Lethal Black Dress, The Masque of the Red Dress

Lethal Black Dress


Tenth in the Crime of Fashion series


My heroine Lacey Smithsonian loves decoding fashion statements in Washington, D.C., "The City Fashion Forgot." These range from the sublime to the ridiculous, and in Lethal Black Dress they include an exquisite recreation of a legendary evening dress and the not-always-self-aware style known as "Geek Chic."

    Lacey's new adventure begins very elegantly at the famous White House Correspondents' Dinner, one of the most exclusive media events in Washington, and reputedly the most secure (because the President is the guest of honor). What could possibly go wrong?

    On a personal note, when I was a working journalist in Washington I was delighted to attend this event three times, accompanied by some of my witty and knowledgeable news sources. (My tickets are pictured on the right.) Never did anything remotely like what happens in this book ever occur at the Correspondents' Dinner when I was there. Well, almost never...


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...The dress was clearly vintage, but it was more than that. It was classic—even, Lacey realized, iconic. It was a copy of the gown worn in the famous Portrait of Madame X, painted by John Singer Sargent in 1884. The original gown in that celebrated and controversial painting was of black velvet and satin, with a tightly corseted waist, a deep plunging neckline, and thin jeweled straps. The dress had been copied many times and had inspired countless imitations.

    Courtney’s vintage copy did not appear to be quite as old as the one in the Sargent portrait. The straps featured costume jewelry stones, and it was slit high on one leg to reveal a brilliant emerald green lining. In fact, Lacey realized, it might well be a genuinely vintage copy from the Forties.

    But Madame X, the woman in the portrait, looked nothing like this brash, blond, twenty-first-century newswoman. The portrait’s model was a striking brunette, pictured with her hair pulled up and off her face. Her profile was haughty and sharp and she had eerily white skin, like a corpse. The stunning black dress and her scandalous portrait had been nothing but bad luck for Madame X.

    “I know that dress,” Lacey said under her breath….



Adapted from Lethal Black Dress

by Ellen Byerrum, courtesy of the author

Copyright 2014 by Ellen Byerrum



Portrait of Madame X by John Singer Sargent, painted 1884. Reproduced from the Wikimedia Commons, in the public domain



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White House Correspondents' Dinner tickets and program book, courtesy of Ellen Byerrum
My Other
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Foreign Editions
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The Masque of the Red Dress


Eleventh in the Crime of Fashion series


Who wants a beautiful crimson gown with a bad reputation?Everybody!

Every book has an inspiration point. This one evolved out of several of my series characters, particularly ex-spy Gregor Kepelov, his spooky sister Olga, and his psychic girlfriend Marie, as well as the current political climate in Washington, D.C., where foreign spies and domestic lies whisper (or shout) from every corner. I also drew on the thriving theatre scene in D.C., where I once peddled my own plays. Many of the new characters here, even the comically self-involved playwright, come from my fond experience with the world of Washington theatre.

     It strikes me more than ever that espionage and the theatre have an awful lot in common. I let Lacey have all the fun in finding out where that common ground lies, and she begins at  the D.C. theatre world's annual garage sale, seeking ideas for her "Crimes of Fashion" column.

    But this prop-and-costume bazaar doesn’t stick to the script, all because of one tantalizing, ruffled, ruby-red frock from a Russian émigré theatre. It was famously worn in their production of The Masque of the Red Death by the actress who played Death -- and who died on closing night. Is the dress lucky, or cursed? Can Lacey, with her so-called ExtraFashionary Perception, unmask the truth?

    This gown isn't safe to even hang in the closet, much less wear. It's a garnet-hued garment with secrets, and someone is willing to kill for it. Join Lacey as shadows and deceptions lead her and the red dress into a macabre dance with an assassin—and a masquerade with death. 

The KGB, a Vladimir Lenin medal, and the behind-the-scenes world of the theatre in Our Nation's Capital: What do they have in common? It's up to Lacey Smithsonian to discover the connection -- if she can find out without gettting killed.
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The Crime of Fashion Series
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