her seatbelt in readiness to land on Canada’s large westerly island. The island had been named after the same intrepid English sailor as the city.
She looked forward to seeing Procne. She even looked forward to helping unravel her weird problems. Once everything was solved, the two of them would enjoy a few days of peace, quiet, and laughter.
© 2017 by Benni Chisholm