Marty, Mallie and Mayhem

by Philip K. Jason

MARTY AMBROSE'S KILLER KOOL is the latest addition to her ‘Mango Bay Mystery Series.’ Set on fictional Coral Island, which bears some resemblance to Lee County’s Pine Island, Killer Kool establishes the charms and foibles of Southwest Florida’s island communities. It’s not only a nice place to visit, but real people with jobs, friends, and problems actually live there. It’s also a natural arena for story-telling. Sure, you can get off the island, but by keeping the action set there Ambrose maintains the classic unity of place that gives the energy of compression to her narrative.

Mallie Monroe, a woman with a degree in Comparative Literature, is eking out a living as a reporter for the island’s weekly newspaper – the Observer. She is hovering between two beaus: local police detective Nick Billie and former boyfriend Cole Whitney. When her skinflint boss, Anita, gives Mallie the opportunity to become the paper’s restaurant critic, the assignment puts her in proximity to danger.

Two brothers who have been at odds for years die within just a few days. Carlos Santini, owner of a popular ice cream shop, dies under circumstances somewhat suspicious, and Mallie’s co-worker, Sandy, is assigned to write his obituary. If there is foul play, then Marco Santini – the estranged brother and owner of the Little Tuscany restaurant – might be a suspect. However, Marco himself dies soon after. In preparing to review Little Tuscany, Mallie gets closer to crime reporting, as Marco seems to have eaten tomato sauce laced with shellfish, to which he has a deadly allergy.

Who could have it in for Marco? Is it his restaurant rival and ex-wife Francesca? Is it his daughter, Beatrice, who considers Marco an obstacle to her desired relationship with Guido? Boyfriend Guido? Marco’s employee, Jimmy, in whose locker Mallie (in investigator mode) finds a bag with seafood shells?

Mallie, a self-confessed motor-mouth, gets in and out of the way of Nick Billie’s investigation many times. Even before the possible crimes are public knowledge, we meet Madame Geri, a psychic who proclaims that the plans for a marriage between her son Jimmy and Mallie’s friend Sandy are jeopardized because there is a killer on the island.

The cast of humorously eccentric characters, most notably Mallie herself, will keep readers smiling as the strands of the mystery are unraveled. Killer Kool is the best kind of beach reading: compact, light-hearted, and in touch with the buzz of small town life. Broken heaters, run-down vehicles, panaceas against aging (like island bee honey cream), and a superannuated – and unwanted – suitor for Mallie all add to the comedy-colored dilemmas adroitly fashioned by Marty Ambrose.

More About Marty

Born and raised in St. Louis, Marty Ambrose often vacationed on Fort Myers Beach during the summers. “Florida just made my hear sing from the time I was a kid,” she writes. “Fort Myers Beach was just incredibly beautiful then.” She earned a BA in English at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and an MPhil from York University in England. English Romanticism was her specialty.

After moving to Florida in 1982 (her parents retired there), she started teaching at what was then Edison Community College. “I felt at home from the first day in the classroom,” Ambrose admits. She’s now spent 28 years teaching American and British Literature, Creative Writing, and Composition. She claims that she remembers “every student’s writing style – it’s like a thumbprint.”

The Mango Bay series took root after Ambrose and her husband, Jim McLaughlin, moved to Pine Island. “There was something about the atmosphere that touched a creative thread in me for mystery.” An epiphany came over her in the Mallie Montgomery Boutique dressing room (since closed): “the entire series came to me in a rush, and I had to sit on the floor and start writing.” After writing the first three books in the series, she met literary agent Roberta Brown at a conference, and they developed a productive relationship: “When I write a book, I always know Roberta is going to be in my corner, promoting my work.”

Marty Ambrose’s writing process goes like this: “I generally have the idea of the entire book in my head, and I outline the plot and characters (plot is very important in mystery writing). Then, I write the first 100 pages and see what happens. Sometimes characters come into the book that I don’t anticipate or the plot goes in another direction… and I leave myself room for that kind of creative energy. In my second book, Island Intrigue, Madame Geri – the island’s freelance psychic – came into the book and took on a larger role than I thought. And at the end of Killer Kool, something happened that I didn’t anticipate until I wrote the words. I like it when my own book surprises me. I share my first 100 pages with my editing partner and longtime friend, Tina Wainscott, who writes for Avon; and I share with my mother who is an avid reader of everything. They are both wonderful. Then, I revise the book in thirds probably 5-6 more times. Truly, there is no good writing, only good revision.”

Here are some of Marty Ambrose’s tips for writers:

• Write every week (maybe not every day). And while waiting for the longer works to be published, try to publish shorter works.

• Write about what you love, but figure out where it could be marketed. Having a clear sense of how an editor can pitch your book to his or her publisher is helpful.

• Remember that publishing is a business.

• Write the type of book that you will continue to write. Publishers want to ‘brand’ you and readers want consistency from book to book.

• Never give up. •

March-April 2012

“Sometimes characters come
into the book that I don’t
anticipate or the plot goes
in another direction and
I leave myself room for that
kind of creative energy.”
The cast of eccentric characters
will keep readers smiling
as the strands of the
mystery are unraveled