Murder in the Tea Leaves



Murder in the Tea Leaves (A Tea Shop Mystery)
by Laura Childs

About Murder in the Tea Leaves


Murder in the Tea Leaves (A Tea Shop Mystery)
Cozy Mystery
27th in Series
Setting – South Carolina
Publisher ‏ : ‎ Berkley (March 5, 2024)
Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 304 pages
ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0593200985
ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0593200988
Digital ASIN ‏ : ‎ B0C777ZCXN


It’s Lights, Action, Murder as tea maven Theodosia Browning scrambles for clues in this latest installment of the New York Times bestselling series.

When Theodosia Browning reads the tea leaves on the set of the movie, Dark Fortunes, things go from spooky to worse. Lights are dimmed, the camera rolls, and red hot sparks fly as the film’s director is murdered in a tricky electrical accident.

Or was it an accident? Though the cast and crew are stunned beyond belief, nobody admits to seeing a thing. And when Theodosia’s friend, Delaine, becomes the prime suspect, Theodosia begins her own shadow investigation. But who among this Hollywood cast and crew had murder on their mind? The screenwriter is a self-centered pot head, the leading actress is trying to wiggle out of her contract, the brand new director seems indifferent, and nobody trusts the slippery-when-dry Hollywood agent.

Between hosting a Breakfast at Tiffany’s Tea, a Poetry Tea, and trying to launch her own chocolate line, Theodosia doggedly hunts down clues and explores the seemingly haunted Brittlebank Manor where the murder took place. And just when she’s ready to pounce, a Charleston Film Board member is also murdered, throwing everything into total disarray. But this clever killer will go to any lengths to hide his misdeeds as Theodosia soon finds out when she and her tea sommelier, Drayton, get caught up in a dangerous stakeout.



Enjoy an Excerpt


"Quiet on the set! Quiet on the set!"

As if someone had suddenly spun a dial and cut the volume, there was complete and utter silence in the darkened living room of the dilapidated Brittlebank Manor.

"Roll film, and . . . action!" shouted Josh Morro, the film's director.

Theodosia Browning watched, fascinated, as actors recited lines, cameras dollied in for close-ups, and producers, assistant directors, storyboard artists, set dressers, grips, writers, gaffers, production assistants, makeup artists, and costumers all stood by, ready to jump at the director's every command.

It was the first day of filming for Dark Fortunes, a Peregrine Pictures feature film. And the first time tea shop owner Theodosia had ever seen a full-fledged movie in the making. Of course, she wasn't actually in the movie. But this week was still extra special for Theodosia and Drayton Conneley, her dapper, sixty-something tea sommelier. They'd been tapped to handle the craft services table, an all-day munch fest for the cast and crew. It was proving to be a fun break from their normal roles as hosts at the Indigo Tea Shop on Charleston's famed Church Street, where they spent their days juggling morning cream tea, lunch, tea parties, afternoon tea, special events, and catering.

Catering. Yes, that's exactly why Theodosia and Drayton had loaded their craft services table with a bounty of tea sandwiches, lemon scones, brownie bites, banana muffins, cranberry tea bread, and handmade chocolate fudge. And of course tea, which was Drayton's specialty.

"This is exciting, yes?" Theodosia whispered to Drayton. The director had called a sudden halt to filming and now the crew milled about the darkened set like shadows flitting through a graveyard.

"Exciting but strange," Drayton said, touching a hand to his bow tie. "I had no idea so much work went into filming a single scene." He peered through the darkness to where the director was whispering to a cameraman. "And that director seems to be in a constant uproar."

Josh Morro, the director, was most certainly agitated. "Gimme some light, will you?" he barked. And lights immediately came up revealing the shabby interior of a small, old-fashioned sitting room. "And we need something more dynamic here. A line or action that propels us into the heart of the storyline." Morro turned to Craig Cole, the scriptwriter, and raised his eyebrows in a questioning look.

"It's already in the script, babe," Cole shouted back at him. Cole was Hollywood hyper, rail-thin with a pinched face and shock of bright red Woody Woodpecker hair.

"No, it's not. The script is dreck," Morro cried as he leaped from his chair, knocking it over backward in the process. He was tall and angular, dressed in jeans and a faded Def Leppard T-shirt. Good-looking, handsome even, Morro had intense jade-green eyes and wore a now-popular-again gunslinger mustache.

Cole's face contorted in anger. "Watch it, pal. I wrote that script." His lips barely touched his teeth as he spat out his words.

Morro shook his head tiredly. "Fess up, man. You plagiarized a Japanese film that won a Nippon Akademii-shou back in ninety-five."

Cole's face turned bright red to match his hair. "That might have been the seminal inspiration," he shot back, "but every line of dialogue is completely mine!"

The director stared thoughtfully at the small round table where a woman wearing a purple-and-gold tunic with matching turban sat across from Andrea Blair, the film's leading actress.

"She should read the tea leaves," Morro said slowly. "That's what we need. The fortune teller has to read the tea leaves before she delivers her line."

"Brilliant," Lewin Usher trilled. He was one of the film's investors and an executive producer, a hefty but slick-looking hedge fund manager in a three-piece Zegna suit with a Rolex the size of an alarm clock. He seemed positively giddy to be on set today.

Josh Morro pointed a finger at the fortune teller. "Fortune teller lady. What I want you to do is pour out the tea, then peer into Andrea's cup and actually read the tea leaves. Tell her, um, that her life is in terrible danger."

"That's not in the script," Cole called out.

"Well, it should be," Morro said. He stared earnestly at the fortune teller. "You got that?"

"No problem," said the fortune teller.

"Lights down, everyone quiet . . . and roll film," Morro instructed. He stood there, tense, arms crossed, watching his actors.

The fortune teller lifted the teapot and tilted it at a forty-five-degree angle. At which point the lid promptly fell off and clattered noisily to the floor while the teabag tumbled out and landed in the teacup with a wet plop.

"No, no!" Morro shouted. "That's not going to work, you're doing it all wrong. Everybody, take five while we figure this out." He sighed deeply and gazed in the direction of Theodosia's craft services table as if there were an answer to be found there.

Turns out there was.

"Loose-leaf tea," Theodosia said. "You need to brew loose tea leaves in order to achieve the effect you want."

"Huh?" The director peered at Theodosia as if really seeing her for the first time. "You know something about tea?"

"She should," Drayton said, suddenly speaking up. "She owns a tea shop."

"Come over here, will you?" Morro said, waggling his fingers.

Theodosia slipped around the table and walked toward the director, aware that more than a few eyes were following her. She stepped over a tangle of wires and black cables that connected lights, cameras, and sound equipment to the main power source.

"So you're a tea expert?" Morro asked.

Theodosia lifted a shoulder. "Of sorts."

"Because you own a tea shop."

"The Indigo Tea Shop over on Church Street."

The director seemed to relax. "Truth be told, I've been known to imbibe a cup or two of tea myself. You might say Earl Grey was my gateway drug."

"Because of the bergamot," Theodosia said.

Josh Morro reached out, gently grabbed Theodosia's arm, and pulled her toward him. "Right."

"Hard to resist that rich flavor."

Morro's face lit up as if he'd been suddenly struck by a wonderful idea. "Since you seem to know what you're doing, we'll have you pour the tea and read the tea leaves!"

"What!" screeched the fortune teller, who suddenly saw her big scene going up in smoke.

"Oh no," Theodosia said, breaking away from him and holding up her hands. "I'm no expert when it comes to tasseography."

"You're referring to . . ."

"Reading tea leaves."

Morro gazed at her and smiled. "Oh yes, I think you're perfect. I definitely want you to read the tea leaves and be in the scene."

"I can't do that," Theodosia said.

Morro's brows puckered. "What's the problem?"

"I'm not an actress," Theodosia said. She glanced around quickly, looking for confirmation. Wasn't it glaringly apparent that she was only here to oversee the craft services table? Wasn't it? Come on, somebody please pitch in and give her some backup.

But Josh Morro had already made up his mind. He looked over to where Andrea Blair, the star of the movie, was now lounging in a folding chair as she scrolled through her phone messages. Her script lay on the floor next to her, unopened. "You're no actress?" Morro said. "Neither is she." Then he lifted a hand, snapped his fingers, and called out, "Sondra, we're going to need hair, makeup, and wardrobe for . . . what's your name?"

"Theodosia. Theodosia Browning. But I really can't . . ."

"Do it," Drayton urged from across the room. "It'll be fun."

"No, it won't," Theodosia said, shaking her head. "I'm not an actress, I don't even look like an actress."

"Actually, you do," Morro said. "You're young and pretty enough to look good in a close-up, but you also possess a seriousness and quiet maturity that will come across on screen. A believability the audience can connect with." He appraised her from head to toe. "Good figure, ice-chip-blue eyes that go nicely with that English rose complexion only a few women are naturally gifted with, and . . . well, I do love your tangle of auburn hair." He hesitated. "Though we'll have to tone it down some to fit under the turban."

Theodosia shook her head. "No," she said again. But even as her protest continued, Sondra and another production assistant rushed in, grabbed her, and pulled her down the hallway into a makeshift makeup and dressing room.

"This isn't going to work," Theodosia argued as they plunked her down in a pink plastic swivel chair and bombarded her with bright lights. The air was filled with the sweet scent of hair spray, styling gel, and a touch of Chanel No. 5.

"Of course it will work, honey," Brittany, the head makeup artist, told Theodosia. "All we need to do is line your eyes, pat on some makeup, and tone down that hair of yours." She ran a brush through Theodosia's locks and said to her assistant, "Tina, have you ever seen so much hair?"

Shaking her head, Tina snapped her gum and said, "Only on wigs."

"Really," Theodosia said, gripping the arms of her chair. "I can't go through with this."

"Honey, you gotta trust us," Brittany said. She was a bleached blond with over-plucked brows and a spray tan. A fake bake as Theodosia and her friends would say. "We're gonna do a first-class buff and puff that'll glam you up so good you'll look like a genuine Hollywood star."

"Good enough for a shot on TMZ," Tina echoed as she draped a plastic cape around Theodosia's shoulders.

"Oh dear," said Theodosia.

But ten minutes later, once Brittany had sponged on a light base coat, artfully powdered it down, then added some blusher to highlight her cheekbones, Theodosia started to feel a little better. And when Brittany gelled her brows and added eyeliner with a slight cat eye oomph at the outer corners, she peered in the mirror and liked what she saw.

"Not bad," Theodosia said.

"See? You're a natural," Brittany said.

Meanwhile, Tina had sussed out a cute tangle of curls to peek out from under her turban.

"You live here, honey?" Brittany asked as she carefully lined Theodosia's lips.

Theodosia nodded. "Born and bred in Charleston, South Carolina."

"Quite the place," Brittany said. "I've never seen so much historic architecture in my life. Then again, I'm from L.A., where anything before 1980 is considered ancient history."

"Some of our homes and churches date back to the Revolutionary War," Theodosia said. "There are churches that George Washington worshiped in, narrow alleys where duels were fought, and Fort Sumter, where the Civil War began."

"This house must be plenty historic, too," Tina said. "I mean, it sure is a spooky old place. Dark and drafty, practically falling down-it kind of gives me the creeps just being here. But I can understand why the location scouts chose this place. It's the perfect set for a scary movie."

"It does look the part," Theodosia agreed. Even she'd been slightly put off by the dingy walls, threadbare rugs, dried-out woodwork, and bare wires dangling from the ceiling where a grand chandelier had once hung.

"It feels as if nobody's lived here in years," Brittany added.

"That's because nobody has," Theodosia said. "This place is known as Brittlebank Manor and it's reputed to be haunted."

"No!" Brittany cried. "Seriously?"

"Charleston is full of ghosts," Theodosia said playfully. "We've got haunted houses, haunted hotels, a haunted dungeon, and even a haunted cemetery. Actually, two haunted cemeteries."

Tina gave an appreciative shiver. "This place, Brittlebank Manor, is there some kind of legend behind it?"

"I don't know all of it," Theodosia said. "But apparently a woman was kept locked in the attic and then got killed when an enormous bolt of lightning struck the building."

"Why on earth was she locked in the attic?" Brittany asked as she helped Theodosia into a long purple velvet coat emblazoned with silver stars.

"Not sure," Theodosia said as Tina situated a turban on her head and gave a final touch to the swirl of hair that peeked out. "I never did hear the whole story."

Back on set, Drayton had brewed a small pot of Darjeeling while lights and camera angles were being adjusted. And when Theodosia emerged from the makeup room, Helene Deveroux, one of the members of the Charleston Film Board, rushed up to greet her.

"Bless me to bits, Theodosia, I hardly recognized you!" Helene cried. "You're all glammed up like a bona fide actress!"

"It wasn't my idea," Theodosia explained, patting nervously at her turban. "But the director wants me in the movie. You know, for a more authentic tea leaves read."

"Can you do that?" Helene asked. She was forty-something and a tad theatrical with her mop of honey-blond hair, zaftig figure, and overly broad gestures. Today Helene wore a red silk jacket over tight black leather jeans.

"If I follow the director's lead, then sure I can," Theodosia said. "I mean, I guess so."

Helene grabbed Theodosia's arm and gave a conspiratorial wink. "Aren't you glad Delaine set you up with this gig?" Delaine Dish was a friend of Theodosia's and served on the Charleston Film Board along with Helene.

"I'll let you know once we shoot this scene."

Helene grinned. "Later, sweetie, right now I have to bounce." She shook a handful of papers. "Gotta deliver these papers to the City Film Office." And she was gone.

"Are you ready?" the director asked. He was suddenly in Theodosia's face, looking a little anxious.

"Hope so," she said.

Theodosia and Andrea did a couple of quick rehearsals together, with Theodosia feeling more confident as they went along.

"This is working," Josh Morro said. "Very believable. I think we're ready for a take. Now, Andrea, when Theodosia tips your teacup sideways and stares in to read the tea leaves, I want you to look apprehensive. Do you know what that is? Can you give me apprehensive?"

Andrea pulled her mouth into a pout and widened her eyes.

"That looks more like a case of indigestion," Morro said. "Try to work up some genuine emotion. Try to actually . . . act. And, Willy . . ." Morro turned to his cameraman, "I want you to dolly in slowly for an extreme close-up on that teacup." He glanced up to his left. "Lighting guys, let's throw up a scrim and add a blue key light to create a spooky vibe. Then, when Willy goes in for his ECU, amp up the key light and give me a medium-sized flicker, okay?"

"Okay, boss," called the lighting director.

"And somebody get me a chair," Morro said. There was a flurry of activity behind him as somebody set down a metal folding chair. Morro plopped down, crossed his legs, and said, "Quiet on set. Lights all the way down." There was sudden silence as the lights dimmed and everyone held their breath. "And I want aaaction."

About Laura Childs

Laura Childs is the New York Times bestselling author of the Tea Shop MysteriesScrapbook Mysteries, and Cackleberry Club Mysteries. In her previous life she was CEO/Creative Director of her own marketing firm and authored several screenplays. She is married to a professor of Chinese art history, loves to travel, rides horses, enjoys fundraising for various non-profits, and has two Chinese Shar-Pei dogs.

Laura specializes in cozy mysteries that have the pace of a thriller (a thrillzy!) Her three series are:

The Tea Shop Mysteries – set in the historic district of Charleston and featuring Theodosia Browning, owner of the Indigo Tea Shop. Theodosia is a savvy entrepreneur, and pet mom to service dog Earl Grey. She’s also an intelligent, focused amateur sleuth who doesn’t rely on coincidences or inept police work to solve crimes. This charming series is highly atmospheric and rife with the history and mystery that is Charleston.

The Scrapbooking Mysteries – a slightly edgier series that takes place in New Orleans. The main character, Carmela, owns Memory Mine scrapbooking shop in the French Quarter and is forever getting into trouble with her friend, Ava, who owns the Juju Voodoo shop. New Orleans’ spooky above-ground cemeteries, jazz clubs, bayous, and Mardi Gras madness make their presence known here!

The Cackleberry Club Mysteries – set in Kindred, a fictional town in the Midwest. In a rehabbed Spur station, Suzanne, Toni, and Petra, three semi-desperate, forty-plus women have launched the Cackleberry Club. Eggs are the morning specialty here and this cozy cafe even offers a book nook and yarn shop. Business is good but murder could lead to the cafe’s undoing! This series offers recipes, knitting, cake decorating, and a dash of spirituality.

Laura’s Links:   Website –  Facebook 

Purchase Links – Amazon – B&N – Kobo – – PenguinRandomHouse – 


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