By Dawn Ius
After taking his exams for the New Jersey Bar back in 1929, Harry I. Heller set off on a hitchhiking cross-country adventure, journaling his escapades in a notebook that was published posthumously a few years ago by his daughter, bestselling cozy mystery and romance author, Nancy J. Cohen.
Thumbs Up was not only a thoughtful way for Cohen to help her father’s publishing dream come true, but also a tribute to what she says is his excellent writing. Cohen honors her father again with excerpts from another of his travel stories, which are peppered throughout the thirteenth book in her Bad Hair Day mystery series, FACIALS CAN BE FATAL.
“I always try to look for a historical angle for each of the books because I think that adds a lot of depth,” she says. “In this case, the journal was real—I pulled bits from my father’s 1935 trip to Florida with friends.”
Of course, the book also includes all of Cohen’s usual suspects—salon owner and amateur sleuth Marla Vail, her police detective husband Dalton, a full cast of characters with murderous means and motive, and enough twists and turns to earn you a well-deserved spot at the spa. (Though, Cohen suggests avoiding “body treatments that have nothing to do with herbal scrubs and hot rock massages…”)
In FACIALS CAN BE FATAL, the murder of a prominent member of the historic building preservation society has dire consequences for Marla and her stylists—particularly since the victim was found slathered in a green facial mask at Marla’s new salon. Now, not only is her chance to work behind the scenes at an upcoming gala show at risk, the bodies are piling up, and her quest to track down the suspects with her husband leads to a decades-old mystery that includes a journal, pirate tales, and shipwrecks along the Florida coast.
“I started with a title,” Cohen says. “And then had to develop the story. But each novel is a progression from a loose thread left on purpose in the previous book.”
That doesn’t mean readers can’t start with this thirteenth installment. In fact, Cohen purposely writes each novel as a standalone, so that anyone can jump in without worrying about what they may have missed.
“Readers can always go back and follow the personal threads for the characters,” she says, as well as pinpoint the creative spark for each of the previous novels.
In FACIALS CAN BE FATAL, Marla and her husband are fairly newly married, and the evolving dynamics of their relationship provide excellent opportunities for Cohen to keep the stories—and the character development—fresh.
“Marla and Dalton actually meet in the first book, and they each have their own internal conflicts,” she says. “It took them until book ten to get married. No marriage is perfect, but they work well together, so that’s a good thing.”
Marla’s contribution to solving each case is in fact one of the reasons the Bad Hair Day mysteries have such a tremendous following—her listening and conversational skills, often inherent with quality stylists, allow her to “interrogate” informants or possible suspects with a softer hand than her detective husband.
“When we’re being pampered, we often relax, and open up about things,” Cohen says. “Stylists are used to hearing all kinds of things. If they’re good, they’re also great listeners.”
Cohen isn’t a former stylist, but the authenticity of Marla’s character comes from not only her personal experience at a salon, but also her past career as a nurse—which shares some of the same “listening” and “nurturing” characteristics—and the research required before she sits down to write each story.
“I like to learn something new with each book,” she says.
For FACIALS CAN BE FATAL, some of that research taught her about the Global Hair Trade, as well as the prevalence of liquid latex, which is popular in the entertainment trade. Once the basic outline is crafted—the story synopsis, a list of suspects and their secrets, and a general ending—Cohen gets down the nitty-gritty of writing, churning out five pages of fresh work a day until the draft is complete.
While Cohen has focused all of her energy on the writing and marketing of this series, she has written numerous titles for a fantasy romance series, as well as a nonfiction title, Writing the Cozy Mystery.
Her next book, Hair Brained, will be out Fall 2017, and follows up on the loose thread left at the end of FACIALS CAN BE FATAL. No spoilers, but the story involves someone very close to Marla in an unexpected role.
Until then, be sure check out Cohen’s backlist for the full spectrum of Bad Hair Day mysteries.
Nancy J. Cohen writes the Bad Hair Day Mysteries featuring South Florida hairstylist Marla Vail. Titles in this series have made the IMBA bestseller list and been selected by Suspense Magazine as best cozy mystery. Nancy has also written the instructional guide, Writing the Cozy Mystery. A featured speaker at libraries, conferences, and community events, she is listed in Contemporary Authors, Poets & Writers, and Who’s Who in U.S. Writers, Editors, & Poets. When not busy writing, Nancy enjoys fine dining, cruising, visiting Disney World, and shopping.
To learn more about Nancy, please visit her website.