Connect the Dots (Mah Jongg Mysteries) by Barbara Barrett

Connect the Dots
(Mah Jongg Mysteries)
by Barbara Barrett

About the Book

Cozy Mystery
3rd in Series
Bowker (February 2, 2019)
Paperback: 278 pages
ISBN-10: 194853214X
ISBN-13: 978-1948532143
Digital ASIN: B07NCB5199

How could a thirty-something man fall to his death from a fourth-floor balcony he knows is defective? That’s the question freelance writer Micki Demetrius is asked to answer by the man’s grieving mother, Clarissa White, who refuses to believe his death was an unfortunate accident. But when the authorities determine it was homicide, Micki is shut out of her investigative efforts.

Giving up is easier said than done for Micki. She can’t resist a mystery, and suspicious characters won’t leave Clarissa alone, from the woman claiming a stake in the victim’s life to a cagey character who wants his business. As the threat to Clarissa grows, Micki feels compelled to help her in spite of the danger.

Micki’s three mah jongg pals—Sydney Bonner, Marianne Putnam and Katrina, Kat, Faulkner—are drawn into the mystery, but the retirees have their own challenges. Syd and husband Trip do grandparent duty while their daughter deals with marital issues. Marianne “finds herself” by writing a one-act play. And Kat must decide how public to go with her growing friendship with the sheriff. Together, they must connect the dots in a nefarious web of greed, neglect, secrecy and murder.

Guest post

Seniors Teaching Seniors

Many of us breathed a sigh of relief as we finished our school years and happily embraced the idea of getting out in the “real” world. Years pass. The real world has its highs and lows and then before we know it, those years are behind us as well. Even if you’re not there yet yourself, hang in here, because if you’re lucky, those days will find you before you know it. 

Retirement offers one huge benefit: time, time to do those things we weren’t able to get to while raising families and pursuing careers. Ironically, for many of us, the education we were so anxious to put behind us when we were younger now becomes more attractive. Maybe not in terms of papers, homework and degrees, but because we want to learn more about the world around us. And we have time to just be curious.

Many colleges and other educational institutions offer free or discounted courses for seniors. If interested in that approach, check the internet for opportunities near you. I’m here to tell you about the approach my community has adopted, Lifelong Learning. It consists of two semesters with three, three-week sessions each, October through November and February through April. For the most part, each class is seventy-five minutes long with a fifteen-minute break before the next class. Usually two classes are offered at the same time. There are 50+ classes in the current semester. Class topics fall into the following categories:  new urbanism and architecture, finance, computers and technology, fine and performing arts, health and medicine, literature, personal enrichment, science and environmental studies, religion, social sciences, visual arts and crafts, and world cultures and languages. Classes are offered Tuesday through Thursday. 

Seventy-five-minute lectures on specialized topics are also offered weekly. Clubs meet during the week between sessions. 

Students pay a nominal membership fee per term as well as a fee for each course. A few classes also require a small materials fee. Membership entitles them to attend all lectures and clubs. Members also receive two passes per term for their guests to attend either one class or lecture. 

 Our Lifelong Learning program was originally affiliated/located within a local college until that institution decided to reduce and eventually close down its programs. Now, the program has partnered with the community foundation and residential homeowners’ association and uses its facilities. 

The program has grown and thrived in large part due to the fact that it is operated primarily by volunteers, no small feat considering the logistics that go into recruiting and supporting instructors and communicating with students and the community. Instructors are not paid but are instead offered credit to take their own courses during the semester. Many of the instructors are other seniors who live in the community who share their expertise with their fellow seniors. 

I’ve been one of those instructors, having taught one class on novel writing and three on Mah Jongg. In college, I planned to teach American History at either the high school or junior college level. Teaching jobs were tight in those days, so I instead went into human resources with Iowa State Government. From time to time, I acted as a trainer for courses taught to state employees, so I had some preparation for this experience. 

Adult learners differ from adolescents in that they want to be there. They listen and participate. Even though there is no homework or grades, they do expect to get their money’s worth and aren’t afraid to ask questions. For the most part, I’ve enjoyed getting back in front of a classroom. The trick is to know my material. 

I’ve had a lot of technical support for my classes. PowerPoint presentations can be shown on large screen flat TV sets with connection to the internet available to those who need it. Instructors have both personal mics as well as “Catchboxes,” throwable microphones. They even have an “Elmo,” a modern-day, streamlined version of the overhead project I grew up with in high school. A tech volunteer is on-duty for each class, should the instructor need them.

Marianne Putnam, one of the four protagonists in the third book in my Mah Jongg Mystery series, Connect the Dots, attends a senior learning class on writing the one-act play when she seeks to add more spark to her life. I attended a similar class in Lifelong Learning a few years ago and surprised myself by writing my own one-act play within the class’s three-week duration. 

Although I enjoyed the class, I decided I could spend my time more productively writing novels rather than plays. But Marianne catches the bug and continues writing more one-acts in Book 4, currently untitled, which is the next in the series. In fact, in this book, one of her fellow classmates is the one who begs her and her three friends to unofficially investigate a murder, which is what they do despite their best intentions to stay out of it. 

Seniors teaching seniors is an idea whose time has come. This semester, one of my courses was a PowerPoint clinic. I’ve been using the tool for years in my presentations, but now I’ve learned how to embed a video in a slide and even how to embed the audio from another video on top of it. I also took a class on basketmaking, which surprised me with by how much I enjoyed it. I created both a round and square basket, which I’m not embarrassed to show others. 

About the author

Barbara Barrett started reading mysteries when she was pregnant with her first child to keep her mind off things like her changing body and food cravings. When she’d devoured as many Agatha Christies as she could find, she branched out to English village cozies and Ellery Queen.

Later, to avoid a midlife crisis, she began writing fiction at night when she wasn’t at her day job as a human resources analyst for Iowa State Government. After releasing eleven full-length romance novels and one novella, she returned to the cozy mystery genre, using one of her retirement pastimes, the game of mah jongg, as her inspiration. Not only has it been a great social outlet, it has also helped keep her mind active when not writing.

Bamboozled, the second book in her “Mah Jongg Mystery” series, features four friends who play mah jongg together and share otherwise in each other’s lives. None of the four is based on an actual person. Each is an amalgamation of several mah jongg friends with a lot of Barbara’s imagination thrown in for good measure. The four will continue to appear in future books in the series.

Anticipating the day when she would write her first mystery, she has been a member of the Mystery/Romantic Suspense chapter of Romance Writers of America for over a decade. She credits them with helping her hone her craft.

Barbara is married to the man she met her senior year of college. They have two grown children and eight grandchildren.

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