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Authors: Diane Vallere

A Disguise to Die For

BOOK: A Disguise to Die For
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“Meet Margo Tamblyn, the newest, savviest, smartest heroine to join the cozy mystery world. Her style, creativity, and courage make
A Disguise to Die For
, the first in author Diane Vallere's wonderful new Costume Shop Mystery series, a must-read for sure! Weave in a quirky cast of characters, a fascinating setting, a fast-paced plot, and yummy recipes, and you have a thoroughly appealing whodunit that will keep you guessing all-night long.”

—Kate Carlisle,
New York Times
bestselling author

“Margo Tamblyn is in the business of creating new identities in costume—the perfect concept for a mystery series. Both madcap and moving,
A Disguise to Die For
has the right amount of humor, poignancy, and danger for a most irresistible whodunit. Highly recommended!”

—Naomi Hirahara, Edgar® Award–winning author of
Grave on Grand Avenue

“A fresh, funny voice, irresistible characters—and oh, the costumes! No disguising the fact that Diane Vallere's new cozy is a winner.”

—Lucy Burdette, national bestselling author of
Fatal Reservations


“Diane Vallere has stitched up an engaging new series with an intelligent, resourceful heroine in Polyester Monroe, plus a great supporting cast and a clever plot. Vallere's knowledge of the fashion business adds an extra layer of authenticity.”

—Sofie Kelly,
New York Times
bestselling author of the Magical Cats Mysteries

“Toile, taffeta, and trouble! There's a new material girl in town! Poly may have an eye for fashion, but she's also a resourceful and gutsy sleuth. Diane Vallere skillfully blends two mysteries in this smart and engaging tale that will keep you guessing to the very end.”

—Krista Davis,
New York Times
bestselling author of the Domestic Diva Mysteries

“Diane Vallere weaves a tapestry of finely knit characters, luxurious fabrics, and . . . murder.”

—Janet Bolin, national bestselling author of the Threadville Mysteries

“Diane Vallere has fashioned a terrific mystery, rich with detail and texture. Polyester Monroe is a sassy protagonist who will win your hearts with her seamless style and breezy wit. The first in the series promises readers hours of deftly woven whodunit enjoyment.”

—Daryl Wood Gerber, Agatha Award–winning author of the national bestselling Cookbook Nook Mysteries

Berkley Prime Crime titles by Diane Vallere

Material Witness Mysteries



Costume Shop Mysteries


An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014


A Berkley Prime Crime Book / published by arrangement with the author

Copyright © 2016 by Diane Vallere.

Excerpt from
Masking for Trouble
by Diane Vallere copyright © 2016 by Diane Vallere.

Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

BERKLEY® PRIME CRIME and the PRIME CRIME design are trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.

For more information, visit

eBook ISBN: 978-0-698-18342-1


Berkley Prime Crime mass-market edition / February 2016

Cover illustration by Mick McGinty.

Cover design by Sarah Oberrender.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

PUBLISHER'S NOTE: The recipes contained in this book are to be followed exactly as written. The publisher is not responsible for your specific health or allergy needs that may require medical supervision. The publisher is not responsible for any adverse reactions to the recipes contained in this book.


To Jessica Faust. You know what you did.


Many thanks to Yumiko Hoshiyama for the gracious use of her name and to Megumi Higa for being my consultant and helping me understand Japanese-American culture.

Thank you to Josh Hickman, who never questioned my desire to take a vacation in Primm, Nevada, and was adventurous enough to spend a few days wandering around small desert towns in search of a location for Proper City. Also for his help in the fine art of recipe writing, a talent in which I am sorely lacking.

My heartfelt appreciation to Gigi Pandian, whose firm grasp of deadlines helps me achieve my own.

I owe a lifetime of gratitude to Jennifer Schlegel, who reminds me that you can cherish your inner four-year-old self and still be an adult with a cause, and to Kendel Lynn, who inspires me to achieve something new every single day.

Thank you to my editor, Katherine Pelz, whose astute comments made the book even better than I'd hoped, and to my copyeditor Randie Lipkin, cover illustrator Mick McGinty, cover designer Sarah Oberrender, and the rest of the fabulous team at Berkley Prime Crime/Penguin Random House. I am lucky to have them in my corner.

This series would not exist if not for my agent, Jessica Faust. My teddy bear claims credit, but we both know the truth.

Chapter 1

knife,” demanded the cranky man in the wheelchair.

“I don't think so,” I said.

“I'm not playing, Margo. Give me the knife.”

“Why? I already told you I could do it. It's just going to take longer than I thought.”

“That's because you can't climb the ladder in those silly boots.”

“Why are you so worried about my go-go boots? You bought them for me. Besides, you're the one wearing two different shoes.”

My dad—the cranky man in the wheelchair—looked down at his feet. He wore one brown wing tip and one black.

“I pay that nurse too much to end up leaving the house wearing two different shoes,” he said. “And this stupid chair makes everything worse. If I can get up and down the stairs okay, then I don't need it.”

“You're in that chair because you're still weak. The doctors don't want you running all over the place and having a second heart attack. And the nurse didn't mismatch your shoes on purpose. Most of the nurses don't expect to have such colorful patients.”

He stuck his feet out in front of him and shook his head at the sight of the mismatched shoes. “I said brown wing tips. How hard is that?”

I was pretty sure my dad wasn't used to relying on a woman to dress him—nurses or otherwise. He'd been a widower since my mother died giving birth to me thirty-two years ago. While growing up, I'd notice the way women who came into the costume shop looked at him in his paisley ascots, tweed blazers, and dress pants. He was a catch, my father. And now that he was recovering from an unexpected heart attack, he was a cranky, stuck-in-his-ways catch that the nurses of Proper City Medical Care had the distinct pleasure of dressing, at least until I'd arrived. I wondered if the mismatched-shoe situation was payback for his attitude.

“You're going to have to let me help you. Got that?” I said, pointing an accusatory finger at his nose. He swatted it away.

“It's not right. I'm your father. I'm supposed to take care of you, not the other way around.”

“I'm a grown-up now.”

“You're too grown-up, if you ask me.” He glared at my outfit a second time.

“What? We have this exact same outfit in the '60s section of the store.” I pointed to the back corner of the shop, where a kaleidoscope mural in neon shades covered the walls.

The store in question was Disguise DeLimit, our family's costume shop. The store had been around far longer than I had, starting sometime in the '70s by a couple who had worked in the movie business in Hollywood. My dad had
started as a stock boy before he was old enough to work legally, and slowly graduated first to salesperson and then manager.

Eventually, the couple decided their time running the store was over. Turns out Dad had been saving for a rainy day and bought them out, inventory and all. Shortly after he became owner he met my mother and they fell in love. They married and planned to start a family and run the shop together. Two years later, the love of his life was gone and in her place was a newborn baby: me.

“Besides, you always said the fact that my outfits are inspired by costumes in our inventory was good for business. Remember?”

He grunted an answer and rolled back to the boxes.

The outfit that ruffled his feathers was a mod, zip-front minidress colorblocked in red, white, blue, and black. It ended midthigh, which left an expanse of skin between the bottom of the hem and the top of my white patent leather boots.

The summer before I moved out of Proper, I bought a box of patterns from the '60s at a yard sale and made myself this dress. The bandleader at the local high school stopped me one day and asked where I got it. They were planning a Beatles tribute concert and thought dresses like mine would be perfect for the choir. He came to the store and placed an order, and I spent the next two weeks knocking out dresses just like it. One by one the girls came in and bought up our inventory of white patent leather boots, plastic hoop earrings, and colorful fishnet stockings. I didn't always dress like a go-go dancer, but when I got the call from Nurse Number Three that my dad was trying to inventory the costume shop against her direction, there hadn't been time to change. So here I was in the white patent leather go-go boots he'd bought me before I moved to Las Vegas seven years ago—the perfect complement for my mod minidress but
not so practical for balancing on a ladder while your father glares at you—reaching for a rubber knife that someone had hung on the Western wall by the fake pistols and plastic holsters. Everybody knows you don't bring a knife to a gunfight.

I extended my reach the way I'd been taught in the ballet class I took last year and nudged the peg until the knife fell. It dropped—the peg, not the knife—and landed by my dad's brown shoe. The knife landed by his black one. I picked up both and set them on the counter.

“Dad, I don't get why this is so important. Inventory can wait until you're better.”

“We're heading into spring. Remember what that means? Outdoor birthday parties and the Sagebrush Festival. I have to know what props we already have stocked so I can start planning concepts.”

“You can't expect to carry on business as usual while you're recovering. It's too much.”

“That's right. I can't, but you can. You grew up here. You know as much about the costume business as I do.”

He was right. While other children were playing on backyard jungle gyms, I was playing in the store. My birthday presents had come from costume suppliers and my clothes had come from our inventory. By the time I'd turned sixteen, it was natural for me to work part-time hours after high school.

After graduation, I took the occasional night course but most of my time had been inside these four walls. I'd been responsible for painting the walls around the gangster clothes black with white chalk stripes and also the psychedelic flower-power mural by our '60s section. It was my dad who encouraged me to move away—he wanted to make sure I knew there was a whole world out there before I accepted Proper City as my home base—and kicked me out on my twenty-fifth birthday. I moved to Las Vegas—which was only
about forty miles from Proper but might as well have been the moon for how different it was—and experienced independence for the first time. It was far enough to feel as though I was on my own but close enough to come home for major holidays. I'd been in Vegas ever since.

“I can't stay indefinitely. You know that. I think you have to sit this season out.”

“Nobody's sitting anything out. You got that, sister?” asked a black woman from the doorway. She held a small, white bichon frise under one arm. His fur was brushed out in the same manner as her natural Afro.

I rushed forward and flung my arms around her. “Ebony!”

The small dog yipped from inside the hug. I backed away and patted his puffy head. “Hello to you too, Ivory,” I said.

The woman assessed me from head to toe. “Margo Tamblyn, as I live and breathe. You've grown into a fine young lady. I bet this old man wants to take the credit for that, doesn't he?” She winked at me.

“I think we all know you had a little something to do with it.”

Ebony Welles was a fifty-six-year-old woman who had lived in Proper City her whole life. College had been out of her financial reach after high school, so instead she started Shindig, her own party planning business, when she graduated. She'd expanded from birthdays to all of the major holidays and a few minor ones too. She wore her hair in a brushed-out Afro and dressed in a largely '70s vibe. She bragged that she could still fit into the clothes she owned in high school, and four out of five days a week she proved it. Considering my wardrobe came from bits and pieces from the costume shop, I didn't think it was all that strange.

Ebony had become a part of my life when I was five. She'd been hired to plan an anniversary party for the local
dachshund society. At a loss for inspiration, she'd headed out to clear her mind. My dad had recently redone the windows of Disguise DeLimit in a
Wizard of Oz
theme. Ebony thought it was brilliant. She reserved the six costumes he had on display and ordered flying-monkey costumes for all seventeen dogs. She asked me to help put the wings on the dachshunds and she even let me dress like a Munchkin. The pictures from the party had circulated far and wide, and I hadn't been the same since.

“How long do we have you for?” Ebony asked.

I cut my eyes to my dad before answering. “My boss gave me through the weekend.”

“Where are you working?” she asked, her eyes darting to my outfit.

I tugged at the hem of my skirt. “I'm a magician's assistant. I asked a friend to fill in for me while I came here.”

“I have an idea. Tell the magician you can't go back to work because we accidentally made you disappear.” She slapped my dad's knee and laughed so loud I suspected they could hear her in the pet shop across the street.

Ebony and my dad sometimes acted like they didn't get along, but deep down I knew they were close friends. My dad had never gotten over the death of my mother, and judging from how often people told me I looked like her, I knew the constant reminder must have been hard for him. He'd done the best he could, even if my school clothes had mostly come from Disguise DeLimit. Some days I dressed like a flapper, others, a cowgirl. My wardrobe was more costume than couture, a fashion quirk I attributed to his influence. By the time I started shopping for myself, I found the latest trends lacking a certain spark of individuality. To this day I accessorized with props from our inventory rather than jewelry or scarves from the local department store: a holster with cap guns when I went
Western, white patent leather go-go boots when I felt mod, a top hat and cane when I wore a tuxedo. Getting a job in Las Vegas had been a natural, because everybody in Vegas was in some kind of a costume.

My job history had been spotty at first: receptionist for a real estate agent, vintage clothing store clerk, concession stand clerk for a theater. The big money was as a showgirl, but the fact that I preferred to wear clothes at work kept me at a certain income level. Hey, a girl's gotta have standards.

Eventually I met a fledgling magician who wanted an assistant. I provided my own costume—a black, cutaway tuxedo jacket over a red-sequined bodysuit, fishnets, and pumps—and we hit the circuit. He paid me 20 percent of the take from the door, which paid for my half of the rent and bills. On a good night, I bought steak from the grocery store. On a bad night, I ate ramen noodles.

Ebony was the closest thing I had to a mother. She taught me about makeup, clothing, and men. When I headed off to Vegas for a job, I caught her crying. She said she had something in her eye and I pretended I believed her.

“Listen up, Jerry,” she said. “Margo came here because of you, so don't go getting better too fast. She and I have a lot of catching up to do.” She put her arm around me and turned me away from him. “How's your love life? Anybody on the horizon?”

“The quality of men in Vegas isn't what you'd think. How about you?”

“Honey, I like my life just the way it is. Can't imagine turning my world upside down for a man.”

“How'd you know I was here?” I asked.

“Elementary, my dear Watson,” she said in a poorly affected English accent. “I saw the white scooter out front and took a guess. We don't have many scooter riders around here.”

“She's lying!” my dad cried out. We both turned to him. He had pulled on a deerstalker hat and held a pipe in his hands. “She made no such deduction. I told her you were on your way.”

Not one to let the fun pass me by, I pulled a tweed cape from a circular rack and draped it over my shoulders. “So the evidence points to a conspiracy,” I said, brows furrowed. “Number one: information about my arrival was discussed behind my back. Number two: a suspicious white scooter is parked in front of the store. Number three: I smell sugar cookies, and you know they're my favorite. The mystery isn't how you knew, but what you plan to do about it.”

A slow clap filled the air. All three of us turned our heads toward the door. It had been propped open since Ebony arrived, and a young blond man now filled the entrance. He wore a short-sleeved green polo shirt, madras plaid shorts, and navy blue canvas deck shoes. His glowing tan set off blue eyes and white teeth. I got the feeling he spent a lot of time on a golf course or a boat—or both.

“Cheesy, but charming,” he said. “Not what I had in mind, though.” He entered the store and ran his hand over a rack of colorful feather boas that hung inside the entrance. When the orange boa fell through his fingertips, he turned his attention back to us.

My dad rolled his wheelchair out from behind the counter. “Hello, Blitz,” he said. “Octavius Roman says you rented out his facility space for your birthday party. You must be busy with all of the last-minute details. What brings you to Disguise DeLimit?”

BOOK: A Disguise to Die For
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