While blizzards raged across the Northern Hemisphere, tourists donned sunglasses, sandals, and garish T-shirts to confront a sultry January day in Barbados. The fierce sun seared virgin white skin and waves of heat rippled off the pavement.
Swarming the dock like ants attacking a crumb of sugar cookie, crew and passengers disembarked from three cruise ships docked in the deep-water harbor. Two of the ships, the Aurora and the Polaris belonged to Constellation Cruise Lines. The uniformed crew—wearing caps with bold blue and red CCL insignia and short-sleeved cotton shirts tucked into crisp white shorts—patiently directed passengers through the congested terminal.
Metal stairs rattled, supply carts clanked, and a loudspeaker crackled messages over the din of the crowd. Caribbean music pierced the discord. A string band twisted the melody of an old ballad into a lazy calypso beat punctuated by the mellow timpani of a steel drum. Five black musicians swayed and twisted through the throng keeping step with their own music—a Caribbean-style marching band. Frayed straw hats bobbed in time to the rhythm. Red, orange, and purple flowered shirts undulated over boxy green shorts and dirty white tennis shoes as the musicians played homemade instruments fashioned from lead pipes, coconut shells, scrap lumber, and tin. Electronic flashes burst from the crowd of tourists who diligently recorded the scene with cameras.
A man wearing a dark turtleneck shirt under a long-sleeved white service coat scowled at the crowd. Hefting a CCL tote bag the agile man maneuvered through the horde of bewildered tourists and slipped down a vacant corridor. Hesitating for a heartbeat he scanned the empty hallway, inserted a key into the door, and slipped inside.
The sign on the door read: “Quarantined Area, No Admittance,” but no alarm bells blared, no security guards charged in to make an arrest. The intruder turned on the lights and opened his tote bag. He removed a pair of surgical gloves, a cotton swab taped to a long stick, and a small black manicure case. A cricket chirped, a tree-frog trilled, and leaves rustled as lizards scuttled from sight. Forest sounds seemed incongruous in a room full of stainless steel equipment, wire cages, and glass enclosures plastered with large red labels proclaiming “Danger” in several languages.
Snapping surgical gloves onto sweaty hands, he cautiously pried open the lid of a small terrarium, inserted the cotton swab, and stroked the skin of the tiny frog. Startled, the frog vaulted toward the open lid. The stranger jerked back and dropped the cotton swab into the glass cage.
The two-inch reptile clutched the edge of the glass with sticky, bulbous toes and peeked through the opening. It looked harmless, strangely beautiful with iridescent yellow stripes down a navy blue hide, except for the deadly toxin coating its skin. One touch could kill a man as surely as a cobra’s bite.
As the diminutive creature squeezed through the glass lid, the intruder retreated to a safe distance. The frog jumped, landing near his shoe. Screaming, he scrambled to avoid the dangerous reptile, plastic soles squeaking against the slick floor, and crashed into a cart full of metal trays that clanged to the floor. The frog vanished. Holding his breath, the man stepped in circles, searching. He spotted the quivering reptile—a patch of glowing color in the dark shadow of a table—and exhaled a sigh of pent up breath.
Heart pounding, he fished out the cotton swab, unzipped the manicure kit, and extracted two glass vials, a white plastic toothpick, and a pair of tweezers. Eyeing the frog, he rubbed the moist swab over the toothpick and the tweezers, slipping each into a glass vial.
Storing the vials in the manicure kit, he noticed a sticky smear on his jacket sleeve just inches from bare skin. A similar smudge the size of the frog marred the glass terrarium. Cursing, he threw the swab to the floor and stripped off gloves and coat. Folding the tainted sleeve to the inside of the jacket, he wiped a trickle of sweat with a trembling hand. Turning off the lights, he fled.
No one noticed a man wearing a dark turtleneck shove a white bundle into the dockside trash bin. He joined a group of tourists who climbed the gangway to the Aurora.
The laboratory remained quiet for an hour. When the door clanged open, the tiny reptile retreated to safety behind a table leg.
Hubert flipped on the light switch singing, “Every liddle ting goin’ ta be ah—all right.” He wagged his head to the rhythm of his own song as he dragged a sloshing orange bucket on wheels into the laboratory. Glaring fluorescent lights flickered and buzzed overhead.
He abruptly stopped singing and surveyed the room warily. “Hello! Who’s been makin’ such a mess?”
A marshy scent of rotting wood and leaves wafted from a nearby enclosure. Inside a miniature dinosaur shifted its head to peer at him with an eerie gaze.
“It’s a good job I’m not de bloke cleaning your cage, mister,” he said and skirted past the reptile.
“Wonder how des trays get spilt over de floor. Nobody was working las’ night.” After stacking trays onto the proper cart, he bent and picked up a cotton swab from the floor. “Dis looks mighty strange. Dem science blokes don’t toss trash ’round like dis.” He fingered the sticky substance at the end of the swab. His skin tingled and heat flashed up his arm, sweat stung his face. He swiped his forehead with a meaty brown hand. “What in de world...” Eyes widening, he clutched his throat and gagged.
Scrambling for the door, Hubert tripped over the orange bucket and sprawled on the floor. Legs twitched. Fingers jerked. Soapy water sloshed across the checkerboard linoleum, soaking Hubert’s body and seeping into the shadows. The frog climbed up the table leg, its beady black eyes watching the large man die.
That evening Bajan radio spread the news over the airwaves: “A terrible accident resulting in death at the Port Authority occurred today when a janitor touched a lethal Poison Dart Frog. The frog, which escaped from a shipment earmarked for the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Maryland, was subsequently captured. Discovery of the body occurred when a lab technician entered the facility to perform afternoon feeding duties. Public release of the identity of the deceased was withheld pending notification of family members. The Port Authority promised a full investigation.”
5* By Virginia on October 3, 2016
It’s a well-written murder mystery with great descriptions of tourist attractions and physical locations in select islands in the Caribbean, which one might see if you took a Caribbean cruise. Characters are well developed, the plot twists & turns as various characters’ motivations and opportunities are discovered and analyzed, and the dialogue is realistic. The female heroine demonstrates how life aboard a cruise ship is clearly different for a guest versus a staff member. The male lead is attractive, helpful and attracted to our heroine but not central to the plot. A fun read if you like romance with your murders.
5* By Annette on September 12, 2016
I recently went on a cruise and this great book brought back wonderful memories. The descriptions of all the different islands were not only informative, they were like watching a movie as I read. The book is practically a non stop adventure that I didn't want to end. The main characters Kayla and Steven compliment each other to a T. There are quite a few characters in this book, but the author gives enough information about them to make them memorable.
5* By Reb MacRath on October 18, 2012
I couldn't have asked for better on my first Caribbean cruise than the happy hours spent reading Diane Rapp's Murder Caribbean-Style. Usually, I skim through descriptions of place, as I suspect most readers do now that we can 'go' anywhere we care to go online. But here's one of the major surprises in store: Rapp conveys her exceptional knowledge of cruise ships and Caribbean locales in powerful prose always at the service of the story. Soon enough I couldn't wait for the next port of call, the next fascinating tidbit of Caribbean history.
5* By Eager Reader on December 26, 2013
Kayla is used to life on board a cruise ship, but she’s not accustomed to solving murders. When an ex-boyfriend dies from poison, it has her falling into the role of investigator. At first, she reasons if she can find the killer, she won’t go to prison for a crime she didn’t commit. But in quest of finding a killer, will she get more than she bargained for? Will the broken heart from her past threaten her future? Will she find the murderer before she becomes a target?
5* By Lisa J. Davis on May 17, 2015
This book was so much fun! I found myself connecting to the characters (Kayla and Steven --- and many others) and hoping their stories would continue in subsequent books! Ms. Rapp has a wonderful way with words...I found the descriptions of various ports and "off the beaten path" attractions in the Caribbean intriguing and made notes to try to visit them... and I thoroughly enjoyed this book... It's not my typical go-to - a romance / mystery, but I found it to be a guilty pleasure I couldn't put down.!
4* By Rosemary McCracken on April 3, 2012
Murder Caribbean-style not only has a fast-paced plot, but it also provides readers with vicarious travel. We're treated to vivid descriptions of ports of call, walking tours of historical areas and glimpses of the glamorous life aboard a cruise ship.
But the novel's real charm lies in the character of its protagonist. Kayla is believable and likeable. At the heart of the story is the mystery of why Patrick changed from the carefree, fun-loving man who won her heart into the self-absorbed cynic who threw her over. This mystery niggles at the back of our minds and is even more evocative than the murder mystery.