Featured Mystery Author





Nancy Cohen:
Wit and Humor
Solves the Mystery
by Elaine Schiller August












Nancy J. Cohen is fast becoming a true force in the straight mystery genre with her second book in The Bad Hair Day Mysteries series coming out in December.  Hair Raiser is Nancy’s newest title and her sixth published book.  This story is eagerly awaited by fans who got hooked on spunky hairstylist sleuth, Marla Shore, in the first book in the series, Permed to Death.  Set in South Florida, Nancy’s  stories capture today’s pace and generate the same glowing energy as Marla shares with her creator. Both present a feminine presence, off-set with dry, witty humor that draws you into their web of action. I had the pleasure of speaking with the author over lunch; dining out is one of her favorite pastimes. 


Nancy, I understand reading as a youth in New Jersey led you toward a career in nursing. Has going from reading books to nursing to writing books, affected your voice in the literary world?


Marla, my protagonist, has the same nurturing nature that you find among nurses. She cares about her clients and shows it by listening to their problems and boosting their self-esteem with a stylish look as they leave her beauty shop.  My nursing background also affects my stories in regard to Marla’s inner motivation.  This comes from a film I saw in a continuing nursing education class on near-drowning. The film had a lasting impact on me because drowning is the number one cause of death for children ages four and under in South Florida.  As a result of a tragic incident in her past, Marla becomes involved in a child drowning prevention coalition and feels responsible for solving crimes.


You were best known for your award-winning futuristic romance novels written as Nancy Cane.  Why did you switch to humorous mystery?


I enjoy developing complex plots, and my romances ended up having mysteries in them.  I decided to write a straight mystery set in a familiar locale.  It’s fun doing a series with contemporary characters set in my backyard, so to speak.  Too often the news is grim; people like to escape with humor and the satisfaction that justice is served at the conclusion of a mystery.  Mine are cozies, meaning there’s no explicit violence.  The focus is on personal relationships with a light touch meant to entertain.  At the same time, I learn something new researching each story, and I hope my readers add to their knowledge, too.


Why did you find South Florida to be so unique to set the series?


I wanted to showcase the Broward County area with Fort Lauderdale’s transplanted population and diverse cultural mix. The appealing year-round climate, tropical plants, and beautiful beaches have their own character which differs from other parts of the deep South, including the grittiness of Miami. What they have in common is southern hospitality.  Marla’s Jewish mom has her own recipe for life - "please have something to eat!"  She is constantly feeding Marla when she comes to visit.  Personally, I enjoy a variety of foods. My husband and I took some cooking classes and loved them. Food is so ‘southern’.


Speaking of food - you certainly use it throughout your series. Do you really like marzipan? 

Yes, it’s a favorite.  I look for the candy around the holidays. Marzipan was a perfect disguise for cyanide in Permed to Death; the almond flavor hides the poison.  A home-baked cake offers another clue in that book.  Food plays a big part in Hair Raiser, also, with several restaurant scenes and menu descriptions adding flavor to the story.


Why a beauty shop as the focal point?


A hair salon has universal appeal. Everyone can identify with the situation. Who hasn’t gone for a hair cut or to get their hair styled?  And it’s a great background setting for a mystery series.  People are constantly walking into a salon; gossiping; and exchanging information. 


Tell us about Hair Raiser being released in December.


Marla has volunteered for a fund-raiser sponsored by a coastal preservation society. Someone is sabotaging the gala event and chefs are disappearing. Marla gets entangled in order to save the grand affair. She has to deal with pollution of a mangrove preserve and maintaining our ecological balance, so again our beautiful semi-tropical environment is the backdrop for a new mystery. This one is even more funny. Marla is past all the emotional situations from book one, so there’s more humor throughout the book.


You visited the Everglades for Permed To Death. What exciting places did you go for Hair Raiser?


I went  to Nassau and toured the island, taking detailed notes of places that I used in the story. Again - food!  All the new tastes were excellent–grilled grouper, pigeon peas and rice, cinnamon sweet potatoes, and cool rum drinks. My stomach rumbles at the memories!  Also for this book, I studied the mangroves and their role with nature and several sites on the New River, including the Bonnet House.


Will we see a new ‘southern gentleman” enter the picture in this story?


Yes. I’d say he distracts Marla’s attention. However, Detective Dalton Vail remains in the series. He’s determined to pursue Marla and keep her out of trouble.


What can we expect to follow after “Hair Raiser”?


Murder by Manicure is the third book in the series.  It takes place in a sports club where a member drowns in the whirlpool.


Do men read your books?


Yes. I receive a lot of fan mail from both women and men.  Booksignings add to a growing fan list.


What advice would you offer aspiring authors that helped you along the way?


Set realistic goals that you’ll be able to meet.  I do a chapter a week, or five pages a day. Reward yourself for minor achievements.  My critique group has been very important and supportive to me, so I’d advise you to network with other writers. Don’t be afraid to take chances. If one genre doesn’t work, try another; and you’ll grow as a writer.  Never give up, never surrender! We all get rejections; you must keep writing!



After thought:  Nancy features her own poodle, Misty, as the lively ‘Spooks’ in the ‘Bad Hair Day Mysteries’. I wonder how much pure marzipan makes its way into the Cohen household? Does Nancy pay off Spooks’s model with marzipan to be mute about the mysterious murders? The tiniest of barks would be a dead giveaway!  

To view some photos of ‘Spooks’, tune in to Nancy’s web site:




  Books by Nancy J. Cohen

The Bad Hair Day Mysteries Series


Permed to Death, Kensington, December 2000 (paperback)

Hair Raiser, Kensington, December 2000 (hardback)

Murder by Manicure, Kensington, December 2001 (hardback)


Futuristic Romances written as Nancy Cane

Keeper of the Rings, Dorchester, September 2000 (reissue)
Circle of Light, reissue at iUniverse.com and backinprint.com, May 2000
Moonlight Rhapsody, reissue at iUniverse.com and backinprint.com, May 2000
Starlight Child, reissue coming at iUniverse.com and backinprint.com


Elaine Schiller August, the author of this article, is currently working on Miami Moonlight - a sand in your shoes saga taking Miami's history from a melting pot to magnet for international trade.  The trilogy begins in the 1930s.  Her children's work includes Fira Gani, a picture book rhyme; and she is completing a youth chapter book set in contemporary Miami. Southern Mischief is the first in a collection filled with mysterious surprises by adventurous pals and their sidekicks.


Elaine is a native of Miami with a lifetime of community service and

family business experience.  She studied journalism, art/design and

voice/theory at the University of Miami and Barry University.  She is an accomplished sculptor and watercolorist.


© 2000 Elaine Schiller August, All Rights Reserved