Dearly Departed: Debra Goldstein’s Carrie Martin and the Mah Jongg Players

Debra Goldstein is a powerhouse in my professional writer’s group, Sisters in Crime so, I can’t lie, I was a little nervous when she said she would love to be a Dearly Departed guest. Luckily, she’s an absolute delight. As are, from the sound of it, her characters in this Dearly Departed series.

1)Tell us about Carrie Martin and the Mah Jongg Players. What was the premise? Who was the protagonist?

Twenty-six years after abandoning her husband and daughter, attorney Carrie Martin’s mother suddenly appears in Carrie’s office. She leaves her daughter with a sealed envelope and the knowledge that she left her family rather than killing Carrie’s father. Before opening the envelope, Carrie heads to the Sunshine Village Retirement Home to ask her father about her past. When she arrives, she finds her mother got there first and has been murdered.
Instructed to leave the sleuthing to the police, Carrie can’t. Her compulsion to find out why her mother returned and why she was killed quickly puts her at odds with her former lover – the detective assigned to her mother’s case. As Carrie and her co-sleuths, the Sunshine Village Mah jongg players, attempt to unravel the secrets of Wahoo, Alabama, their efforts put Carrie in danger and show her that truth and integrity aren’t always what she was taught to believe.

2) What, or who, was your favorite part of the series?

The Mah jongg players are my favorite part of the series. Not only do they provide comic relief through their personalities, but they represent a sisterhood of women many of us long for. Four of the players met as young women and have grown old together. Because of their differences, they might not be friends if they met today. Their history lets them know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, get on each other’s nerves, bring out the best and the worse in each other, and always demonstrate a sense of fierce loyalty.

3) Why did it end?

My intent was for Should Have Played Poker: a Carrie Martin and the Mah Jongg Players to be a multi-book series, rather than a standalone, but the publisher, Five Star Publishing, discontinued its mystery line. Although they kept the book alive in hard cover and e-book for several years, eventually they stopped supporting it and returned my rights to me. Happily, on August 6, 2019, Harlequin Worldwide Mystery issued it in a mass market edition.

4) Would you ever resurrect the series?

When the series was orphaned, I tried to interest agents and editors in taking it on, but everyone gave me the same advice: “Write something new.” I’m not one to say “never,” but now, rather than resurrecting the series, I will probably return the Mah jongg players to their original setting – one of my short stories.

5) Does anything from Carrie Martin’s book show up in any of your other writing?

One of reasons I am partial to the Mah jongg players is that they were the focus of my first published short story, Legal Magic. When I began writing Should Have Played Poker, I quickly realized Carrie was going to not only have a serious personality, but be involved in complex situations, so I needed to bring in a contrasting character or characters to provide a lighter element to the book. When I remembered the diverse backgrounds and behavior of the Mah jongg players in my short story, I knew they would be the perfect balance to Carrie.

6) What are you working on these days?

Besides short stories, I write the Sarah Blair cozy mystery series for Kensington. The first book, One Taste Too Many, was released in January 2019. Two Bites Too Many was published last week. There will be additional books in 2020, 2021, and 2022.

Her Mom shows up after twenty-six years and dies!? That has my attention. Thank you so much for stopping by, Debra!


When the president of the town bank and city council is murdered after icing Emily’s business plans, all eyes are on the one person who left the scene with blood on her hands – the twins’ sharp-tongued mother, Maybelle.  Determined to get her mom off the hook ASAP, Sarah must collect the ingredients of a deadly crime to bring the true culprit to justice. But as neighbors turn against her family, can she pare down the suspects before another victim lands on the chopping block. [Recipes include Howellian Catnip Wine Spritzer].

Judge Debra H. Goldstein writes Kensington’s Sarah Blair mystery series (One Taste Too Many, Two Bites Too Many). She also wrote Should Have Played Poker and IPPY Award winning Maze in Blue. Her short stories, including Anthony and Agatha nominated “The Night They Burned Ms. Dixie’s Place,” have appeared in numerous periodicals and anthologies including Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Black Cat Mystery Magazine, and Mystery Weekly. Debra serves on the national boards of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America and is president of the Southeast Chapter of MWA and past president of SinC’s Guppy Chapter. Find out more about Debra at

Will you be checking out Debra’s new series? Do you know how to play Mah Jongg? Are you wildly curious about what happened with Carrie’s mother? Let me know!

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