Exclusive Excerpt: DRAMA MUSCLE (a Nicky and Noah Mystery) by Joe Cosentino


a comedy/mystery/romance novel by JOE COSENTINO from Lethe Press


Congratulations to Joe Cosentino for winning Best Contemporary Novel, Best Mystery Novel, Best Crime Novel, and Best Humorous Novel of 2015 for DRAMA QUEEN, the first Nicky and Noah mystery published by Lethe Press, in the Divine Magazine Readers’ Poll Awards!


It could be lights out for college theatre professor Nicky Abbondanza. With dead bodybuilders popping up on campus, Nicky, and his favorite colleague/life partner Noah Oliver, must use their drama skills to figure out who is taking down pumped up musclemen in the Physical Education building before it is curtain down for Nicky and Noah. Complicating matters is a visit from Noah’s parents from Wisconsin, and Nicky’s suspicion that Noah may be hiding more than a cut, smooth body. You will be applauding and shouting Bravo for Joe Cosentino’s fast-paced, side-splittingly funny, edge-of-your-seat entertaining second novel in this delightful series. Curtain up and weights up!


A half hour later, Noah and I (wearing dress shirts, chinos, and blazers), stood in the Bodybuilding Department office in front of the department office assistant’s desk. We looked at one another in surprise as the gray-haired, elderly woman behind the desk snored loudly, perched over her computer monitor. Professor Van Granite, who was much younger than the office assistant (and me), noticed our confusion.

“Mary has worked in the Physical Education building for fifty-five years,” said Granite. He winked at me. “That’s twenty years older than you, Nicky!”

“Why doesn’t she retire?” I asked.


Granite responded, “Because she gets insomnia at home, and at Mary’s age, she needs her sleep.” He nudged my side. “Most older people do.” Then he hooked his muscular arm with Noah’s and stood behind me. “Age before beauty, Professor Abbondanza.”

Luckily for Van Granite, Mary’s snoring drowned out my response.

Department Head Brick Strong’s windowless office in the Bodybuilding section of the Physical Education building reminded me of the custodian’s office in my grade school. Professor Strong’s rickety desk sat between a large drain pipe and an overflowing trash can.

The middle-aged ex-military man ran his thick fingers through his crew cut as he invited each of his guests to sit on rusty metal folding chairs assembled around his desk like cannons surrounding a target. Brick sat behind his desk on an old black chair perched on four squeaky wheels. Clockwise around Professor Strong sat Professor of Bodybuilding Cheryl Stryker, Professor of Bodybuilding Van Granite, my handsome Noah, yours truly, and Detective Manuello.

Though the Bodybuilding faculty wore sweat clothes, the bulges and curves of their formidable muscles were visible through the thick fabric.

Granite cased Noah’s body like a photocopy machine, until I caught Granite’s eye and he looked away—at my crotch. Then he checked himself out in the mirror on the wall. Obviously liking what he saw, Granite flexed his giant biceps, then ran a hand through his chestnut-brown hair. If he had been a student in the bodybuilding competition, I would have cast him as Narcissus.

“Thank you all for coming.” Dressed in a wrinkled gray suit, Manuello pulled at one of the folds of flab hanging over his thick belt. “As you know, this meeting is about the death of bodybuilding student Jonathan Toner.”

“What do you know so far, Detective?” asked Brick Strong in authority mode.

Manuello rubbed his wide nose. “The cause of death was a heart attack.”

Thinking of the numerous muscles on Jonathan’s petite frame, I asked, “Did Jonathan Toner die from taking steroids?”

Brick Strong’s crew cut nearly hit the moldy light bulb over his head. “Absolutely not! We don’t permit our students to use steroids.”

“Do you test them?” I asked.

I obviously had hit a nerve.

The department head said, “I say no steroids, and the students know that means no steroids.”

“I’ll have to try that with my students regarding texting during class,” I said with a nudge to Noah’s arm.

Manuello turned to me in annoyance. “Professor Abbondanza, why are you and Professor Oliver working in this department?”

Since Noah and I helped solve a series of murders in our Theatre Department last academic year, Manuello had a soft spot for us—where he sat.

Noah waved his hands theatrically. “Nicky and I are adding dramatic elements to this year’s student bodybuilding competition.”

“I’m sure,” Manuello answered with eyes raised to his bushy eyebrows. “The initial toxicology report showed something in Toner’s blood. The forensic team is doing further investigation, but they know it isn’t steroids or testosterone.”

Granite flashed his green eyes. “Is there anything else, Detective?” Glancing again at his reflection in the mirror, he added, “I’d like to fit in a workout before my morning class.” His gigantic pectoral muscles contracted under his skintight green sweatshirt as Granite said to Noah, “Care to join me, Professor Oliver?”

“Noah doesn’t like working out,” I explained with dagger eyes aimed at Granite.

Granite responded as if helping himself to sloppy seconds, “How about you, Abbondanza?”

After removing Granite’s thick hand from my arm, and lifting his chin from staring at my crotch, I answered, “I prefer to do my workouts alone.”

“Which is how it came about that Professor Abbondanza found Jonathan Toner last evening,” Manuello said getting us back on track. “Toner’s parents want his body flown to them in Montana after the full coroner’s report. While we wait, do any of you have any information that might be of help? We know Toner had no history of heart disease. But what about his recent state of mind? Is there anyone who might want to hurt him?”

“Detective,” said Cheryl Stryker, “I don’t know if this has anything to do with his death, but Jonathan has been training quite hard this semester.”

“Why is that?” asked Manuello.

“I think it was because Jonathan was jealous of Jillian Flowers,” Cheryl answered.

“Why was Jonathan jealous of Jillian?” I asked as Manuello raised his dark eyes to the cracks in the ceiling.

Cheryl answered, “Jonathan thought Brick had a personal interest in Jillian winning the competition.”

“That isn’t true, and you know it, Cheryl!” Brick Strong rose from his chair like a lawyer issuing a courtroom objection. “I’ve complimented Jillian and Mack a lot lately, because they’ve worked hard and made good progress. As a judge in the bodybuilding competition, I will be completely impartial.” He added to Granite and Cheryl, “I hope you will be too.”

Granite rested his powerful hand on Noah’s knee, and whispered, “Cheryl favors Tim Sim. Tim’s twin Kim is my bet to win the competition.”

I removed Granite’s hand from Noah’s lap.

Manuello asked, “Anything else, Professor Stryker?”

Cheryl nodded. “Jonathan was a good student, and a good bodybuilder, but unfortunately he wasn’t always a very good person.”

Manuello took out his pad and pencil. “Can you elaborate, Professor?”


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