Painted to Death
Author: Sarah Vernon
Publication date: January 10th 2023
Genres: Adult, Cozy Mystery
Sam Green is an art student with some pretty creative habits when it comes to solving mysteries, in this new series from author and artist Sarah Vernon. It’s the coldest part of a Boston winter when her friend Catherine is found dead in the painting studios one evening. The police are quick to rule her death a suicide, but Sam knows that something doesn’t seem right. Despite the protests of her friends Rebecca and Stephanie (although — happily — with the help of her crush Arun), Sam starts to poke around the old art department building. Peering into the dark corners of studios and underneath piles of musty art supplies, Sam soon uncovers some surprising suspects and motives behind Catherine’s death, in an art department simmering with artistic jealousy, resentment, and more relationship drama than a daytime talk show could handle. The only question is, will Sam be able to find out who killed Catherine before that person finds Sam?
The bell above the door chimed as I pushed it open, stepping into a blast of overhead heat and the lingering smell of griddled breakfast sandwiches. Stephanie, the Phans’ daughter, looked over her shoulder, smiling when she saw it was me. I’d be lying if I said I came here just for the food, which was good and cheap but admittedly pretty standard deli fare. The truth was, whether I’d admit it openly or not, the Phans had become something of a surrogate family for me. I loved my own family, of course, don’t get me wrong; they were great, when I got to see them at Christmas and maybe once over the summer. But I had been paying my own way through school from day one, and always had to have at least one job, so I just didn’t make it home that much. Stephanie often worked the afternoons, and I’d gotten to know her pretty well over the past two years, especially since we were about the same age as each other. The first time she invited me over for dinner, I’d felt comfortable and comforted in a way I hadn’t since school started.
Now, I wandered back over to the counter after picking up a seltzer and a bag of shrimp-flavored chips, idly glancing down each aisle to see if Arun, Stephanie’s brother, was stocking shelves somewhere. Unfortunately, he was not. But that was okay, I told myself. I was here to talk murder, not flirt with the person I’d only had a crush on for two years.
I plonked my snacks down on the counter, Stephanie turning around to ring me up. She must have noticed my face, the grimace that had been in place since the detectives had called me out of class.
“Sammy, what’s wrong?” she asked, putting the purchases into a small bag. She was the only person who could get away with calling me Sammy. I chalked it up to the fact that she had simply never asked permission.
I sighed dramatically. Steph knew about Catherine and everything that had been going on, and of course she was sympathetic. But I had a feeling that her understanding might not extend to what amounted to meddling in a police investigation. Some people are just funny like that.
“The police came to talk to me today,” I started. That was good – a nice, understandable reason to be a bit upset. “They asked me pretty much the same questions they asked Benny.”
Steph nodded, having already been texted the full details from last night.
“They seem to think that it might have been an accident, or maybe even that Catherine killed herself on purpose.”
Steph’s eyebrows knitted together. She did not approve of indecision, apparently even when it came to the police. “Why is there still confusion about it? I would have thought they’d have answers from the lab or the doctor, or whoever it is that examines crime scenes, by now.”
I shrugged. “Well, they do know she died from an insulin injection. So, the real question is whether she intentionally gave herself the injection knowing it was too much, or whether she got mixed up and maybe meant to use glucose, so that the whole thing was an accident.” I paused, wondering if I should take out the sketches to show Steph. “They even showed me all these photos of her studio, the crime scene.” But then I imagined smoothing out a crumpled piece of paper on the counter in front of her, a mess of dashed lines and cross-hatched shadows, and I thought better of it.
“I’m sorry, Sammy,” she said. “That must have been really tough to have to look at.” She patted me on the hand, turning back to her work at the shelves behind the counter.
I think some people would have found Stephanie a bit harsh, maybe not soft enough, but I loved this about her. I would take her brief hand pat over Rebecca’s endless tutting any day.
I let the silence lie for a few moments, while I tried to decide if there was any way to delicately phrase my next question.
“Is it crazy of me to think that I should look into this more?”
“Yes,” she said without hesitation, not even bothering to look at me.
Thanks for that, Steph.
about the author
Sarah Vernon is an author and artist based in Massachusetts, where she writes the Triple-Decker Mystery Series.