The Val & Kit Mystery Series

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Christmas Letter

“I want you to proofread something,” Kit said, as soon as she opened her front door. She looked excited.

“Me? Oh. Okay,” I replied, once I was inside her foyer and bending over to remove my fake UGGs that appeared to have sprung a leak. “I can do that . . . wait . . . what?”

But Kit had already grabbed my arm and was yanking me toward her husband’s den. “You’re going to love it,” she squealed, as we hurried down the hallway.

“Huh! Did you say proofread? What do you mean proofread?  What is it?”

“It’s exciting, Valley Girl.”

I purposely slowed down. When Kit assures me I will love something, there are many possibilities, but almost always, “loving” is not one of them. 

“Here it is.” She plunked me down at the desk in front of the computer and hit the space bar. A document appeared, the title beckoning me from the top of the screen.

Kit and Larry James’s Christmas Letter

I read the words slowly and turned to face her. “Is this a joke?”

She looked offended, pulled a chair forward, and sat close to me. “Of course it’s not a joke. It’s a real Christmas letter.”

“I see that. I can read. But . . . why?”

“Why what? People love getting these things.”

“Yes, of course people do, but you’re not one of them—”

“That’s not true at all.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading Mandy Hollander’s letter last year—”

“Her name is Tandy, and she sent it from prison, where she’s spending time for grand larceny.”

“Right. Who knew there was so much going on in prison? But I read it. I treasured it—”

“You used the back of it to write a grocery list.”

“Val, are you going to help me or not?  I’m asking a simple favor. Just read the damn thing and see if I’ve made any grammatical errors.”

I sighed deeply and again began to read slowly.

Dear family and friends,
The year began with a big bang. Larry won some golf tournament in Arizona.

“Okay, wait,” I said. “Couldn’t you at least name the actual tournament?”

“Is that important?”

“I think it would be nice.”

“Okay, okay. I’ll find out. Continue reading.”

I sighed again. “Okay, let’s see what other gems followed the big bang.”

Our son, Sam, took a hotshot job in Houston, where he’s making buckets of money.

“Let’s stop right there. Buckets of money: really? It sounds crass, and why do you even have to mention his salary at all? Isn’t Sam involved in the Houston rodeo—?”

“He’s on a planning committee, not roping calves.”

“It sounds interesting. You should mention that.”

“A rodeo is more interesting than investment banking? Move on, Valerie; get to the good stuff.”

I assumed the good stuff was going to be about her, and I wasn’t wrong.

Earlier in the year I took a course at Le Cordon Bleu to gain a diploma in the culinary arts. It was a thrilling experience—”

“Wait.” I turned to face her. “Didn’t you quit before the course ended?”

“Kind of. Their so-called chef couldn’t boil water—”

“So you never actually got a diploma?”

“I suppose you could say that, but I did get a letter from them.”

“Saying what?”

“They thanked me for my contribution to the class.”

“So that would be a no. No diploma.”

“If you want to look at it that way—”

“Never mind. I’ll keep reading.”

In April the Women’s League of Chicago asked me to be the keynote speaker at their annual fund-raising League of Faith.

“Okay, are you just making stuff up?  Because I certainly don’t remember any keynote speaking.”

“No, I didn’t actually attend. You know I hate that kind of pompous stuff.” (I didn’t know that at all.) “But the point is, they asked me. And I did send them a big fat check.”

I sat back in my chair. “Kit, I think you’re missing the whole point of a Christmas letter. You’re supposed to say what you did, not what you nearly did, or what you agreed to do and then changed your mind about. And you certainly shouldn’t brag about diplomas you didn’t stick around long enough to receive.”

“Geez, you are so picky. So what should I write? Surely something of interest actually happened this year.”

Another sigh from me. “Are you freakin’ kidding me? Does Palm Desert Killing ring any bells?”

She leaned back in her seat. “Do ya think? Does it sound believable?”

Hello, Kitty Kat; it happened. It’s the truth. Who’s not gonna believe it?”

“How should I start?”

“At the very beginning. How you received that weird letter from your sister. How we flew out to California—need I go on?”

“Maybe you’re right.”  She sounded reluctant and needed convincing.

“Maybe we could get two smart women to write a book?” I offered. Then we both laughed. 

“Naaah.”



Whether you send out a Christmas letter or not, we love hearing from our readers. And please consider this our letter to thank each and every one of you for your support throughout the year. Merry Christmas to you and your families. We wish you happy and safe Holidays.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Val & Kit’s Thanksgiving 2001

“Mother, please don’t force me to sit next to Sam.” I stopped peeling potatoes and turned toward my eleven-year-old daughter standing in the kitchen doorway. She was wearing a T-shirt displaying the heads of *NSYNC band members, although only Justin Timberlake was clearly visible beneath her puffy purple vest.

“I could do with some help here, Em,” I said, returning to my spuds and ignoring her request. “And you are planning to change clothes, I hope? Wear the dress Grandma bought you.”

“Did you hear me, Mom? Because I’ll just die if I have to sit next to him.”

I smiled as I skinned a potato in a long single twist of the knife. “Well, I don’t think you will physically die, Emily. And what’s wrong with Sam, anyway?”  He was the fourteen-year-old son of my best friends, and as far as I knew was a nice boy. But who trusted teenage boys?

Emily was fully into the kitchen now and picked up a knife. “We have nothing in common.”

“Mmm.” I attacked another potato. “I find that hard to believe. You’ve known him your whole life. What does he like to do?”

“Dumb stuff. And when’s Dad getting here?”

I stopped peeling. “He is stuck in Denver. They had a big snowfall, and all flights are grounded.”

“Oh, poor Daddy,” Emily said. “He misses out on everything.”

“Yes,” I replied noncommittally, gratefully distracted when Kit James and her husband, Larry, arrived with their son Sam in tow. “That better not be a turkey,” I said to Kit, taking a turkey-shaped platter covered in tinfoil from her hands.

“Don’t have a fit, Val. I just thought you should have a backup. I’m sure yours will be perfect, and we’ll just toss this old thing in the garbage if no one eats it.”

I put her bird on the island, but Kit was now inspecting the green bean casserole that was waiting its turn for the oven. “Mmm,” she said, examining the glass dish. “I don’t see any water chestnuts.”

“Because there aren’t any.”

“What about fresh mushrooms? You did slice up fresh mushrooms, right?”

They were a favorite of my husband, David. “No, Emily and I don’t like them.”

“Don’t tell me you used those god-awful fried onion things that pop out of a can like a snake.”

“Well, of course I did. That’s what makes the dish.”

“No, dear, that’s what ruins the dish. You should always have some homemade croutons on hand—much better for crunch. Larry, run back home and get some; they’re in the fridge—”

“Don’t you dare, Larry,” I said.

“Not a chance.” He grinned. “So, where is David?”

I turned back to the stove to avoid their faces. “David is stuck in Denver. Weather related.”

“Weather related, my ass,” Kit muttered as she began stirring the gravy. “You do know there are lumps in this, don’t you? Larry, why don’t you and the kids go watch the parade.”

Before following his wife’s request, Larry gave me a kiss on the cheek. “Your casserole looks terrific,” he said. “Don’t listen to Kit. She thinks she’s the only one who can cook.”

“So . . . ,” Kit began as soon as we were alone. “David’s stuck in Dallas—”

“Denver—”

“Wherever. Are you upset?”

“Why should I be upset?” I added salt to the potatoes.

“Ya know, I offered to cook Thanksgiving dinner at my house. I don’t see why we had to—”

I spun around to face her. “Because this is our home. And because Emily was in a play last night . . . “The King and I” . . . she played Princess Ling or something, and she was wonderful—”

“Yes, yes, I know. We were there—”

“Well, maybe you can tell her father next time you see him how his amazing daughter beat out a fourteen-year-old for the part.” I was aware of the strain caused by holding back tears.

“Don’t worry; I will. Did you record it at least?” she asked. “Ya know, for Asshole to see.”

“Yes, but not for him; I’ll tell him I forgot. He’ll believe that because he thinks I’m so stupid.” I dabbed at my eyes some more. “I don’t want Emily to see me upset.”

“Why not? Maybe she needs to know what a son of a bitch her father is.”

“No, no. She’s too young for that. Will you keep an eye on dinner while I fix my face?” My watery eyes were beginning to undo the makeup I’d put on that morning.

“Of course. But I know whose face I’d like to fix.”

Kit managed to save the dismal dinner. She spiced up the canned yams with a little nutmeg and curry and added some cherry brandy to the cranberries. (Who knew I had these items in my kitchen?) And without saying a word, she discreetly replaced my dried-out turkey with hers, all juicy and golden brown. So much better.

When we sat down to eat, my father said the blessing, including those people who lost their lives in the World Trade Center. Then my brother told us a funny story about his new hunting dog. Emily, who’d changed into an empire-waist minidress and clunky knee-high boots, had grabbed the chair next to Sam and appeared captivated by his word-for-word account of the movie Lord of the Rings, which he’d just seen. My Aunt Delia claimed she was still so upset over terror bombings that she could barely eat and offered proof by foregoing a third slice of pumpkin pie. And my mother remarked that the green bean dish was a little soggy. Needs more crunch, Valerie.

Later, when the table had been cleared and Aunt Delia was in the kitchen pulling the remaining white meat off the turkey carcass, David called to say it looked like he’d be able to get a flight home on Saturday. I didn’t call Emily to the phone since she looked happy watching Friends with Sam in the living room. I was standing by the patio doors in the kitchen, sipping a cup of coffee, when Kit joined me.

“Great meal,” she said, putting an arm around my shoulders.

“Thanks to you.” I smiled. “I’m glad you came.”

“Me too.” She smiled back, as we watched Aunt Delia take the last slice of pie.

“No point letting it go to waste,” she said, catching our glances, the loaded fork headed to her mouth.

“Go for it; it’s Thanksgiving.” Kit laughed.

And here’s wishing all our readers a very Happy Thanksgiving. We hope your table is surrounded by the people you love. And crunch should be optional.


Thursday, October 1, 2015

What’s in a Name?

As Shakespeare wrote in Romeo and Juliet, “That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.”

But is that really true? What if the rose was actually a slice of Limburger cheese, or a hunk of lutefisk? Even the sound is smelly.

We think names are important. But since we write as a team, with little or no outline, names of new characters are totally at the discretion of whoever has the manuscript in her hands and is charged with writing the next chapter. (We are also at liberty to send our established characters in any direction, introduce new ones, or get rid of those who are just plain annoying or, worse, have sinister intentions. Regardless of their names.)

Names come on the spur of the moment, but we try to keep character names different from those of people we actually know. There are exceptions. Detective Culotta, for example, was totally stolen from a friend who lives in Chicago. We both loved the name Culotta, and it sums up the “yummy detective,” as one of our reviewers kindly described him. Detective Pufpaff or Squatpump (although there is nothing wrong with either of those names) wouldn't play well for the police guy we have living in our heads.

Sometimes names have to be changed on the fly as we continue the writing process. Perhaps a fictional Svetlana introduced early on (because the lady who served us at Chico’s was so helpful and had a badge displaying that name) turns out to be a stinker later in the book (and besides, we just remembered we have a dear friend called Svetlana), and the connotation of stinker will not sit well. So Svetlana becomes Sabrina.

Long-standing characters, those we want to keep, and those who serve a purpose to the story will hopefully keep their given names throughout the narrative. But mistakes can easily happen. For example, a name can be introduced with a clear vision of what that character is like. But it can reinvent itself for no apparent reason as the book progresses. An Ellen might start out innocently enough, then become Helen, and before you know it, she’s now running around Downers Grove going by the name Helena. (We’re not admitting, of course, that this ever happens to us.)

If we’ve offended any of our friends or would-be friends by stealing their names in a not-so-nice way, we apologize. It was definitely unintentional, and well try harder in future novels.

We are currently working on the next book in The Val & Kit Mystery Series, happy that our latest one, Palm Desert Killing, has left home, so to speak. It hasn’t quite made it to high school, or even junior high, but you could say it’s zooming through grade school.

Thank you to all our wonderful readers who have bought it. We love ALL your names.

Rosalind (right) and Patriciaor Roz and Patty:
By any name, at any age, BFFs and writing partners.




Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Top Ten Reasons to Read PALM DESERT KILLING (With Excerpts)

10. It’s set in California, Palm Desert to be exact.  If you’ve been there, you know what we mean; if you haven’t, you'll want to go.

This likely was not only the most beautiful garden in Los Angeles, but also the most beautiful spot, period. Which in the land of mountains, palm trees, and the Pacific Ocean, was saying something.

9. To see Val pick up where she left off with Detective Dennis Culotta.

I relived the whole scene yet again, a little ashamed of the tingle of excitement it gave me, considering the nasty circumstances.

8. To meet Kit’s sister, Nora.

Once the brilliant Nora Juckett removed her first mortarboard and was safely out of the state, the sisters assumed opposite lives.

7. To see how the California police stack up to the dishy detective from Illinois.

Standing guard outside was a man in blue, Palm Desert–style. (His Hawaiian shirt was fuchsia laced with large white tropical flowers, but his shoulder holster and gold badge proved he was a cop and not a hotel guest.)

6. To meet Kit’s mother.

“Beverly probably had one too many last night and just realized her daughter is seeing someone older than her.”

5. To join Val and Kit in their latest caper, as they unravel mystery upon mystery.

“The question is not just who he is, but where he is.”

4. To see what your luggage—and what you paid for it—says about you.

My brand-new neon-pink nylon suitcase rolled down the carousel upside down with a big black mark that looked suspiciously like a man’s footprint stamped on one side. It was followed by Kit’s two perfect Gucci bags in a classic gray-and-black tweed edged in leather. Somehow they stood upright and looked as if they were still on a showroom floor.

3. To learn trivia about Blue Man Group.

Two of the three founders struck up their friendship in junior high.

2. To learn whassup now with Val’s daughter, Emily.

“I—I mean we—have something to tell you, Mom. I’m so glad you called, although I really wish we could do it in person—”
“Well, you’re in luck then. You’ll never guess where I am.”

1. To learn the location of the next Val & Kit mystery. Find out what could possibly top California, Palm Desert to be exact.

“Kit and I are going there.”


Monday, August 3, 2015

From the Desk of Valerie Pankowski . . .

I’m back home. Downers Grove. Good ol’ Illinois. Tiny but adorable apartment. Stack of unpaid bills; cable not working; something smells strange in the fridge. No problem. Home.

And if you’re wondering where I’ve been, well . . . California! And yes, this is also my sneaky way of introducing the latest in The Val & Kit Mystery Series: Palm Desert Killing.

The setting is gorgeous, the police are gorgeous, even the wildlife is gorgeous—it’s California, after all. The characters are interesting (did I mention it’s California?). But the danger is real; and while it might never rain in Palm Desert, there’s at least one sandstorm and a lot of people stirred up. Oh, and I’m happy to report that Starbucks is just as good on the West Coast as it is here in Illinois.

So, back to the book. Following are a few excerpts from some of the topics covered:

DRESS SENSE
Kit’s
·       She had removed a lightweight evening coat, revealing a black silk dress with half of the back missing. It was the kind our mothers used to call a cocktail dress, although I don’t think they do anymore.
·       Kit was wearing white silk tailored pajamas and a black satin sleep mask embroidered with the words Fly Me to the Moon.
Mine
·         I quickly changed into my Chicago Cubs T-shirt I used as a nightgown and crawled into bed beside her.

OUTDOORSY STUFF
I sat down on a big rock next to a jumping cholla cactus that held a tiny nest and hummingbird eggs the size of Jelly Bellies. I pointed to the natural wonder with my own kind of wonder.
“Cute,” Kit said. “Although I could go for a real Jelly Belly about now.”

COOKING (Kit, not me)
“Oh, for crying out loud, just pass the salad.” Kit placed her large dish in the center of the table and made a show of removing the lid. A delicious aroma filled the room. “Beef stroganoff,” she announced, picking up a ladle from the sideboard.
“Smells delicious,” I said.
“Actually, stroganoff originated in Russia, not Hungary as some people think,” Nora added.
Larry rose from his seat. He removed the utensil from his wife’s hand and placed it in the stroganoff. “I don’t care if it came from a soup kitchen on the South Side. It looks and smells delicious. Let’s eat.”

ANIMAL LOVERS
“Someone was following me at the hotel. So I came here to The Living Desert, and now they’ve closed. I’ve been hiding behind a bush near the giraffes. They’re so elegant—”

BOOK LOVERS (yeah, you)
Val and Kit, and Roz and Patty, say a HUGE THANKS to all our readers, supporters (you know who you are), and the genius who invented Skype; we couldn’t have done it without you. Love you all!

Palm Desert Killing  Release Date August 25. Pre-order now for guaranteed lowest price!


Sunday, July 5, 2015

Roz Advises: Don’t Try This If You Share a Bedroom with Your Little Sis



When we were growing up, I shared a bedroom with my little sister, Jill. Every night, as the bedtime hour approached, I began lobbying my mother for permission to stay up at least thirty minutes longer than Jill (thirty was an arbitrary number that seemed to encompass the rest of the evening and might get me through till morning). The main thrust of my argument emphasized that Jill was only three, but at six I was much more equipped to handle the night life. However, my genius mother out-negotiated me every time with her devious plan. She suggested that we should go to bed at the same time, but then, as soon as Jill fell asleep, I was free to get up and join the wild nightlife that I was so sure my parents were relishing while watching the nine o’clock news in the living room.

It was too late when I figured out this plan had holes in it. For me—not my mother. I usually fell asleep before my sister, or we both dropped off around the same time. When I woke the next morning, I was once again a victim of my mother’s evil plot. And Jill was left wondering how many times I was going to fall for it. Yep, my little sister was, and still is, smarter than me.

We’re all grown-up now. But that’s the thing about good sisters: mine is still always there for me and ready to explain what I don’t get. She’s my tower of strength, my totally biased supporter, my hero. Plus, she’s the soundest sleeper I know. She hits the mattress like a statue and wakes up eight hours later fully refreshed. I, on the other hand, grab as much shut-eye as I can between old episodes of Columbo and Murder, She Wrote. And it’s not much.

In our soon-to-be-released Palm Desert Killing, the latest in The Val and Kit Mystery Series, we introduce Nora, Kit’s sister. Nora has no problem sleeping, despite the alarming circumstances surrounding her life. But like me, Kit loves her sister, and there’s nothing she won’t do to help her out.

Jill and her husband, Alan, looking well rested.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

We Come As We Are

How can we coauthor The Val and Kit Mystery Series and other novels when we live 1300 miles apart, you ask? (At least many of you do.) It’s easy, really! And communicating via Skype doesn’t hurt a bit. We meet regularly in our respective “offices,” Roz in her kitchen in Texas, Patty in her spare bedroom in Wisconsin.

First, we spend many months taking turns writing ten pages or so at a time. These are e-mailed back and forth, always with an aim to paint each other into a corner, and always edited and tweaked by the other (which we think accounts for the reason y’all so kindly marvel that we write with one voice). Then we’re ready to start a first read-through of the work in progress. We don’t need to dress up or put on makeup (as the photos below attest). We just connect via Skype and get right to it. It goes kinda like this:

Good morning.
Good morning. Your hair looks really nice.
Nah . . . okay, thank you.  I just got it cut. Your nails are gorgeous.
Revlon Gel.
Oh, let me write that down.
Should we take a break?
Yeah. I’m gonna heat my coffee.  See you in five. 

Five minutes later we’re back at our respective screens, Roz still wearing her Houston Astros T-shirt that doubles as sleeping attire, Patty in her pajamas. Thank you, Skype.

What’s that you’re eating?
Fiber One Lemon Bar. Delicious.
Let me write that down.
Ooops, my cell is ringing. Oh . . . it’s my dentist. I’ll call him back.

We have our manuscript loaded on our Kindles (thank you, Amazon) and take turns reading aloud—one page at a time, to ensure we’ll stay awake and alert. Thus we carefully maneuver (and hopefully destroy) the minefield of potential plot gaffes: What happened to that character in Chapter Three? He seems to have disappeared. How come Val and Kit had breakfast twice in Chapter Four? Shouldn’t the second meal be considered lunch by now? And why do they need to eat so much, anyway?

Wow, this is a really good book. Don’t you think?
I love it.
Are we sure we know who the murderer is?
I was thinking that dude in Chapter Fourteen.
You mean the one who fell down a mine shaft early in Chapter Twelve?
Oh, right. Couldn’t he have been rescued?
By his blind, one-legged dog?
Could the dog—
Forget the dog.
Okay.  Wanna take a break?  See you in five.

And so it goes. Much more laughing than plotting. After a few more all-day Skype sessions, we finally have a manuscript that makes sense (so we think), one where no character undergoes a change in hair shade, eye color, height, or age. We’re finally ready to pass along our precious baby to our beta readers. Right now we’re eager to see what they think about Palm Desert Killing (due out this summer).




Here we are, in all our Skyping glory.



Friday, May 1, 2015

Roz Says: Don’t Beam Me Anywhere, Scotty—I Want to Stay Right Here

Passenger Log from Emerald Princess . . . Cruising Western Caribbean, Stardate April 2015

Agendas for days 1 through 7 of the cruise are pretty much the same: wake up with plan to walk around the promenade deck, have a sumptuous breakfast, find a perfect spot to relax at one of the three pools on board, have a sumptuous lunch, go ashore when we are in port, and then have a sumptuous, dressy dinner and see a show. In between all these activities there should be naps.

I love cruising. I love floating around the Caribbean with approximately two thousand complete strangers. And even with so many fellow passengers, I am impressed that there are many times when I feel like the only other people on the ship besides me are the captain and a poolside waiter from Slovenia (or Latvia, or Moldova) who brings me fruity drinks with paper umbrellas and bunches of cherries. It’s amazing to be served dinner in an Italian specialty restaurant by a Russian girl named Anastasia, overseen by a maĆ®tre d’ from Pompeii. It’s delightful to chat with a real live Cuban in, of all places, the cigar bar. It’s interesting to be seated for dinner between a defense contractor who just returned from Saudi Arabia and a high school principal from Columbus, Ohio.

A word about the captain. Even though we had at least three written invitations left in our cabin to join him (and a few hundred other people) for cocktails, we never did quite make it. But I heard him make several announcements (in an attractive Italian accent), and I saw his photograph at various points around the vessel. His bio on the website said his hobby was boating. So I figured that since he apparently couldn’t get enough sailing, he must know what he is doing up there on the bridge.

Although I’ve cruised before, there is always something new to learn. This time I learned you should forget about using Wi-Fi on your cell phone unless you plan to send AT&T or Verizon, or whatever service provider you are indentured to, a check for about a thousand bucks. You are in the middle of the ocean, people; there are no towers close by. And, as a comedian at one of the shows pointed out, if you miss your peeps back home so much, you should have brought them on the cruise with you.

Going ashore is totally optional, of course. Many passengers like scuba diving, or dolphin watching, or getting their hair cornrowed. We prefer to save our energy for that walk around the promenade deck and mainly go ashore only to shop. We’ve even been able to reduce that activity to a bare minimum, since all the islands we visited sell similar stuff. About being docked: there is something magnificent about seeing four or five ships anchored in the azure water like giant behemoths spewing forth hundreds of tourists into tender boats, or directly onto the pier of those islands that are accommodating to their guests.

The evening entertainment on our ship was fabulous, crammed with singers and dancers who would be at home on Broadway. One of our leading lady soloists could give Alicia Keys a run for her money any day. On one past cruise, I was awed by an illusionist, from India, who stopped by our table at dinner and briefly introduced himself. A few seconds later he moved to another table, from where he waved my watch in the air at me. How’d he do that? What was even more amazing was that the lady at the next table who had witnessed me getting ripped off still managed to be relieved of her own watch.

Inevitably, day 7 rolls around. It’s far too quick and we haven’t accomplished all we planned, particularly that walk around the promenade deck. But it’s back to dry land for me, my focus now on the desert as Patty and I begin our wrap-up of Palm Desert Killing, our latest Val and Kit mystery. Reluctantly, I say good-bye to the beautiful Emerald Princess and all who sailed on her. I take with me fond memories of the nice people we met, all the laughs we had, and eating enough food to sink a cruise ship.


Roz and Mike on the Emerald Princess, giving the sign of Quatro Strong for a dear young man and close friend.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

How NOT to Get Away with Murder

As we finish up the fifth novel in The Val & Kit Mystery Series—PALM DESERT KILLING—we find ourselves toying with ideas for No. 6. And, believe us, ideas aren’t hard to come by. Then again, truth generally being stranger than fiction, most of what we garner from TV and newspapers just isn’t believable (even though it really happened).

We are both avid watchers of shows such as Dateline, 20/20, 48 Hours, and Forensic Files, where they take an in-depth look at heinous killings. But while we love such shows, we have not learned anything useful on how to get away with such crimes. We’ve gleaned much, however, on how NOT to get away with murder.

Here, then, are some tips that apparently aren’t as obvious as they should be:

First, avoid one of the most common mistakes. If you plan to bury your poor victim, don’t get caught on camera at Home Depot or Loew’s buying a shovel and plastic wrap.  However, if you insist on doing so, never look directly into the store surveillance camera and wave. Also, don’t wear a baseball cap emblazoned with your alma mater or favorite team; always pay in cash; and don’t keep the receipt in your wallet or tucked under the visor of your car. If you have to pay by check, don’t write a note on it or in your register that the purchases are “Stuff to get rid of Aunt Alice.”

Next, if you are going to poison someone, don’t spend hours on the Internet researching sites that tell you how to make, buy, or mix a deadly substance. Avoid any websites that offer the dosage required and the effects of offensive materials. And for heaven’s sake, don’t try it out on the cat first.

Don’t take out a hefty insurance policy on the victim the day before you do the deed.

If you are a third-party murderer, meaning someone else put you up to it (it wasn’t my idea, honest, Your Honor!), don’t use your cell phone to communicate to said first party. Don’t e-mail them or, worse, write a chatty letter.

Don’t underestimate the police. They are smart. And no matter how chummy you might feel with the officer who has hauled you in for a friendly little chat, don’t start offering your own theories on who might have done it.

If you insist on using a gun, get rid of the weapon; and this does not mean tossing it into a shallow body of water a mile from your house.

Don’t rent a storage unit to hide all your murderous paraphernalia. Eventually, the police will find it; they always do.

Have a really good alibi. But not too good. Don’t, for example, go to the mall, stand in view of the surveillance camera, and participate in a flash-mob dance, or belt out an Italian opera while waiting for your pancakes at IHOP.

Lastly, avoid joining a gang, especially one with a name like Git-R-Done or Fists of Fire. These might serve you well once you’re slammed up in the pokey, but they’re not gonna do you any good on the outside.

And the best advice we can offer? Please don’t murder anyone. But if you just can’t help yourself, then stay out of Val and Kit’s way. Especially in Palm Desert, California, the setting for our next book. It just isn’t safe.