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Query Letter: Play the Fool: An Award-Nominated Debut About a Down-And-Out Tarot Reader

Lina Chern has won widespread praise for her Edgar and Lefty nominated debut, Play The Fool.  The mystery follows a cynical, shopping mall sales girl and tarot card reader, who’s world is upended when a tarot reading gone wrong reveals the death of her best friend. I recently heard Chern read at Noir at the Bar and was immediately pulled in by the strong sense of voice. In addition to several awards nominations, the book earned a starred review from Library Journal for its “delicious blend of suspense and madcap humor.”


Chern has kindly shared the query that landed her an agent for Play The Fool, which was originally much longer and titled Hot Streak. She also shared some information about her publishing journey. Like most of us, Chern started by googling sample query letters and various “do’s and don’ts” lists, trying to craft a pitch based on those models. She was also a Pitch Wars mentee, which connected her with celebrated mystery writer Kristen Lepionka, who now runs a query-help service for writers, and literary agent Ernie Chiara.  Chern recommends a very useful query letter guide by Kristen that Ernie features on his page.

Here's the letter:


Dear Ms. MacKenzie,

Thank you for requesting my Pitch Wars manuscript HOT STREAK. Complete at 99,000 words, HOT STREAK is a standalone mystery with series potential.

For cynical tarot reader Katie True, a keen gut and quick wit are just tools of the trade. But when a tarot reading gone wrong reveals her sly goth friend Marley’s murder scene behind the mall where they both work, Katie’s razor-sharp instincts are put to a deadly test.

Hot on the trail of the small-time suburban mobster Marley was dating, Katie starts stacking up clues: a stolen bag of cash, an old high school yearbook, and a cheap locket that may hold the key to Marley’s murder. Jamie Roth, a soft-spoken local cop, is skeptical of Katie’s breakneck DIY sleuthing, but her oddball energy draws him in, and soon the pair can’t stay away from the case—or each other.

But the truth has deadly consequences, and Katie’s recklessness lands her in the crosshairs of the mobster’s second-rate crime crew, as well as a shadowy organization pulling strings behind the scenes. Now Katie must use her street-smarts and her inner Strength card to get all the facts to fit, or risk losing everything she’s worked for—her newfound confidence, her budding romance with Jamie, and even her life.

My crime fiction has been published by Fahrenheit Press and Mystery Weekly. Other work appears in the Marlboro Review, the Bellingham Review, Rhino, the Collagist, Black Fox Literary Magazine, and the Coil.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.


Lina Chern

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