The Greenleaf Murders

The Greenleaf Murders by R.J. Koreto Banner

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I dreamed of Manderley again. One of my favorite lines in literature from the classic, Rebecca, and a part of The Greenleaf Murders. If you love the idea of restoring old houses, and I mean old, then today we have an excellent mystery for you by R.J. Koreto! Best of all, the house that will be restored was a part of the Gilded Age. I love historic home tours, so add a little mystery and this is my idea of a perfect afternoon!

The Greenleaf Murders by R.J. Koreto

Synopsis:

Young architect Wren Fontaine lands her dream job: restoring Greenleaf House, New York’s finest Gilded-Age mansion, to its glory days. But old homes have old secrets: Stephen Greenleaf—heir to what’s left of his family’s legacy—refuses to reveal what his plans are once the renovation is completed. And still living in a corner of the home is Stephen’s 90-year-old Aunt Agnes who’s lost in the past, brooding over a long-forgotten scandal while watching Wren with mistrust.

Wren’s job becomes more complex when a shady developer who was trying to acquire Greenleaf House is found murdered. And after breaking into a sealed attic, Wren finds a skeleton stuffed in a trunk. She soon realizes the two deaths, a century apart, are strangely related. Meanwhile, a distraction of a different kind appears in the form of her client’s niece, the beautiful and seductive Hadley Vanderwerf. As Wren gingerly approaches a romance, she finds that Hadley has her own secrets.

Then a third murder occurs, and the introverted architect is forced to think about people, and about how ill-fated love affairs and obsessions continue to haunt the Greenleafs. In the end, Wren risks her own life to uncover a pair of murderers, separated by a century but connected by motive. She reveals an odd twist in the family tree that forever changes the lives of the Greenleafs, the people who served them, the mansion they all called home—and even Wren herself.

Praise for The Greenleaf Murders:

“A delightful who-done-it in which the house is as engaging as the wonderful heroine. Readers will want to get lost in these rooms and these pages.”

Cate Holahan, USA Today bestselling author of Her Three Lives

“If you love houses and puzzles – which I do – you will be captivated by THE GREENLEAF MURDERS, the first in Richard Koreto’s new series. Equally sure-footed in the gilded age of the mansion’s heyday and the contemporary world of its decline, Koreto has woven a pretzel of a plot, introduced a charming new heroine, and whetted appetites for more grave deeds and grandeur.”

Catriona McPherson, multi-award-winning author of the Dandy Gilver series

The Greenleaf Murders mixes a modern suspense mystery with the love of old-world mansions and iconic High Society. Buried secrets threaten a family clinging to their former glory as two murders surface, a century apart. Koreto weaves a story that creates the perfect tension between the beauty of the golden era and the fear of a killer in plain sight.”

L.A. Chandlar, national best selling author of the Art Deco Mystery Series

“One would think that a murder mystery featuring old homes, architecture, and rich blue bloods would be a dull read, but that’s not the case with R.J. Koreto’s finely-written “The Greenleaf Murders.” Filled with twists and turns and sharply-drawn characters, this well-done novel is very much recommended.”

Brendan DuBois, award-wining and New York Times bestselling author

Book Details:

Genre: Cozy Mystery
Published by: Level Best Books
Publication Date: November 2022
Number of Pages: 264
ISBN: 9781685122089
Series: Historic Homes Mysteries, #1
Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | BookShop.org | Goodreads | Level Best Books

Read an excerpt:

Last night, Wren had dreamt she went to Manderley again.

When she was fifteen, her mother had given her a copy of Rebecca, saying it was one of her favorites. A voracious reader, Wren finished it in a few days, but her reaction was not what her mother had hoped for.

“Rebecca was horrible, but Maxim was no prize either. And the second Mrs. De Winter—kind of wimpy.”

“You didn’t like anyone in that book?” asked her exasperated mother.

“I liked Mrs. Danvers. I know she was insane, but she really appreciated the house. If people had been nicer to her, maybe she wouldn’t have burned it down. The best part of the book was Manderley. I’d have liked to live there, in splendid isolation, and Mrs. Danvers would take care of things. She was the only one in the book who knew how to do something.”

Her mother just stared. What teenaged girl talked about living by herself in an ivy-covered British mansion? She kissed her daughter on her forehead. “Wren, you really are an old soul.”

But although Manderley was her first love, Wren proved fickle, and also fell in love with Holyrood House, Blenheim Palace, and Versailles.

A succession of guidance counselors worried about Wren, although she gradually learned to make friends, and even go on dates. However, nothing could replace her love for houses, and it was a foregone conclusion by college that she would become an architect like her father and spend as much time as possible working with houses and not people. And not just any houses, but the kind no one had lived in for a long time.

As Wren approached 30, her father made her a junior partner and told her if he could close the deal with Stephen Greenleaf, he’d let her take full responsibility for Greenleaf House. Once the proposal they had worked on so hard had been completed, Wren couldn’t think about anything beyond spending her days in that Gilded Age gem, one of the largest private residences ever built in New York City. Over the years, like the second Mrs. De Winter, she dreamed of Manderley, never more than when she was hoping for the Greenleaf job.

She came home late one evening after visiting a job site and found her father in the study of the home they still shared. Living at home had become a temporary convenience while she was at graduate school, which turned into a habit, as they liked each other’s company. Not that either would admit it.

She watched him sketch. Although the firm had an office in midtown Manhattan, her father preferred to work in the study of their Brooklyn townhouse. For normal work, she knew it was safe to interrupt him, but not while he did the sketches—his avocation, his passion, just him and his pencils, creating columns and cornices, chair railings, and gargoyles. The only light poured from the desk lamp, illuminating the fine paper and her father’s high-domed forehead. She wanted to know if he had heard anything—but had to wait patiently.

Eventually, the scratching stopped, and he put his pencil down.

“If you haven’t eaten yet, Ada left her spaghetti and meat sauce in the refrigerator. She’s a fine housekeeper, but that particular dish is a little common.”

“Only you would describe a dish of pasta as ‘common.’”

“You know what I mean. And if you don’t understand the context, you shouldn’t be an architect.”

“Fine. But I think it’s delicious.”

“Yes,” he said, with a touch of impatience. “I didn’t say it wasn’t delicious. I said it was common.” He swiveled in his chair and smiled. “But you’re really here to ask if I’ve heard from Greenleaf? I told him today that we couldn’t put aside our other projects indefinitely. And that Bobby Fiore was the only contractor we could trust, and we couldn’t ask him to postpone other jobs, so with a few arguments about the price, he agreed.”

Wren laughed, did a little dance, and punched the air. Then she ran and hugged her father, which he tolerated. “I knew you’d convince him. You are the most wonderful father.”

“Wren. Take a seat.” He said it in his even, measured tone, the one he used for serious discussions. Wren wiped the smile from her face, pulled up a chair, and tucked a rebellious lock of hair behind her ear. In the half-dark room, he took her hands in his.

“I have no doubt that you have the technical skills for this job. My concern is the personal skills. These are the Greenleafs. They were a force in this city when it was still New Amsterdam. We see their house merely as an architectural jewel. The family sees it as a symbol of how tightly they are tied to the history of this city. They are different from other people.”

“People are people,” she said.

“First of all, no. People are different. And even if you were right, people are not your strong suit.”

“I’ve worked well with our clients,” she said defensively.

“You referred to one of our clients as ‘a pompous bourgeois vulgarian.’”

Wren rolled her eyes. “Let’s not go there again. I didn’t say it to his face, just to you.”

“Do you think you hid your feelings?”

“You’ve said worse,” she countered. Then realized she had lost the argument when his eyes went up to the framed certificate on the wall—the Pritzker Prize, often called the Nobel Prize of architecture. I’ve earned my right to arrogance. You have a long way to go.

“Just remember that these people pay our bills. I know we often work to protect them from their own worse instincts, but let’s try to be a little more politic. Your mother used to say you lived in your own special world. But you have to join the rest of humanity every now and then. And that brings me back to Greenleaf House. This is the very important symbol of what was once one of the most important families in this city. Keep that in mind when dealing with Stephen Greenleaf.”

“We’ve already had several meetings, don’t forget. He didn’t seem that unusual to me—runs his own asset management firm. I’ve dealt with Wall Street types before. It won’t be a problem.”

“Wren.” Again, heavy on her name—all her life, this had been the sign of a serious conversation. “The Greenleafs made their money before there was a Wall Street. People like this are unusually touchy about their families and histories. Now that you’re actually starting, his behavior may change. There could be some emotional repercussions. To make this a success, you will have to watch out for those feelings and manage them.”

“And you’re about to say—again—that I understand houses but not people.”

“Let’s just say it’s more of an effort for you. You can work with people. You just don’t like to. But I made you a partner. So you can’t just do the fun parts of your job. You have to do it all.”

“Yes, father,” she said. He was serious, so there could be no more pushback from her. No verbal fencing. He wanted her to live up to his expectations.

“It isn’t your father who’s asking you, Wren. It’s the senior partner of this firm, Ms. Fontaine.”

She nodded. “I understand, Ezra.”

And then he lightened his face with a smile. “But before we move on to the particulars, there is one more piece of advice, this time from your father. It may be hard to remember in any residence we work on, but especially in one with more than 70 rooms, it is not just a house. It’s someone’s home. It was Mr. Greenleaf’s childhood home, in fact, and his aunt has lived there her entire life. You’re not very sentimental Wren—and that’s fine. Neither am I. But please remember that—it’s not just a building. It’s a home.”

***

Excerpt from The Greenleaf Murders by R.J. Koreto. Copyright 2022 by R.J. Koreto. Reproduced with permission from R.J. Koreto. All rights reserved.

Author Bio:

R.J. Koreto

R.J. Koreto is the author of the Historic Home mystery series, set in modern New York City; the Lady Frances Ffolkes mystery series, set in Edwardian England; and the Alice Roosevelt mystery series, set in turn-of-the-century New York. His short stories have been published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, as well as various anthologies.

In his day job, he works as a business and financial journalist. Over the years, he’s been a magazine writer and editor, website manager, PR consultant, book author, and seaman in the U.S. Merchant Marine. Like his heroine, Lady Frances Ffolkes, he’s a graduate of Vassar College.

With his wife and daughters, he divides his time between Rockland County, N.Y., and Martha’s Vineyard, Mass.

Catch Up With R.J. Koreto:
RJKoreto.com
Goodreads
BookBub – @rkoreto1
Instagram – @rjkoreto
Twitter – @RJKoreto
Facebook – @RJKoreto

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This is a giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Tours for R.J. Koreto. See the widget for entry terms and conditions. Void where prohibited.

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February News for Books to the Ceiling


The production crew is working hard for the debut of the second book in The Swinging Sixties Series:

If I Had a Hammer.
March 14 is my publication date, but I don’t have the final cover to show you yet.

This is why authors go prematurely gray.

300

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Dark of Night


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This week we visit the U.P. (Upper Penisula of Michigan) to solve a crime with ranger Annie Pederson in Colleen Coble’s Dark of Night. Hope you packed your bug repellant and your powers of deduction as we navigate the wilderness around Lake Superior.

More About Dark of Night

The law is about justice—not grace. But perhaps ranger Annie Pederson can find a way to have both.

As if the last few months haven’t been hard enough—complete with threats on her life and the return of her first love, Jon—Annie has to figure out whether or not to believe a woman who claims to be her sister, Sarah, who was abducted twenty-four years ago at age five. Annie’s eight-year-old daughter, Kylie, has plenty of questions about what’s going on in her mother’s life—but there are some stones Annie doesn’t want uncovered.

As Annie grapples with how to heal the gulf between her and her would-be sister and make room in her daughter’s life for Jon, she’s professionally distracted by the case of yet another missing hiker in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. A woman named Michelle Fraser has now been abducted, and though the woman’s estranged husband is at the top of their suspect list, Annie and her colleagues will need to dig deeper and determine whether these recent mysteries are truly as unrelated as they seem.

In this second novel of bestselling author Colleen Coble’s latest romantic-suspense series, Annie and Jon must fight for the future—and the family—that could once more be theirs.

Book Details:

Genre: Romantic Suspense
Published by: Thomas Nelson
Series: Annie Pederson #2
Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | ChristianBook | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

Chapter 1

Should she even be out here alone? Michigan’s U.P. was a whole lotta wilderness. Michelle Fraser’s shoulder blades gave a tingle and made her glance back to see if anyone was following her. No one there. But in spite of seeing no movement in the trees and bushes, she couldn’t discount her gut instinct. She’d been spooked ever since she left the safety of the women’s shelter.

Maybe it was just knowing she was out here with no backup that had her on edge.

The heavy scent of rain hung in the twilight air as she set the last of her wildlife cameras in the crook of a large sugar maple tree. A northern flying squirrel chattered a warning from its nest. The glaucomys sabrinus’s agitation made Michelle pull away in time to avoid being nipped.

Thunder rumbled in the distance, and a spooky mist blew through the forest. The sooner she was out of here, the better. Her last set of cameras hadn’t turned up the elusive mountain lions she’d been searching for, but a hunter in neighboring Ontonagon County had snapped a picture of a large male reclining on a rock. If she could acquire more data, it would aid her research for the magazine article proving mountain lions inhabited the area. And she had to have pictures.

She’d been obsessed with big cats for as long as she could remember. Even the various names held a fascinating mystique: catamount, puma, cougar, mountain lion, panther.

A mosquito landed on her arm, and she swatted it. Her hands came away with a drop of blood on her fingers. Yuck. She wiped the residue on her khaki shorts and turned to go back to her ATV. A sound erupted to her right, and it sounded like either a puma or a woman’s scream. The hair on her neck prickled, and she moved that way.

The scream pealed again, and she removed the lens cap on the camera slung around her neck. Her palms dampened, and her breath came fast. Walking toward danger might not be the smartest thing, but Michelle couldn’t help herself. She yearned to see a puma in the wild in all its power and beauty. Her knees shook as she pulled out a bullhorn from her backpack to frighten away the cat if it sensed her as prey.

Queen pumas would be protecting their litters in June, so she needed to be careful. Her lungs labored as she rushed in that direction. Her black belt in jujitsu wouldn’t do much against the speed and power of a puma. She seized a large branch to make herself seem bigger as she advanced through the forest. Evergreen needles clawed at her arms as she forced her way through a thick stand of white pine.

She paused on the other side and caught the glimmer of water. Lake Superior’s waves lapped at the rocky shore, and she spotted a yellow kayak riding the swells in the shallow surf. A discarded backpack bobbed beside it.

Her sense of unease grew as she observed the scene. Glancing around, she approached the water and snagged the backpack from the lake, then pulled the kayak onto the rocks. Her gut told her someone was in trouble.

Should she call out? If it was wildlife threatening the woman she thought she’d heard, Michelle could scare it off with a flare. But if the attacker was human, she didn’t want to give away her presence and put the woman in greater danger. She scanned the area for bear or cougar scat but found nothing.

The sound of oars slapping the water came from her left, and she ducked back into the shadow of the pines until she could tell the intent of the boaters. Two figures partially shrouded in mist paddled a large canoe around a rocky finger of the shore. The glimpse of broad shoulders through the fog indicated they were probably men. She strained to listen through the sound of the wind and water but couldn’t hear much.

She couldn’t put her finger on why she didn’t want them to see her. Maybe because they were men, and Brandon might have sent them after her.

“I know she ran this way. Trying to get to her kayak, eh.” The man’s heavy Yooper accent carried well over the water.

“Can’t see her through this mist,” the other man said. “I don’t know why I let you talk me into this. Your love life isn’t my business.”

“You owe me. Let’s try on down the shore. There’s a deer trail toward the road she might have tried to take.”

Their voices faded as their canoe moved past. She didn’t get a good look at their faces. Was a woman out there trying to escape an abusive ex? Michelle had seen plenty of that kind of trauma this past year and had experienced abuse personally.

Once they were out of sight, she stepped back into the clearing. “Hello,” she called softly. “Is anyone here? I can help you.”

She walked across the green mossy clearing, searching for a sign of an injured woman. The bushes to her left shivered and rustled, and she stepped closer. “Hello? Do you need help?”

The leaves parted as the mist swirled along the ground, and the pale oval of a woman’s face emerged. Long blonde hair hung in strings along her cheeks, and her eyelids fluttered as though she might faint. Michelle rushed forward and helped the young woman to her feet. She was in her early twenties with a slight build. Mud smeared her khaki shorts and red top, and she was barefoot.

She seemed familiar, and Michelle reached down to touch her forehead. She nearly recoiled at the heat radiating from the young woman. “Wait, aren’t you Grace Mitchell?”

They’d met when Grace first arrived at the shelter, but Michelle hadn’t immediately recognized her with the mud and dirt on her face and hair. The woman’s fever alarmed Michelle. “You’re burning up. We need to get you to a doctor.”

“I-I’ll be fine. Do you have some way out of here?”

“My ATV is this way.” Michelle put her right arm around the woman’s waist and helped her stumble toward the trail. “What are you doing out here?”

Grace paused and wiped the beads of perspiration from her forehead. “I spotted my ex driving past the shelter, and I knew he’d found me. That day we met, you mentioned a remote area you liked with a great camping spot, and I decided to try to find it. You know, hide out until I figured out where to go to get away from Roy. But I stopped by to get camping gear from my parents, and he must have followed me here. He’s out there somewhere. He and a buddy.” Her blue eyes flashed with fear. “I can’t let him find me.”

They reached the ATV, and Michelle got Grace situated, but it was a tight squeeze on the vehicle meant for one person. Michelle got water out of her backpack and helped Grace drink some. She grabbed her phone, too, and took a quick photo of the traumatized girl before she dropped it back into the pack.

Michelle started the machine and pulled out onto the trail back to the cabin where she’d been hiding out. She should have gotten out of here earlier since the weather had caused darkness to fall sooner than expected. It would be slow going on the rough trail with only the headlamps pushing the darkness back a short distance.

After only a few minutes, Michelle realized she’d gotten off the trail. She stopped the machine and looked around. Which way should she go? She consulted her compass and decided to push due west. They’d only gone a few feet when the ground gave out under the machine, and they went flying into the air. When Michelle hit the ground, something in her right leg snapped, and the excruciating pain was instantaneous.

She bit back a scream but couldn’t stop the moan as she pulled her knee to her chest. The swelling was already starting four inches above her ankle, but at least it didn’t appear to be a compound fracture. “I-I’ve broken my leg. Are you all right, Grace?”

When Grace didn’t answer, Michelle felt along the ground until she touched her thigh. “Grace?” She felt up the young woman’s body to her face.

Grace wasn’t breathing. “Oh no,” Michelle whispered. She checked her out in the dark as best as she could. No pulse.

Michelle dragged herself to the machine but it was on its side, and she couldn’t right it with her broken leg. No one would be searching for her out here, so she had to find shelter. But how?

The pain made it hard to think. She froze at the sound of movement in the vegetation. Something big was crashing toward her. A deer? A mountain lion or bear?

A man’s shoulders moved into sight, and his expression sent shivers up her spine. When he reached down to lift her up, the pain intensified in her leg, and her vision went black.

///

Law enforcement ranger Annie Pederson sat at a table by herself in the small interrogation room at the Rock Harbor jail and waited for Taylor Moore to be brought in for questioning. Maybe it was Annie’s imagination, but it seemed as if the beige paint on the walls reeked with the guilt and despair of countless years of interrogations. Even the clean scent of the disinfectant used in the area didn’t dissipate the unpleasantness. She didn’t like this space and wished she could have talked to Taylor at the coffee shop or somewhere more pleasant.

But this meeting might be the end of her lifelong search, so she would have faced even tigers in this place.

The door opened and Taylor entered. Several weeks ago Annie had hired her to help out around the Tremolo Marina and Cabin Resort and with Annie’s eight-year-old daughter, but the woman had been picked up for questioning about the necklace found belonging to a murdered girl. Her claim to be Annie’s sister, Sarah—kidnapped from Tremolo Island twenty-four years ago—had turned Annie’s every thought on its head. According to Taylor’s ID, she was twenty-nine, three years younger than Annie, so that detail matched Sarah.

Annie’s heart squeezed at Taylor’s ducked head and stringy locks. The bright-red hair dye was fading, and glints of her natural blonde color showed through. Her jeans and tee looked like she’d slept in them for days, and the scent of stale perspiration wafted from her.

Taylor glanced up, and Annie bit back a gasp at the defiance gleaming in those vivid blue eyes that matched Annie’s eye color instead of the muddy brown Annie was used to. Jon Dunstan had claimed Taylor was wearing contacts to change her eye color, and it seemed he was right.

Annie had prided herself on her ability to read people in her line of work. She’d always thought she could detect a liar with no problem. Taylor had completely snowed her. After Taylor’s impeccable references, Annie had trusted the woman with her child.

Sheriff Mason Kaleva ambled in behind Taylor. He gestured to the chair across the table from Annie. “Have a seat, Ms. Moore.”

In his forties, his husky form brought solace to Annie. He’d always been there for her and his town, and his kind brown eyes swept over her in a questioning gaze. She gave him a little nod to let him know she was okay.

Taylor’s eyes narrowed. “It’s Ms. Vitanen. Sarah Vitanen.”

A wave of dizziness washed over Annie, and she bit her lip and eyed Taylor closely. “You claim to be my sister, but do you have any proof?”

The chair screeched on the tile floor as Taylor pulled it out before she plopped onto it. “I should have expected you wouldn’t welcome me with open arms. After all, you did nothing to stop my abduction.”

Heat swept up Annie’s neck and lodged in her cheeks. “What could an eight-year-old do to stop an adult? If you’re really Sarah, what was the name of your favorite stuffed animal?”

“Cocoa,” Taylor said without hesitation. “It was a brown kitten. I couldn’t have a real one because Mom was allergic.”

Annie’s eyes widened. She caught her breath as she studied the other woman across the table. “Let me see your left knee.”

Rebellion flashed in Taylor’s blue eyes, and she leaned down to yank up her baggy jeans, then stood with her tanned knee exposed. A faded two-inch scar just below her kneecap matched the one in Annie’s memory. Sarah had gotten snagged on a large metal hook under the dock at the marina. It had taken fifteen stitches to close the wound, and Annie had helped her sister hobble around for several weeks.

But was that proof? Kids had scars from all sorts of things. She wanted to believe her sister was still alive, but was Taylor really Sarah?

Her breath eased from her lips, and Annie couldn’t speak for a long moment. “You really believe you’re Sarah? Did you research all that and make sure the details matched?”

Taylor just stared back at her with that same defiance. In Annie’s dreams, finding Sarah meant a tight embrace and happy tears, but Taylor’s stance with her arms folded across her chest and her jutting chin warned Annie off any displays of affection. Not that she was feeling any warmth toward the other woman in this moment.

When the other woman plopped back in her chair and didn’t answer, Annie licked her lips. “Why didn’t you tell me when you first showed up looking for work? Why the fake name? I’ve been searching for my sister for years.”

“Have you? Have you really?”

Annie glanced at Mason. “Ask him if you don’t believe me.”

Mason shifted his bulky form and nodded. “I’ve been helping Annie search. We’ve sent DNA samples numerous times over the past ten years. Her parents searched for Sarah, and even hired investigators, until their deaths.”

Annie hadn’t known that. Her parents’ business, the Tremolo Marina and Cabin Resort, operated on a shoestring, so they must have taken much needed money to try to find Sarah.

Annie shifted her gaze back to the woman across the table. Taylor twisted a strand of hair around her finger in a coil. Sarah used to do that too. If this was a scam, it was an elaborate one. With all her heart Annie wanted to believe it, but she couldn’t quite accept it. It was so sudden, and the circumstances were bizarre.

Mason cleared his throat. “We’ll need a little more proof. We can get the DNA back in a week or so.”

“I have nothing to hide,” the other woman said.

Annie had spent twenty-four years agonizing over her failure to save Sarah. The guilt had nearly swallowed her alive, though everyone told her she couldn’t have done anything. Until a few days ago, she hadn’t been able to recall much about that awful night. Maybe she hadn’t wanted to remember how she froze in fear when the kidnapper grabbed Sarah.

Annie fingered the scar on her neck where the attacker had wounded her with a knife. She’d been left for dead in the cold waters of Lake Superior, and while logically she knew she was no match for the gruff woman who’d snatched her sister, Annie had struggled to believe it.

“Were any of the things you told me about your life true? Those things you said about your m-mother?”

“I had a rotten life, if that’s what you’re asking. All those things I said about my mother were true. And it was all your fault.”

There was nothing Annie could say to counter that when her own conscience condemned her too. She was only too glad when her boss, Kade Matthews, texted her with a new case. Mason could continue the questioning about the necklace.

***

Excerpt from Dark of Night by Colleen Coble. Copyright 2022 by Colleen Coble. Reproduced with permission from HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.

Author Bio:

Colleen Coble

Colleen Coble is a USA TODAY bestselling author best known for her coastal romantic suspense novels, including The Inn at Ocean’s Edge, Twilight at Blueberry Barrens, and the Lavender Tides, Sunset Cove, Hope Beach, and Rock Harbor series.

Connect with Colleen online at:
colleencoble.com
Goodreads
BookBub: @colleencoble
Instagram: @colleencoble
Twitter: @colleencoble
Facebook: colleencoblebooks

This is a giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Tours for Harper Collins and Colleen Coble. See the widget for entry terms and conditions. Void where prohibited.

Snuffed Out


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Do you believe in aromatherapy and nontraditional medicine? In Snuffed Out, the murder victim is given a lotion for migraines. Curious, right? Read more about a brand new mystery from The Magic Candle Shop Mystery Series! 

About Snuffed Out

Snuffed Out (Magic Candle Shop Mystery)
Paranormal Cozy Mystery
1st in Series
Setting – Savannah, GA
Crooked Lane Books (January 10, 2023)

Twin sisters Tabby and Sage co-own a candle shop, but will it all go up in flames in Valona Jones’ series debut, perfect for fans of Amanda Flower and Bailey Cates.

30-year-old fraternal twins Tabby and Sage Winslow own The Book and Candle Shop in Savannah. Sage is hot-headed and impulsive while Tabby is calm and collected, making them the perfect partnership. When one of their customers is found murdered, from a blow to the head, that partnership is put to the test.

Blithe McAdam had been seen in a heated argument with shop clerk Gerard, which immediately makes him suspect number one. The twins are convinced of Gerard’s innocence and start digging into Blithe’s past. But no one is cooperating. The neighbor who found the body isn’t talking, medical examiner Quig won’t give any details about the autopsy, and nasty rumors begin surfacing about the drowning of Blithe’s father years earlier—evidence that could seal Gerard’s fate.

Tabby and Sage dig desperately for the truth. But it’s not only their friend who’s in peril. With the clock ticking, the twins find themselves in the grip of an unseen and deadly energy that has seeped into their midst—and in the sights of a ruthless killer.

Read an Excerpt from Snuffed Out

After each round of customers, I straightened stock, aligned our eclectic collection of books related to Savannah, pinched off brown fronds on our front-window fern pots, which were interspersed with fanciful sculptures of dragons, pirates, and more. The cats stayed closer than usual today, which suggested a brewing storm. To ward off trouble, I tinkled our special wind chimes, pleased with the harmonic notes.

Foot traffic through the shop slowed at about one thirty, and by three, I was counting the moments until five, when I could lock up. Or I was until two cops breezed through my front door.

Detectives Sharmila Belfor and Chase Nowry were a salt-and-pepper pair, him the iodized white salt and her the spicy black pepper. A few years ago the city and county had conjoined their police forces, but recently they’d become separate entities again. No official reason was given, but I suspected there’d been too many cooks in the kitchen. That never worked out.

I’d met the city detectives last month when they dropped by in relation to a burglary at the wine shop down the street. That situation resolved quickly, and I hoped for the same outcome to their Bristol Street visit today. “Good afternoon, Detectives,” I said. “How may I help you?”

“We’re investigating a homicide, ma’am,” Detective Nowry said, easing onto the padded stool by the counter, his expression grim. His deeply lined face attested to his years of service as a law enforcement officer.

His words shook me, and my fevered imagination took flight, imagining a horrific end to someone I knew. I braced my arms on the sales counter and made myself ask, “Who died?”

“Blithe McAdam.”

Buzzing sounded in my ears, as if I’d landed in a beehive. Blithe. She wasn’t a nice person, but I wouldn’t wish homicide on anyone.

“Ms. Winslow,” Detective Nowry asked, “what can you tell us about this woman?”

“I knew her. She bought candles here from time to time.”

Detective Belfor leaned in. “And hand cream?”

“Uh. Yes. The lotion. Um. My sister gave her the lotion on Thursday.”

His head cocked to the side, parrot-wise. “She didn’t purchase it?”

“Well, no.” I didn’t like the way he studied me, as if I were a bug in his private insect collection. Harley left his cozy basket on the floor and jumped onto the stool behind the counter, startling me. Feeling like I was under a magnifying glass, I scooped the cat in my arms, to use as my shield.

“Ms. Winslow, is there something you’re not saying?”

Harley’s contented purr steadied me. “Blithe McAdam suffered from severe headaches. When she couldn’t find pain relief in the traditional medical community, she tried our aromatherapy candles. She bought sets of candles every week for several weeks, but this week she said our candles didn’t help. Sage gave her a full refund and the lotion.”
“Any heated words exchanged?”

I gave them my best shopkeeper smile. “The customer is always right. We addressed her concerns, and she left. That was the end of our conversation.”

“Come now, Ms. Winslow,” Detective Belfor said. “The victim was a disagreeable woman. I’m sure there’s more to the story.”

“We want our customers to be happy, Detectives. She arrived upset, and we eased her concern. She departed in a better frame of mind. What more can I say?”

“Did you see her after Thursday?”

“No, I did not.”

“Did your coworkers see her?”

“Not that I know of. If you don’t believe me, check our security footage.” I pointed to the camera behind the counter. From long usage, I knew the lens captured the sales counter and the front door.

They observed me with their laser-focused cop vision, and I was delighted to have Harley to help me through this. My turn to pose a question. “How’d she die?”

“A blow to the head,” Detective Belfor said. “You know anyone who had a beef with her? Someone who hated her enough to kill her?”

Blithe was a difficult person, but it was one thing to dislike her and quite another to end her life. “No.”

“Are you certain?” Detective Nowry asked. “Perhaps someone who despised her. Are you protecting someone? A coworker, perhaps?”

My chin rose with my indignation. “No one I know would do such a thing.”

“What about her friends or family?”

“She’s a customer. We aren’t best friends with our customers. Shopkeepers are friendly for business reasons.”

“Interesting,” Nowry said, “but you didn’t answer my question.”

About Valona Jones

Valona Jones writes paranormal cozy mysteries set in Southern locales. Her work blends mystery and the unexplained, along with a sprinkle of romance. A former scientist, she’s drawn to the study of personal energy. She sharpened her people-watching skills as a lifelong introvert and thankfully had a bank vault full of personal observations when she began to write fiction. Her forthcoming release, Snuffed Out, A Magic Candle Shop Mystery, is slated for January 10, 2023, release. She’s a member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime. She lives in coastal Georgia, where time and tide wait for no one. Visit her at https://valonajones.com

Author Links

Website: https://valonajones.com

Facebook: https://facebook.com/valonajonesauthor

BookBub https://www.bookbub.com/authors/valona-jones

GoodReads https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/22140872.Valona_Jones

(Valona is not on twitter, Instagram, TikTok, nor Pinterest)

Purchase Links – Amazon KindleAmazon HardcoverNookB&N HardcoverKobo
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Death on the Emerald Isle

Listen to this post as a podcast.
It’s Jessica time again! Jessica is in Ireland for this one, delivering some artwork to the family of a friend from Cabot Cove. Of course, you already know it’s going to be a little more complicated than that!

Murder, She Wrote: Death on the Emerald Isle

Cozy Mystery/56th in Series/Setting – Ireland/ Berkley (January 3, 2023)

A trip to Northern Ireland becomes unexpectedly grim for Jessica Fletcher in this new entry in the USA Today bestselling Murder, She Wrote series.

About Murder, She Wrote: Death on the Emerald Isle

Jessica Fletcher is quick to accept an invitation to replace a speaker who couldn’t attend a Book Festival in Belfast, Ireland. When her Cabot Cove neighbor Maeve O’Bannon hears about the trip, she asks Jessica to deliver some paintings to her family in the village of Bushmills. Happy to extend her travels and see more of the Irish countryside, Jessica agrees.

The festival goes off without a hitch, and it seems like Jessica is in for a relaxing vacation. But then Maeve’s cousin Michael is discovered dead under suspicious circumstances. Jessica finds herself once again in the midst of a murder investigation, and she’ll have to dig into the O’Bannon family’s secrets to unmask the killer.

Excerpt

Chapter One

Seth Hazlitt, my longtime friend and Cabot Cove’s favorite doctor, was sitting at my kitchen table sipping coffee while I was trying to cross as many items off my to-do list as possible.

“Okay, so, now Susan Shevlin checked in with Jed Richardson and has booked all my connecting flights. We’re so lucky to have a world-class travel agent as a friend and neighbor. You are going to look after my house. Oh, and I need to ask Maeve O’Bannon if she will keep an eye on my garden, especially those seedlings I planted two weeks ago.”

Seth tugged at his eyeglasses, peered across the table at my seemingly unending roster of chores, and said, “Jessica, I don’t understand why whenever anyone imposes on your time, you rearrange your entire life to help them out. Doesn’t seem fair to me. Would anyone do the same for you? And I sure could use some pastry to go with this coffee.”

“Well, then, you should have stopped at Charlene Sassi’s bakery before you came by. Since I’m leaving in two days, I need to empty out my refrigerator, not fill it with snacks, although, as you can see, my fruit bowl isn’t quite empty.”

A thought popped into my head and I jotted, “Temporarily cancel delivery of the Cabot Cove Gazette,” on my notepaper before I continued. “I don’t see why you are making such a big fuss over a little trip. I am simply doing a favor for a friend. Believe me, if the situation were reversed, Lorna Winters would do the same for me.”

Seth guffawed. “A little trip? Is that what you’re calling it? Let me tell you, driving an hour or two up the coast to Belfast, Maine, might be something I would consider a little trip. Traveling from here to Belfast, Northern Ireland, that is what I call a l-o-n-g trip. Wasn’t it only last Tuesday that you claimed to be too busy to go fishing on Moon Lake for a few short hours with me along with Mort and Maureen Metzger? But today, at the drop of a hat . . .”

I counted to ten and then replied, hoping my exasperation didn’t show, “Seth, Lorna Winters didn’t drop a hat. Since you are a physician, I would think you’d appreciate the consequences of breaking her leg in several places. The leg is now in what Lorna described as a ‘torturous cast’ from ankle to hip and she is confined to a wheelchair. Her doctor insists that she stay home in Minnesota so that he can look after her. You know how finicky doctors can be, so there is no way she can go to the Belfast Book Festival and accept the American Author Guest of Honor Award without violating her doctor’s orders.”

“It is only common sense to follow doctor’s orders,” Seth said. “But it seems to me some committee member could pack up her award in a tidy box and drop it in the mail, and your friend would have her trophy, or whatever, in no time.”

“There is far more to Lorna’s participation than accepting a plaque. She is scheduled for interviews and panels specifically geared to American mysteries. So many things will have to be rearranged if there wasn’t an American author to take her place.”

A firm rat-a-tat-tat on my kitchen door punctuated my last few words and I turned to see my neighbor Maeve O’Bannon through the glass pane on the top half of the door. Her curly gray hair was escaping from a bun fashioned carelessly atop her head, a sure sign she’d been either baking or gardening, which were her two favorite passions.

When I signaled her to come in, she raised both hands, which were holding a dish covered by a white linen cloth. One glance and it took Seth less than a second to push back his chair and pull the door open.

“Maeve O’Bannon to the rescue,” he said. “A man could starve in this house.”

Maeve sent a meaningful glance to the fruit bowl on my table, which held two apples and an orange. “I guess that would depend on what the man wanted to eat.”

“My nose has me hoping that you’re holding some freshly baked scones. And that you’ve come to share,” Seth said.

“Half a point to you. Tell me what kind of scones and you’ll earn a full point, and a scone besides.” Maeve always enjoyed bantering with Seth about her baked goods.

Seth leaned closer to her and inhaled deeply. “Ah, citrus. Orange. Tell me, Maeve, have you a plateful of your mouthwatering cranberry-orange scones?”

“I have indeed.” Maeve took off the cloth and placed a lovely crystal platter piled high with lightly iced scones on the table.

I took some dessert plates from the cabinet, set out napkins, and reached gratefully for a scone. “Maeve, I didn’t even know I was hungry, but after one look at your scones . . . Can I offer you tea or coffee?”

“I would welcome a cup of tea if it’s not too much trouble,” Maeve said as she settled into the chair between mine and Seth’s.

I served Maeve a cup of tea and sat down to enjoy my scone, which was as delicious as it was fragrant. I was swallowing my final bite and was about to praise her baking skills to the sky when Maeve interrupted my train of thought.

“Jessica, I ran into Alicia Richardson in the Fruit and Veg first thing this morning and she mentioned that Jed would be flying you off on the first leg of a trip to Belfast.”

I automatically reached for my to-do list, hoping to check off “plants and seedlings,” but Maeve distracted me by saying, “I was hoping I could impose on you by asking for a slight favor.”

Seth interjected, “Maeve, you do know that Jessica isn’t merely hopping up the coast to our Belfast. She is flying across the ocean to the original Belfast, the one in Northern Ireland.”

Maeve nodded. “I do indeed know that and I can tell you that Belfast is so very near my father’s ancestral home in the village of Bushmills. That is why I’ve come to ask a favor.”

Although I wasn’t at all familiar with the geography of Northern Ireland, I had a momentary fear of traveling hours and hours out of my way so I could snap a picture or two of some ancient ruins of a thatched-roof cottage, the straw and reeds of which had long since given way. Still, Maeve was a good neighbor and I’d always considered her a friend, so I thought it best to hear her out.

“My father was born and raised on a tenant farm just outside Bushmills, but he always had a love of the sea, and with jobs at home being scarce at the time, he left at the age of seventeen to become a seafaring man. Oh, he traveled the world several times over. And many an evening when I was a child, he’d sit with his pipe in his hand and me on his knee and tell about all the places he’d been and the wondrous things he’d seen.” Maeve’s blue eyes began to glow with the memories.

“How did a sailor from Northern Ireland wind up here in Cabot Cove?” Seth wondered aloud.

“Ah, now, there’s my favorite part of the story. It seems he was a deckhand on a ship bound for Nova Scotia. When it arrived in the Bay of Fundy, it had some serious troubles and needed to be dry-docked for repairs for a length of time that was far too long for my da. At this part of the story, he would look me in the eye and say, ‘Not being a landlubber, it wasn’t my way to sit around and wait,’ and we would both shake our heads really fast.” Maeve laughed. “So when a nearby ship was looking for a hand for a short journey to Portland, Maine, my da jumped at the chance to fill the days until his ship would be ready to be off again.”

I was intrigued, wondering what Maeve’s father had seen in Portland that enticed him to stay in Maine. I should have known.

“At this point in the story, my da would look across the room at my mam, who was in her rocker, often knitting, sometimes sewing, and he would smile and say, ‘When we docked at Portland, as I was helping to lower the gangplank, I saw the most beautiful girl, with hints of copper flowing through her light brown curls and eyes bluer than the sky, standing in line ready to board for our return trip.’ No matter how long they’d been married, my mam always blushed when Da described the scene.” Maeve took a sip of tea before she finished her story.

“By the time Mam left the ship at Jonesport to visit her aunt Lottie, my da was totally smitten. As soon as he’d sailed back to Nova Scotia, he said his good-byes to his shipmates and hitched a ride back down to Maine. Six months later he sailed back to Ireland to invite his family to the wedding. By all accounts a number of the relatives came and it was a joyous event. Da worked the lobster boats and over time was able to buy one of his own. Years of hard work led to my parents buying the house next door, where I have lived ever since and where I hope to die.”

“And from what I recall of your recent physical examination, that final event won’t be coming along anytime soon.” As Maeve’s doctor, Seth gave his opinion.

Maeve smiled and patted Seth’s hand. “Maybe not, but I do know that the years are piling on, one after the other, far faster than they used to. And that brings me to the reason I need a favor from Jessica. I have four watercolors that my grandfather painted for my parents and brought over as a wedding present. They are local scenes surrounding the village. He even included one that was his own interpretation of the Giant’s Causeway-beautifully done, I might add.”

“The Giant’s Causeway? Is that a bridge of some sort?” Seth asked.

Maeve laughed. “If you were Finn McCool, ‘bridge’ might be the perfect description. I’ve a book of Irish mythology in the house and it includes a fine explanation of the legend of Finn McCool-or Fionn mac Cumhaill, as it’s pronounced in the Irish-and the Giant’s Causeway. I’d be glad to pass it along.”

Seth nodded but I could see he was disappointed not to get an immediate answer to his question. I decided to bring the conversation back to the reason Maeve had arrived, scones in hand.

“Maeve, you said you needed a favor? What exactly can I do for you?”

“Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about my grandfather’s paintings. I’m not getting any younger and I have neither siblings nor children. But I do have cousins and they have children.” Maeve paused.

Although I was quick to see where this was headed, I waited for Maeve to continue.

“Jessica, if it wouldn’t be too great an ask, I was wondering if you would be kind enough to escort my grandfather’s paintings home. I would arrange for you to stay at a lovely small hotel in Bushmills where I myself have stayed more than once. It’s run by the Nolan family, who are gracious hosts, and they will welcome you as my guest. I will ask Dougal Nolan to arrange for a small reception where you can present the paintings to the cousins and their children. From that point on, they can decide among themselves where the paintings should reside, but I think it is important that the family are all together when they see the paintings for the first time. Don’t you agree?”

Of course I had no actual view on the matter, but since it was Maeve’s family, I accepted her judgment on what was best.

On the other hand, Seth had a number of opinions. “Maeve, don’t you think you are asking a lot of Jessica? How is she to carry four paintings? If you’ve had them all this while, I suppose they are framed.”

“Dr. Hazlitt, what do you take me for? A ninny? I have had them removed from their frames and packed in tubes so that they will travel lightly and arrive safely. The cousins can buy their own frames if they’ve a mind.” Maeve huffed.

Seth nodded, satisfied that his concern had been met. “That’s the spirit, Maeve. You’re giving the paintings. Let the cousins decide how they should be exhibited.”

“And suppose they have poor taste? I can’t allow that. Jessica, I had planned to write you a brief description of my cousins and their kin. Now I’ll be sure to add a letter to them explaining how the paintings should be framed as well as my own suggestions for display.”

I sighed as I reached for my to-do list and put a big star next to Susan Shevlin’s name. It was becoming obvious that she was going to have to make my return trip open-ended.

My Review

I loved Death on the Emerald Isle. Terrie Farley Moran does a wonderful job telling a Jessica Fletcher story. The thing about reading a mystery that has 55 others before it is you want to experience a new story, but it has to have the elements of the other stories and in this case, stories written by other authors. I felt securely landed in Jessica’s world with Seth Hazlett complaining about the lack of pastry and Jessica’s polite gracefulness in tricky situations. The mystery is well-paced and the Irish characters were loveable, especially Jessica’s young assistant from the Bushmills hotel. If you love Murder She Wrote, you won’t want to miss this one.

About the Authors

Along with Jessica Fletcher, Terrie Farley Moran co-writes the Murder She Wrote mystery series including  Murder, She Wrote: Killer on the Court. She is the author of the Read ‘Em and Eat cozy mystery series and also co-writes the Scrapbooking Mysteries with Laura Childs. Recipient of both the Agatha and the Derringer Awards, Moran has published numerous mystery short stories. The only thing Terrie enjoys more than wrangling mystery plots into submission is hanging out with any or all of her seven grandchildren.

Author Links – Webpage   Facebook 

Purchase Links – Amazon – B&N – Kobo – IndieBound – Bookshop.org – PenguinRandomHouse – 

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Of Mushrooms and Matrimony

Listen to this blog post as a podcast.
Have you ever thought of being a caterer? Your wonderful recipes would be enjoyed by people everywhere. A dream come true, that is until something you cook goes wrong. That’s what happens today in our cozy mystery Of Mushrooms and Matrimony.

Of Mushrooms and Matrimony (A Tish Tarragon Mystery)

This is a Cozy Mystery that is the 6th in the Tish Tarragon Mystery Series from Severn House; Main edition (January 3, 2023)

About Of Mushrooms and Matrimony

Tish Tarragon is catering for a wedding, but the weekend goes from sweet to sour when a guest at the venue is poisoned.

Literary caterer and owner of Cookin’ the Books cafe Tish Tarragon is pushing thoughts of her impending eviction aside to prepare an appetising welcome buffet for a wedding weekend at Abbingdon Green Bed and Breakfast. While there, Tish witnesses one of the guests, controversial TV chef and restaurant critic, Gunner Randall, threatening staff after missing breakfast and making do with a mushroom omelet.

When Randall is found dead the following day, it soon becomes clear that poisoned mushrooms were behind his demise. With no shortage of potential suspects and motives, can Tish and her new beau, Sheriff Clemson Reade, uncover who was enraged enough with the unsavoury star to silence him for good?

Read an Excerpt

‘I can’t believe it. My café is closed, and once this job is finished, my catering business is on hiatus until I can find a new kitchen,’ Tish Tarragon, owner of Cookin’ the Books literary café, lamented as she loaded a crate of dishes into her bright red van in preparation for a book-themed wedding weekend at Abbingdon Green Bed and Breakfast. ‘When I opened this business, I knew there was a chance it might close because it wasn’t successful, but I never imagined it would close because I’d been evicted.’Julian Davis, Channel Ten weatherman and one of Tish’s dearest friends since college, slid a box of crystal stemware into the spot beside the dishes. ‘Well, you did tell your landlord to shut up, honey. And rather angrily, too.’

‘When I said that, I wasn’t talking to Schuyler Thompson, my landlord. I was talking to Schuyler Thompson, my ex-boyfriend and Hobson Glen’s crummy new mayor who was working with the town council to cover up the identity of a murderer.’

‘Clearly, Schuyler doesn’t compartmentalize these matters as well as you do,’ Jules deadpanned. ‘I’ve gotta say, though, you got the crummy mayor part right. Do you know that man is imposing a town tax on vehicle registrations in addition to the state fee we already pay?’

‘Yes, I heard. The tax would be on a sliding scale, with owners of larger vehicles paying more than those with smaller cars. I can’t wait to see how much it will be to re-register this van.’

‘Disgraceful. I’m proud to say I didn’t vote for him. Although I have a bit of a confession to make – even before you and he split up, I’d decided not to vote for Schuyler.’

‘I have a confession to make, too. Even before he and I split up, I’d decided not to vote for Schuyler either,’ Tish replied, eliciting a loud cackle from Jules.

‘Well, let’s forget him. Now you have yourself a hot, hunky man who treats you like a goddess.’

Tish thought back to the previous night and the lovely candlelight dinner Sheriff Clemson Reade had cooked in the kitchen of his cozy circa-1930 bungalow. ‘He really is wonderful,’ she gushed. ‘He’s been so incredibly supportive through all of this. Helping me scour real estate ads, listening to my fears . . . he even arranged for his friend Shirley – remember, she owns Justine’s, the restaurant by the Canal Walk in Richmond? – to buy leftover stock from me. I don’t have a lot to sell, but it’s good to know that food won’t go to waste. It will also be nice to have a little extra pocket money.’

‘Mary Jo and the kids are staying with Celestine until they can find a new apartment,’ Jules said, referring to their other college chum who had been living in the apartment above the café after a nasty divorce and was now rooming with Tish’s recently widowed baker. ‘The café is closed to the public, you’re selling off extra supplies, and you’re completing the last of your catering gigs this weekend. You also need to be out of here before the end of the month which – need I remind you – is mere days away. So why are you still staying here?’

Tish gazed at the flower-and-plant-festooned porch with its wide cushion-lined swing and blinked back her tears. She had put so much time and care into transforming the café into not just a thriving, welcoming business, but a comfortable home, that it was difficult to imagine leaving it all behind. ‘I suppose I’m not ready to let go quite yet,’ she confessed. ‘There’s also the matter of Tuna—’

‘Tuna will be fine. Out of all the porches in Hobson Glen that cat could have wandered on to, he chose yours. He’s your cat, honey. Wherever you go, he’ll follow and he’ll adapt.’

‘So long as he can follow. Do you know how difficult it is to find an apartment that allows pets?’

‘No, luckily, my landlady loves Biscuit.’ Jules glanced down at the Bichon Frisé sniffing the ground at his feet. ‘But why are you even bothering to look at apartments? I’m sure Clemson wouldn’t mind Tuna coming along for the ride. He has suggested that you move in with him, hasn’t he?’

‘He has,’ she confirmed. ‘I told him I’d think about it.’

‘What’s there to think about? You love him, and he’s loaded to the gills with love for you. What else do you need?’

‘Assurance. The last time I moved in with someone so quickly, things didn’t end very well.’

‘Your relationship with Schuyler didn’t break up because you moved in with him too soon. Your relationship ended because Schuyler’s a jackass.’

‘I understand that, but—’

‘But what?’

‘I don’t want to do anything to put my relationship with Clemson in jeopardy. I’d like us to progress to the next step naturally, instead of being pushed into it by circumstance.’

‘Sometimes circumstance is simply fate lending a helping hand,’ Jules philosophized. ‘Considering it took five murder cases and a totaled car before the two of you even started to date, I’m thinking y’all should grab on to any helping hand that comes your way.’

‘I didn’t say no, Jules,’ Tish reinforced with a sigh. ‘I just need some time.’

‘Time for what? To perfect your shadow-puppet skills on the empty walls of your tiny bedroom?’

‘To grieve a little.’

Jules folded his arms across his chest and rolled his eyes. ‘This space is gone, but your business isn’t.’

‘To find a new location for the café,’ she added to the list of excuses.

‘A new, improved, and possibly expanded location,’ he added with a broad grin.

‘I agree with you on the new, but I’m afraid the improved and expanded isn’t quite in the stars at the moment. The only place I can afford is nearly a third the size of this one. I’ll have to limit my business to takeout only.’

‘Oh, you mean that little storefront for rent over in Coleton Creek?’

‘If you’re talking about the one in the strip mall between Jenny Craig and the check-cashing place, then yes, that’s the one.’

‘Well, being next door to Jenny Craig probably won’t help sell Celestine’s fabulous cakes, but the check-cashing place might bring in some business, what with all those people with money in their pockets waiting to be spent.’

‘Yeah, the check-cashing place also runs a pawn service, which means after you hock that engagement ring you no longer need or cash in your late Aunt Hattie’s pearls, you can swing by my place and treat yourself to a scone,’ she said, her voice dripping with sarcasm. ‘The ads will practically write themselves.’

‘OK, so maybe it’s not the ideal location,’ Jules admitted. ‘But I know one that is – the Hobson Glen Bar and Grill building. It’s bigger than this place, has plenty of parking, a newly renovated living area upstairs, a back room you could rent out for parties, and enough surrounding property to expand into an outdoor eating area. Plus, a little birdie told me that the owner turned the deed back over to the bank who, in turn, is selling it for a song.’

‘Yes, I heard the same news, so I took a look online. Even with the discounted price, that song is still way out of my key.’

‘Oh, but it’s perfect! You worked in finance for years. Surely someone you know back at the bank might be able to help you.’

‘Maybe. It’s Friday morning – the work week isn’t over yet. I’ll email my old boss this morning and see if some new financing options have opened up,’ she thought aloud. ‘But I’m not holding my breath. In the meantime, we need to pack this van. I have a wedding weekend to cater.’

‘Not just a wedding weekend, but a bookish wedding weekend. Ever since you started your business, I’ve been waiting for you to get a gig like this one. Romance, reading, great food . . . sounds like it could be your wedding.’

‘I already had a wedding, remember?’

‘How could I forget?’ Jules asked dramatically. ‘In addition to feeling like an oversized eggplant in that suit you made me wear—’

‘Aubergine was a hot color for bridesmaids that year!’ Tish interrupted.

‘—I spent most of that morning in the ladies’ room with Mary Jo while she suffered from morning sickness.’

‘That’s right. She was pregnant with Kayla. It’s hard to believe that was nearly sixteen years ago.’

‘It is, but you’re missing my point. A wedding isn’t a funeral, honey. A person can have more than one.’

‘A person also can also have more than one best friend,’ Tish volleyed, ‘but sometimes that additional best friend can be a real nag.’

About Amy Patricia Meade 

Author of the critically acclaimed Marjorie McClelland Mysteries, Vermont Country Living Mysteries, and Tish Tarragon Mysteries, Amy Patricia Meade is a native of Long Island, NY, where she cut her teeth on classic films and books featuring Nancy Drew and Encyclopedia Brown.

After stints as an Operations Manager for a document imaging company and as a freelance technical writer, Amy left the bright lights of New York City and headed north to pursue her creative writing career amidst the idyllic beauty of Vermont’s Green Mountains.

After five years living in Bristol, England, Amy now resides in upstate New York.

When not writing, Amy spends her time working for her musician husband, watching classic films, testing new recipes, belly dancing, and cleaning cat hair from her lap.

Author Links: 

Website https://amypatriciameade.com/

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000211411314

Instagram https://www.instagram.com/amypatriciameade/

Purchase Links – AmazonB&NKoboIndieBound - 

Oh Holy Fright

Listen to this blog post as a podcast.

I love to write stories about Christmas, so was excited to write Oh Holy Fright as a part of my Pecan Bayou Series. The characters of this little town in Texas feel like family to me, so why not go for a little visit around the holidays!

About Oh Holy Fright

It’s Christmas in Pecan Bayou, Texas. Join Betsy (aka The Happy Hinter) for a good old small-town Christmas complete with Christmas carols, over the top light displays, delicious food, loving friends and…a Christmas Creeper. One of the residents of Pecan Bayou has a secret and you’d better lock the door because that isn’t Santa out there or even an elf off his shelf. Enjoy spending Christmas with the town and family you’ve come to know in the Pecan Bayou Series. Recipes and helpful hints included!

Excerpt

A Washing Machine Full of Rocks
“What would possess Joe Nelson to give the Christmas solo to a woman who sings like a washing machine full of rocks?” Aunt Maggie’s voice echoed in the community center gym, the location hosting many of the neighborhood churches for the Christmas Eve service. Her attitude was in direct contrast to Rudolph’s blinking nose on her fire engine red Christmas sweatshirt.
“Ooh. You better watch out,” Danny whispered in my ear. “When Mama says words like that, it’s best to look busy.” I had just picked up Danny from the Christmas party for people with disabilities held at his adult care center. Today he seemed especially happy for some reason. And from the way he kept giggling, I could tell Danny had a secret he was bursting to tell me.
“Joe!” Aunt Maggie called out.
The choir director, who was busily engaged in a conversation with Enid Sanford—solo-stealer and owner of the voice that sounded like a washing machine full of rocks—didn’t respond.
“Joe!” she bellowed.
When he failed to respond a second time, she stomped back, turned him around by the shoulders, and plopped her slender black music folder into his hands.
“Take it. I can’t sing in a choir where my voice isn’t heard.”
I had to admit, Maggie was one of the better singers in the holiday choir. Some of the other vocalists possessed lesser talent. One time when I was watching Joe’s friend Howard Gunther at the soundboard, I noticed he was turning down certain microphones. It was wonderful these people volunteered, but some of the singers could be described as cats screeching in the night. Enid Sanford was one of those people; when she hit a high C, it could make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.
Leaving an astonished Joe, Maggie returned to us. “Well, that’s it. You’re hearing it right here and now. I am quitting the Pecan Bayou Singers. They can jingle their bells with somebody else.”
Lester Jibbets, a tall wiry man with protruding cheekbones and the owner of the most successful port-a-potty business in Central Texas, walked over waving a bony hand. “I totally agree, Maggie. What happened here is nothing short of criminal. It will ruin the Christmas Eve performance, uh huh.” He nodded his head to reinforce his point.
“Thanks, Lester,” Maggie said, about to continue her tirade, but Lester just kept talking.
“Yes, sir, I knew right away I needed to come over and help a beautiful lady in trouble, I did.” More nods.
“Thank you, Lester,” Maggie repeated, but this time she waited. Lester Jibbets was not an easy man to shut up once he got started. I guess the portable bathroom business is pretty lonely, even if you’re at the top of your game.
“May I walk you to your car? I would hate for you to swoon right here, and I would have to catch you in my strong yet surprisingly gentle arms.” His eyes lit up at the thought. This was getting downright creepy.
“That’s okay, Mr. Jibbets,” I reassured him. “Maggie’s not the swooning type.” I took Maggie by the elbow and led her to the car, leaving Jibbets standing alone. He gave us a final wave, just in case we wanted to turn around and talk to him again.
Danny took Maggie’s other arm and said, “Mama, you can’t quit the Pecan Bayou Singers. They need you. You told me that if you weren’t there, the whole group of idiots would fall apart. I don’t want to see the whole group of idiots fall apart.”
Even I had heard her say that more than once. Leave it to a man with Down syndrome to keep things honest.
Pastor Green careened over, ever the crisis counselor. He had sniffed this one out like a bloodhound. He was dressed in what Leo called his “cool pastor casual wear,” a black shirt, white liturgical collar, husky man jeans, and sneakers.
“Maggie, I saw what just happened. I don’t know why Joe made a decision like that, but you need to be charitable.”
“Charitable! That’s rich!” Maggie said, launching into the speech that Lester had kept interrupting. I knew she couldn’t hold it in for much longer. “Everybody wants me to be charitable all of a sudden. I get enough offers to be charitable in my own mailbox. Next thing they’ll be asking me for money for blind Seeing-Eye dogs and displaced squirrels. It’s ridiculous.”
The pastor moved closer and whispered, “I don’t know if they can handle some of the music without you.”
“Well then, they’re just going to have to fall apart. Couldn’t Joe hear how Enid sounded? Lord knows it’s Christmastime and I have plenty of baking and wrapping to do. I certainly don’t need another commitment on my calendar. Let’s go home, Betsy.”
Joe Nelson hurried over and joined Pastor Green. He held the folder up to his brown-and-gray argyle sweater vest. “Now, Maggie, I can see you’re pretty upset with me right now. Please know there was a lot to making this decision. I do hope you will be gracious and let Enid enjoy her solo. There was just something about her voice I hadn’t heard before.”
Maggie’s nose went up in the air as if she smelled something bad. “Oh, I’ll be gracious. I’ll be so gracious, you’ll think I’m Martha Stewart with a new scone recipe.” She jabbed him in the chest where he still held her thin black choir folder. “I quit.”
Joe gave my aunt a gentle smile, tucked the folder under his arm, and reached out to take her hand. “You can’t mean that, Maggie. We need you. I don’t know what we would sound like without your lovely soprano voice. It’s just that this time, I do wish you would reconsider.”
Where Jibbets was a little off-putting, Joe was sweet, and Aunt Maggie became flustered by this heartfelt plea. I had to wonder if she was a little ashamed by her outburst.
“All I can say is, I’ll think about it.”
Cupping his hand behind his ear, Joe gave her a confused look. Pastor Green, who usually had an excellent poker face, pursed his lips and narrowed his eyes. Enid was doing a little extra rehearsing in the background. Listening to her again, I would have to say she wasn’t rocks in a washing machine—more like a cross between nails on a chalkboard and the sound a balloon makes when the air is slowly released. “What?”
“I said,” she shouted, “I’ll think about it.”
“And that is all I can ask. Running a choir is never easy because people’s egos are at stake. You can certainly understand that about Enid, right?” Joe shouted now as Enid reached the volume of a plane revving up engines for takeoff.
“So, are you telling me you gave her the solo because you wanted to pump up her ego?” Maggie cupped her hands together like a megaphone. “I don’t think that’s how you direct a choir.”
Luckily, Enid stopped before Joe had to answer.
“You may be right about that, Maggie. I am what you would call an amateur choir director, and I’m afraid I lead with my heart before my head. I do hope you’ll understand and maybe forgive me. It is the Christmas season, after all, and sometimes we have to think of our fellow man or woman.”
“Amen, brother,” Pastor Green added.
Joe’s words were simple and yet very stirring. He was right. It was Christmastime, a time to think of others, and he was thinking of Enid Sanford. Most people in town really didn’t like Enid because she was bossy and arrogant. I’d had my own experiences with her I would rather forget. I supposed even a person as obnoxious as Enid deserved a break now and again. It looked like this was going to be Enid’s lucky day. Or should I say she was going to get her Christmas miracle?

 

It’s been a wonderful year at Books to the Ceiling with fantastic books and authors to fill our days! Thank you to all the readers and listeners of the podcast and to all the authors who stopped by to share their work. Merry Christmas!

~Teresa

Murder in Third Position

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Christmas trees, carols and performances of The Nutcracker abound! Murder in Third Position takes us into the world of dance with cranky choreographers, aging dancers and a rickety set design. Hmm, this sounds like an excellent set up for a murder mystery!

More About Murder in Third Position

Deadly rivalries. Ruthless enemies. And that’s just the first act.

The Nutcracker ballet is filled with holiday cheer, but no one is happy, least of all lead dancer Leah Siderova. It’s bad enough when Maurice Kaminsky forces her to perform upon a shaky platform, which teeters high above the stage. It’s worse when the curtain opens on the first murder victim, and the scene looks more like the end of Romeo and Juliet than a child’s vision of Christmas.

The dancers were unanimous in their dislike of Maurice, and they eagerly anticipated his departure. What they didn’t foresee is that he would exit in a body bag, and not on a nonstop flight to LA.

Leah doesn’t want to get involved in the ensuing murder investigation, but when suspicion falls upon Tex, her dance partner and friend, she has no choice but to act. She enlists the Choreographers of Crime for help, but it’s her life, her career, and her complicated romance with homicide detective Jonah Sobol that’s on the line.

With opening night less than a week away, and the future of American Ballet Company hanging in the balance, can Leah save Tex in time to save the show?

Read an Excerpt from Murder in Third Position

I’ve danced naked in front of thousands of people, watched a tidal wave sweep away my pointe shoes, and fallen into a bottomless pit. Waking up in a cold sweat rescued me from those pre-performance nightmares, but reality couldn’t save me from Maurice Kaminsky’s Deathtrap.
After several failed attempts, I stepped back from a nearly vertical escalator and said what everyone else was thinking. “Maurice, your set design is beautiful, but it looks as if one grand jeté will send it crashing to the ground.”
I couldn’t deny that the scenery for our new production of The Nutcracker ballet, with its cantilevered platform and glittering gears, was dramatic, imposing, and imaginatively designed. The rickety structure, however, was without one essential element: Me.
With short, powerful arms, Maurice hauled himself onto the stage from the orchestra pit below. “Get on with it, Leah. We don’t have all day.” He banged the side of the staircase, as if to demonstrate its strength, but which instead caused the interior mechanism to clank and rattle in protest. The grinding gears sounded like a ride in a traveling amusement park, the kind that routinely made headlines for some horrible accident.
I took a deep breath and placed one trembling foot onto moving stairs that vibrated with the strain of my puny weight. By the time his contraption transported me to the narrow platform that loomed overhead I could barely breathe, let alone dance Brett Cameron’s complex choreography.
The Nutcracker was Brett’s first full-length ballet, and he feared the collapse of his career more than the collapse of his principal dancer. “Move downstage, Sugar Plum! Your solo is supposed to be the highlight of the Nutcracker Ballet. Not its best-kept secret.”
The choreographer’s indifference to me and his support of Maurice came as no surprise, although their artistic partnership was almost as fiery as their marriage.
I inched closer to the edge, but Brett continued to harangue me. “Stop mincing! You look like a scared kid creeping around the edge of the playground on the first day of seventh grade.”
His middle school analogy was apt. My face burned with the same self-conscious embarrassment I endured when I was thirteen. This time, however, everyone really was looking critically at me.
Actually, it was worse than that. Nelson Merrill, a filmmaker better known for true-crime documentaries, had the cameras rolling, capturing my cowardice for all eternity. I hoped, not without reason, the day’s footage would end up on the cutting room floor. The dancers were incidental to Nelson’s film project, which was Maurice’s life and art. Our egotistical set designer was famous for his paintings, his sculptures, and his multi-media installations. The Nutcracker was his first commission for the ballet. He had a lot to learn.
When Maurice realized the camera was focused on him, he dropped his combative attitude and struck a more conciliatory pose. He rested his chin on his hand, as if posing for a shorter, older, and considerably less contemplative version of Rodin’s The Thinker. “No need to worry, Sugar Plum. I built a set of ridges into the flooring, so you can feel when you’re getting too close to the edge.”
The only thing I could feel was an incipient panic attack. Those cautionary ridges weren’t deep enough to penetrate the hard surface of my pointe shoes, and the solo included a tightly choreographed sequence of tricky balances and turns. Unless my toes were to magically achieve the sensitivity of the title character in The Princess and the Pea, dire consequences were sure to follow. Those fears unfolded in a series of scary images. I could trip on the pebbled, wavy surface and fall flat on my face. I could stumble out of my pirouette and land on the stage below.
Given the state of my nerves, a massive heart attack was another distinct possibility. Medically, I would qualify as unusually young for any serious coronary event. As a dancer, however, I was closing in on ancient. And perched on that platform, I was aging rapidly.
Forgetting how sharp the acoustics were in the theater, I said, in an undertone not meant to carry beyond the apron of the stage, “Why can’t Tex dance up here and let me dance on solid ground?”
Maurice clapped his hands to stop the music. “I heard that. Let me explain, once and for all, that this set design symbolizes the mood Hoffman envisioned when he wrote the original story of The Nutcracker. Artistic decisions are my area of expertise. Not yours.”
Brett, annoyed at Maurice’s intrusion into his territory, took his irritation out on me. “I don’t hear anyone else complaining. And just so you know,” he turned to toss a baleful look at his husband, “my work is an homage to Petipa’s original ballet. The set design is not the star of the show.” He surveyed the dancers, as if daring them to speak.
None did. Between Maurice’s claim to have channeled the famous writer of The Nutcracker, and Brett’s claim to have surpassed one of the greatest choreographers of all time, there wasn’t much room for ordinary people to take a position on the matter. I didn’t blame my colleagues for their silence and averted looks.
Brett signaled for the music to resume, and I threw myself with renewed determination into the role. The amount of time allotted to my variation was less than three minutes. But it took Brett and Maurice more than an hour to figure out how those three minutes would look from the audience.
The general consensus was bad. Not naked-in-front-of-an-audience bad. But not good.

You can purchase Murder in Third Position at these online retailers:

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About the Author

Lori Robbins is the author of the On Pointe and Master Class mystery series. Her work has garnered multiple awards, including the Indie Award for Best Mystery and the Silver Falchion for Best Cozy Mystery. Short stories include “Accidents Happen” in Mystery Most Diabolical and “Leading Ladies” in Justice for All. She’s also a contributor to The Secret Ingredient: A Mystery Writers Cookbook.

A former dancer, Lori performed with a number of modern and ballet companies, including Ballet Hispanico and the St. Louis Ballet. Her commercial work included featured ads for Pavlova Perfume and Macy’s. After ten very lean years onstage she became an English teacher and now writes full time.

As a dancer, teacher, and mother of six, Lori is an expert in the homicidal impulses everyday life inspires.

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Murder in Third Position

Death of a Snow Ghost

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If you were called upon to deliver a baby, could you? I’ve seen every Call the Midwife ever made, but don’t really want to be tested on my delivery methods. That’s what happens to Jamie Forest in Death of a Snow Ghost. This is the third book in the Cabin by the Lake Mystery Series by Linda Norlander.

More About Death of a Snow Ghost

Jamie Forest, ex-New Yorker, is on her way to her cabin to prepare for her first Thanksgiving in Minnesota when she sees through the swirl of snow a ghostly apparition. It turns out not to be a ghost, but a young woman in labor. Not only is she about to deliver, but she doesn’t speak English. Jamie can’t ask her what she is doing in a lowland bog in the middle of a snowstorm. With the snow falling, she becomes an accidental midwife delivering a healthy baby girl in the backseat of her car. In the aftermath, it’s clear the new mother is afraid someone will take her baby. Three days later, a young woman is found drowned in Black Crow Pond. Is she Jamie’s new mother? As she seeks answers, Jamie learns that winter in the Northwoods can be both beautiful and deadly.

A Roadside Delivery

The car filled with the aroma of fresh baked pumpkin pies for my first Thanksgiving in the cabin by Lake Larissa. Since my cooking skills did not include making pies, I’d ordered them from the bakery in town. Tomorrow I would thaw the twenty-two-pound turkey sitting in a box in the back seat and use the tattered Betty Crocker cookbook I’d bought at a garage sale to make a stuffing for it. I would show my skeptical Minnesota friends that even a girl from New York City could make a Norman Rockwell feast.
I was driving on the highway between town and the cabin in an area the locals called the marsh. It was a lowland filled with high weeds, cattails and skeletal tamarack. It had the air of desolation and loneliness, a wasteland before coming upon the Northwoods forest. I never liked driving the five miles across it.
As I breathed in the spicy nutmeg of the pumpkin pies, I was reminded of the Thanksgiving in New York when my mother and I came across the snow lady. I must have been about seven and we were on our way to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. A light dusting of snow covered the park as we walked by the bench where she lay. She was wrapped in an olive- green blanket with a thin layer of snow covering her.
Something about the color of the skin on her face intrigued me. I ran to her before my mother could hold me back. Close up I saw her eyes, wide open, clouded and unseeing. As my mother pulled me away, I remember crying out. “Mama, is that lady a ghost?”
“No, honey, she’s just sleeping.”
She hurried me to a bakery across from the park where she told me to stay in front. She went back to talk with the clerk, and I stood in the doorway inhaling the rich smells of pumpkin pies.
Later, when the parade was over and we were walking back by the park, the bench was empty. “Mama, I guess the snow ghost lady waked up.”
Mama grabbed my arm and tugged me along. All she said was, “It’s not ‘waked’ honey, it’s ‘woke.’” Mother was a stickler about grammar.
Today I noticed how a light snowfall had dusted the weeds in the ditch just like that day in the park. With a light shudder, I brought my thoughts back to the present. While I mentally ticked off the tasks to do before Thanksgiving a sudden snow squall blew across the road. The swirling snow created hypnotic patterns on the pavement. As I watched the dancing snow in front of me, I thought I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye.
“What was that?”
It looked like a ghost shrouded in a white haze. Ahead on my side of the road, it weaved in and out of my sight. The snow squall thickened, and the apparition disappeared. Did I really see a ghost?
Squeezing my eyes shut for a moment, I muttered, “Come on Jamie. You know there are no ghosts.”
I slowed down, creeping forward in hopes that I had imagined the movement. I had too much to do before Thanksgiving to have to deal with someone drunk on the side of the road. For a moment, the air cleared. I saw nothing on the road or on the shoulder.
Just as I was speeding up, the ghost lurched back on the shoulder from the tall, boggy weeds of the ditch. This time I saw it was a human dressed in a white puffy jacket and white pants. I slammed on my brakes as the person in white turned and staggered onto the road. In the millisecond it took for the brakes to hold, I prayed not to hear a thump against the car.
The car skidded to a halt as my heart pounded so hard, I felt it in my eyes. Quickly unstrapping my seatbelt, I threw open the car door and dashed out. A gust of wind sent icy stinging snow into my face and a chill down my back. The ghost stood in front of the car swaying. She was no phantom, just a young woman, possibly a teenager. She grimaced in pain.
“My God. Did I hit you?”
She continued to sway.
Was she drunk? I stepped closer to her. “Are you alright?”
Moaning, she bent over, clutching her stomach. I saw the swell of her belly beneath the puffy jacket. When I reached her, she gasped, “Bebe coming!”
I took her arm, hoping for a passing car to flag down. This part of the road had little traffic after tourist season. Still, I strained to hear a car approaching. All I heard was the sweep of wind whistling through the weeds. Guiding her back to car, I helped her into the passenger seat. “It’s okay. I’ll get help.”
I tried my phone knowing the cell reception in the marsh was spotty. Please have some bars.
Nothing.
Next to me, her face reddened as she started to bear down. My knowledge of women in labor was limited to season one of Call the Midwife. Even so, I knew she shouldn’t be pushing until I got help.
“Don’t push,” I pleaded. “We have to get you to the hospital.”
She ignored me. “Bebé coming!”
What now? I shut my eyes, picturing the television midwives. I needed to look, to see if the baby’s head was coming out.
“Back seat. We need to put you in the backseat so I can check for the baby.”
“¡Ayudame! ¡Ayudame!”
As she cried out, I noticed her Hispanic features—the tangle of dark hair that had slipped out of a ponytail and the smooth tan of her skin. “Do you speak English?”
“¡No mucha!”
I tugged at her to get her out of the front of the car and into the back. This time I kept up a mantra from my limited knowledge of Spanish. “Está bien.”
Shoving the box with the frozen turkey and the boxes of pies onto the floor, I eased her into the back seat. “I have to look.”
She grunted with effort. I got as close to her face as possible and showed her how to blow with her lips closed like the laboring women on television did.
While she panted and blew, I pulled down the white pants and underwear. They were soaked. I didn’t want to look. I wanted to be happily on my way to the cabin.
The top of a little head with dark hair shown through. “Crowning,” I gasped, remembering what the midwives had called it. What did they do next? My brain stalled as I swallowed back panic. Come on, Jamie. People have babies every day. You can do this.
I didn’t hear the car pull up behind me as I bent over to get closer to the baby. My mind was on autopilot. Catch the baby, make sure it’s breathing, keep it warm. My Spanish disappeared as I repeated over and over. “It’s okay, it’s okay.”

Death of a Snow Ghost can be purchased on Amazon

About the Author

Linda Norlander is the author of A Cabin by the Lake mystery series set in Northern Minnesota. Books in the series include Death of an Editor and Death of a Starling and Death of a Snow Ghost. The fourth book, Death of a Fox will be released in May, 2023. The first book in her new series, Liza, Mrs. Wilkens and the Ghost Mysteries will debut in 2023. Norlander has published award winning short stories, op-ed pieces and short humor featured in regional and national publications. Before taking up the pen to write murder mysteries, she worked in end-of-life care. Norlander resides in Tacoma, Washington with her spouse.

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Murder at First Blush

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Ah yes, the world of beauty. Everything is highlighted, plumped, thinned and lined. What if we mixed that world with murder? What a grisly contrast and that’s what Arlene Kay brings us today in Murder at First Blush.

About Murder at First Blush

Marketta Davis was Harbor Bay’s golden girl until the Chicago Art Institute sent her packing. She returns to her hometown, determined to succeed by operating a beauty emporium stocked with upscale products. Unfortunately, on opening night a grisly corpse litters the alleyway of her store. Marky and her partner Gemma Reid team up to save their business and their lives by finding the culprit.

Read an Excerpt from Murder at First Blush

I put on a brave public face.
Count your blessings, I told myself. Nobody likes a whiner. Most people would gladly trade places with you.
One sunny afternoon, I strolled down main street, reliving the familiar scenes from my past. The Soda Spot, our high school hangout still stood, looking somewhat the worse for wear, but the Harbor Bake Shop had been replaced by a sleek edifice that boasted fresh croissants, espresso, and bagels. Sign of the times, I supposed. A sense of nostalgia overwhelmed me as I recalled the innocence of those simple childhood pleasures I had discarded. Life in Harbor Bay wasn’t exciting, but it had provided me with security and comfort. Too bad my bid for the brass ring had fizzled out so spectacularly.
It took a chance encounter with an old high school pal to administer a healthy dose of reality and tough love to me. Gemma Watts, a vivacious redhead with a bellowing laugh, slapped me on the back and stated the obvious. “Okay. Stop moping around. You struck out. Now that you know what it’s like to be normal, what’s next? You’ve always had it way too easy. Blonde hair, blue eyes, perfect skin. You never even had one pimple during high school. The rest of us had to claw and scramble for everything we ever had. It’s your turn now. What’s your game plan?”
What indeed? I pondered this question as I assessed the business climate in Harbor Bay during my survey of main street.
“Things have changed in Harbor Bay over the past few years,” I observed. “Lattes, yoga studios, and hair emporiums all around us. Maybe this town is ready to accept something new.”
Gemma nodded. “Lots of upscale houses being built around the waterfront. Gentrification they call it. Good for business but kind of sad too.”
“How so?” I asked. “Isn’t that part of progress?”
Gemma shrugged. “Maybe. I kinda miss some of the old things though. You know, the soda counter and the penny candy store. The people are still the same though. A pretty nice bunch overall.”
Maybe that’s what I had missed in Chicago. Big cities are exciting, but they can be lonely too. Aunt Violet succeeded in conquering Paris. Unlike me she was fearless. Perhaps a smaller stage suited me just fine.
My parents urged me to teach art for the local school district, an underwhelming prospect at best. An entrepreneurial spirit stirred within me, but a lack of capital put paid to that idea.
Even my college mentor admitted that I had a flair for color. During art school I earned extra cash by working the cosmetic counters of some of Chicago’s premier specialty stores. That allowed me to gain expertise in their product lines and burnish my customer relations skills. My list of grateful clients included some of the city’s prominent matrons and trendsetters many of whom summered in Harbor Bay. Why not capitalize on those talents and connections? It wasn’t the Art Institute, but it was artistry of sorts.
“Ask your parents for some help,” Gemma said. “Lord knows, they could spare a few bucks for their only child. What’s wrong with running a cosmetics store anyway?”
“A beauty emporium, my dear. So much more upscale. Think of my Aunt Violet’s empire. Even she started with a single store.” I was teasing Gemma, but considering the empty store fronts I’d just seen, there was a grain of truth to it. Aunt Violet might be the answer to my prayers. When it came to business acumen Violet had few equals. If anyone could assess the prospects for success, it was Violet.
I crossed my fingers and called Violet at her office in Paris. Seeking advice was easy but asking for money was unfamiliar and somewhat humiliating. After listening to my ideas, Violet immediately switched to business mode.
“Harbor Bay has real potential,” she said, “especially with that summer crowd it draws. Quaint stores are a big draw in a place like that, and it doesn’t sound like you’d have any competition.”
Before I summoned my courage, Violet beat me to it. “How are you fixed for capital, Poppet? Most small businesses fall flat on their face due to start-up costs.”
I confessed that my funds were limited, in fact almost non-existent.
My aunt chuckled and said something in French that I didn’t quite understand. “Looks like you need an investor. Would I do? Sometimes I still miss Harbor Bay, believe it or not. The people. The sense of community. Those things are hard to replicate even in a glamorous place like Paris. Don’t ever discount them, Marky.”
I could barely believe my luck. Good fortune had smiled upon me and suddenly I’d found my future right in the very place I’d once abandoned. Gemma’s reaction was priceless. She slapped me on the back and did her version of a victory dance.
“I knew you’d make it,” she whooped. “Marky Davis, the star of Harbor Bay.”
I immediately enlisted her as my partner. Gemma was a certified aesthetician and a natural salesperson who never met a stranger. Plus, her local connections were far stronger than mine.
“Are you serious?” she asked, shaking her auburn curls wildly. “It’s like a dream come true. I don’t have any money to contribute but I swear I’ll work my fingers to the bone for you.”
I hugged my friend. “For us, you mean. We’re partners. Fifty-fifty. Even Stephen. You know the drill.”
Together we brainstormed an appropriate title. I opted for APHRODITE, a Temple of beauty, but Gemma nixed that right away. “You’ve got to be kidding,” she said. “Way too artsy-fartsy for our crowd. You’ll scare away most potential customers who haven’t studied Greek.” She suggested something homey instead. “Not too homey,” I groused. “We’re trying for something friendly but different.”
Once again, my aunt came to the rescue. She had always called me Poppet. Poppet a friendly, affectionate term that made me smile. It was perfect for a shop like ours that stressed beauty with a light touch.
“Face it,” Gemma said with a smirk. “Half the women in town think lipstick is something exotic. Probably call you a hussy behind your back for lining your eyes.”
That was sobering news. I’d always seen myself as the wholesome type, not some femme fatale. Still, Gemma had a point. I’d asked her mother to quiz her friends about the issue while Gemma surveyed the under thirty crowd. The results jolted me but helped to inform our business plan. Women in Harbor Bay even those with generous incomes were intimidated by approaching a “fancy” place. “They don’t want to be judged,” Gemma said. “You know how off-putting some of those snooty places are. Who needs that? A name like Poppet sounds welcoming.”
“No problem luring the summer crowd into the store,” I said. “They’ll love it.”
“Yeah, but what about the other six months of the year?” Gemma asked. “Gotta get the locals involved too.”
We needed advice from someone in the beauty biz, and I knew just who to call.
Aunt Violet came to the rescue once more. “Look Marky,” she said. “European women care more about skin care than face paint. Facials, eye creams, massage, and the like. Emphasize that to lure the crowd in, then show ‘em how a touch of makeup can change their outlook. Oh, and once you get established, hire a mature woman too. Works like a charm.”
After we hung up, my head was swimming with ideas, advice, and fear. The vacant storefront directly on Main Street that I’d scoped out was the perfect location. If only the price was right.

You can purchase Murder at First Blush on Amazon

About the Author

Arlene Kay spent twenty years as a Senior Federal Executive before repenting of her bureaucratic ways and turning to crime. (writing) Assignments from Texas to Washington DC allowed this unconventional executive to observe both corporate and human foibles and rejoice in unintentional humor. These locations and the many people she encountered are celebrated in her mystery novels. Fans enjoy the intriguing plots and the snarky sense of humor spiked with the occasional hint of romance.

Published novels include Intrusion; Die Laughing; The Abacus Prize (Mainly Murder Press); The Boston Uncommon Series—Swann Dive; Mantrap; Gilt Trip; and Swann Songs (Bellebridge Books); The Creature Comfort Series—Death by Dog Show; Homicide by Horseshow; and Murder at the Falls (Kensington Publishing); and the forthcoming Cosmetic Crimes Series—Murder at First Blush; the Mascara Murders; and Conditioned for Murder from Level Best Books. She recently completed a traditional novel, The Acolyte, a Cape Cod mystery

Ms. Kay holds graduate degrees in Political Science and Constitutional Law.

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Chaos at Carnegie Hall

Chaos at Carnegie Hall by Kelly Oliver Banner

Chaos at Carnegie Hall

by Kelly Oliver

December 5 – 30, 2022 Virtual Book Tour

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One of the things I love about historical mysteries is the famous people they meet along the way. In Chaos at Carnegie Hall, Fiona Figg runs into Margaret Sanger, and the hilarious Dorothy Parker. There were times when I laughed out loud reading this one. Let’s embark on a journey to New York with Fiona as she is on the case trying to keep her mine on espionage, not romance.

About Chaos at Carnegie Hall

Agatha Christie meets Downton Abbey in the Fiona Figg and Kitty Lane Mystery series opener.

Can Fiona catch a killer and find a decent cup of tea before her mustache wax melts?

1917. New York.

Notorious spy, Fredrick Fredricks, has invited Fiona to Carnegie Hall to hear a famous soprano. It’s an opportunity the War Office can’t turn down. Fiona and Clifford are soon on their way, but not before Fiona is saddled with chaperon duties for Captain Hall’s niece. Is Fiona a spy or a glorified babysitter?

From the minute Fiona meets the soprano aboard the RMS Adriatic it’s treble on the high C’s. Fiona sees something—or someone—thrown overboard, and then she overhears a chemist plotting in German with one of her own countrymen!

And the trouble doesn’t stop when they disembark. Soon Fiona is doing time with a group of suffragettes and investigating America’s most impressive inventor Thomas Edison.

When her number one suspect turns up dead at the opera and Fredrick Fredricks is caught red-handed, it looks like it’s finally curtains for the notorious spy.

But all the evidence points to his innocence. Will Fiona change her tune and clear her nemesis’ name? Or will she do her duty? And just what is she going to do with the pesky Kitty Lane? Not to mention swoon-worthy Archie Somersby . . .

If Fiona’s going to come out on top, she’s going to have to make the most difficult decision of her life: the choice between her head and her heart.

Read an Excerpt from Chaos at Carnegie Hall

Inside, the cabin was the opposite of Hugo Schweitzer’s. Whereas the German’s room was disorderly and repulsive, this man’s berth was tidy and attractive. In fact, it hardly looked occupied. The bed was made in a neat military style. There wasn’t an article of clothing nor a personal item in sight. A faint scent of pine and citrus graced the room. Like a familiar embrace, the uniform order and pleasing smell put me at ease. Hugo Schweitzer’s disgusting mess had allowed clues to remain hidden in plain sight. This man’s neatness required clever hiding places. Where would I hide a secret document in this room? Under the mattress? In the wardrobe? Sewn inside an article of clothing?
I crossed the room. Getting to the wardrobe was considerably easier than it had been in Schweitzer’s clutter. When I opened the wardrobe, a waft of pine and citrus caressed my nostrils again. I thought of Archie. When would I see him again?
Concentrate, Fiona. Now was not the time to behave like a lovesick schoolgirl.
Two neat suits hung on hangers, spaced apart like sentries guarding a gate. One was a uniform. A British uniform. Could this traitor be in the British army? The other was a black evening suit. Whatever the blackguard was wearing under that trench coat constituted his third and final outfit. There were no more.
Standing to attention at the bottom of the wardrobe were two tall black boots. I bent down to get a closer look. Inside a boot would make a decent hiding place.
“Looking for something?” a man’s voice boomed from behind me.
I gasped and squeezed my eyes shut tight.
If only I were wearing my maid’s costume—although what maid would be cleaning at this time of night? I should have changed into Harold the helpful bellboy. At least then I’d be dressed as a man. As it was, I was wearing a flimsy evening gown and as vulnerable as a lamb in a ship full of wolves. Did I dare turn around and face my accuser? “Did you find it?” The voice was closer now… and softer… and familiar.
Good heavens. I whipped around and practically flew into his arms. “Archie.”
He chuckled. “I should have known I’d find you breaking into my room.” He pulled me into an embrace. “Fiona. Dear Fiona.” He kissed the top of my head.
I buried my head in his shoulder. Ahhh. The scent of pine and citrus… and those horrible Kenilworth cigarettes. The scent of Lieutenant Archie Somersby.
My heart was racing. From being scared out of my wits, or from being in Archie’s embrace, I didn’t know. “What are you doing here?”
“I could ask you the same.” He held me tighter.
“You, first.” I inhaled his familiar presence.
“I’ll tell you, but only because it’s necessary.” He pulled out of the embrace and held me out at arm’s length. “It’s crucial that you don’t expose me.”
“Expose you?” I had to censor my imagination. His earnest green eyes framed by those dark lashes and that wild lock of chestnut hair falling across his forehead made it deuced difficult.
“I’m on an important mission.” He fortified his countenance with a steely gaze. “You mustn’t let on that you know me. In fact, you should stay away from me.”
I tugged my arm out of his grip. “Does your mission involve Hugo Schweitzer?” My tone was pained, but I couldn’t help it. I wished my feelings for him weren’t so strong. After all, I hardly knew him. Still, I knew he worked for British Intelligence, despite Fredrick Fredricks’s accusations to the contrary. Who was more trustworthy? A German spy or a British soldier, an especially attractive one too?
Archie tilted his head and gave me a quizzical look.
“Tell me about Mr. Schweitzer and the chemist’s war.”
“You know I can’t do that.” He sighed. “It’s classified.”
“What does the war have to do with aspirin, the headache remedy?”
He led me to the bed, sat down, and patted the bedcover, inviting me to sit too.
My cheeks flamed. It was only then that I realized I was alone in a gentleman’s room… after midnight, no less. Dilly Knox’s words echoed through my head. “Our Fiona will do anything for King and country, don’t you know.” That only strengthened my resolve. I was on official business and not a romantic getaway.
I took a seat on the bed and tucked my gown tightly around my thighs. “You were going to tell me about aspirin?”
“You’re nothing if not persistent.” Archie smiled and put his arm around my shoulders.
I scooted to the head of the bed and out of his reach. “Aspirin?”
He shook his head. “You really are quite a girl.”
I folded my arms over my chest and glared at him.
“Righto.” His smiled faded. “Aspirin is made from a chemical called phenol.”
“What does phenol have to do with the war?”
“We need phenol to make trinitrotoluene.” Archie gave me a knowing look.
I gave him an ignorant stare in return. “What is trinitrotoluene?”
“TNT.”
“The explosive?”
He nodded.
“Golly.” Still, why did it matter if aspirin and TNT shared one element? How did that affect the war? Could aspirin be turned into an explosive?
“Golly is right.” When he smiled, tiny dimples appeared at the corners of his mouth.
I had to stop myself from reaching across the bed to touch that tempting lock of wavy hair… and those dimples. Stop it, Fiona. You’re on an espionage mission and not on holiday.
“I’m sorry we can’t work together in the open.” He took my hand and kissed it. “But for now, I’m undercover.” His eyes hardened. “I’ve got to stop Schweitzer.”
I gazed up at him with as much resolve as I could muster.
“You mean we’ve got to stop him.”

You can find Chaos at Carnegie Hall at these online retailers.

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My Review

Get ready to go on an adventure into the past with Chaos in Carnegie Hall. Fiona Figg is right in the middle of the world of British spies as she bumps elbows with famous people on a voyage and then at Carnegie Hall. I enjoyed the humor, the mystery, the historical flavor and the pace of this well plotted story.

About the Author

Kelly Oliver is the award-winning and bestselling author of three mystery series: the seven-book suspense series, The Jessica James Mysteries; the three-book middle grade series, Pet Detective Mysteries; and the four-book historical cozy series, The Fiona Figg Mysteries.

Chaos at Carnegie Hall is the latest Fiona Figg mystery, and the first to feature sidekick, Kitty Lane.

When she’s not writing novels, Kelly is a Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Vanderbilt University. To learn more about Kelly and her books, go to www.kellyoliverbooks.com.

To learn more about Kelly and her books, go to:
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Dewey Decimated

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I love libraries and I love ghosts who haunt them. That is why I’m excited about Alison Brook’s latest novel in her Haunted Library Series, Dewey Decimated. Have you ever seen a ghost? If you did, do you think you could have a conversation with it? That’s what Carrie Singleton and the ghost that haunts her library are going to do with their new friend, Charlie.

More about Dewey Decimated

Librarian Carrie Singleton is back on the case, alongside library ghost Evelyn, in the sixth installment of Agatha Award nominee Allison Brook’s Haunted Library mysteries.

Carrie Singleton is just off a hot string of murder cases centered around the spooky local library in Clover Ridge, Connecticut. She could really use a break—but no such luck, as she; Smoky Joe, the resident cat; and Evelyn, the library’s ghost, are drawn into another tantalizing whodunit.

First, a dead body is found in the basement of the building attached to the library, and it turns out to be Carrie’s fiancé’s Uncle Alec, who Dylan hasn’t seen in years. But Alec has no intention of truly checking out, and his ghost makes itself at home in the library, greatly upsetting the patrons. Carrie and Evelyn work hard to keep Alec out of sight, but what was he doing in Clover Ridge to begin with? And why was he killed?
 
Meanwhile, the town council, of which Carrie is also a member, is embroiled in a hot-headed debate over the fate of the Seabrook Preserve, a lovely and valuable piece of property that runs along Long Island Sound. Turn it into an upscale park? Sell it to a condo developer? Or keep it as protected land?
 
As the dispute rages, there’s another murder, this time involving a council member. Could the two murders be connected? And could Carrie be next on the hit list? 

Excerpt: Dewey Decimated

I’d no sooner stepped out of my office when a strong breeze tousled my hair. A man in his mid-fifties came stumbling towards me. He wore a tan blazer, beneath which his striped shirt hung outside his pants. His clothes were wrinkled and soiled. What’s more, one of his shoes was missing.
I approached him cautiously, not certain what I was about to say or do. If he was drunk, I needed to find Max. If he was ill . . .
“Can I help you?” I asked when I was a few feet from him.
He kept on walking. I stepped aside, afraid he would run into me and was grateful when he suddenly halted. Closer, I noticed his eyes darting from side to side.
The air current had grown strong enough to turn the pages of a book propped open on a shelf.
Is he causing this?
“Where am I?” he asked.
“In the Clover Ridge Library,” I said, doing my best to remain calm.
“How did I get here?”
“I have no idea. I suppose through one of the doors.”
As he moved past me I felt a chill. It was the kind of sensation I felt when Evelyn came too close to me. No! He couldn’t be . . .
I covered my mouth to keep from shouting “stop!” as he wandered into the reading room, bumping into chairs and brushing by people. A magazine fell to the ground. Then another. Patrons stared after him as he passed, expressions of puzzlement or fear on their faces. I realized that they couldn’t see him, but they felt the air current he was causing, sensed an eerie presence that disturbed their peace of mind.
So this was the ghost that Buzz Coleman had encountered! I had to stop him from wreaking havoc in the library. I also wanted to help him, but I hadn’t the slightest idea what to do.
Panic was building inside me as the apparition only I could see bumbled toward the circulation desk where several people stood waiting to have their books, movies, and tapes checked out. It was impossible to grab hold of him and lead him away. And calling to him would make people think I’d lost it. From the way patrons touched their ruffled hair and stared at papers fluttering to the ground, I knew they were wondering what on earth was happening.
What to do! What to do!
Suddenly Evelyn appeared. I’d never been so happy to see her! I watched as she took hold of the ghost’s arm and, a finger to her lips, urged him to turn around and walk towards me.
“Carrie, is your office empty?” she whispered when they came closer.
I nodded.
“Let’s go there now and figure out what to do with Charlie over here.”
“His name is Charlie?” I asked.
She rolled her eyes. “It is for the time being.”
* * *
“I still can’t figure out how I ended up in your library,” Charlie said for the eighth time. Or was it the twelfth? I had no idea since that was how he responded to every question Evelyn and I asked him, even after we’d explained repeatedly that we were assuming he belonged to the body recently discovered next door, and that he’d entered the library through the break in the wall.
He was either dazed at having found himself in unfamiliar surroundings or had suffered some form of amnesia. Which was a big disappointment. I’d expected Charlie to tell us who he was and how he’d ended up in the house next door. And while I appreciated the way Evelyn had managed to convince our visitor to accompany us to my office, she wasn’t any more successful than me. Didn’t all ghosts function on the same level? Observe the same protocol? Clearly this wasn’t the case, judging from her lack of results.
“Charlie,” I began. “Can we call you Charlie until we find out your real name?”
He nodded. “Okay. I guess. Why not?”
I exhaled loudly. He seemed calmer. Still very confused but definitely calmer. And the gusts of wind had died down. “Okay. Our library bought the building next door so we could expand. The building has been abandoned for years. Last week a body wrapped in a blanket was discovered in the basement. They think it’s been there at least five, maybe eight years. Recently, one of the workers broke through the adjoining wall. We think that’s how you came to wander into the library.”
Charlie nodded as he thought this over. “And you think that body is—was me?”
“It could be. Do you remember entering that building?”
“No.”
“What do you remember?” Evelyn asked.
Charlie stared at her. “You’re like me, aren’t you?”
Evelyn, who had been perched on the corner of my assistants’ desk, came to stand in front of him and drew back her shoulders. “If you mean that your body and mine have both left this corporal plane, the answer is yes. Other than that, we are worlds apart.”
“Sorry,” Charlie said quickly.
“No need to apologize,” Evelyn said, her tone warming. “Carrie and I want to help you get where you belong.”
“Much appreciated,” Charlie said. “As to your question, I wish I had a good answer for you. My mind is fuzzy when I try to remember my life. My history. I get flashes of places I recognize, people I knew, but nothing more.” He sighed. “I can’t even tell you my name.”
“That’s all right,” I said quickly. “Just tell us what you can remember.”

You can Find Dewey Decimated at these online Retailers

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About The Author

A former Spanish teacher, Marilyn Levinson writes mysteries, romantic suspense, and novels for kids. Her books have received many accolades. As Allison Brook she writes the Haunted Library series. DEATH OVERDUE, the first in the series, was an Agatha nominee for Best Contemporary Novel in 2018. Other mysteries include the Golden Age of Mystery Book Club series, the Twin Lakes series, and GIVING UP THE GHOST.

 Her juvenile novel, RUFUS AND MAGIC RUN AMOK, was an International Reading Association-Children’s Book Council Children’s Choice. It will soon be reissued, followed by three more books in the series. AND DON’T BRING JEREMY was a nominee for six state awards.

 Marilyn lives on Long Island, where many of her books take place. She loves traveling, reading, doing crossword puzzles and Sudoku, and chatting on FaceTime with her grandkids

Where to Catch Up With Marilyn Levinson/Alison Brook

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Click Here to Enter! This includes my short story, “Alone at Christmas”.

Film Crews and Rendezvous

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Have you ever have a movie crew come to your town? It happened to me as a teenager when they filmed at an old train station not far from my house. I was so excited to see everything, the extras, the makeup tables, and the stars. The local car club lined up vintage autos for the filming and we were transformed into the Great Depression. Not wanting to miss anything, I rode my bike over to the filming site early in the morning. I quietly observed it all, like writers tend to do, even ones who don’t yet know they will become one. We have a visit from Hollywood today in Heather Weidner’s second book in the Jules Keene Glamping Mystery Series, Film Crews and Rendezvous. Lets make a visit to Fern Valley and do a little glamping.

About the Book

Hollywood has come to Fern Valley, and the one stoplight town may never be the same. Everyone wants to get in on the act.

The crew from the wildly popular, fan favorite, Fatal Impressions, takes over Jules Keene’s glamping resort, and they bring a lot of offscreen drama and baggage that doesn’t include the scads of costumes, props, and crowds that descend on the bucolic resort in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Added security, hundreds of calls from hopeful extras, and some demanding divas keep Jules’s team hopping.

When the show’s prickly head writer ends up dead under the L. Frank Baum tiny house in what looks like a staged murder scene with a kitschy homage to the Wizard of Oz, Jules has to figure out who would want the writer dead. Then while they are still reeling from the first murder, the popular publicist gets lost after a long night at the local honky-tonk and winds up strangled. Jules needs to solve both crimes before filming is canceled, and her business is ruined.

Read an Excerpt

Monday                                                                                                                                                      Jules Keene’s phone buzzed as she clipped the leash on Bijou, her Jack Russell Terrier. Another text from someone in town who just had to be an extra for the filming at her resort. Ignoring the latest request, she headed across the grassy area to the office.
Hollywood had arrived in Fern Valley, and Jules wasn’t sure the one-stoplight town would be the same. She had had to keep all the location scouting a secret, and that was difficult with the town’s active gossip grapevine. Now, everyone seemed to be plotting ways to get close to the action.
Jules enjoyed the calm walk across the resort before her day started. With all the arrivals this week, the peacefulness would not last long. Normally, the Fern Valley Luxury Camping Resort was a place for visitors looking for solitude in refurbished, vintage trailers stocked with posh amenities. Recently, the resort had been a hive of activity as crews turned it into ground zero for the on-location filming in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.
Bijou took off after a butterfly, and when she got bored with the insect, she checked out all the new smells since the day before. The terrier bounded up the wooden steps, where she waited patiently for Jules to open the screen door to the resort’s office and store.
The summer season had ended Labor Day weekend, but this year, the film crew for Fatal Impressions, a cult classic for streaming TV fans, had rented the resort for two months to do location shots in a small town. Jules, excited to have the opportunity to extend the season, had been inundated daily with requests from friends and townsfolk who knew they had talents that the casting director had to see.
A screeching voice echoed through the resort’s store, interrupting Jules’s quiet morning. “I thought I told you I didn’t want to be disturbed before ten. What kind of place is this?” Sorbonne, the show’s head writer, pounded her fist on the counter and shook her head.
Bijou hurdled into the store with an overabundance of energy.
Sorbonne, an overly thin woman with a jet-black bob, whipped around. The jagged points of hair on each side of her face sprang forward. She pointed her blood-red fingernail at Bijou and screamed, “What is that?” When Bijou darted forward for a pat, Sorbonne’s face turned the same color as her nails, and the vein on the side of her sinewy neck bulged. Jules tugged lightly on the leash, and Bijou sat. Neither were sure what to make of the woman who waved her arms and ranted.
“Who allows animals in a place of business?” Sorbonne pointed at the dog and then at Jules’s aunt, Roxanne Mallory, who leaned one elbow on the front counter.
Surprised that her aunt had not responded with her usual sassiness, Jules said, “That’s Bijou. She works here.” She led the Jack Russell Terrier to her office, unclicked her leash, and closed the bottom portion of the Dutch door to keep Bijou out of the fray.
“First all the noise and now this. I’m going to have to be moved to other accommodations if this keeps up. Rod is going to hear about this. I have to be able to work. I am critical to this production.” She spun on her four-inch stilettos and stomped toward the door.
“Ms., uh,” Jules said to her back.
“It’s Sorbonne. Just Sorbonne. And I want this rectified now. I want quiet or new accommodations. And I’m still going to let Rod, the producer, know. He’ll be interested in how I was treated at this place.” She looked down her pointed nose and made a face like she had licked a lemon.
“What disturbed you? Our goal is for you to enjoy your stay in Fern Valley,” Jules said.
“She’ll tell you.” Sorbonne wagged her daggered fingernail at Roxanne. “And it better not happen again.” The show’s writer stormed out the door, slamming it hard enough to make it rattle for several seconds in her wake. A pained look crossed Roxanne’s face. “Sorbet blew in here complaining of excessive noise in the early hours of the morning. She’s in the Beatrix Potter tiny house. It seems Jake stopped by to do some work on the new house going up next to it, and it woke her up. At ten-thirty.”
Last summer, Jules added tiny houses to the resort’s offering with the help of her maintenance/security guy, Jake Evans. Each tiny space was themed for a different author and came with a cozy reading nook. The houses ranged from about four hundred square feet to larger, modular models with lofts and upstairs. These let guests try out tiny house living and also served as model homes for Jake’s side business.
Roxanne rolled her eyes. “I thought these movie folks started work early. I saw a lot of activity when I got here at eight.”
Jules tried to stifle a grin. “She must keep different hours than the crew. I’ll talk to Jake.”
“About what?” Jake Evans asked as he came in through the back door. He picked up Bijou, carried her into the store, and kissed her on the head.
“It seems you woke up one of our fussy guests.” Roxanne added an extended pause between each word and returned to straightening the flyers on the front counter.
“I waited until ten. It just needed a few touch-ups. My buddies helped me move the Baum tiny house in place yesterday at dinner time.” Jake made a beeline for the coffee maker.
“I love the ruby red door on that one,” Roxanne yelled behind him.
“All I have left to do is the hookups and install the lattice work around the bottom to cover up the crawlspace and the cement trailer pad. I didn’t think I made any noise. I was trying to get it ready in case you needed the extra space,” Jake said from the back room.
“It wasn’t you, Jake. She’s a temperamental writer if you ask me,” Roxanne said. “That’s the third time she’s been in here since she checked in. The first time she was appalled that we didn’t have room-darkening shades in the Potter house. Then she wanted to know where she could get a case of her designer mineral water since no stores in town stocked it. Oh, and I forgot her request for lightbulbs that give off Vitamin D. It seems our regular bulbs are substandard.”
“We need to be patient. They’re bringing a lot of business to the valley and lots of media attention. Let’s be as helpful as we can,” Jules added.
Roxanne put on a half-smile and did a fake clutch of her pearl necklace in her best southern drawl. “Customer service is my middle name.” She winked at her niece and busied herself at the reservation desk.
“I’m going to check on things and leave Bijou in the back if you’re going to be here for a little while,” Jules said. “She’ll be fine. I’ll sic her on Ms. Sauvignon if she comes back. Some people.” Roxanne shrugged her shoulder and flipped through a magazine at the front counter. “And don’t forget to wear your lanyard with your credentials. I hear their security teams are working hard to keep the riffraff off the property. Lester got stopped over near the barn this morning.”
Jules held up her lanyard with the show’s logo on it. She cut through her office and headed to the golf cart parked under the carport at the back of the store. Hopefully, Lester and the rest of her team could do their work without bumping into the film crew.
Jake followed his boss. He shut the door and touched her shoulder as she descended the steps.
“I’ll figure out a way to finish the Baum house during daylight hours. It shouldn’t take me that long.” Jules turned and faced him. “I appreciate it. Sorbonne seems to be easily disturbed.” “It must be a Left Coast thing,” he said, drawing her closer and kissing her. He folded her in his arms. She returned the kiss and pulled away, staring into his jade-green eyes. “I thought we agreed to keep this under the radar,” she whispered.
“Embarrassed?” Jake pushed his longish brown bangs out of his face.
“You know that’s not it, but I’m a little concerned about how an employer-employee relationship looks.”
“Then I quit. Problem solved.”
Jules’s jaw dropped. She could feel the flush cross her cheeks.
“I know. You need me. I wouldn’t let you down.” Jake grinned.
“Dinner tonight?” she asked, smiling back and giving him a quick peck on his lightly stubbled cheek.
“You cooking?”
“Spaghetti okay? I need to catch up on the earlier seasons of Fatal Impressions. I think I’m the only one in Fern Valley who hasn’t seen all of the first three seasons.”
Jake rushed down the steps. “See you around six.”

You can find Film Crews and Rendezvous at these online retailers:

Amazon Paperback

Amazon Kindle

Barnes and Noble: Film Crews and Rendezvous: A Jules Keene Glamping Mystery by Heather Weidner, Paperback | Barnes & Noble® (barnesandnoble.com)

BookBub: Film Crews and Rendezvous: A Jules Keene Glamping Mystery by Heather Weidner – BookBub

Books a Million: film crews and rendezvous : : Booksamillion.com

Bookshop.org: https://bookshop.org/shop/heatherweidner

Fantastic Fiction: Film Crews and Rendezvous (Jules Keene Glamping Mystery, book 2) by Heather Weidner (fantasticfiction.com)

Goodreads: Film Crews and Rendezvous by Heather Weidner | Goodreads

Kobo: Film Crews and Rendezvous eBook by Heather Weidner – EPUB | Rakuten Kobo United States

Scribd: Film Crews and Rendezvous by Heather Weidner – Ebook | Scribd

About the Author

Through the years, Heather Weidner has been a cop’s kid, technical writer, editor, college professor, software tester, and IT manager. Vintage Trailers and Blackmailers is the first in her cozy mystery series, the Jules Keene Glamping Mysteries. She also writes the Delanie Fitzgerald mystery series set in Virginia. Her Mermaid Bay Christmas Shoppe Mysteries debut in 2023.

Her short stories appear in the Virginia is for Mysteries series, 50 Shades of CabernetDeadly Southern Charm, and Murder by the Glass, and her novellas appear in The Mutt Mysteries series.

Originally from Virginia Beach, Heather has been a mystery fan since Scooby-Doo and Nancy Drew. She lives in Central Virginia with her husband and a pair of Jack Russell terriers.

Where to Catch Up With Heather Weidner

Website and Blog: http://www.heatherweidner.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/HeatherWeidner1

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HeatherWeidnerAuthor

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/heather_mystery_writer/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8121854.Heather_Weidner

Amazon Authors: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00HOYR0MQ

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/HeatherBWeidner/

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/heather-weidner-0064b233?trk=hp-identity-name

BookBub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/heather-weidner-d6430278-c5c9-4b10-b911-340828fc7003

TikTok: https://www.tiktok.com/@heather_weidner_author?lang=en

Lost Little Girl

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Today we are heading to Nashville to go on a case with Gregory Stout’s PI Jackson Gamble. Teenagers run away all the time, but in this case there’s so much more going on than that.

About Lost Little Girl

Nashville PI Jackson Gamble takes on a case that on the surface seems simple enough. All he has to do is find and return home a fourteen-year old girl named Gabrielle Hawkins who has disappeared from home. Gamble’s experience tells him the girl is just another runaway, but her mother insists she has been kidnapped. The search for Gabrielle sets Gamble on a path that leads him through the city’s underbelly of sex for hire, pornography, snake-handling religious fundamentalists, and ultimately a serial killer of teenaged girls.

With the help of an attractive woman who has a heartbreaking past of her own, he closes in on the conclusion of his investigation, with results that are both tragic and unforgettable, where the smallest mistake could spell the end of both his career and his life.

Excerpt

LOST LITTLE GIRL
Tuesday morning, I was out of bed before Maggie. I got cleaned up and then got on the telephone. The first call was to Woodcrest High School. I told the secretary that I was a friend of Ms. Totten. I explained that she had been the victim of a criminal assault and would not be back at work for at least the rest of the week, possibly longer. I gave her the name of Detective Lorraine Proctor at Metro Police Headquarters if the school needed to verify the information.
My second call was to the admissions office at Baptist Hospital. When I asked to speak to Delsey Hawkins, I was informed that she had not been at work on Monday, nor had she come in that morning. That set alarm bells jangling in my head.
I told Maggie I needed to go out for a while. The weather had turned quite chilly, so before I left, I turned up the thermostat to be sure she’d be comfortable. I waited until she took her meds, then warmed up a can of soup and gave her a quick tutorial on how the TV remote worked. After that, I drove over to talk to Delsey, but not before taking a detour past Maggie’s place to make certain her broken doors had been repaired.
When I arrived at the Newsome Street address, I found Jericho’s crapwagon Dodge parked on the street as it had been the first night that I visited the Hawkins home. Delsey’s car was in the driveway. Both cars being there gave me hope that perhaps Delsey’s absence from work and Gabrielle’s evident disappearance was nothing more than a case of the whole family holed up in the house with the flu.
I had to knock several times before Delsey came to the door. In a word, she looked awful, and at first, I thought my idea that the whole family had taken sick was a correct one. But when I looked closer, I saw that she had been crying, and her posture suggested that whatever energy she possessed had been all but drained out of her. I also noticed the way she was dressed, in a simple white dress like the ones the women wore at the service Maggie and I had attended a few weeks earlier.
And I knew. Something was very wrong.
I said, “Can I come in?”
She nodded and unhooked the screen door.
I entered the front room and looked around. Everything looked the same as the last time I had visited, except that the picture of Gabrielle that hung on the wall next to the picture of Jericho, Junior, had been turned toward the wall.
Once, when I was a kid, I was walking with some friends through a cemetery. We weren’t there to upend any tombstones or to smoke some dope. It was daylight, and it was just a shortcut to get where we were going. One of my friends, or maybe it was me, I don’t remember, noticed that the door to one of the private mausoleums was open. Evidently, the groundskeepers were performing some maintenance and had left the doors open while they went to lunch. It was a perfect opportunity to take a look inside a place where none of us had ever been.
The interior of the mausoleum was quite confined, about half the size of a single car garage. The overhead lights were extinguished, so it was partly dark, and although it was a hot day, it was cool inside. There were crypts set into the walls with bronze plaques indicating the names and the birth and death dates of the occupants. It wasn’t a frightening place, but being inside left me with the unmistakable feeling that this was a place where only the dead could find comfort. It was the same feeling that I got now, standing in Delsey’s front room.
I was unsure how to begin. “I wanted to come by to talk to you because there have been some developments. I won’t call it good news, but the young man who Gabrielle was planning to run away with has died. He won’t threaten your family ever again.”
“I know.” Her voice sounded flat and empty of feeling. “The police called yesterday. They said he was shot. Was that you?”
“I’m afraid it was. He didn’t leave me any choice.” I waited to see whether she would react. After a moment I said, “Does Gabrielle know?”
“She knows, and she understands. She understands everything now.”
“Is she here now? I’d like to talk to her if it’s all right.”
“She isn’t here. She’s at church, with Jericho.”
I said, “You look as though you’re dressed for church yourself. Do you want to go there now? I’ll drive you if you’d like.”
She nodded. “That would be nice, thank you. I’m not feeling quite myself today. Just let me get my coat.”
Delsey had nothing else to say to me on the drive to the Divine Light Pentecostal Congregation Church. What speaking she did was with her eyes closed, praying quietly to herself. When we got to our destination, I drove into the lot and parked the car next to the front steps. I saw that there was a length of heavy chain looped around the doorknobs and fastened with a padlock. A handwritten cardboard sign taped to one of the doors said Sunday services were cancelled on account of a family emergency.
Delsey got out of the car first. She walked up to the doors and turned a key in the lock. Then we went inside. The scene that greeted us when we went through the inner doors was like a tableau such as might be found in a wax museum. The first thing I saw was Gabrielle. She was laid out on a long table, surrounded by flowers. She was dressed in a long-sleeved white, full-length gown. Her hands, which held a crucifix, were folded across her stomach. Her feet were bare, and her hair was brushed out and arranged like flowing water around her face. On her head she wore a halo of delicate white flowers. Baby’s breath, I thought, or perhaps jasmine. Her face had been washed clean of any makeup, and her skin was pale and waxy. Dark circles were beginning to form around her eyes. From her appearance, I estimated she had died sometime late Saturday night or early Sunday morning.
Next, I saw Jericho, on the floor in front of the table. Like Gabrielle, his pose in death had been carefully arranged, except that instead of a crucifix, his hands were wrapped around a Bible. His suit jacket was buttoned, as was the collar of his shirt. However, unlike Gabrielle, who had been lovingly prepared, he was dressed in the clothes he was wearing at the moment of his death. I noticed there were still-damp bloodstains in three different spots on the front of his coat. Three shots, just like Bobby Fury, only all three were in his chest. He had been dead for only a short time, perhaps no more than a few hours.
Not knowing what to say or do, and feeling weak in the knees, I sat down in one of the front-row pews. I tried to take it all in, but it was too much, and words failed me. And although it had been decades since I last practiced the Catholic faith I had been baptized into, I bowed my head and said a silent prayer for Jericho and Gabrielle, asking a God whom I barely knew any longer to mercifully receive into a peaceful and eternal rest the souls of a sadly misguided father, and his beautiful, unhappy daughter.

You can purchase a copy of Lost Little Girl at Amazon.

About the Author

Greg Stout is the author of Gideon’s Ghost, and Connor’s War, both young adult novels set in small-town America in the mid-1960s, and Lost Little Girl, a contemporary detective novel set in Nashville, Tennessee, and which has been announced as the winner of the 2022 Shamus Award for best first novel. A complete listing of Greg Stout’s published works, including 22 titles related to American railroad history,  can be found at www.gregorystoutauthor.com.  Greg resides with his wife and two cats, Wallace and Gromit, in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, where he is a member of the Heartland Writers Guild, the Southeast Missouri Writers Guild and is a member of the board of directors for the Missouri Writers Guild. His second Jackson Gamble mystery for Level Best Books, The Gone Man, is scheduled for release in late 2022.

SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS:

Web site:  www.gregorystoutauthor.com

Goodreads home:  https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/958863.Greg_Stout

Facebook author page:  https://www.facebook.com/gregstout48

Twitter page:  @GregStout16

Other Books by Greg Stout

Gideon’s Ghost

Connor’s War

Any of Greg Stout’s novels (plus several of the 22 railroad histories) are available through his website, or at the Amazon links below. The railroad titles are also available at Morning Sun Books or at the WRP Bookstore

Old Sins

Old Sins by Lynne Handy Banner

Listen to this blog post as a podcast.

Why would a poet make a good detective? A poet spends a great amount of time focusing on small details in a single line of verse. Just imagine that focus in an amateur detective. In Old Sins, poet Maria Bell demonstrates attention to detail as well as a little bit of supernatural ability. Let’s travel to a small village in Ireland and get ready for a little history, a few plot twists, and murder.

Synopsis:

Old Sins by Lynne Handy

Battered by her archeologist lover’s betrayal, poet Maria Pell flees to an Irish village to study prehistoric people and write her next volume of poetry, but her sanctuary is invaded first by her moody cousin and then by her Togolese lover who unexpectedly show up on her doorstep. When the discovery of a girl’s body on a rocky shore reawakens Maria’s devastating childhood memory of finding a dead baby floating in a stream, her days become haunted by this child’s death. As teenage girls disappear, villagers are terrified that sex-traffickers are targeting their community. With crimes to be solved, both past and present, Maria risks her life to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Praise for Old Sins:

“The story is ingenious and unpredictable . . . ”

Kirkus Reviews

“A dynamic, roller coaster ride of plot twists and turns. . . a truly mesmerizing and moving, mystery thriller that will stump the audience until the secrets are revealed.”

Reader Review

“A satisfying, well-written mystery you won’t be able to put down”

Valerie Biel, author of the award-winning Circle of Nine series

“Author Lynne Handy weaves a dark and stormy tale in Old Sins, the third ominously addictive novel in the Maria Pell Mystery Series.”

Self-Publishing Review

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery / Suspense
Published by: Indie Published
Publication Date: August 2022
Number of Pages: 310
ISBN: 979-8839003903
Series: The Maria Pell Mystery Series, Book 3
Book Links: Amazon | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

PROLOGUE

In the summer of 1988 when I was ten, I found a baby girl caught in the cattails of a stream running through my parents’ property. At first, I thought she was another baby Moses waiting to be discovered in the bulrushes. It was when I knelt to free her from the fronds that I saw her ashen face, her vacant eyes, and knew she was dead.

I see it all in slow motion now: I, in a yellow sundress, scrambling to my feet, knowing something was horribly wrong that a baby had been thrown in the creek. I ran toward my house crying, “There’s a dead baby in the creek!”

My academician father was sitting in the porch swing, reading a newspaper. He threw it down and came running. The kitchen door banged behind my mother. “John? What is it?”

I ran to her and pressed my face against her chest.“It’s a dead baby,” I sobbed.“She’s wearing a pink dress.”

“A pink dress?”

My mother folded her arms around me and stared after my father, who admonished her to stay where she was. I’m sure my mother looked at the baby afterward, but not on the day that I found her.

No one ever claimed her. No one ever admitted throwing her in the creek. The town called her Baby Doe. The coroner said she’d been alive when she went in the water. She had been a throwaway child. Until finding her, I had not known that children could be so unloved they would be discarded. I was so distressed that my parents sent me to a psychiatrist who told my mother that I had merged my psyche with that of the unwanted infant and feared no one would ever want me.

How many times during my childhood had my mother asked if I knew how much she and my father loved me? Taken literally, it was a difficult question to answer, so I had kept silent. How do you measure love? Fear of abandonment helped form the woman I became, and in some ways, I remained stuck emotionally in my tenth year.

CHAPTER ONE

Coomara, Ireland April 29, 2016

Bridget Vale was so faithful in her prayers that the nuns selected her as May Queen. On Sunday, she would reign over the village’s spring festival. Today was her thirteenth birthday, and my cousin Elizabeth and I remembered with a strawberry frosted cake, balloons, and a pair of gold earrings depicting St. Brigid’s eternal flame. Wearing her blue school uniform, Bridget danced on strong-muscled legs among the daffodils and tulips in my garden. Her gracefulness seeded a poem in my mind— toss of silk-spun hair, gypsy feet….

Bridget gripped the balloon strings with both hands so they could not fly away and become lodged in the stomachs of terns and sea turtles. Then catastrophe! In the middle of a pirouette, the sky darkened and a sea wind rushed in, batting the balloons against each other, swooping them up, ripping them from her hands. The pretty globes—pink, yellow, and blue—merged into the brew of clouds. I felt a sense of loss.

Before I could pursue the feeling, Iris, Bridget’s mother, called to me from the open kitchen window. “Maria, I’m done vacuuming. Do you want me to sweep the front porch?”

“There’s rain coming,” I answered. “It’ll wash the porch clean.”

Iris went to the back door. “Come in, Bridget. Time to go home.”

As the girl climbed the porch steps, I saw her aura, previously a healthy red, was now tinged with green—a loss of positive energy. “I’m sorry I lost the balloons, Ms. Pell,” she said sadly.

I patted her on the shoulder. “Couldn’t be helped. The wind came out of nowhere.”

Elizabeth, who had also seen the balloon mishap, sought to distract by asking Bridget to help box up the leftover cake. I paid Iris her weekly wage for cleaning the cottage, and mother and daughter prepared to go home.

“I’ll see you at Mass on Sunday,” Elizabeth said.

“I’m coming, too,” I said. “It’s not every day I get to see a queen coronated.”

As Bridget walked down the hill with her mother, I saw her aura had not changed and it worried me—perhaps something more was at work in her young mind than the loss of the balloons.

The ability to visualize auras was both a blessing and a curse; it was invasive: perhaps people minded having someone privy to the secrets of their well-being. I had not worked to develop the skill; it had come to me early, perhaps, a result of my self-imposed isolation as a child.

Most of the time, my mind was focused on the routines that comprised my life, and especially, my work. I could go days without consciously seeing haloes around people’s heads—either that or I did see them as a natural occurrence and did not notice, as one becomes used to floaters in the eye.

I looked at Elizabeth. Her aura was pink. She was running low on energy,

She sighed as she closed the window over the sink. “Too bad about the balloons, Maria. I hope they don’t end up in some creature’s stomach.”

“I hope so, too. Elizabeth, why don’t you lie down. You seem tired.”

“I may go sit in the garden.” Climbing the stairs to my study, I thought how capricious the weather was. Sunlight, one moment. Rain, the next. No wonder the ancient Celts found divinity in weather phenomena like thunder. So much of life was mystery.

As a poet, I loved mystery, for it tugged at my right brain, inviting possibilities. I’d been granted an eighteen-month leave of absence from my teaching position at Midwestern University in Indiana and was in Ireland on a Lewison Fellowship to study Celtic prehistory. Hopefully, the research would inspire a new book of poems.

The previous year, I had won the prestigious Innisfree Award for Footprints, a collection of poems based on the trek of a Celtic tribe from northern France to County Kildare in Ireland. Though I’d won several awards for feminist poetry, Footprints had earned the fellowship for me. Three years earlier, my research for Footprints had led me to County Kildare, west of Dublin. I had been overwhelmed by the beauty of the country’s landscape—forests and grass-covered hills, monolithic rocks heaved up from the soil, lakes and rivers carved out by long ago glaciers. Mists drifting in from the sea added to a sense of wonder. I felt the pull of history.

While I was in Kildare, Mathieu, my partner of twelve years, began an affair with one of his colleagues, a woman named Zara. All my life, I had been plagued by fear of rejection, and his betrayal sent me into a tailspin of despondency. The Lewison Fellowship allowed me to put an ocean between him and me, and to bury myself in work.

Pausing at the study window, I looked out onto the seaside village of Coomara, which dated to the early fifth century (BCE), when Ireland was carved into unstable tuatha, or kingdoms, with shifting boundaries dependent on the outcome of battles. Coomara, loosely translated as sea hound, was probably named for a Viking who came to settle long ago. A mile from my cottage, where the ruins of a thirteenth century castle hugged the ground, was my favorite place to linger. Closing my eyes, I could hear hoof-beats of an ancient army echoing from the earth. Easterly, lay a tumble of pale gray stones—once an abbey.

My five-room rented cottage came furnished and had been built on a promontory overlooking the Irish Sea, yet was within walking distance of the main part of town. Green-shingled, constructed of wood and stone, the house was painted hot pink. Gardens were walled in with a heavy oak gate in front, and a smaller gate in back leading to stone steps descending to the shore. Front and back porches were high enough that I could see into the garden of my neighbor and landlord, Brendan Calloway.

Brendan stood in his garden, looking out to sea. He was an odd sort and I didn’t quite trust him. When I rented the cottage, I made sure he handed over all the keys.

Tearing myself away from the window, I sat down at my desk and began sorting through photocopies of mythical stories I’d brought back from my recent bus trip to the Trinity College Library in Dublin, fifty miles north of Coomara. It was the myths that fueled my understanding of prehistoric people, who came in waves during the sixth century (BCE), and with whom, through my late maternal grandmother, I shared a genetic core.

I bent to my work, reading about Dagda, known as the Good God, not because he was particularly moral, but because he was skilled as a warrior, ruler, artisan, and magician. He possessed a cauldron with an inexhaustible supply of treasure for his followers and a gigantic club, which had to be hauled on wheels. Some scholars thought he was a storm god like Thor with his hammer. Others compared him to Hercules.

The wind that had taken Bridget’s balloons blew in through my open window and rustled a page on my wall calendar. Glancing up, I saw Elizabeth had penned in her tiny handwriting a reminder of Pearce Mulligan’s soiree on April 30. We’d both forgotten about it.

I went to the top of the stairs. “Elizabeth,” I called down. “Pearce Mulligan’s party is tomorrow evening.”

No reply. She must still be in the garden.

Pearce Mulligan was a bore, but I hoped to meet his reclusive poet mother, Margaret. Though I’d been in Ireland for six weeks, her path and mine had not crossed. The public librarian said Margaret had published only one chapbook. I’d read the library copy. Her verses were clever, based on rules of nature.

Rain was coming in my open bedroom window and I rushed to close it. Too many interruptions. My mind could not focus. Putting the notebooks aside, I went downstairs. Soaked to the skin, Elizabeth came in the back door, holding a wisp of pink latex in her hand.

“Part of a balloon,” she said, handing it to me. “I found it on top of the wall. At least, this didn’t kill some turtle.”

I held it in the palm of my hand, thinking it was shaped like a human ear. For some inexplicable reason, I was troubled.

***

The following evening, Elizabeth and I were about to leave on foot for Ravensclaw, the Mulligan family estate, when she was detained by a telephone call from her mother in Indiana. Not wanting to be late, I went ahead. Halfway to the Mulligan estate, I heard Elizabeth shout my name and turned to see her running up the hill.

“Maria! Something dreadful has happened to Bridget!”

My heart lurched. “What? What happened?”

Elizabeth grabbed my hand. “A local boy found her body on the rocks.”

“Her body?”

Bridget was dead? I felt as if I’d been kicked in the stomach. Yesterday, Bridget had danced with balloons in my garden. Had she fallen into the sea and drowned? Why had she gone down to the rocks? The village children were well aware of the danger. Signs were posted. Beware: Slippery Rocks.

“Where exactly was Bridget found?” I asked.

“Just below the park dock. A boy found her body when he went to arrange his father’s fishing nets.”

“And you learned about this how?”

“I was walking past the pub on my way to Ravensclaw when a garda officer pulled Iris and Freddy out of the pub to tell them. Iris…”

I could well imagine Iris’sr eaction. Years ago,she lost her first child, and now Bridget was dead. With anxious hearts, we hurried down the hill, reaching the edge of the village. As we neared St. Columba’s Catholic Church, Judy Moriarity, the priest’s gossipy housekeeper, darted out of the priory.

“Did you hear about the Vale girl?” she asked. “What do you think happened?”

She didn’t expect us to respond and we didn’t.

A mournful chant drifted upward, and I glanced toward the shore where people—possibly latter-day druids—had built a bonfire. They had heard about Bridget. Word of tragedy traveled fast in the village and its environs. On the other side of the street, Daniel Aherne, owner of a pub called Gaelic Earls, broke away from a group of men and waited for a car to pass. He hurried over and fell into step with us.

“Headed for the Vale cottage?” he asked.

“Yes,” I replied. “Maybe there’s something we can do to help.”

A loud, piercing cry tore through the darkness. I could not mistake the source—it was Iris. Elizabeth and I broke into a run. A crowd had gathered at the Vale cottage. The front door was flung open. Iris stood on the threshold, pounding her fists on her husband’s chest. Freddy Vale took her blows, tried to comfort her.

Two officers from An Garda Siochána, the Irish police force, stood on the porch. At their feet lay a stretcher holding a body covered with a white sheet.

Why have the garda brought the body to the cottage?

Iris’ despair tore through me as if it were my own. I closed my eyes, shrank against a tree trunk to find my bearings. Knowing I could be paralyzed by the strong emotion of others, Elizabeth grabbed my upper arm. I took several deep breaths and nodded, nearly recovered from the onslaught of Iris’s grief.

Iris scooped up her daughter’s corpse and ran into the house.

The officers stared at each other. “Here, here,” one said. “We must take the body to the morgue.”

Iris slammed the door. The lock snapped shut.

I turned to the officer nearest me. “Why did you bring the body here?”

“Mrs. Vale was with it there at the docks. She refused to let us touch her girl unless we promised to bring her to the house.”

Judy seared him with penetrating brown eyes. “You shouldn’t have listened to her. Now she’ll never give up her girl. She lost her first-born, you know.”

“We are Mrs. Vale’s friends,” I said. “Let us try to talk to her.”

The officers stepped aside and we climbed the steps to the porch. “Iris,” Elizabeth called out, “it’s Maria and Elizabeth. Please let us in.” Her hair a riotous mess, Iris threw open the door and lunged into Elizabeth’s arms. Bracing myself, I reached out to keep them both from falling. Iris smelled of whiskey.

“Not you, Mrs. Clatterfart,” Iris yelled at Judy. “I know the wickedness of your tongue.”

Judy’s kewpie doll mouth opened and closed. She stepped back.

I shut the door but didn’t lock it.

“We’re so sorry,” Elizabeth said. “Bridget was such a good girl. Your heart must be broken.”
Her words sent Iris into a paroxysm of weeping. Holding the grieving woman against my shoulder, I guided her into the kitchen where Freddy sat at the table staring numbly out the window, his large workman’s hands gripping a bottle of Powers whiskey. I extended my condolences to him and he mumbled something in return. Iris sat down, reached for Freddy’s bottle, and took a large swig. Then she returned to the front room and knelt in front of Bridget’s body.

When Iris laid her girl on the sofa, the sheet had slipped from Bridget’s face. Elizabeth and Iris dropped to their knees to recite the rosary. I moved closer to the dead girl to get a better look. My heart broke. Bridget’s dark lashes were fallen against white cheeks, no longer plump with the vigor of youth, but flat and bloodless. One of the earrings Elizabeth and I had given her hung from her left ear.

Her right ear lobe was torn—someone had ripped off the other earring. The torn balloon. A tendril of plankton graced her forehead. That detail thrust into my brain the image of the dead child, Baby Doe, whose body had floated in a stream and lodged in a stand of cattails. Feeling the onrush of panic that vision never failed to call up, I steadied myself on the back of a chair.

Not now.

I dragged myself back to the tragedy at hand. Behind me, Iris and Elizabeth were still praying. Steeling myself, I bent to study the wound on Bridget’s throat: deep, about a half-inch wide. Bridget had been strangled—a garrote of some type that cut into her skin and sliced through her right carotid artery. A garrote! An outrageous weapon to use on a defenseless girl.

I knew I shouldn’t touch Bridget, as the medical examiner had not seen her, but I did lift the blanket. Bridget was naked. Her small breasts lay vulnerable and still. I flinched, but continued my gaze downward to her sex, sparsely-haired. No bruising. Perhaps she hadn’t been violated. Her hands were fisted. Did she hold a clue to her murder?

“Holy Mother of God,” Elizabeth and Iris recited, “pray for us sinners…”

Freddy Vale came in and dropped to his knees to join the women in prayer. I uncurled Bridget’s fists and found cuts on the inside of her fingers. She had gripped the garrote at some point, in an effort to pull it away from her throat. What happened to you, little Bridget? What kind of maniac did this?

***

Excerpt from Old Sins by Lynne Handy. Copyright 2022 by Lynne Handy. Reproduced with permission from Lynne Handy. All rights reserved.

My Review

Poet Maria Bell is on sabbatical in a small town in Ireland. The mystery unfolds with both an old and new death. The opening scene with the baby is particularly gripping. I liked how Handy wove the historical element along with a touch of the paranormal. This is the first book I’ve read by Lynne Handy, but the third book in the Maria Pell Mystery Series. That being said, I didn’t feel like I was behind on details. I really like the idea of a poet who sees auras as the sleuth.

Author Bio:

Lynne Handy

The eldest child in a farm family, I grew up in western Indiana where the tall corn drove me inward to create fantasy worlds. Books were my salvation. I was drawn to poetry in the beginning. Wordsworth and other poets taught me that metaphor, sound, and cadence made a good poem. From authors like Dickens, I learned that rhythmic sentences advanced plot. Hemingway taught me about verbs. Upon graduating from library school, I worked as a librarian in Illinois, Texas, and Michigan. In retirement, I co-founded Open Sky Poets, a collaboration of poets in the western suburbs of Chicago, and published poems and short stories in literary journals. I self-published three novels—two are mysteries. Current projects involve a mystery series with author Jake Westin, who, like Christie’s Miss Marple, somehow lands in the middle of murder investigations. I live in a blue, yellow, and brown house with a yucca plant out front and two wonderful rescue dogs.

Catch Up With Lynne Handy:
LynneHandy.com
Goodreads
BookBub – @lchandy610
Instagram – @lynne_handy
Twitter – @LynneHandy
Facebook – @Lynne.C.Handy

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The Midnight Call

The Midnight Call by Jodé Millman Banner

Listen to this blog as a podcast.

Everyone had a favorite teacher from high school. Remember yours? Now imagine if that same person called you in the middle of the night to tell you that he or she has committed a murder. What would you do? That’s what Jessie Martin has to decide in The Midnight Call by Jodé Millman.

😉Be sure to scroll down for the giveaway!

The Midnight Call by Jodé Millman

Who would ever suspect that their mentor, teacher, and friend was a cold-blooded killer? Jessie Martin didn’t—at least not until she answers the midnight call.

Synopsis:

Late one August night, Jessie’s lifelong mentor and friend–and presently a popular, charismatic, and handsome high school teacher–Terrence Butterfield calls. He utters a startling admission: he’s killed someone. He pleads for Jessie’s help, so out of loyalty she rushes to his aid completely unaware that she’s risking her relationship, her career, and her life–and that of her unborn child–to help Terrence.

Does Jessie’s presence at Terrence’s home implicate her in the gruesome murder of the teenage boy found in the basement? Why does Terrence betray Jessie when he has a chance to exonerate her of all charges? Has he been a monster in disguise for all these years?

To reclaim her life and prove her innocence, Jessie must untangle the web of lies and reveal the shocking truths behind the homicide. The quest turns out to be the fight of her life: to preserve everything and everyone she holds dear.

Praise for The Midnight Call:

WINNER OF THE 2020 BRONZE IPPY AWARD, 2020 INDEPENDENT PUBLISHER BOOK AWARD FOR SUSPENSE/THRILLER AND THE 2020 AMERICAN FICTION AWARD FOR LEGAL THRILLER.

“A Must-Read”

USA Today Network

“The tricky legal maneuvering intrigues…Millman writes with verve.”

Publishers Weekly

“If you like courtroom battles, this legal thriller fits the bill!”

Chanticleer Reviews, Four Star Review. The Midnight Call won First Place in the 2014 CIBAs in the CLUE Awards

“An intriguing courtroom thriller.”

Top Shelf Magazine

“Friendship, insanity, the drama of a courtroom, with a touch of romance rounding out the narrative, will have readers struggling to answer the question: What happens after you answer that terrifying midnight call?”

Booktrib.com

Book Details:

Genre: Suspense, Thriller, Romantic Suspense
Published by: Level Best Books
Publication Date: September 2022
Number of Pages: 400
Series: Queen City Crimes, Book 1
Book Links: Amazon

Read an excerpt:

Chapter One

“I think I killed someone,” the man’s voice whispered across the phone lines.

“Terrence,” Jessie Martin’s voice croaked, husky with sleep. She’d know her mentor’s voice anywhere, anytime, even in the middle of the night. In the pitch darkness she bolted upright in bed and blinked the sleep out of her eyes. “What are you talking about?”

“I’ve done a terrible thing, committed a sin against God,” he said.

The anguish in his voice made the fine hairs on her skin prickle with fear, and her hand flew up with a desire to protect the baby tumbling around inside her swollen belly. Yet, it was the slow, quiet monotone of his voice that frightened Jessie even more than his confession. Her mentor usually had a confident, intense voice that commanded attention. Tonight, it was flat, as if he were no longer aware of reality.

“There’s blood everywhere.” Terrence’s hollow voice cracked. “He was just a boy… a boy. I don’t know how it happened. Oh my God, what have I done?”

Nothing was making any sense. Terrence Butterfield. Her mentor. Her teacher. Her friend. A killer? Impossible. But if what he said was true, the only way for her to help him was to remain cool and calm. She inhaled deeply to repress the panic crushing her chest and blew it out in a slow, cleansing breath as she’d learned in Lamaze class.

She turned toward Kyle’s side of the bed. Empty. She gripped his pillow in her fist. She’d find him in a moment.

“Terrence, how—what happened? Was there an accident?” She tried to control the tremor in her voice.

“No, it was not… an accident.”

Jessie tried to get him to talk, pushed him for more details. It wasn’t normal for Terrence to stay quiet for so long about anything. Ever. So his lengthy, heavy silence only intensified her unease over his vague confession about killing a kid. If she’d gone into criminal law instead of corporate law, the right questions would’ve rolled off her tongue. For now, she’d have to rely on the adrenaline rush and her instincts.

“Just tell me where you are,” Jessie demanded. “Whatever’s happened, I can help you.”

“I’m at home and… I have a gun. I can’t continue to live. I need to make peace with God.”

“Listen to me. Put the gun down.” Jessie’s mind raced. If Terrence had intended to kill himself he wouldn’t have called her. He wanted her to keep him alive. “There are people who love you. Your family, your students —we all love you.”

“I don’t know what to do. I’m so confused.”

“This is what you are going to do.” It felt odd commanding him, reversing the roles so that she was the mentor and he was the pupil. Hopefully, Terrence had enough wits about him to comply with her instructions, but there was no response except for the clicking of his tongue as he wheezed into the receiver. “Just put down the gun and call the police. Tell them there’s been an accident. Don’t say anything else. Are you with me? I’m on my way. I’ll be there in a few minutes. Please don’t do anything foolish. Promise me.”

The cell phone hung like a dead weight in Jessie’s hand as the line went dead. Moist palms stroked the curve of her child in a strong, circular motion. A tiny foot rose up to accept the caresses like a cat seeking to nuzzle, and once sated, the appendage receded into the depths of her womb.

Jessie thought there must be some mistake, but she knew what she’d heard. The stretched-thin quality of his voice convinced her that something was seriously wrong.

Kyle, her fiancé, hadn’t returned to their room, so she called out his name. No answer. Flinging back the covers, Jessie set her bare feet on the cold wood floor and ran toward the dresser.

Get dressed. Find Kyle. Go to Terrence. Before — She didn’t want to consider the possibilities.

“Kyle,” Jessie called out again, rifling through the drawers. Three shirts spilled out onto her feet. She grabbed a striped t-shirt and wriggled into it. It was a bit snug over her belly, but there was no time. She had to go. “Kyle!”

The bedroom door flew open with a crash and Kyle burst into the room, wild-eyed. “Is it the baby?”

“No, no, it’s not me, I’m fine, but we’ve got to go,” Jessie said, yanking on her sweatpants. “Terrence said that he’s killed someone and he’s going to kill himself.” She gathered her flyaway hair into a ponytail and hurried toward the bathroom door, but Kyle stepped in front of her blocking her path.

“You scared me half to death… and this was, yet again, about that old—I mean, about Terrence.”

Jessie flinched and jerked back, glaring at him.

“Let’s a take a second before you do anything crazy and discuss this.” Kyle paused. “Babe, as odd as he is, you don’t believe that Terrence killed anyone, do you?” He raised his eyebrows and cocked his head. When she didn’t respond, he added, “Just in case, why don’t we call the police and let them handle it?”

Jessie shook her head adamantly. “Kyle, there’s no time to get into this right now so please, call my dad. Have him call Terrence.” She shivered uncontrollably from the tension ricocheting through her body, her teeth chattering so violently she believed they’d shatter. “Ma-make him stay on the phone until we g-get there.”

“Come ‘ere.” His tone softened. Kyle encircled her in his arms and a tender hand reached down to embrace their child. She trembled, immune to the warmth of his touch and his soft, cajoling whispers in her ear. “You shouldn’t be running around in the middle of the night.”

“Sweetie, look, I’ve got to go and I’d appreciate it if you came along,” she said, disguising her fear with determination.

After four years together, Jessie knew that Kyle knew better than to argue with her; after all, she was a lawyer. A damn good one, and once she set her mind on something there was no stopping her. It was all part of her job. Her clients demanded it. But this was the first time the call had come before the arrest. And it was the first time the late night call had been from Terrence.

Kyle growled and released her, shaking his head in resignation. “I guess I can’t stop you, can I?” He stepped into the crumpled jeans lying on the floor, then zipped them up and was tugging a Yankees sweatshirt over his head when she disappeared into the bathroom. When she returned to the bedroom, it was empty.

Jessie discovered Kyle downstairs in the kitchen. He shoved his phone into his jean’s pocket and fiddled with her car keys with his free hand.

“Did you call my dad?”

Kyle nodded. “Ready? Come on, let’s go.”

She reached into the pocket of her hoodie and discovered her phone wasn’t there. “Damn, I must have left my phone upstairs. I’ll be right back.”

He twisted his mouth in a soured expression. “Okay. I’ll meet you in the car.”

As she returned upstairs, she tried to remember where she’d last seen her phone. She’d been in such a rush to get ready that she could have set it down anywhere in the bedroom or bathroom. She couldn’t believe she’d been so stupid, especially with Terrence’s life at stake.

Jessie entered her bedroom and gave the room a quick once-over. Her phone was nowhere in sight.

#

Several minutes later, Jessie slipped into the Jeep that was idling in the driveway. Kyle was anxiously tapping his fingers on the steering wheel.

“Sorry I took so long. My phone was under the nightstand. I must have knocked it there when I was getting dressed.”

Kyle grunted, threw the car into reverse, and backed out of the driveway.

Jessie’s eyes were drawn to the keychain dangling from her Jeep’s ignition. It contained the motley gray rabbit’s foot that Terrence had bagged on one of the many hunting trips with her father. They’d made an odd couple, her father and the younger teacher, but they had a lot in common, and they’d always come home with a kill or two. After one trip, Terrence had presented the token to her with great flourish on the night before she’d left for law school, attaching it to a Black’s Law Dictionary and a pound of Ethiopian coffee beans. Jessie had kept it with her always for good luck: during finals, the bar exam, and her job interviews. Whenever the fates needed an extra boost.

Now, the sight of the cherished charm made her shudder as it assumed a more grisly visage. She felt sorry for the little critter so brutally killed and felt a twinge of doubt as to whether she really knew the man who’d been on the other end of the line—the patient friend who’d spent his Saturday mornings laboring with her over her college admission essays, the charismatic bachelor who’d delivered yellow roses on her mother’s birthday, the popular high school teacher who’d brought history to life by dressing as Genghis Khan, George Washington, and Gandhi. And who, ever since she was a teenager, had been the keeper of her deepest secrets and dreams.

For Terrence’s sake, Jessie hoped that he’d been mistaken tonight. Otherwise, he’d need more than her rabbit’s foot to protect him.

Kyle screeched to a halt at the curb in front of Terrence’s home, and she glanced toward the small white clapboard ranch. While the neighboring houses were dark, Terrence’s house shone like a beacon among the Cape Cod cottages nestled along the quiet, tree-lined boulevard in Poughkeepsie, New York. In the humid August night, hazy lights blazed from every window, illuminating the well-manicured lawn and beds of roses and daylilies that she’d helped him plant more than a decade ago.

Terrence’s tall, lean silhouette was framed within the front bay window. He was speaking on the phone, presumably to her father. The front door stood ajar, inviting her to enter.

In the darkness, Jessie glimpsed two black and white cop cars creeping toward them from the opposite direction. With sirens silenced and headlights extinguished, the cars glided toward the far curb and parked. Bathed in the amber glow of the overhead street lamps, the officers were motionless inside their cars.

“Did you call the police?” Jessie asked.

Kyle didn’t answer. “What are they doing?” he whispered, as though the cops could hear.

Jessie eyed Kyle, but there were more pressing matters. “They’re probably waiting for back up. Come on. Let’s go.” She cocked the door handle, but Kyle grabbed her arm and squeezed. She glanced over at him, confused.

“You’re not going out there, Jessie.”

“This is Terrence’s life, Kyle.” Her voice trembled with conviction, fear, and the desire to help the one man she trusted and revered almost as much as her own father. Kyle never understood that before Terrence entered her life, she’d floundered in school. At best, she’d been a B student. Terrence’s energy and enthusiasm had ignited a spark inside her, instilling knowledge, values, and moral lessons that had helped her achieve her goal of law school. She’d had many teachers and professors over the years, and recognized the rarity of such a man. She was deeply grateful to Terrence but Kyle insisted that the man was a fraud.

Jessie started at the sudden sound of the patrol cars’ doors banging open like cannon fire. She blinked rapidly to dispel the horrible image unfolding in slow motion. A pair of officers emerged from each vehicle. They drew their guns and strode in the direction of Terrence’s house. Her eyes tracked them through the pools of streetlight dotting the avenue, knowing they were on a collision course with Terrence. She felt paralyzed, like during the surreal seconds before an automobile accident, and the powerlessness of skidding toward the unavoidable impact.

“Come on, Kyle.”

“Please stay in the car, at least until we know it’s safe.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Terrence won’t shoot us.” Instinctively, Jessie ran a hand over her belly, and in response to the baby’s sharp jab to her ribs, she yanked her arm free from Kyle’s hold. Opening the door, Jessie slid out of the Jeep and sprinted up the sidewalk toward the broad front steps with Kyle trailing on her heels.

“Stop! Police!” commanded a gravelly voice. “Hands up. Over your head, where we can see them.”

Jessie gasped, stopping in mid-stride. She froze in place, the toes of her sneakers flirting with the bottom step of the porch. Fumbling through the pitch darkness, she threaded her fingers in her fiancé’s. Kyle clasped them, tugged her close to his side, and slowly, they raised their joined hands into the air.

“Sir, I’m here to see Mr. Butterfield. I’m an attorney. He’s expecting me,” Jessie shouted. Judging from the cop’s voice, he was still a good fifty feet away. Far enough for her to make a mad dash for the front door. The door was so close, but Kyle’s grip tightened, digging her engagement ring into her flesh.

“Miss, don’t move,” the officer said. “Please remain where you are. For your own safety.”

“It’s all right, Jessica.” Terrence leaned against the doorjamb, swinging the screen door open to the night air. His voice sounded distant, otherworldly, and his fine-boned features were obscured by the night’s shadows. “Officers, please come in.”

The four police officers swarmed past them with their pistols aimed at the waiting figure. Two officers inched their way up the steps onto the front porch, while a few yards away, the other two covered them from the bottom step. As the team passed, Kyle stepped forward, shielding her from danger and obstructing her path to Terrence.

Terrence might need her, she thought, so she skirted around Kyle and waited and listened. She needed to be ready.

“Sir, are you Terrence Butterfield?” an officer asked.

“Yes.”

Jessie had instructed him to keep quiet and sensed that he was about to break the golden rule—never admit anything.

“We’re investigating a report about the discharging of a firearm at this address. Sir, do you have a weapon? Please show me your hands,” said an older officer with a pockmarked face, as he edged another step closer.

Terrence raised his hands over his head. In his right hand, he gripped an old-fashioned revolver, like Jessie had seen in the Westerns. “I think I have killed someone.”

“Terrence, stop talking!” Jessie exclaimed.

As long as Terrence kept his mouth shut, maybe she could salvage the situation. There had to be a reasonable explanation. Maybe there had been some horrible accident. Maybe he’d stood his ground against an intruder. Maybe he was drunk or stoned or he was hallucinating. She needed to know. To hear the truth from him.

“Sir, I’m Sergeant Mike Rossi and this is my partner, Officer Jen Macy.” Rossi crossed the threshold, while Macy signaled for the other team to spread out around the back of the house. Cautiously, Rossi inched his way toward Terrence. “Mr. Butterfield, please set the gun on the floor.”

Terrence’s trembling hand offered him the weapon.

Rossi stepped backward, looking startled by the movement, but keeping his gun steady, trained on his target. “Just do as I say. Put the gun down and place your hands on top of your head.”

“Please take it. I don’t want it.”

On the bottom porch step, Jessie balanced on her tiptoes, craning her neck to spy on the action through the screen door and windows. She held her breath as Terrence and Rossi eyed each other across the barrel of the shiny gun aimed point-blank at Terrence’s chest. Tension seized Terrence’s muscles, accentuating the slight tic along his jaw that appeared only when he felt threatened. It was a sign that he could attack with little provocation, something she’d witnessed more than once when he’d fended off troublemakers in his classroom.

Locked in a stalemate, Terrence and Rossi continued to glare at each other. Time seemed to stand still, interrupted only by the echoes of the midnight freight trains snaking along the banks of the Hudson River.

Jessie’s pulse thrummed in her ears as she watched, too terrified to move.

The seconds ticked by and then, suddenly as if his nerve had drained away, Terrence’s jaw slackened. He lowered his hand and set the weapon on the coffee table to his right. Then, he hung his head and cradled his temples with his hands.

“Drop to your knees,” Rossi shouted, backing Terrence away from the window so that both men vanished from sight.

Jessie inhaled, inviting humid, sweet air into her lungs, and steadied herself against the steps’ banister. “I should really be in there.” She edged her way up to the next step. “He needs me.”

“Let the police do their job, babe.” Kyle’s fingers clamped around her wrist like a vice. His eyes darted to her baby bump, and then they shifted, staring directly into her eyes, concern crinkling his brow.

Jessie’s gaze swung back toward the house, consumed with the frustration that a bizarre tableau was being played out only a few yards away. Helplessly, she listened to doors slamming, footsteps thundering through rooms, and snippets of conversations and commands drifting outside into the night. As hard as Jessie tried, she couldn’t hear Terrence or see him, and she prayed that he was holding up under the pressure. At least Terrence knew that she and Kyle were there for him and had his back.

Relief flooded her when Rossi herded Terrence back into view in the front hallway, but her chest tightened when a voice crackled over the two-way radio dangling from the officer’s belt.

“Sarge, can you read me? You need to see this… down here in the basement. Copy?”

A scowl hardened on Kyle’s face, and his fingers turned to steel bands squeezing her wrist past the point of pain. Jessie flinched, and he released her.

“Keep your eye on Butterfield,” Rossi said to Macy. “I’ll be right back.”

Jessie massaged the shelf of her belly as the baby’s angular limb stabbed deep into her chest cavity. She lowered herself to the dew-covered steps to ease the wooziness engulfing her like fog. The hour. The heat. The rush. It was all catching up with her.

She needed to shake it off. Stay alert and focused for Terrence. He’d always been there for her—the proms, graduations, fender benders, and panic attacks before the bar exam. Now, it was Jessie’s turn. She owed it to him, and herself, to unearth the truth.

“Terrence, we’re still here. Just do as they say,” Jessie blurted, hoping that the sound of her voice would give him the strength to carry on, although her grit was circling the drain.

“Let’s go.” Kyle loomed over her, his mouth pinched at the corners. “You can’t even stay on your feet. You’re tired and there’s nothing more you can do for him. Not tonight.” He offered her a hand.

Jessie glared at him with an anger that recharged her depleted battery. Kyle knew better. Once she committed to a cause, she never budged. “I’ve got to help him get this mess cleared up. There’s been a mistake.”

“A mistake? It looks to me like Terrence finally flipped out and killed somebody. But I can’t expect you to be objective about him. You wanted him to be our kid’s godfather.” Kyle paused, clenching and unclenching his fists. “You know, sometimes Terrence seems like a third party to our relationship.”

Kyle had a way of believing the worst whenever it came to Terrence. It never bothered her when Terrence called to chat about the latest movies or books he’d read or stopped by to watch a football game with Kyle. He was Terrence being Terrence, and she knew that there was no ulterior motive on his part. Ever since she’d been a kid, she and Terrence had been close, and over the years he’d done plenty for her. And she for him. He’d worn many hats in her life—friend, confidante, teacher, mentor, even an uncle—and Kyle had known that from the beginning but Kyle insisted that Terrence was taking advantage of their friendship by calling and popping in uninvited. Why couldn’t he acknowledge that each man had a special place in her life?

Low voices discussed the need to secure the crime scene and call the paramedics, the forensic team, the district attorney, and the medical examiner. Although criminal law was outside her wheelhouse, Jessie knew the working parts of a homicide investigation, so these whisperings confirmed her worst suspicions. First, there was a dead body or bodies somewhere in the house —probably the basement. And second, Terrence was implicated in the homicide.

Suddenly, the screen door swung open, and the dark figure of Terrence Butterfield emerged from the house in handcuffs shepherded by Rossi and Macy. With his head drooped forward against his chest and his limp arms shackled at the wrist, he shuffled across the whitewashed porch and down the entry steps.

Terrence drew closer and the veil of night shadow enshrouding his face and body revealed something much more sinister. His handsome face was smeared with glossy red liquid and his dark brown hair was clumped into a tangled mess. A rank stench, like rotten cabbage boiled in sulfur, emanated from the tattered, bloody shirt clinging to his chest. The smell of death on him hit her like a slap and grew worse with every step he took toward her.

Stifling a gag, Jessie garnered her strength and stepped into their path. She double-checked the name on his silver badge. “Officer Rossi, I know that you’ve got a job to do, but I do, too. Before you take Mr. Butterfield anywhere, I’m putting you on notice that he is not to be interrogated without my being present.” She cleared her throat. “And has he been read his rights?”

Rossi eyed her with contempt, as though insinuating that she had no right to question his actions or authority. “We can discuss that after Mr. Butterfield has been booked.”

“I think that we should discuss it now.” Jessie’s tone was insistent, hard.

Before they could respond, Terrence spoke up, “I believe that I’m entitled to speak with my attorney.”

“You can speak with her down at the station. Move along, Mr. Butterfield,” Macy said, shoving the captive’s shoulder. “Ma’am, please move out of the way.”

For a long moment, Jessie remained stationary, considering how far she could push the cops before she crossed the line. Her heart urged her to defy Rossi and speak with Terrence right then and there, yet her head warned her to follow the protocol. Strategically, the latter would be best for both of them.

“Not a word,” Jessie counseled him as she stepped aside. Terrence stopped before her and gently rested his cuffed hands on the round of her belly. She smiled and cupped her hands over his in reassurance. “Don’t worry. We’ll be right behind you.”

Gazing into his eyes, she searched for the truth, but instead, found cold, dead-fish eyes, and his dry, cracked lips were curled in a crooked, haunting smile. She shrank away from him, huddling against Kyle to steady her buckling knees.

The officers grabbed Terrence’s shoulder, ushered him toward their patrol car, and loaded him into the back seat. The engine started and with lights flashing and sirens blaring, the police car sped off into the night.

Nothing in her thirty years of life had prepared her for this moment. This tragedy.

Terrence’s life was in her hands. And in that instant, Jessie realized that she must follow her heart. She knew the kind, caring friend, teacher, and confidante that he’d been to her. She needed to disregard the blood, the stench, and the nagging worry that he was a cold-blooded killer. She’d prove him innocent. She owed him that.

As the police car taillights disappeared into the darkness, an undeniable dampness seeped onto Jessie’s abdomen. Her eyes widened in horror as she looked down at her sweatshirt. Beneath the Syracuse University logo, a grisly tattoo of handprints smeared across her belly. Jessie flipped over her quivering hands and stared at her palms, black and sticky with blood.

“Oh, my God.”

***

Excerpt from The Midnight Call by Jodé Millman. Copyright 2022 by Jodé Millman. Reproduced with permission from Jodé Millman. All rights reserved.

Author Bio:

Jodé Millman

Jodé Millman is the acclaimed author of HOOKER AVENUE and THE MIDNIGHT CALL, which won the Independent Press, American Fiction, and Independent Publisher Bronze IPPY Awards for Legal Thriller. She’s an attorney, a reviewer for Booktrib.com, the host/producer of The Backstage with the Bardavon podcast, and creator of The Writer’s Law. Jodé lives with her family in the Hudson Valley, where she is at work on the next installment of her “Queen City Crimes” series —novels inspired by true crimes in the region she calls home.

Discover more about Jodé, her work, and sign up for her newsletter at:
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What the Walls Know

Listen to this blog as a podcast.

We’re getting close to Halloween, so let’s take a ride with a group of jazz musicians about to play a creepy looking place in the year 1925. A Halloween mystery! What’s that you say? It kind of looks like Dracula’s castle? Love it!

About What the Walls Know

In October 1925, four New York City jazz musicians travel to a spooky castle near Gloucester, MA to perform at a Halloween birthday party for an occultist and his eccentric friends, including an astrologer, a tarot card reader, and a wizard. On the first night of their stay, a Ouija board predicts the murder of one of the guests, a medium who swindled grieving people by pretending to communicate with their departed loved ones. When Lizzie Crane, a beautiful and talented chanteuse, hears strange voices behind the castle’s walls she begins snooping into the mysterious death, and nearly loses her own life in the process.

Read an Excerpt

Excerpt: WHAT THE WALLS KNOW

October 1925, Gloucester, Massachusetts

“Are you sure Dracula doesn’t live here?” Melody asked as they approached Halcyon Castle. The pretty blond musician peered nervously out the window of Sidney’s Buick, like a child watching a horror movie through her fingers.

            “Don’t be a silly goose,” Lizzie chided her nineteen-year-old friend. “That’s just stuff and nonsense, designed to keep you awake all night. Bram Stoker has made a bundle scaring girls like you with his wicked tales.”

            But she had to admit the Gothic Revival castle, perched on a rocky bluff overlooking the ocean, exuded doom and gloom. The estate sat on an isolated promontory that jutted into the north Atlantic, with only a single, winding driveway leading in and out. Two ferocious-looking metal dragons guarded the entry gate. The chilly drizzle and drifting fog made the place seem even more eerie. Lizzie stared up at the castle’s turrets with their slit-like windows, while thoughts of Anne Boleyn and other imprisoned ladies rose in her mind.

            “I think it’s exciting,” said Bert, the young horn player who’d joined their group only a month ago, after the murder of their previous saxophonist.

Melody hugged her arms across her chest and scrunched down in the backseat. “I think it’s creepy.”

            “Well, I think it’s quite dramatic and theatrical, don’t you, Sidney?” Lizzie asked her longtime friend, who sat beside her gripping the steering wheel as he assessed the situation.

“It’s a job, and a high-paying one at that,” he said flatly.

The dragon-guarded gate swung open to admit them. No sooner had they crossed through than it shut behind them with a loud clang. Despite her appreciation of drama, Lizzie felt apprehension rise in her chest. As Sidney shifted his prized 1925 Buick convertible into second gear, she realized they were cut off now from the mainland, trapped on the peninsula.

Beneath them, waves broke on the rocky neck. Sidney drove another fifty yards until he came to a moat of foaming seawater, spanned by a narrow wooden bridge. Fog slithered around them, veiling the way. Cautiously, he inched across the wet planks, into the castle’s parking area where gas lamps struggled to cut through the thick evening mist.

            Waving her hand dismissively, Lizzie said with more confidence than she felt, “Anyway, Stoker wrote all that Dracula stuff more than twenty-five years ago and no one’s produced a vampire yet. There’s nothing to worry about.”

            Leaving the motorcar’s engine running, Sidney grabbed his umbrella and stepped out into the drizzle. “Wait here while I find out what’s what.”

            “I’m coming with you,” Lizzie said. She pulled her cloche hat tight over her bobbed hair and turned up the collar of her rubber slicker.

            They picked their way carefully across the slippery paving stones to a portico lit by a dim yellow lamp. Sidney grabbed a doorknocker shaped like a gargoyle and banged on an oak door studded with hand-cut iron nails. After waiting a minute or so, he knocked again. This time a panel the size of a sheet of writing paper slid open behind a metal grate, and someone eyed them from within.

            “Good evening. I’m Sidney Somerset and this is Elizabeth Crane. We’re with The Troubadours from New York City.”

            When the person behind the grate didn’t respond, he said, “We’re entertainers. Mr. Duncan Fox invited us here to perform for his guests this week.”

            The panel slammed shut.

            They waited a bit longer, then Sidney hammered on the door again.

            “Do you think we’re in the wrong place?” Lizzie asked. She brushed at the wet sleeves of her raincoat and turned to go back to the auto.

            “There couldn’t possibly be two places like this in Gloucester, Massachusetts. But it is rather odd. I telephoned Mr. Fox yesterday to let him know when to expect us.”

            Just then the door creaked open on its iron hinges. A man with frazzled gray hair, a cardigan sweater buttoned haphazardly over his ample belly, stood staring out at them with intense dark eyes. A crimson scarf circled his neck and wire-rimmed spectacles perched on his nose. As he stepped back to let them enter, a broad smile lit up his face.

            “Entrez-vous,” he said heartily and held out his hand. “I’m Duncan Fox, your delighted host. So good of you to come. You must forgive my sister’s manners. Frances is the skeptical sort. Doesn’t trust anyone, not even me.”

Purchase What the Walls Know on Amazon

About Skye Alexander

Skye Alexander is the author of nearly 50 fiction and nonfiction books. Her stories have appeared in anthologies internationally, and her work has been published in more than a dozen languages. In 2003, she cofounded Level Best Books with fellow authors Kate Flora and Susan Oleksiw. The first novel in her Lizzie Crane mystery series, Never Try to Catch a Falling Knife, set in 1925, was published in 2021; the second, What the Walls Know, is scheduled for release in November 2022. Skye lives in Texas with her black Manx cat Zoe.

Website: www.skyealexander.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/skye.alexander.92

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/search?q=skye+alexander&qid=38woUg8Hrm

Death in a Pale Hue

Listen to this blog post as a podcast.

Let’s all head to the community art center to try and figure out what all that artwork means. I’ll admit it. I’m an art novice and often say to myself, I don’t know what it is, but I know what I like. Susan Van Kirk brings us Death in a Pale Hue today, where art is front and center in this murder mystery. Hint: Don’t go in the basement. (Actually, I feel this is a good rule of thought for any mystery!)

About Death in a Pale Hue

Who knew going home could be deadly?

I will show them success. Thirty-year-old artist Jill Madison repeats this mantra when she returns to her small hometown to restart her life. Hired to manage a new community art center, she vows to make it successful so the people of her town will have what she did not have—an education in the arts. She no sooner accepts the job than a burglar makes off with an irreplaceable sculpture and workers find a ghastly surprise in the basement. Investigating places Jill right in the path of a murderer.

How will she keep her job, run her first big event, and escape a killer who plans to paint her out of the picture permanently?

Read an Excerpt

Excerpt: Death in a Pale Hue

Our old neighbors’ yards came into view, and I took, out of habit, the short cut through the back yards to get to my house faster.
I heard my brother Tom’s voice in my head. “Don’t go out alone. Don’t be by yourself after dark. This guy means business.” We had huge trees all through the neighborhood, and if anyone were following me, he would have had lots of cover and shadows. I walked as fast as I could, my breath coming heavily, my heart pounding in my ears. Besides the thump-thump of my heartbeat, I thought I could hear footsteps following me. Was I imagining them? I couldn’t stop to check it out, so I kept moving as fast as I could. I was into the Wendovers’ yard, and once I cleared the house, I took a tiny glance back. I was sure I saw a shadow move near the old oak in the Palmers’ yard.
That was when I began to run.
I sprinted across Mary Street, its one meager streetlight down the block shining on the asphalt. Racing across the smooth surface, I had two more neighborhood yards to go. Looking back, I thought I saw a dark figure—a black shadow—moving along near Palmers’ trees on an exact line with me. Into Driscolls’ yard, running, running, with another swing set and a round umbrella-table, an above-ground pool affording me a little cover. Out of Driscolls’ yard and into ours, running as fast as I could go now, my breath coming out in spurts, my legs exhausted.
My red silk neck scarf had come loose from my neck and fallen off behind me, but instead of stopping to go back for it, I pulled my tote from my elbow where it had slipped, and my fingers rifled through lipstick, wallet, tissues, pens, receipts, lip balm, and, finally, thank God, keys. Grasping them, my fingers sorted around until I found the familiar house key. Up the steps to the back deck. Opening the screen door, I pushed the key home, pulled it out, stumbled over the threshold, dropped my tote, locked the screen and the inside door, and collapsed into a kitchen chair, totally out of breath and shaking. I hadn’t turned on a light. I simply sat in the dark, my chest heaving up and down, up and down, my legs stretched out to stop their shaking.
I’m not sure how long I sat there, quivering in the dark. Had I imagined someone? I knew I had heard twigs breaking, but couldn’t it have been squirrels or neighborhood cats or other nocturnal creatures? The shadows—trees? I was used to studying shadows since they were an integral part of painting, but right now my terror was conflicting with my vision. I began to take deep smooth breaths, laid my head back, listened to the quiet. Not gonna tell Tom, I thought. He’d kill me. He’d lock me in their house until I was forty.
Finally, I rose, kicked off my shoes, almost stumbled over my tote, and carried it out to the dining room, still not turning on a light. I began systematically pulling shades and curtains on the first floor. My anxiety level was still high, my heart slower but still pounding softly in my head.
There, I thought. Home at last. Doors locked. All is well. I walked back out to the kitchen and considered turning on the light. No, I’d turn on the light out on the back pole at the far end of the yard near the shed, plus the one on the deck. Clicking the switches by the back door, I pulled open the curtains on the window a narrow slit and peeked out into the now well-lit yard. No one lurked anywhere.
Just before pulling the curtains shut again, I gasped, my face flushed and tingly.
Hanging from the handrail on the deck, tied with a knot, was my red silk scarf.

About the Author

Susan Van Kirk lives at the center of the universe—the Midwest—and writes during the ridiculously cold, snowy, icy winters. Why leave the house and break something? Her Endurance Mysteries—Three May Keep a Secret, The Locket: From the Casebook of TJ Sweeney, Marry in Haste, Death Takes No Bribes and The Witch’s Child—are humorous cozies about a retired schoolteacher in the small town of Endurance who keeps finding herself in the middle of murders. She has also written a historical mystery called A Death at Tippitt Pond. Her latest book, Death in a Pale Hue, is the first of a new series from Level Best Books. She’s a member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime, and president of the online writing group at Sisters in Crime. Her website is http://www.susanvankirk.com

 Facebook:      http://www.facebook.com/SusanVanKirkAuthor/

Twitter:    http://twitter.com/susan_vankirk/

Goodreads: www.goodreads.com/author/show/586.Susan_Vankirk

Instagram  https://www.instagram.com/susanivankirk/

Fallout

Listen to this blog as a podcast.

Ever just want to live the simple life? Pursue interests on your own, like jigsaw puzzles or taking a class? In this day and age I think we all feel this sometimes. Today’s book, Fallout introduces us to a character who wants to do just that. She’s alone in this world, and likes it that way, that is until our author Carrie Stuart Parks gets ahold of her. 

Don’t forget to scroll down and enter the giveaway!

About the Book

Her carefully crafted life is about to be demolished.

After a difficult childhood, Samantha Williams craves simplicity: jigsaw puzzles, lectures at the library, and the students she adores in her role as an elementary art teacher in the dusty farming community of LaCrosse, Washington.

But when an SUV crashes into the school where she teaches, her entire world is upended. She manages to keep all of the children safe, but her car isn’t so lucky. Oddly, her purse—containing her driver’s license, credit cards, and other identification—is missing from the wreckage.

After authorities discover that the driver in the school accident was shot seconds before the crash, Samantha quickly becomes entangled in increasingly strange events that have her looking over her shoulder.

Samantha has long tried to forget the tragedy of her past, but the twisting maze she discovers between the murdered driver, a deadly secret government project, and an abandoned town can’t be ignored. Those involved are determined to keep these secrets buried, and they’ll use any means necessary to stop Samantha’s search for truth.

Praise for Fallout:

“An intriguing story based on events around a part of Washington. Tight timeline with tons of action. Twists and turns that will keep readers engaged and guessing. I enjoyed this book and recommend it to those who want a whisper of romance included with the mystery.”

Book Details:

Genre: Suspense
Published by: Thomas Nelson
Publication Date: September 13th 2022
Number of Pages: 336
Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | ChristianBook | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

Prologue

Hanford, Washington
November 23, 1988

The November wind blew across the almost-barren plain, attempting to leach any warmth from the man’s black wool coat. He pulled the woolen balaclava higher on his nose and wished he’d worn goggles. The wind raised icy tears that blurred his vision.

Snow clung to the scant protection offered by basalt outcroppings and meager shrubs.

The moon provided weedy light, enough to avoid the sagebrush and tumbleweeds, but not enough to reveal the ground squirrels’ burrows. He’d fallen twice.

He paused for a moment to check his compass. He figured he’d covered about six of the eight miles. There was little chance he’d be detected. He’d approached the area by boat on the Columbia River, which flowed down the eastern side of the remote facility in South Central Washington State. Though the site was massive—570 square miles—the roads were heavily patrolled. After all, the Hanford Nuclear Reservation was the largest producer of postwar nuclear weapons.

Hanford’s creation of the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, had provided the turning point in World War II. Afterward, the plant morphed into a Cold War arsenal against the Soviet Union until the last nuclear reactor finally shut down just a year ago.

He’d chosen the date carefully—Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving. All the staff and workers would have left early in preparation for the holidays. Only a minimal number of employees would be working, and they’d not be inclined to venture into the frigid night.

Though he’d been on the Hanford Site since he’d left the river, his goal was the Hanford Tank Farms. The tanks held 53 million gallons of the highest-level radioactive waste found in the United States. He would be targeting the SY Tank Farm, three double-shelled waste storage units built between 1974 and 1976, located at the 200 West site. The tanks at this location were each capable of holding 1.16 million gallons of nuclear waste.

He shifted the backpack slightly. The bomb, made with C-4, was safe enough from his jostling cross-country run. It took a detonator to set off the explosion, which he’d rig once the materials were in place.

The tanks themselves were built of one-foot-thick reinforced steel and concrete and had been buried under eight feet of dirt, but the hydrogen from the slurry had built up in these particular tanks to dangerous levels. He didn’t need to reach the tanks themselves, only disable the exhaust vent and the temperature thermocouple assembly. He knew no maintenance work was going on around the tanks that might create a spark or heat, so chance of discovery was extremely slim.

He paused for a moment to catch his breath. He’d paddled down the treacherous icy river, then jogged for miles, but his fury fueled his drive. In February of 1986, the Department of Energy had released nineteen thousand pages of documents describing the declassified history of the Hanford operations. Hints of a darker truth were written between the lines, and more evidence came out in the batch of documents released the following year. Everyone else would have missed it, but he’d been able to piece the sequence of events together.

They’d grown rich while he’d been discarded like so much trash.

Now was his time to get even.

He’d use the threat of the bomb to force the acknowledgment of their role and his own innocence. Anything less than the possibility of a Chernobyl-size disaster would lead to a governmental cover up.

A massive press conference. Facts and figures. Undeniable evidence.

In the meantime, he’d personally take care of those directly responsible.

He increased his pace. Soon now.

He knew this part of the facility well.

He found the location he’d identified before, knelt beside the various ports, detectors, and vents, and swiftly assembled the parts according to the bomb-maker’s directions. All that was left was the trigger mechanism. He’d placed it in a secure box inside his backpack.

The box was gone.

He ran his hands over the backpack again. Then again. Then a third time. It was gone. Did I forget to pack it? No. It was here in this backpack when he’d left home.

He broke out in a clammy sweat and rocked back on his heels. How could this have happened? Where had it dropped out? Could it be back in the boat? Somewhere on the ground between here and the river’s edge? Separated from him when he fell?

Calm down. He had a backup. Even if he didn’t find the trigger, all it would take is a reasonable-sized explosion on the surface to start the process.

If it took the rest of his miserable life, he’d carry out his plan. They wouldn’t get away with it. Not this time.

One

September 2015

Bam! Bam! An engine roared, growing louder, closer.

I glanced up from the shading technique I was demonstrating for my elementary-school art class.

A black Suburban was barreling across the parking lot directly at my classroom.

“Run!” I screamed.

The children didn’t hesitate, bolting for the door. I shoved the last boy outside toward the gym just as the Suburban smashed into the side of the building and plowed into the room. The portable classroom moved with a screech. Desks, chairs, books, glass, and chunks of the wall and ceiling exploded in a cacophony of sound and movement. Metal fragments, shattered glass, and hunks of wood pelted me. I found myself outside next to the gym doors, not knowing how I got there. I curled up and covered my head, praying nothing would crash down on me.

Hissssssssss. The stench of an overheated engine and hot rubber made me gag.

The crushed front of the Suburban had shoved the classroom into a covered storage shed before punching through the opposite wall. Fluids hissed and dripped from under the smashed hood, right beside me. The shed had collapsed onto the SUV.

I was shaking so hard I didn’t think I could get my legs to work. The children.

Don’t worry about the children. Someone will help them. Someone will help me. I just needed to stay put. I’m safe here.

But they wouldn’t respond to someone calling to them. I taught them to be cautious.

If I move, the roof will come down on me. I’ll be crushed. Stay put and be safe. Someone will come for me.

But my students are frightened. I need to help them. Heavenly Father, help me.

I placed my hands on the ground. White powder drifted down on my head. Carefully I crawled away from the SUV.

The beam shifted, sliding sideways.

My crawl became a scramble.

The beam shrieked as it slid across the metal desk holding it up.

I plunged, then rolled away.

The roof of the shed slammed against the ground, sending up more dust and powder.

Leaning against the school, I waited until I could catch my breath. The glass in the door to the gym beside me had shattered. I couldn’t see anything of the driver. I slipped through the frame, wincing at the stabs of pain from the hurtled projectiles.

Ahead of me was a second door leading to the front of the school. A quick glance into the gym showed it empty. I was pretty sure the children had raced through both sets of doors, scattered, and found safety. I’d trained my class of first-through-third graders on what to do in case of an emergency or active shooter. The school board had rolled their eyes at me, assuring me that this was covered in the student handbook and that school shootings wouldn’t happen in a sleepy farming community like LaCrosse, Washington, population 330.

I’d finally convinced them. They allowed the drills and the self-defense class I offered on Tuesday evenings.

Fortunately, my art class was an after-school event, and the rest of the school was essentially empty. We met in a portable building because some of the classrooms were under repair for water damage.

I staggered outside. Mr. Parsons, the school maintenance man, rushed over to me.

“Samantha? Sam? Miss Williams? Are you all right? You’re bleeding. What happened?”

“Help me find the children first.”

“They’re fine. They ran as you taught them.” We looked around the manicured lawns in front of the school buildings.

“Olly olly oxen free!” I called out, voice shaking. I cleared my throat and tried again. “Olly olly oxen free!”

Slowly my class emerged from their hiding places. I counted them as they appeared. Please, Lord . . . Five, six, seven, eight . . . nine. All present and accounted for. My stomach tightened on what could have happened, would have happened, if even one of them had paused to ask, Why run?

“Aren’t you supposed to just say ‘all clear’?” Mr. Parsons asked.

“I know the handbook says that, but anyone could access the emergency plans and use them against the children.”

Several of the children had tear streaks running down their faces, but as soon as they caught sight of me, they started to giggle.

“Miss Williams, you’re all white!”

“You have stuff all over you!”

“You should see yourself!”

I looked down. I was indeed covered in a white powder, probably from the recently installed smashed Sheetrock and insulation. “Oh my. It looks like I’ve turned into the magical snowman.”

“Nooo!” The giggles grew louder. “It’s not winter!”

I bent forward to be on eye level with most of them. “Maybe I’ve become Belle, the white Great Pyrenees from Belle and Sebastien?

“That’s a dog.” The giggles became high-pitched laughter.

I grinned at them. “How about Casper, the friendly ghost?”

The kids were now laughing so hard they couldn’t answer for a moment. Finally Bethany gasped out, “You’re not dead.”

Thank You, Lord. I straightened. “Well then, if I’m not a snowman, dog, or ghost, I must be Miss Williams, and you know what that means.” As they eagerly lined up, I said, “‘I am not afraid of storms . . .’”

“‘For I am learning how to sail my ship,’” the children finished.

Leave it to children’s books. As they approached me, each one gave me a sign as to what type of interaction they wanted. Hands out to the side, a hug. Hand held up in the air, a high five. Closed hand, a fist bump. Right hand sideways, a handshake.

They all wanted hugs.

So did I.

Bethany was the last in line. I tried not to hug her the longest. Teachers aren’t supposed to have favorites.

The school buildings rested on a hill facing the town park. The wail of sirens and stream of cars and trucks announced the arrival of help and parents. I moved my small huddle of children around to the front toward the parking lot so their folks could find them. The parents, once reunited with their son or daughter, peppered me with questions.

“What happened?”

“Was anyone hurt?”

“Was that a drunk driver?”

“Are you okay?”

As I stumbled through various versions of “I don’t know,” a deputy from the Whitman County Sheriff’s Department strolled over. He had to be at least six foot three inches tall, with silver hair, thick black eyebrows, and dark brown eyes that looked like they’d ferret out the facts of any case. He smelled of cigarettes. His name tag said R. Adams. “Ma’am. Looks like you were in the building when the accident happened.”

“Yes. Is the driver—”

“Come with me.” He had a slight New York accent. We walked to the gym, then around to the back side where the accident happened. I had to trot to keep up with him.

“Do you know if the driver is okay?”

His long stride covered a lot of ground. “We don’t know yet.”

The raised gravel parking area near the gym was filling with the LaCrosse ambulance, volunteer fire department, and sheriff’s department vehicles. People were rushing around like ants in a disturbed mound. The Suburban was completely buried under the collapsed roof, and a large group of men and women were working to clear the debris.

Deputy Adams led me to the ambulance where an EMT waited. “Are you hurt?”

“I don’t think—”

“You have a cut on your head.” The EMT had me sit while he checked me over.

Deputy Adams kept an eye on the rescue efforts as he pulled out a small notebook. “You got all the children out safely?”

I winced as the EMT removed a sliver of glass from my hairline. “By the grace of God, yes. They’re all on their way home.”

He nodded and gave me a slight smile, softening his face. “Absolutely. How many people were in the SUV?”

“I don’t know.” I told him about what sounded like gunfire and the sound of an engine and getting the children clear of the room. I left out my cowering in the debris.

“Gunfire? Are you sure?”

“It could have been backfire.”

He looked around, then motioned for an officer to come over. They spoke for a few moments before the man left.

I glanced over at the gathered first responders, parents, and neighbors. What if—

“When did you first see the SUV?” Deputy Adams asked.

I pointed. “He, or whoever was driving, must have come up either First or Hill Avenue, crossed this lot, then shot straight into the building.”

A farmer drove up on a John Deere tractor and began lifting larger chunks of rubble with the bucket.

After the deputy took my name, address, and phone number, he handed me a business card. “I’ll be contacting you soon for your statement. You might want to head home as soon as possible. We want to clear the area.” He strolled away.

More people had arrived and pitched in to free the SUV and its occupants. A truck with a Miller Construction sign on the side parked next to us. Men in hard hats, work boots, and lime-green safety vests got out and set to work.

A pregnant woman in her thirties with long, dark hair pulled into a french braid drifted over and hovered nearby. When the EMT finished putting a bandage on my head and moved away, she approached me. “Hi. I’m Mary Thompson. I overheard you talking to that deputy. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?”

“I guess. You’re a reporter?”

“No. Copywriter for a medical company in Spokane.” She rolled her eyes. “Boooooring. You’re Samantha Williams?”

I nodded.

“Well, Samantha—”

“Call me Sam.”

She grinned. “Sam then. You saved all those children. You’re so brave. I would have been scared out of my mind.”

Warmth burned up my neck and across my cheeks. “I . . . ah . . . so . . . um . . . what brought you to LaCrosse from Spokane?” I stood. “That’s 86.9 miles from here.”

“I was already here.”

An officer started herding the onlookers away from the crash. “Move on, folks. Nothing for you to do here.”

“Come on,” Mary grabbed my elbow and pulled me into the shade under a tree.

My brain was buzzing from the adrenaline and all the activity. “I’m sorry. I’m a little—”

“I bet you are. I guess I should start at the beginning. I’m following the story about the body they found last week. And the one they just found.” She waved her hand at the construction workers.

“Bodies?” I knew I was out of touch with the news. I didn’t own a television, computer, or phone. “What bodies? Wait . . . I’m not sure I want to know.” My legs started to buckle.

“Let me help you.” Mary grabbed my arm and helped me sit on a patch of grass. She sat next to me. “Can I get you something or—”

“No, I’ll be fine. Just a little woozy.”

“Take your time.”

Most of the onlookers had now moved around to the front of the school. With nothing to see, they started wandering back to their homes or cars.

She cleared her throat. “So do you want to talk about what just happened or—”

“No. You go ahead. You said there was a body . . . or was it two? Here at the school?”

“No, of course not. I followed someone to here and . . .” She paused at my expression. “I’m not weird or a stalker.” She twisted her lips. “As you can see, I’m pregnant. The baby’s father, my husband, Mike, disappeared two months ago. I reported it to the police but they’re not doing anything. I mean, he could be dead!”

I blinked at her. “Why would you think that?”

“Mike had—I guess you’d call it a wild streak. He had . . . questionable friends. Some issues with drugs in the past, stuff like that.” She absently rubbed her stomach. “I thought the baby would . . . redirect him.” She looked at me. “He’s a good man, just impulsive. And he’d never leave me. Not now. Not without telling me . . . something.”

I took a deep breath. The shaking threatened to start again. “So you thought one of the bodies—”

“Could be Mike.” She swiped a hand across her eyes. “That deputy.” She pointed to Deputy Adams. “I was told he was the investigator on the case. I’ve been following him around trying to get him to talk to me, but he says it’s an active case and won’t talk about it. I followed him here to the school earlier—he has kids here that he was picking up—and was giving it one last go around.”

“Did you find out anything?”

“No. Not yet.” She reached into her purse and pulled out a leather-bound notebook. “I keep track of everything.” She flipped it open and fanned the pages, displaying a mass of tightly written notes. “I won’t give up until I know for sure.”

***

Excerpt from Fallout by Carrie Stuart Parks. Copyright 2022 by Carrie Stuart Parks. Reproduced with permission from Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved.

My Review:

Sam is a woman who just wants time to pursue her interests on her own. While she’s teaching art at a local grade school and SUV comes crashing through wall into her classroom. Because Sam is a safety nut, she has drilled the children on disaster response and everyone gets out alive. The SUV was being driven by employees of Clan Firinn, a rehab center for law enforcement. After that, the story takes a strange turn. Sam’s purse is gone, her apartment is vandalized and she loses her job. Wow. Talk about life taking a turn. We get glimpses into Sam’s past which build into the suspense of the story. Then we meet Dutch who has problems of his own. Carrie Stuart Parks takes us on this bumpy ride leading the reader in all directions. This is an excellent Christian suspense mystery! 

Author Bio:

Carrie Stuart Parks

Carrie Stuart Parks is a Christy, multiple Carol, and Inspy Award–winning author. She was a 2019 finalist in the Daphne du Maurier Award for excellence in mainstream mystery/suspense and has won numerous awards for her fine art as well. An internationally known forensic artist, she travels with her husband, Rick, across the US and Canada teaching courses in forensic art to law-enforcement professionals. The author/illustrator of numerous books on drawing and painting, Carrie continues to create dramatic watercolors from her studio in the mountains of Idaho.

Catch Up With Carrie Stuart Parks:
www.CarrieStuartParks.com
Goodreads
BookBub – @CarrieStuartParks
Instagram – @carriestuarparks
Facebook – @CarrieStuartParksAuthor

GIVEAWAY:

This is a giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Tours for Carrie Stuart Parks and Thomas Nelson. See the widget for entry terms and conditions. Void where prohibited.
 

 

Gambling With Murder

Listen to this blog as a podcast.

Ever think about becoming a private investigator? Gambling with Murder has a pretty funny P.I. team of Corrie and Veera and in today’s excerpt they’re looking for treasure in a Los Angeles warehouse. Let’s check out the latest Southern California mystery!

About Gambling With Murder

A late-night call is all it takes for rookie lawyer Corrie Locke to kiss her day job at the movie studio goodbye, and do what she does best: flex her sweet P.I. skills and go undercover to find a senior who’s missing from a posh retirement community. One small stumbling block: skirting past security to gain inside access to the exclusive Villa Sunset. Time to call in the heavy artillery.

Besides former security guard turned legal assistant—now wannabe P.I.—Veera, Corrie relies on a secret weapon: her mother, a surprisingly eager addition to Corrie’s team. Armed with enough pepper spray to take down a band of Navy Seals, Mom impersonates a senior to infiltrate the Villa, Corrie, and Veera in tow. Turns out the job’s not as easy as they’d thought. These seniors have tricks tucked up their sleeves and aren’t afraid of using them.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One – Gambling with Murder by Lida Sideris
Luck be a Lady
I maneuvered around shattered glass, splintered picture frames, and fragments of bubble wrap strewn along the cracked cement floor. Something crunched or crackled beneath my every step. Empty spaces joined hands to form a footpath meandering through the old warehouse. The beam of my flashlight circled around stacks of crates, blankets, old tires—
“Ninja One, see anything yet?” Veera Bankhead’s voice sputtered through the walkie-talkie cinched onto my belt.
Dressing up like ninjas had been Veera’s idea. To help us blend into the night. We wore matching black tunics over black slacks. The hood hid my long hair. A facemask rendered me incognito. Only the slit across my eyes kept me from tripping. Veera was posted in the parking lot outside to discourage unwelcome visitors.
“Looks like a hoarder’s paradise.” I stepped over a pile of well-used sneakers.
“Any idea of what we’re looking for?” she asked.
“Oh, the usual hidden-in-a-warehouse items. A barrel labeled ‘TNT’. A nondescript briefcase filled with rolls of cash. Dorothy’s ruby slippers would be nice.”
By day, Veera and I worked in the legal department of Ameripictures Film Studios. Tonight’s side gig was connected to our day job…by a nearly invisible thread. Props had gone missing from a high-budget movie currently in production. A police investigation was underway, but Veera suspected an inside job. She’d convinced studio security into letting us take a look. An anonymous tip led to a Los Angeles warehouse hidden beneath the 405- freeway. I stepped gingerly over dented soda cans to stay on the path.
“We gotta find something,” Veera said. “Our reputation’s at stake.”
She didn’t mean our reputation in the legal department. She meant our reputation as quasi-professional, unlicensed private investigators. I had my father to thank for showing me the P.I. ropes. Investigating suspicious deaths was what I did best, with help from Veera. It had earned us a level of respect from the studio security crew. That’s how we got the nosing around for missing props gig.
“I still say that new intern is behind the thefts,” Veera said. “He’s been hangin’ out at the prop house every day.”
“Isn’t he inventorying the props?” I asked.
“So he says,” Veera replied.
I had low hopes of finding anything tonight but I had to admit, this was the perfect location to hide stolen goods. A baby elephant could get lost in here. “Did you find out who owns this place?” I asked.
“Working on it,” she replied.
It didn’t hurt matters that Veera had handled parking lot security before becoming my legal assistant. She had connections far and wide in the Southern California security guard world.
I pinned the beam of my light into a dark corner. “That’s strange.” Four large pieces of luggage lay side-by-side, atop a long folding table. Everything surrounding me was in stacks and piles. I quick-stepped closer. The luggage exteriors, aluminum handles, and zippers looked new. Why store unused luggage in a place with worn-out, broken-down stuff?
“Oh-oh,” Veera said.
“Hold on.” I grabbed a suitcase and slid it closer to me. I shone my light on a combination lock. Next to it sat a small keyhole. Pulling out a paperclip from my pants pocket, I shoved it into the keyhole and jiggled it around.
“Two unmarked vehicles drove up,” Veera whispered.
We’d parked my car behind the warehouse. I’d left Veera hiding behind a bottle brush shrub near the entry.
I popped open the lid of the suitcase. Folded bedsheets lay on top. Easing them aside, I gaped at the blood-red cape with a stylized golden “S” on the back. “It’s Superman.”
“The cars parked next to each other,” Veera said.
To the side of the cape lay a pillowcase. I ran my fingers over something odd-shaped and bulky inside. I unwrapped it to find a one-of-a-kind, golden gun.
“No way.” A cigarette case formed the handle. The trigger was a cufflink and a fountain pen served as the barrel. It was a prop gun from a James Bond film.
“Two muscular guys came out of a van,” Veera said. “There’s a third-person taking his sweet time exiting a Prius. Looks to be someone smaller, older by the way he moves. And he’s wearing a dress, which means he could be a female. Headed your way. If there’s a backdoor, I’d use it.”
“Can’t. I hit the jackpot.” I spun around. Where to hide?

Pick up your copy of Gambling with Murder from these online retailers:

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

About the Author

Lida Sideris’ first stint after law school was a newbie lawyer’s dream: working as an entertainment attorney for a movie studio…kind of like her heroine, Corrie Locke, except without the homicides. Lida was one of two national winners of the Helen McCloy Mystery Writers of America Scholarship and a Killer Nashville, Silver Falchion Award Finalist. She lives in the northern tip of Southern California with her family, rescue dogs and a flock of uppity chickens.

www.lidasideris.com

https://www.facebook.com/lidasideris

Twitter: @lidasideris

Instagram: @lida_sideris

Book Bub

The Killer Sermon

Listen to this blog post as a podcast.

We all seem to have different opinions these days, but what happens when people on different sides of an issue have to come together to find a killer? The issue? Pro-choice and pro-life. I love the idea of any story that promotes unity to achieve a common goal. It’s what the world needs now.

More About The Killer Sermon

An aging priest in rural Wisconsin gives an impassioned Christmas homily condemning abortion as murder and exhorting his parishioners to stop it.  A former mayor responds by starting a hunger strike in city hall, and the editor of the local weekly newspaper begins running a counter at the top of each edition that estimates the number of abortions performed since Roe v Wade.  A third member of the congregation takes a more lethal approach and begins to target reproductive rights physicians for murder.  Cole Huebsch is a pro-life leaning Milwaukee FBI agent. Michele Fields is a pro-choice leaning reporter. They need to set aside their differences to catch the killer before the country is torn apart. The Killer Sermon is a fast moving thriller that reminds us that our words matter, and that regardless of how big our differences on divisive issues, we can still find respect, and maybe more…

The Killer Sermon is Available on Amazon

Excerpt: THE KILLER SERMON
Chapter Twenty-Three
The Fast
“Therefore also now, saith the LORD, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning…” — Joel 2:12
John Lawler sat in the lobby of the small, three-story painted-white brick building on Blackhawk Avenue that served as Prairie du Chien’s City Hall. He’d been there three days and the city employees worried about him. The former mayor was eighty-six. His thin, white hair was cropped so close to his scalp it mirrored the three-day stubble that covered his chin and sagging cheeks. His eyes were slate gray and had a depth to them that spoke of wisdom. His heavily lined face showed the wear and tear of hard battles with prostate cancer and a heart attack, combined with deep laugh lines carved by raising four children to adulthood in the best possible way.
The oldest of Lawler’s four children burst through the doors of City Hall just then. Matthew was at his father’s side in six long strides. “Dad! What the hell are you doing here in your pajamas?” he said, looking down at his father snuggled into a sleeping bag on the floor. “The mayor said you’ve been here haunting the place for days.”
“I’m on a hunger strike,” the old man said in a quiet, dignified voice. He wasn’t used to one of his kids towering over him with his voice raised. He felt somewhat intimidated, but wasn’t about to show it.
“Against what, for Pete’s sakes?” Matthew demanded loudly. All around them, in the rooms that faced the lobby, people could hear at least the son’s side of the conversation. Some of those people listening had worked for the old man and loved him greatly.
The father’s voice was steady and firm, but low. “I’m not eating again until people in this country stop killing their babies. I’m fasting until we outlaw abortions.”
“What? Does this have anything to do with that Christmas sermon Father Wagner gave?” The son was worried. When his father made up his mind about something, when he felt he was right on something important, he wasn’t easily deterred. If he was serious about this, then he’d just told his eldest son that he was going to kill himself, slowly, here in the lobby of City Hall. Matthew slid down the wall and slumped into a sitting position near his father’s head. His voice lost its bravado and came out soft and scared. “Please, Dad,” he whispered, “come home with me. You’ve got kids and a wife who need you and love you. Grandkids, too. If you won’t reconsider for me, then do it for Mom. Have you thought about how this will affect her?”
“It was her idea,” his father said, a broad smile lighting his face. “I told her I wanted to do something, to tilt at one more windmill before I die, and she suggested this. She said, ‘If it worked for men like Gandhi and Cesar Chavez, then why not me? And why not now?’ She’s wonderful. Almost seventy years I’ve been with her, and she still surprises me. Oh, how I love her, and you kids. You’ve been my greatest gifts.”
Matthew shook his head. “I appreciate your commitment, Dad. But I can’t let you go through with it. The mayor has called a special meeting of the common council tonight, and I’ll be there to tell them that your sons and daughters want you home, even if you have to be dragged out of here in handcuffs by Prairie’s finest.” He started to get to his feet, but his dad caught his shirt in surprisingly strong fingers and pulled his son back down to him.
He leaned in close. “Listen, son,” he began, tears pooling in his eyes, “I’ve tried to do the best I could for you. There’s no book that teaches a young man how to be a perfect dad, but I did my best. The one thing I always wanted you to know was that I would love you…come hell or high water…forever. Like with your mom, in good times and in bad. People with better educations than mine call it unconditional love. Well, that’s the only kind my parents taught me, and the only kind I ever wanted you to know.”
“But, Dad. I can’t walk out of here and come back in a few weeks to bury you. That’s not love.”
“I’m not asking you to turn your back on me, Matty. I want you to go to that meeting tonight and fight for me. You’re the best damn lawyer in La Crosse. Make sure they don’t forget that! Tell them your dad’s not crazy, and that his entire family stands behind him. Tell them there’s still something called free speech in this country and something else called civil disobedience. Tell them your old man’s willing to die trying to save the lives of kids who haven’t even been born yet. And get Grant Grae from the Courier Press there; make sure he gets it all down. We may not change any laws before I die, Matty, but we could sure raise some awareness on this issue. We need to move this sick business into the bright light of the truth. I don’t think it will survive that, not in the end.” His father held Matthew’s hand and spoke to him in a voice swirling with emotions. “All my life I’ve wanted to be there when you and the rest of my family needed me,” he said, squeezing the hand more tightly. “Now, I’m depending on you to be there for me.”
His son broke down and grabbed his dad, burying his face in his father’s pajama top, staining it with his tears.

The Killer Sermon is Available on Amazon

About the Author

Kevin earned both a BA in journalism and later an MBA from Marquette University. He has worked as the outdoor writer for a daily newspaper, taught marketing and management classes at both the undergraduate and graduate level, and served as an administrator of an urban safety net hospital. 

The Killer Sermon is Kevin Kluesner’s debut novel.  It introduces FBI agent Cole Huebsch and a thriller series set in Wisconsin and the Midwest. He might be the only person to claim membership in both the American College of Healthcare Executives and the International Thriller Writers. Kevin live in New Berlin, Wisconsin, with his soulmate and wife Janet. 

Catch Up with Kevin

 kevinkluesner.net

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Sanctuary

Sanctuary by C.L. Tolbert Banner

 

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We have another story in New Orleans this week, a city filled with haunting mysteries and interesting people. Sanctuary takes us to that underbelly with law professor Emma Thornton who tries to help a young woman accused of a crime she didn’t commit. Throw in a cult leader and the nearly impossible job of figuring out who to trust and you have today’s mystery. 

 

Synopsis:

Sanctuary by C.L. Tolbert

A Thornton Mystery

In SANCTUARY, the third book in the Thornton Mystery Series, Emma is back again. This time she’s agreed to represent a former client accused of killing the leader of a suspicious cult in New Orleans.

James Crosby, the charismatic leader of the Japaprajnas, is found dead one late afternoon, his body draped over an iron fence in the courtyard of the nineteenth-century house where he and several cult members work and live. Although police initially presumed his fall was an accident, they quickly discover that James received a lethal dose of a drug before he was pushed from his office balcony.

The next day the police discover a syringe and a substantial amount of the drug which killed James in Stacey Robert’s bedroom. The nineteen-year-old cult member is brought in for questioning, which leads to her arrest. Emma, who had represented Stacey when she was a sixteen-year-old runaway, agrees to take the case.

Convinced she is innocent Emma begins an investigation into the cult and its members. Emma’s questions uncover dangerous secrets, illicit activities, and the exploitation of innocent victims. Emma’s suspicions lead her to the killer’s trail and the case’s final resolution.

Praise for Sanctuary:

“Brace yourself. Deadly personalities, hidden agendas, and long-buried secrets threaten law professor Emma Thornton, after she agrees to defend a terrified young woman accused of murdering the charismatic leader of an oppressive cult. The dark heart of New Orleans has never felt so dangerous.”

Roger Johns, Author of the Wallace Hartman Mysteries

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery
Published by: Level Best Books
Series: The Thornton Mystery Series, Book 3
Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

Chapter Twelve

The French Quarter was home to Stacey. She could relax there. She loved the winding streets, the ancient buildings, the ironwork on the balconies, and the festival-like spirit of Jackson Square. Plus, it was easy to blend in. With at least as many tourists as native New Orleanians, no one stood out more than anyone else. The exceptions ˗ the homeless, the street performers, and artists ˗ were part of the scenery. They blended into the background in a multicolor splash.

She needed money and had been watching the tarot card readers in the square. They made thirty-five dollars a read, plus tips. She could do that. She’d been taught the Celtic spread years ago and still had her deck tucked away with the rest of her stuff. It had taken her a few days to get squared away. Yesterday, she’d found a discarded chair on the street in one of the residential areas of the Quarter. She knew someone who worked at a pizza place right off of Pirate’s Alley, a small street next to St. Louis Cathedral. She’d asked if she could stash the chair behind their dumpster, and he’d agreed to it. That was helpful since she could store her things close to the place where she’d be reading. Now she just needed a small table or a box and a second chair, and she’d be ready.

Even though the city required a license and permit for the artists who painted in Jackson Square, there were no such requirements for card readers. But, every once in a while, the Jackson Square artists proposed an ordinance to the City Council to remove the fortune-tellers. So far, they’d been unsuccessful, and recently the readers had come back in full force. They added an ambiance to the area, especially when they burned their incense. She liked the way it smelled.

Stacey glanced at her reflection as she walked by a shop with a large plate glass window. She still wasn’t accustomed to her new look. She’d used some of the money she’d saved to purchase hair color and had dyed her honey blonde hair a dark brown. She’d also cut it much shorter with a pair of cheap scissors in hopes of disguising her appearance. She’d done it herself, and not very well. She didn’t like the jagged ends. But overall, it worked. She had to admit she looked like a different person and thought it was possible to sit in full view in the middle of Jackson Square, conduct tarot card readings, and not be recognized. At least not by the likes of police officers or others who might be looking for her.

She crammed her hand in her pocket, making sure that the wad of dollar bills she’d neatly folded and covered with several rubber bands was still there. One of the problems of not having a place with a door to lock was that you had to carry your valuables with you. She still had some of the money she’d saved from working at the Temple. She was frugal, eating only one meal a day, and that was a cheap one. But she’d been on her own for four days, and her money would run out soon. She hoped her plan to make more money in Jackson Square was a good one.

Stacey avoided shelters. Emma knew everyone in the city who ran them and would look for her at women’s shelters before she’d look anywhere else. But Stacey had found the perfect place to stay about three miles away from the Quarter—a small chapel in the middle of a cemetery in the Bywater District. It was called St. Roch’s and was named after the patron saint of dogs, invalids, and the falsely accused. The cemetery, the street, and the surrounding community were all named after the saint. Locals mispronounced the chapel’s name, calling it St. Roach’s. Even though the structure was crumbling, it still provided the shelter Stacey needed.

St. Roch’s had been built in 1867 by a priest who had prayed to St. Roch during the yellow fever pandemic in New Orleans, asking the saint to spare his community. Ten years later, when no one from his parish had succumbed to yellow fever, he made good on his promise, built the shrine, and dedicated it to the saint. It was a small chapel comprised of only two tiny rooms. One room contained a statue of St. Roch and his loyal dog, and the other room was filled with human prostheses, braces, glass eyeballs, glasses, false teeth, and praying hands, rosaries, and religious figurines, all offered to St. Roch as thanks for healing. Bricks on the ground in that room were inscribed with the word thanks and littered with coins. Over the years, a dusty haze had settled over the various prostheses at the shrine. The walls were crumbling, and a statue of Mary had started to disintegrate. Most people considered the chapel creepy, so creepy, that they avoided it at night, although tourists occasionally visited during the day. Rumor had it that voodoo ceremonies were carried out in the cemetery after dark, although Stacey never saw anything like that. She slept in the tiny room with St. Roch and his dog.

It took between forty-five minutes and an hour to walk to the French Quarter from the chapel, depending on whether Stacey stopped for anything. She woke up early in the morning and left the chapel well before any tourists might arrive. She usually walked to Decatur Street, then down to the Riverwalk Mall, avoiding Esplanade Avenue entirely. She liked the restrooms at the mall. They were clean and usually unoccupied early in the morning. She washed up and brushed her teeth. Once, she’d even shampooed her hair. She carried her bag of dirty laundry with her and would occasionally rinse out her things in the sink. What little makeup and toiletries she needed were easily picked up from department store samples. She walked back to the chapel before dark. At night, the same laundry bag served as her pillow.

By Friday, Stacey had found the second chair, a wooden box tall enough to use as a table, and an interesting scarf someone had stuffed in a Goodwill box along the side of the road. She’d decided to throw it over the makeshift table to give her fortune-telling booth some panache. She was ready for business.

On Saturday morning, Stacey walked to the Quarter, freshened up, grabbed her table and chairs from behind the dumpster at the pizza place, and set up her tarot stand, all before ten o’clock. She was pleased with the location. Only five feet from the steps of the St. Louis Cathedral, it was a prime spot. Tourists swarmed to the cathedral at all hours of the day and were already beginning to mill about. Within fifteen minutes, a middle-aged woman wearing a baseball hat, a neon green bandana, and pink tennis shoes, approached Stacey.

“How much do you charge?”

Stacey stood, her hands behind her back, and smiled. “Thirty-five dollars.”

“How long’s the reading?”

“It’s for fifteen minutes.”

“Okay.” She looked around the square. “Looks like that’s the going rate. But you need a sign. Let’s go.”

She sat down across from Stacey, perched on the tiny seat, and waited for Stacey to shuffle the deck.

Stacey mixed the cards a couple of times, then set the stack in front of the woman.

“Cut the cards into three smaller decks.” She’d noticed a man staring at them from a distance. He was too far away to see clearly. Perhaps he was staring at someone else.

The woman cut the cards.

“Now pick one of the three decks.”

The woman chose one.

Stacey fanned the cards from the chosen deck out in front of the woman and removed the other cards. She thought the man looked familiar. He started to walk toward them. As he approached, she could tell who he was. Raphael. He stopped on the stairs of the cathedral to watch.

“Choose fourteen cards.” Stacey glanced up at Raphael. He hadn’t budged.

The woman carefully chose fourteen cards and handed them to Stacey, who began laying them out in the traditional Celtic cross. The woman had chosen the King of Pentacles as card one, crossed by the Tower. The King of Pentacles, which represented business acumen, was in the position of present influence. And the Tower, which was a card of catastrophic or shocking change, and chaos, crossed the King, indicating the nature of his obstacles. The third card, placed under the cross, was the Death card. Death also represented change, and even occasionally, but rarely, death. Stacey froze. Had the cards picked up on what had happened to James instead of the woman’s situation?

Stacey sensed movement and glanced up. She flinched when she saw Raphael walking toward their table. Raphael stopped about a foot away from where she was reading, stopped, then crossed his arms.

“This is a private reading.” Stacey stopped laying out cards. Her heart was pounding.

“Interesting that you got the death card, don’t you think?”

“Sir, please leave. This isn’t any of your concern.” She didn’t want him drawing attention to her. She just wanted him to go away.

“I’ll leave. Sorry I interrupted.” He nodded toward Stacey’s client. “Thousand pardons, ma’am.”

“If you haven’t cut into my fifteen minutes, I’m fine.”

“Of course not.” Stacey smiled at the woman. “You’ll get your full reading.” She stood and turned toward Raphael. “We have nothing further to discuss.”

Raphael shrugged. “I’ve been worried about you, and so are a couple of other people. And just in case you thought that new hair color was a disguise, let me just tell you it isn’t. If I know who you are, so will others. They’d be very interested in knowing where you are now and what you’re doing.” He nodded toward the cards in her hand. “Good luck with that.”

“You need to leave immediately.”

Raphael started backing away. “I’ll be back.” He put his hand to his forehead in a farewell salute. “You can count on that.”

Stacey didn’t know if Raphael was threatening or warning her. But she knew she didn’t want him to come back to the Quarter to see her anytime soon.

Stacey glanced back at her client. “I’m so sorry for the interruption. Where were we?” She sat back down. “Oh yes.” She examined the cards. “Has a man in your life undergone a significant change, the end of a relationship, or even a death?”

“No, not that I know of.”

“Alright, well, let’s proceed.” Stacey watched as Raphael retreated across the square and took a right at Pirate’s Alley.

She continued to lay out cards for the woman.

The fourth card, the card of past events, was the seven of swords, the card of deception. As far as she was concerned, that card certainly applied to James. He’d deceived her from the very beginning. She’d fallen for his tricks. She couldn’t see through his deception at first, but she caught on, finally. The fifth card, the card of the present, was the Chariot, the card of courage and movement. She smiled. She was hoping to do something about the mess she’d gotten herself in. At least she wasn’t sitting in jail like a scared rabbit. For the final card in the cross, the card of the near future, the woman had drawn Justice. She held the final card in her hand for a couple of seconds before laying it down in front of the woman. Even though she hadn’t drawn the cards, Stacey still believed they were telling her story, not the woman’s. Justice, the card of fair decisions, gave her comfort.

“The final outcome, Justice, relates to karmic justice. It refers to legal matters as well, but generally, it’s telling you that all actions have consequences. Have your own actions contributed in any way to any of the circumstances you find yourself in today?”

The woman nodded. “I can see that they have. I’m not sure that a man in my life has met any sort of catastrophic end, though. Maybe something’s coming up. I hope not.” She shook her head, reached into her pocket, and handed Stacey three tens and a five. “That was fun. I love getting tarot readings.”

Stacey watched the woman walk off and thought about the consequences of her recent actions. She’d been trying to avoid that for months. It was so easy to blame others. It was also easy to turn a blind eye to what was going on in front of you. She was young, but she wasn’t stupid.

That day she had four other readings, making a total of $175.00. She was stunned. She’d made money at the temple, but they held on to it for her rent and food. So, she’d never had much cash, even though the temple made seventy-five dollars per massage. She packed up for the night, brought her table and chairs back to the pizza restaurant, stashed them behind the dumpster again, and tipped the manager. She was glad she knew the guy. That was the thing about New Orleans. If you knew how to get around, you could make things work for you, even though it could be a dangerous place.

She was starved and decided to treat herself to a shrimp po’ boy from Felix’s on Bourbon. She hadn’t had one in forever, and she felt like celebrating. And now that she had enough cash to last a few days, she could afford it. Plus, she wanted to walk by ETC to talk to the girl who was working in the back of the shop. She didn’t know who it was, and she didn’t care. But she hoped she could work out a deal with her. Pay her a little cash and get her to leave the back door open so she could start sleeping there at night instead of St. Roch’s. The chapel floor wasn’t comfortable, and the cemetery wasn’t safe at night. An option would be nice. It was worth a try.

***

Excerpt from Sanctuary by C.L. Tolbert. Copyright 2022 by C.L. Tolbert. Reproduced with permission from C.L. Tolbert. All rights reserved.

My Review

Professor Emma Thornton comes to the rescue of a young woman and former client who works as a masseuse at the Japaprajna house located in New Orleans. The girl has a troubled history, and when the leader of the cult experiences a grisly death after being drugged, she is set up for the crime. Emma begins to investigate the shady doings at the house including a newly-formed religion and young women who are the victims of the leader. There are plenty of ins and outs to the investigation and the reader never quite knows who to trust. Tolbert shows us the scary side of New Orleans through the character of Emma who takes her share of chances to get to the bottom of the mystery. Nicely written, fast-paced mystery!

Author Bio:

C.L. Tolbert

After winning the Georgia State Bar Journal’s fiction contest in 2010, C.L. Tolbert developed the winning story into a full-scale novel. OUT FROM SILENCE was published in December of 2019, and is the first novel in the Thornton Mysteries series. Her second book, THE REDEMPTION, was published in February of 2021, and SANCTUARY, the third book in the series, was published in July of 2022.

Licensed in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Georgia, C.L. practiced law for thirty-five years before retiring to pursue writing. During her legal career she spent several years teaching at Loyola Law School in New Orleans, where she was the Director of the Homeless Clinic. She also has a Masters of Special Education, and taught in a public school prior to enrolling in law school.

C.L. has two children and three grandchildren, and lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband and schnauzer.

Catch Up With C.L. Tolbert:
www.CLTolbert.com
Goodreads
Instagram – @cltolbertwrites
Twitter – @cltolbertwrites
Facebook – @cltolbertwriter

Giveaway:

This is a giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Tours for C.L. Tolbert. See the widget for entry terms and conditions. Void where prohibited.
 

Get More Great Reads at Partners In Crime Tours

 

A Nice Place to Die

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Time for a mystery with a policeman at the center of the story! No amateur sleuths today as we joined the Belfast Police investigating a murder. A Nice Place to Die is a true Irish police procedural with rich characters and a fascinating mystery to solve.

More About A Nice Place to Die

The body of a young woman is found by a river outside Belfast and Detective Sergeant Ryan McBride makes a heart-wrenching discovery at the scene, a discovery he chooses to hide even though it could cost him the investigation – and his career.

The victim was a loner but well-liked. Why would someone want to harm her? And is her murder connected to a rapist who’s stalking the local pubs? As Ryan untangles a web of deception and lies, his suspects die one by one, leading him to a dangerous family secret and a murderer who will stop at nothing to keep it.

And still he harbors his secret …

Excerpt

Nice Place to Die
Chapter 1
Sunday, October 23
They reminded him of mourners at a funeral.
Down where the body lay, officers searched the undergrowth, their hands clasped behind their backs and their heads bowed.
Detective Sergeant Ryan McBride pulled on his gloves. He should really grab a Tyvek suit, or booties at least, but he’d run out of patience, couldn’t be arsed to hang around any longer. Now that he was here, he wanted to get to the scene. The CSIs were clustered near the river and had locked the vans. God forbid, in the middle of an area crawling with police, they should leave the doors open. In Portglenone Forest’s windswept car park, that scent of an Irish autumn, damp leaves and woodsmoke, hung in the air, while crows, black and boisterous, flapped and cawed in the dark trees.
Ryan’s partner stood by one of the cars interviewing the man who had found the body. Tall and thin, DS Billy Lamont shivered in the cool air, his boyish face blotched red and his shoulders tight. The witness, a stocky man with a thatch of ginger hair, slumped sideways inside the vehicle’s open back door, his feet touching the wet grass. A little black terrier jumped and yapped incessantly at his heels, aware perhaps of its owner’s distress.
Ryan headed over to the burly constable manning the entrance and signed the crime log.
“Here,” the officer said and, reaching behind him, produced a pair of booties.
“Cheers,” Ryan nodded his thanks as he passed around the tape. The crime-scene photographer, carrying a large bag and a couple of cameras, huffed up toward him. He was a strapping, florid-faced lad. “I already took shots of everything, boss, but if there’s anything extra you want, let me know. I needed to shoot the video before the FMO sees her, he should be here any minute. I’m going to grab a coffee—freezing my tits off here.”
Ryan flailed a little on the way down and cursed under his breath. Too much of a hurry—too keen. He glanced around, remembering. He’d walked along the banks of the River Bann years ago with a girl called Maggie. He’d told her that the river had its source on Slieve Muck in the Mournes, and they’d had a good laugh at that—trust the Irish to name a mountain after muck.
But there was nothing to laugh at now.
An early mist drifted in fragments around a young woman’s body. With her face twisted to the right and hidden by a tumble of copper hair, she looked like a careless sunbather. She wore a thick, cream-coloured sweater over black trousers. One of her red shoes had toppled away and lay abandoned by a mossy rock. It caught his eye, shiny leather. A shock of crimson in the weeds.
He crouched on a protective metal grid the crime scene techs had set by the body. For the first time he hesitated. Caught something about her, what was it? The shade of her hair? He took out his pen and gently lifted a glossy, reddish-brown ringlet from her cheek. His heart skipped a beat.
No, no.
He stood quickly and inhaled cold morning air. The sudden blood rush made him lightheaded.
He knew her.
Oh, Christ, he’d slept with her….
He glanced at the river—a pretty enough place, if a little gloomy when the sun went in. On the far bank, a willow tree’s bare branches skimmed the water’s surface like long pale fingers.
Further along to his left, two constables ran blue and white tape between the trees while scenes-of-crime officers searched the undergrowth. The little dog’s sharp barks echoed across the water as he exhaled, hunkered down again, and focused on her body.
He studied her, the skin as white and textured as eggshell. A few faint freckles dotted the side of her nose. Half open eyes. Thick brown eyelashes cast a soft shadow across her cheek. She had been pretty in life—beautiful. And more than that, he’d felt a connection to her, a vulnerability. The beginnings of a bruise crept around from the other side of her face. She hadn’t died right away, and that small detail bothered him. Someone had hit her hard, a brutal blow. Blood, viscous and matted, threaded her hair and had seeped into the ground at her head.
What was her name? Cathy? Catherine? It had been about six months ago. He’d had too much to drink, and as far as he remembered, she hadn’t told him much about herself. They had talked, connected right away. What should he do? Would they take him off the case? Because of a one-night stand? No way of knowing. They might. If they knew….
A tall, dense grove of trees, shuddering in a blustery wind, hid this section of the path. Alone there with her, in the damp early morning, with the smell of mud and stagnant water, the rustle of beaten grass above him and the cawing of the birds, he knew he couldn’t have this investigation go to anyone else. Didn’t even want to risk the possibility.

My Review

DS McBride has just broken a sacred rule. He has a connection to the murder victim, but has chosen not to tell anyone. Then he meets her identical twin. This is a fast-moving mystery that has you rooting for McBride, even though he’s doing all the wrong things and leading with his heart. The Belfast setting adds to the flavor of this mystery and I loved the many characters and plot twists that Joyce Woollcott created in McBride’s world. You won’t be able to put it down.

You can find A Nice Place to Die on Amazon

About The Author

J. Woollcott is a Canadian writer born in Northern Ireland. She is a graduate of the Humber School for Writers and BCAD, University of Ulster. Her first mystery, Abducted, was long-listed in the Canadian Arthur Ellis Awards in 2019. Her second book, A Nice Place to Die, won the RWA Unpublished Mystery/Suspense Daphne du Maurier Award in 2019 in New York. A Nice Place to Die was also long-listed in the Arthur Ellis Awards for 2020 and short-listed in the Crime Writers of Canada Awards of Excellence in 2021. She is working on part two of the Ryan McBride Belfast Murder Series, Blood Relations, due out in August 2023.

She is a member of Crime Writers of Canada, Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, and the Suncoast Writer’s Guild.

Catch Up with Joyce

https://www.jwoollcott.com

Twitter @JoyceWoollcott

Death at the Manor

Death at the Manor by Katharine Schellman Banner

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Got your time traveling bags packed? This week we are heading to Regency England for a classic locked room mystery, Death at the Manor. Not only that, but there’s a ghost. That’s right. What a great way to start September.👻

Be sure to scroll down and enter the giveaway.

Synopsis:

Death at the Manor by Katharine Schellman

The tortured spirits of the dead haunt a Regency-era English manor—but the true danger lies in the land of the living in the third installment in the Lily Adler mysteries, perfect for fans of Deanna Raybourn.

Regency widow Lily Adler is looking forward to spending the autumn away from the social whirl of London. When she arrives in Hampshire with her friends, the Carroways, she doesn’t expect much more than a quiet country visit and the chance to spend time with her charming new acquaintance, Matthew Spencer.

But something odd is afoot in the small country village. A ghost has taken up residence in the Belleford manor, a lady in grey who wanders the halls at night, weeping and wailing. Half the servants have left in terror, but the family seems delighted with the notoriety that their ghost provides. Intrigued by this spectral guest, Lily and her party immediately make plans to visit Belleford.

They arrive at the manor the next morning ready to be entertained—only to find that tragedy has struck. The matriarch of the family has just been found killed in her bed.

The dead woman’s family is convinced that the ghost is responsible. Lily is determined to learn the truth before another victim turns up—but could she be next in line for the Great Beyond?

Book Details:

Genre: Historical Mystery
Published by: Crooked Lane Books
Publication Date: August 9th 2022
Number of Pages: 352
ISBN: 1639100784 (ISBN13: 9781639100781)
Series: Lily Adler Mystery #3
Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads | Bookshop.org

Read an excerpt:

As they walked, Mr. Wright fell in step next to Ofelia. “Have you ever seen a ghost before, Lady Carroway?”

“I have not,” she replied, as polite as ever in spite of the hint of skepticism in her voice. “Pray, what does it look like?”

“Like a lady in white and gray,” he said, and Lily was surprised to see how serious his expression was. His frivolous, unctuous manner had dropped away, and he shivered a little as he gestured toward the windows. “No one has seen her face. The first time I saw her she was standing right there, bathed in moonlight, when I was returning from a late night in the village. And my sister saw her in the early morning only two days ago. Some nights, we have heard her wails echoing through the halls, even when she is nowhere to be seen.”

Lily exchanged a look with her aunt, who seemed surprised by the detail in Thomas Wright’s story and the quaver in his voice. Either he believed wholeheartedly in his ghost, or he was putting on a very convincing performance for his audience.

“And what does she do?” Ofelia asked, sounding a little more somber now, as they drew

to a halt in front of the windows. The small party looked around the corner of the hall. It was unremarkable enough, with several large paintings, and a tall, handsome curio cabinet standing in an alcove. An old-fashioned tapestry hung across one wall, though it was worn and faded enough that it was hard to tell exactly what picture it had originally presented.

“Nothing, so far,” Mr. Wright said, a sort of forced theatricality in his voice that left Lily puzzled.

She had expected, based on what Mr. Spencer had said the night before, to find an eager showman in Thomas Wright, ready to bask in the attention of curious neighbors, not a true believer in the supernatural. Glancing at Mr. Spencer out of the corner of her eye, she thought he looked equally puzzled.

“She stands and weeps, or floats around the hall and wails. Usually, if someone tries to draw close, she vanishes. But last month—” Mr. Wright’s voice dropped a little. He still glanced

uneasily toward the other end of the hall, as if momentarily distracted or looking for someone, before quickly returning his attention to his audience. “Last month she became angry when one of our housemaids came upon her unexpectedly. The lady in gray pursued her down the hall, wailing. Poor Etta was so scared that she fell down the stairs in her haste to get away. That was when our servants started leaving.”

“I trust the housemaid has recovered?” Mr. Spencer asked, sounding genuinely concerned.

“She has,” Mr. Wright replied. “But no one has tried to approach the lady in gray again. We think she wishes to be left alone.”

“Well,” Lily said, attempting a return to lightness, “as far as ghosts go, that sounds reasonable enough. I confess I feel that way often enough myself, especially after too many busy nights in a row.”

Ofelia, who had been looking a little wide-eyed, giggled, and Mr. Spencer quickly covered a cough that might have been a chuckle.

Mr. Wright scowled, his expression halfway between unease and displeasure. “I take it you are not a woman who believes in ghosts, Mrs. Adler?”

“I have never had the opportunity to find out whether or not I am,” Lily replied. “The homes I have lived in have all been stubbornly unhaunted.”

“For your sake, madam, I hope they remain that way,” Mr. Wright said. There was an unexpected note of resignation in his voice as he added, “It is not a comfortable thing to live with.”

“I would have thought you to be fond of yours, sir,” Lily said. “If you dislike her so, why go to the trouble of showing visitors around and telling them the story?”

Mr. Wright smiled, some of the showman creeping back into his manner. “Because you are here, dear ladies. And how could I resist such a beautiful audience?”

“Tell me, has your family any idea who this lady in gray might be?” Lily’s aunt asked politely.

He nodded, his voice dropping even further, and they all reflexively drew closer to hear what he was saying. “We each have our own theory, of course,” he said. “I believe it is my father’s great-aunt, Tabitha, whose bedroom was just this way. If you would care to see the spot?” He held out his arm to Ofelia, who took it. Mr. Wright, engrossed in his story once more, turned to lead them down the closest passage. “Tabitha died there some fifty years ago, of a broken heart, they say, after news arrived of the death of her betrothed in the colonies—”

His story was suddenly cut off by screaming. Not a single shriek of surprise or dismay, but a cry that seemed to go on without ceasing. Thomas Wright froze, the genial smile dropping from his face in shock. “Selina?” he called.

The screaming continued, growing more hysterical. Dropping Ofelia’s arm, he ran toward the sound, which was coming from the far hallway, past the stairs. The others, stunned into stillness, stared at each other, unsure what to do.

“I think it’s Miss Wright,” Mr. Spencer said, all traces of merriment gone from his face. “Wait here—I shall see if they need any assistance.” He made to go after, but Thomas Wright was already returning, rushing down the hall next to another man, who was carrying the screaming woman.

“The parlor, just next to you, Spencer!” Mr. Wright called. “Open the door!”

Mr. Spencer, the closest to the door, flung it open, and the hysterical woman was carried in. She was laid on a chaise longue in the middle of the dim little room, Mr. Spencer stepping forward to help settle her as the man who had carried her stepped back. Lily, glancing around as she and the other ladies crowded through the door, thought it looked like a space reserved for the family’s private use, which made sense on an upper floor. Thomas Wright knelt next to the hysterical woman for a moment, clasping her hands.

“Selina?” he said loudly. But she kept screaming, her eyes wide and darting about the room without seeing anything. Judging by the round cheeks and dark hair they both shared, Lily thought she must be his sister. Whether they had other features in common was hard to tell when Selina Wright was in the middle of hysterics.

“Miss Wright?” Matthew Spencer tried giving her shoulders a shake. “You must stop this at once!”

But she clearly could not hear either of them. Thomas Wright took a deep breath and looked grim as, with a surprising degree of practicality, he slapped her across the face.

The screams stopped abruptly, her blank expression resolving into one of terror before her eyes latched on her brother. Her face crumpled in misery. “Oh, Thomas!” she sobbed, gasping for breath.

He gave her shoulders a little shake. “Selina, stop this—you must tell me what happened.” But she only shook her head, clutching at his coat with desperate fists and dropping her head against his shoulder, her weeping shaking them both. Mr. Wright turned to the servant who had carried his sister. “Isaiah, what happened to her?”

Isaiah was a young Black man with very short, curly hair and broad shoulders. His plain, dark clothing marked him clearly as a servant, though it was nothing so formal as the livery that would have been worn in a great house. His wide stance spoke of confidence, and the easy way that Thomas Wright addressed him indicated long service and familiarity.

But there was no confidence on the manservant’s face as he hesitated, gulping visibly and shaking his head. His eyes were wide, and he stumbled over his words as he tried to answer, either unsure how to respond or not wanting to. “It’s . . . it’s Mrs. Wright, sir. She didn’t open her door when we knocked, and Miss Wright . . . she asked me to open it, since no one has the key . . . and she was there, sir—Mrs. Wright. She was there but she wasn’t moving. There was nothing we could do, but there was no one else there what could have done it. She’s dead, sir,” he finished in a rush. “Mrs. Wright is dead. She was killed in the night.”

Beside her, Lily heard Ofelia gasp, though she didn’t turn to look at her friend. Mr. Spencer looked up, his dark eyes wide as he met Lily’s from across the room. She stared back at him, frozen in shock, unable to believe what she had just heard.

“Killed?” Thomas Wright demanded, his voice rising with his own disbelief and his arms tightening around his sister.

“It killed her, Thomas,” Selina Wright said, raising her head at last. Now that her hysterics had faded, her cheeks had gone ashen with fear. “There was no one else who could have entered that room. The lady in gray killed our mother.”

***

Excerpt from Death at the Manor by Katharine Schellman. Copyright 2022 by Katharine Schellman. Reproduced with permission from Katharine Schellman. All rights reserved.

My Review

I enjoyed this historical cozy mystery which takes place in the Regency Era. In this third book in the series, Lily Adler goes to visit her aunt in the country and hears about a ghost in a neighboring estate while attending a dinner party at Matthew Spencer’s home. Her friend, Lady Ofelia wants to see the ghost for fun, but when they visit the Belleford Manor, they find a family member is dead and the ghost, also known as the grey lady is blamed for it. Lily notices that although the family has money, the carpets are threadbare. This is the beginning of the mystery of Mrs. Wright’s death. The dead woman’s children immediately pop out as suspects, but as always in a good mystery, there’s so much more to learn in this locked room mystery. There’s a bit of a love triangle starting, and well, I’m always a fan of a “Captain Jack” in any story!

Author Bio:

Katharine Schellman

Katharine Schellman is a former actor, one-time political consultant, and now the author of the Lily Adler Mysteries and the Nightingale Mysteries. Her debut novel, The Body in the Garden, was one of Suspense Magazine’s Best Books of 2020 and led to her being named one of BookPage’s 16 Women to Watch in 2020. Her second novel, Silence in the Library, was praised as “worthy of Agatha Christie or Rex Stout.” (Library Journal, starred review) Katharine lives and writes in the mountains of Virginia in the company of her husband, children, and the many houseplants she keeps accidentally murdering.

Catch Up With Katharine Schellman:
KatharineSchellman.com
Goodreads
BookBub – @katharineschellman
Instagram – @katharinewrites
Twitter – @katharinewrites
Facebook – @katharineschellman

 

GIVEAWAY:

This is a giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Tours for Katharine Schellman. See the widget for entry terms and conditions. Void where prohibited.

 

 

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Two Parts Sugar, One Part Murder

Listen to this blog as a podcast.

When life gets tough, time to run your aunt’s bakery. Actually, when life gets tough, time to visit any bakery, anywhere, anytime! Today we have Valerie Burns new book, Two Parts Sugar, One Part Murder. This much anticipated book is available for pre-order and will be officially out on August 30. I would also recommend this cozy mystery for when your stress levels are out pacing your “meditation moments”. See more about the book below as well as an excerpt that will leave you giggling!

About the Book

When Maddy Montgomery’s groom is a no-show to their livestream wedding, it’s a disaster that no amount of filtering can fix. But a surprise inheritance offers a chance to regroup and rebrand—as long as Maddy is willing to live in her late, great-aunt Octavia’s house in New Bison, Michigan, for a year, running her bakery and caring for a 250-pound English mastiff named Baby.
 
Maddy doesn’t bake, and her Louboutins aren’t made for walking giant dogs around Lake Michigan, but the locals are friendly and the scenery is beautiful. With help from her aunt’s loyal friends, aka the Baker Street Irregulars, Maddy feels ready to tackle any challenge, including Octavia’s award-winning cake recipes. That is, until New Bison’s mayor is fatally stabbed, and Maddy’s fingerprints are found on the knife . . .
 
Something strange is going on in New Bison. It seems Aunt Octavia had her suspicions, too. But Maddy’s going to need a whole lot more than a trending hashtag to save her reputation—and her life.

You can pre-order Two Parts Sugar, One Part Murder at these online retailers!

AmazonBarnes and NobleBooks-A-MillionBookshop.orgHudson Booksellers, IndieBoundTargetWalmart

Read an Excerpt

 Two Parts Sugar, One Part Murder
Like a lemming, I followed the other condemned passengers through the door of our gate, down a flight of stairs, through a long corridor, and outside. A blast of arctic air hit me full in the face, and I stalled. You have got to be kidding. Surely, we aren’t going to be traveling during a snowstorm. However, the lemmings in front continued out onto the tarmac toward a small plane that looked like something out of a 1950s Doris Day movie. Those behind pushed and jostled around me, leaving me shivering in the doorway. I wrapped my pashmina more closely around my neck, braced myself against the wind, and made my way forward as fast as I could in my new Louboutin heels.
A set of rickety metal stairs had been pushed next to the aircraft, and I grabbed ahold of the handrail and hoisted myself up the steps. About halfway up, my heel slipped off the tread, and I nearly fell backward. The only thing that saved me from bashing my head on the ground was the person behind me, who blocked my fall.
“Whoa, are you okay?”
Am I okay? If I were okay, I wouldn’t be dangling ten feet in the air, hanging on to a steel pole for dear life in subzero temperatures in the middle of a blizzard. I prepared to deliver a sharp retort but was halted when I saw the black shirt and white collar of a priest. I wasn’t a religious person, but I felt confident cussing out a priest would send me straight to hell. Do not pass go. Do not collect two hundred dollars. Even if God wasn’t finished torturing me yet, I wasn’t prepared to test my luck before getting on an airplane in the middle of a snownado. Instead, I swallowed the profanity. “Thank you, Father.”
He helped me get my feet back on the stairs and gave me a gentle nudge in the back to get me moving. “Brrr . . . it’ll be nice and warm inside the plane.”
I would have resented the nudge if it hadn’t been so cold. Instead, I carefully climbed the remainder of the way up and took a few steps inside to my first-class seat. I glanced around, looking for the spacious leather seats I’d grown to love and expect. When I didn’t see them, I stopped so quickly that the priest bumped into me.
“Stewardess, there must be some problem here.” I stared at the front of the plane, blocking the one and only aisle.
A stewardess who looked a bit long in the tooth for flying, but well preserved, stepped from the shadows. “Can I help you?”
“Where’s first class?” I stared to my left, but that was clearly the plane’s cockpit.
“This is a regional plane. We don’t have a first-class section. May I see your ticket?” She held out her hand.
I rummaged through my purse for several moments before I remembered I’d stuck it in my pocket. I pulled it out and handed it over.
“You’re right here in front.” She pointed to a seat in the first row.
I wanted to protest, but she’d obviously been trained by the military to brook no opposition. Considering my dad was an admiral in the Navy, I recognized authority when I saw it. She took one step and maneuvered her body in a way that forced me to step toward the seat. Then she took my bag on the pretense of finding a place for it in an overhead bin. Before I knew what was happening, I was strapped in.
“But what kind of plane doesn’t have a first-class section?” I asked as she turned to leave.
“There are only twenty-eight seats total.”
“But—”
“The flight time is thirty minutes. I’m sure you’ll be able to endure it for that short time frame.” She turned and walked away.
The priest sat in the seat next to mine. He fastened his seat belt, put his head back, reclined, and closed his eyes.
“Father, I need to confess.”
His eyes popped open. “Well, I don’t think this is the appropriate time or place.”
“But I need a priest.”
He gave me a hard stare. “Are you Catholic?”
“No. Do you only listen to confessions from Catholics?”
“Well, normally . . . yes. Other religions tend not to adhere to the same practices. Perhaps you’d be more comfortable talking to a minister from your own faith.” He smiled. “What faith are you?”
“I’m not very religious, but I feel like I need to change. I feel like I need a priest.”
He sighed and pulled his seat forward.
“Father, I need—”
He held up a hand to halt me.
The stewardess picked up a microphone and started her spiel about the airplane’s safety features, cabin pressure, and the instructions for using my seat as a flotation device in the unlikely event that we plummeted into Lake Michigan during our thirty-minute flight from Chicago to the airport in northwestern Indiana.
The priest wouldn’t allow me to speak until she finished and we made it into the air. Once the plane leveled out, he turned to me. “Now, what’s your name?”
“Madison Montgomery.”
“Pleased to meet you. I’m Father Calloway. How can I help you?”
“I need guidance.” I have a tendency to overshare when I’m nervous, and I must have been nervous because I shared how I was raised by my dad on military bases and how I was supposed to be going on my honeymoon but my fiancé had dumped me right before the wedding. I pulled up my cell phone and swiped a few images. “I had everything planned out. It was going to be live-streamed and now look.” I held up the phone so he could see. “That’s Brandy Denton.” I waited, but he just stared at me. “Brandy Denton? You know, she was friends with a friend of the Kardashians and almost got her own reality show, but the deal fell through at the last minute.”
“Oh, I’m sorry.”
“I was, too, until I saw these pictures of her with Elliott, my former fiancé. She’s always been jealous of me, and now here she is making a move on the doctor that I was going to marry.” I heaved a sigh. “And he called me shallow. He said I was only marrying him because he was a doctor and didn’t really love him. Can you believe that? We were together for eight years.”
“Were you?”
“Was I what?”
“Only marrying him because he was a doctor?”
“Of course not. Maybe, but . . . is that wrong? I mean we were perfect for each other, and we’ve been together ever since freshman year in college. All I ever wanted my entire life was to marry someone . . . like him.”
“A doctor?”
“Nooo . . . well, maybe, but it’s not just because he was a doctor. I mean, it’s the lifestyle. I did my research.”
He looked skeptical.
“Have you ever seen the movie How to Marry a Millionaire?”
He shook his head.
“Well, Lauren Bacall makes a really good point in that movie. She said, ‘Most women use more brains picking a horse in the third at Belmont than they do picking a husband.’ And I think she’s right. I think most people just wait for a feeling and that’s it. Hundreds of years ago, marriages were arranged. Parents looked for men who would be able to provide for their daughters.”
His lips twitched and he raised an eyebrow. “Most women nowadays prefer to pick their own husbands . . . at least I think they do.” He tugged at his collar.

About the Author

Valerie (V. M.) Burns is an Agatha, Anthony, and Edgar Award finalist. As V. M. Burns, she is the author of the Mystery Book Mystery series, RJ Franklin Mystery series, and Dog Club Mystery series. Valerie is the author of the Baker Street Mystery series. She is also a mentor in the Writing Popular Fiction Program at Seton Hill University. 

Here’s Where You can Find Valerie Burns

Bookbub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/v-m-burns

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/vmburnsbooks/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/vmburnsbooks/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/vmburns

Website:  vmburns.com

The Finalist

Listen to this blog post as a podcast.

I love this one! It’s a mystery that involves authors in a competition. It sets up like 10 Little Indians as each author makes their way to Key Island. You know, no one ever invites me to get on a private plane for a competition. After reading The Finalist, I might be counting my blessings.

About the Book

Five authors, each with their own secrets, are chosen to complete a deceased novelist’s unfinished manuscript. For single mom Risa Marr, the competition is the opportunity of a lifetime. At stake is a million dollars and a contract to continue the famous novelist’s bestselling thrillers series.
Transported to the tropical paradise of Key Island, the finalists are cut off from the world and given seven days to draft their best ending for the book. But when one of them turns up dead, theories and accusations abound. Accident? Suicide? Or Murder? To what lengths will competitors go to win? And who, if anyone, will leave the island alive?

Excerpt: THE FINALIST
Prologue

Alex Hensley flinched when he heard his office door open. He was dreading this meeting. Talking to Trent Lambert on the phone was one thing. Seeing the intimidating man walk into his workplace was another. If this wasn’t so important, he would have refused to meet with him in person again.

“Come in,” Alex said, standing up. He searched for a bag or package in the man’s hands but saw none. “Did you bring it?”

Trent shut the door before patting his loose-fitting shirt. “Of course. That’s what I’m here for.”

Alex grimaced and lowered himself onto the edge of his leather swivel chair. “I know, I know. It’s just that guns make me nervous.”

Trent took a seat in front of the desk. His blue-gray eyes roamed the massive bookshelves that lined three of the office walls. “I’m not thrilled about this either. But you said I’ll be searched at the dock. If there’s another way, I’m happy to hear it.”

Alex shook his head. “No, there’s not. I’ll hide the gun in my messenger bag like I said. I fly out on the DeMays’ private plane tomorrow. Once Lily and I land in Florida, we’ll take a helicopter to the island.”

“No one checks you or your luggage for weapons? Must be nice.”

Alex tipped his head. “When I’m traveling with the DeMay party, I’m practically royalty.”

“How long have the DeMays owned Key Island?”

“About four years, I guess. Wyatt wanted a completely private getaway. Sandy beaches and tropical breezes, he used to say. He loved the casual feel of the place. But his wife, Lily? Not so much. I think she plans to sell it after the competition is over.”

“About this competition,” Trent said. “I asked you for info on the finalists.”

“Yes, I jotted down some notes.” Alex shifted the papers on his wide desk until he found a legal pad. “Here they are. One of the names might be familiar to you. Melanie Yates?”

“No. Never heard of her.”

“Really? She’s a celebrity. I have a picture of her.” He opened a folder and passed Melanie’s photo across his desk.

Trent picked up the headshot and nodded. “Very pretty.”

Alex agreed. “Melanie is currently between marriages. She’s had a few.”

Trent pushed the photo back across the desk. “Tell me about the others.”
“Sure. There’s Nick Perrin.”

“The football player?”

“One and the same. I have my doubts about including him, but Lily insisted on having five finalists. And she always gets what she wants.”

“Do you have a picture of her?”

“Who? Lily?” Alex shook his head. “No, but I have a photo of Wyatt. It was taken about a week before he died.” Alex rolled his chair to the bookcase behind his desk, then wheeled forward holding a five-by-seven-inch picture frame. He handed it to Trent.

“Him, I recognize,” Trent said, studying the photo.

Alex snickered. “Everyone recognizes Wyatt DeMay. Famous author, philanthropist, all around good guy.”

“I see you’re in the picture with him. And this woman is Charlene?”

“Yes, she was my assistant and Wyatt’s copy editor. Charlene was one of those rare people who was always happy. She made everyone else happy, too. Losing both her and Wyatt within months of each other? I don’t even have words.”

“I understand.” Trent set the frame on the desk. “You were telling me about the other finalists?”

“Right. There’s a Texan named Jackson Butterfield, and a young widow—Risa Marr.”

Trent twisted in his chair. “Did you say Risa Marr?”

“Yes. Do you know her?”

Trent frowned. “If it’s the person I’m thinking of. Do you have her picture in there, too?”

“Are you kidding? I have photos of all the finalists. They’re my life right now.” He looked through the folder. “Ah, here she is. Dark hair, nice smile.” Trent reached across the desk and seized the photo.

“Well?” Alex asked.

Trent stared at the headshot. “I do know her.”

“Will that be a problem for you?”

Trent hesitated. “No. Risa won’t suspect a thing.”

Excerpt from The Finalist by Joan Long. Copyright 2022 by Joan Long. Reproduced with permission from Level Best Books. All rights reserved.

The Finalist is Available at These Online Resources

Amazon 

Barnes and Noble

Kobo 

Indiebound

Books-a-Million

Bookshop

Apple Books

Walmart

About the Author

Joan Long is the author of the locked-room-style mystery The Finalist. She is a third-generation Floridian who earned a degree in English/Creative Writing from Florida State University and a graduate degree in Journalism and Communications from The University of Florida. She has written for universities, public television, healthcare corporations, a magazine and more, but most enjoys writing mysteries and suspense. Joan’s short story “The Extra Ingredient” is published in the Anthony Award-winning anthology Malice Domestic 14: Mystery Most Edible.

https://instagram.com/joanlongbooks/

https://twitter.com/joanlongbooks/

https://facebook.com/joanlongbooks/

https://www.bookbub.com/authors/joan-long

https://www.goodreads.com/joanlong

Depths of Deceit

Depths of Deceit by Laura Oles Banner

Listen to this blog post as a podcast.

Depths of Deceit is full of secrets. From a missing sister to a rival PI Jamie Rush is on the job in her second book in the series.

You can read more about the book below and don’t forget to enter the giveaway!

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery, Female PI
Published by: Red Adept Publishing
Publication Date: May 31, 2022
Number of Pages: 292
Series: A Jamie Rush Mystery, #2
Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Synopsis:

Depths of Deceit by Laura Oles

Two sisters.

One deadly secret.

No time to lose.

PI Jamie Rush has her hands full with small-time skip-tracing and surveillance jobs in Port Alene, Texas. The work is steady, though she still struggles to make ends meet. But when her partner, Cookie, brings in a low-paying and potentially time-consuming case, Jamie takes it on out of loyalty.

Cookie’s childhood friend, Renata, needs to find her younger sister, Leah. As Jamie digs into Leah’s past, it becomes clear that the missing woman’s life was shrouded in secrets, the kind that could jeopardize those involved in the case.

To complicate matters, PI Alastair Finn has returned, and he’s willing to reclaim his town by any means necessary. Jamie has never been one to retreat, and Alastair enjoys a good fight. Sparks will fly.

A missing woman. Felonies. Finn’s return. Every twist reminds Jamie that she’s still an outsider in this town. Jamie must prove herself all over again, and the stakes have never been higher.

Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

The mermaid in the truck bed was what caught Jamie Rush’s attention. The cast-iron figure peeked over the hatch, her carved, flowing hair and demure smile in view. This was supposed to be a standard identify-and-repo job. Jamie was certain she hadn’t seen a mermaid on the itemized paperwork. Brody Rutger, in addition to hiding from creditors, had added theft of a local celebrity to his resume.

The day had started strong, with a lead on Rutger and an opportunity to catch him between fishing charters, using a boat he’d quit paying on months before. Suddenly, Marian the Mermaid was caught up in the mix.

And something was going on with the weather.

The month of November normally brought a steady stream of long-term vacationers from the north—affectionally called Winter Texans—who fled harsh winters for the promise of more tepid temperatures. Those who’d already set up residence in Port Alene were likely to be disappointed. Port A, usually quite predictable in her warmth, had suddenly changed her mind. That day, she was trading humidity for frigid air, and the wind, once laced with a warm, salty breeze, was offering only a cold shoulder. The palm trees lining Island Main bristled from side to side, and the town seemed to have turned inward in response. The icy wind whistled in the gap of her Tahoe’s window.

Jamie shuddered at the weather’s frigid downturn, while her partner, Cookie Hinojosa, all but cursed Mother Nature. He believed anything under seventy degrees was downright blasphemous. Jamie tilted her head toward the gray sky and welcomed the sting of air on her cheeks, her head briefly popping out the driver’s-side window. Cookie glanced over and shook his head.

”You’re very grumpy this morning,” Jamie said. She gave him a once-over, taking note of the large Dallas Cowboys logo on his chest, the silver star claiming almost all the space between his shoulders.

“I see you found your favorite winter hoodie. Probably more fun to wear when they’re winning.”

Cookie turned to her and scowled. “Et tu, Brute? You’re going to dump on our favorite team? Really?”

Jamie reached over and gave her partner’s meaty shoulder a squeeze. “They need to earn our love by playing better. And we’ve been damned patient.” She rubbed her hand up and down his sleeve, noting the fabric felt cold. “You should probably break down and buy a proper winter jacket.”

“This is South Texas. Only snowbirds wear ‘proper’ winter jackets.”

Cookie dismissed the idea of wearing anything that added additional bulk to his substantial frame. “My Hawaiian shirts are sad from neglect.”

She had to agree. A long-sleeved Hawaiian shirt would look ridiculous on anyone. She rubbed her hands together and hoped the cold snap would soon dissipate, returning the balmy temperatures Port Alene normally delivered.

“I’m going to pull back a bit,” Jamie said.

Their skip of the day, Brody Rutger, owed their client, AAA Repo Services, $15,027. Brody had ducked all attempts at collection, so Jamie and Cookie had been hired to locate him and return the boat. Jamie and Cookie specialized in skip tracing, which essentially meant finding people who didn’t want to be found. They worked skips but also some surveillance—which paid well but was boring beyond belief—and some divorce cases, which also paid well but renewed Jamie’s resolve to never get married. In Jamie’s experience, if a person disappeared, the reasons involved money, private information, or violence. And secrets—always a secret.

***

Excerpt from Depths of Deceit by Laura Oles. Copyright 2022 by Laura Oles. Reproduced with permission from Laura Oles. All rights reserved.

Author Bio:

Laura Oles

Laura Oles is the Agatha-nominated and award-winning author of the Jamie Rush mystery series, along with short stories and nonfiction. With two decades of experience in the digital photography industry, Laura’s work has appeared in trade and consumer magazines, crime-fiction anthologies, and she served as a business columnist. Laura loves road trips, bookstores and any outdoor activity that doesn’t involve running. She lives in the Texas Hill Country with her family.

Catch Up With Laura Oles:
LauraOles.com
Goodreads
BookBub – @LauraOles
Instagram – @lauraolesauthor
Twitter – @LauraOles
Facebook – @lauraolesauthor

Giveaway:

This is a giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Tours for Laura Oles. See the widget for entry terms and conditions. Void where prohibited.
 

 

Corpse and Robbers

Listen to this blog post as a podcast.

Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris, move over! We have Cam Reddick the owner of Peachy Kleen on the job and of all places, he’s cleaning a funeral home. Wonder if he’ll find any dead bodies? More about the book below and a fantastic giveaway of 10 paperback copies. 

About Corpse and Robbers

Corpse and Robbers: A Male Housekeeper Mystery

Cozy Mystery

2nd in Series

Setting – A small town in Michigan

Cozy Cat Press (April 16, 2022)

Paul Bearer & Sons has two memorial services on the schedule, but three dead bodies. When Rusted Bonnet’s funeral home becomes the site of a murder, Cam Reddick finds himself as a prime suspect. To distance himself from the allegations, Cam must untangle a host of clever cons and mini mysteries, from corpse robbing to a fine art scam to a modern-day treasure hunt. Cam soon discovers that Paul Bearer’s more closely resembles a con artists’ colony than a funeral home. With help from his ex-wife and mother, Cam ultimately unearths the most devious and deadly ploy of all.

Corpse and Robbers in the second installment of Stephen Kaminski’s Male Housekeeper Mystery series.

Excerpt: Corpse and Robbers
Sandpaper skin and puckered dimples soured Ronald Tremblay’s square jawline. Valerie and Cam found him tucking into a plate of peeled shrimp.“I didn’t see those, Ronnie,” Valerie remarked by way of introduction.

Ronald wiped cocktail sauce from his upper lip with a napkin. “They’re in the back, near the quartet.”

“I may have to try one,” she said. “Ronnie, this is Cam Reddick from Michigan. He knows Kamila Galax and her husband.”

Cam reached out a hand and Ronnie shook it with a rough grip. “How are the old whipsaws?”

“Very good,” Cam said. “They’re neighbors of mine.” He didn’t dare tell Ronnie that he ran a housekeeping business, afraid of the reaction that might engender from the board chair.

“Good folks,” Ronnie said. “I hated to see them go. Gannon was a professor in my department at the U.”

“Visual arts, right?”

“Yes, sir. The man had one heck of a keen eye.”

“Was he interested in paintings?” Cam asked.
.

Valerie, who had been ogling Ronnie’s plate of shrimp, touched Cam on the forearm and excused herself.

“Paintings?” Ronnie repeated and set his plate on the tray of a passing waiter. “Sure. He taught photography, but he never met a medium he didn’t like. Oils, clay, Gouache, you name it. Why do you ask?”

“I have a couple of originals by French painters,” Cam fibbed. “They caught Gannon’s attention.”

“I have no doubt. I imagine Kamila would’ve been captivated, too, if they’re any good. She was on the board here.”

“I know. She’s the one who told me about the function tonight,” Cam lied.

“So, she does get the flyers we send!” He coughed then slammed a fist against his chest. “Mind if I get a drink?”

“I’ll join you,” Cam said, not wanting to lose him. He took a step toward the bar.

“No need to go anywhere,” Ronnie said. He made eye contact with a model-thin woman standing near the front door of the gallery. She walked confidently toward the pair, her deep-set, raccoon eyes boring into Cam’s. When she reached them, Ronnie whispered something into her ear and she swiveled and strode to the back of room and through a closed door.

“I hope you like bourbon,” Ronnie said. “That’s one perk of being the chair here—I don’t wait in line for a drink. So, who do you have?”

Cam creased his eyebrows. “Who do I have?” he repeated.

“Which French painters?” Ronnie asked more sharply.

Before Cam could respond, the toothpick-framed woman returned and silently handed Ronnie and Cam tumblers filled to the brim. A bouquet of vanilla and toasted caramel assaulted his nostrils.

Ronnie lowered the lids on his washed-out eyes and breathed in heavily. “I never tire of this smell.” He knocked back half of his drink in a single swallow and peered at Cam.

Cam took a small sip. Bourbon flames licked the back of his throat. “Very nice,” he managed weakly.

“A man’s drink for sure.”

Cam nodded his head, then managed to squeak out, “Denys Rouland.”

“Your originals are Roulands?” Ronnie cast a less-than-surreptitious glance at Cam’s cheap duds.

“Yes,” Cam answered with more bravado than he felt. “Do you have any here?” He pictured the chair answering: ‘Not anymore; we had three go missing.’

Instead, he said, “Unfortunately not.” Ronnie polished off his drink. “As far as I know, Captain Sickleson and his wife have the only Roulands in Windsor.”

You can find Corpse and Robbers at Amazon 

My Review

This is the first book I’ve read by Stephen Kaminski and even though it was the second in the series, I had no trouble getting into the story. This is a pure who-dunnit with plenty of red herrings and con men. I liked the character of Cam Reddick and all of the worlds he’s balancing while solving crimes. This mystery was light and easy to read and very entertaining. I’ve always been fascinated by funeral home storylines and the family who runs Paul Bearer Funeral Home is a pretty fascinating group. This is a good one.

Kaminski also pens the Damon Lassard Dabbling Detective Mysteries. He is the recipient of the Murder & Mayhem Award for Best Classic Cozy, multiple Reader Views Literary Awards, and was a Chanticleer Media CLUE Award finalist.

About Stephen Kaminski

Stephen Kaminski is the author of two cozy mystery series: The Male Housekeeper Mysteries and the Damon Lassard Dabbling Detective series, both published by Cozy Cat Press.

“Corpse & Robbers” (2022) is the latest of Kaminski’s Male Housekeeper Mysteries. The first installment of the series, “An Au Pair to Remember,” was penned in 2019.

Each of Kaminski’s Damon Lassard books — “It Takes Two to Strangle” (2012), “Don’t Cry Over Killed Milk” (2013), and “Murder, She Floats” (2014) — was awarded the Reader Views Literary Award for the Mid-Atlantic Region, and Don’t Cry Over Killed Milk was named Best Classic Cozy in the 2014 Murder & Mayhem Awards and was a 2013 Chanticleer Media CLUE Award Finalist.

Stephen is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University and Harvard Law School and currently serves as the chief executive officer of a national energy association. He lives with his 120 lb Swissie, Siberian forest cat, rescue kitty, and a gaggle of occasionally tolerable but always loveable humans in Bethesda, MD.

You can find Corpse and Robbers at Amazon 

The Friday Night Mystery Club


Listen to this blog as a podcast

Wouldn’t you just love to be a part of a Friday Night Mystery Club? Good food, good wine, good company. This group would also be pretty handy when a real life mystery happens, too. Today we have a visit from Joanna Campbell Slan, a lady I’ve done a few anthologies with in the past!

About The Friday Night Mystery Club


The Friday Night Mystery Club (Friday Night Mystery Club Series)
Cozy Mystery
1st in Series
Setting – Illinois

Decatur, Illinois/1986 – A nasty divorce leaves Cragan Collins with a mountain of bills and her grandmother to support. She takes a job as an ad salesperson for The Gazette. The market is tough, but Cragan finds a mentor in business reporter, Robert Smithson. One icy January day, Robert is found dead in a city park. His murder is dismissed as gay-on-gay crime. Cragan asks The Friday Night Mystery Club to find justice for Robert. Will Cragan’s quest for the truth land her on the obituary page?

And now let’s hear a little from Cragan Collins…

Food, Friends, and Books: A Winning Combination

By Joanna Campbell Slan

The year is 1986. My name is Cragan Collins, and I live at 512 Green Street, Decatur, Illinois, in an older Craftsman-style house that’s been divided into four units. My housemates are all keen mystery readers, so it was only natural that we got to discussing what we were reading. Eventually, it made sense for us to set aside Friday nights to discuss books. Thus, the Friday Night Mystery Club was born.

My co-worker, Winnie Roper, crashed our get-together. Since Winnie brought a scrumptious dessert, we let her stick around. Since then, she’s been the designated dessert-bringer. She also uses our meetings as opportunities to sell us whatever product she’s currently shilling. This week it’s Tupperware, but she’s hinted that she’s moving on to Shaklee Products soon.

With dessert taken care of, the rest of us take turns providing a main course, a salad, and a side. Originally, we took turns bringing wine, but Pru Davis, the exotic dancer ( aka “stripper”) who lives on right-hand side apartment on the second floor, has taken over as Booze Queen. She’s able to buy liquor at costs from the “gentleman’s club” where she works.

We all look forward to the nights when Rosie Sanchez cooks, as Rosie is Hispanic and she makes fabulous Mexican dishes. Rosie and her ten-year-old son, Julio, live on the second floor, right across the hall from Pru. Rosie owns a small café and gift shop. Zahara “Zee” Johnson’s apartment is on the first floor, opposite side of the building from mine. Zee works at First National Bank. She can cook, but she’s not thrilled by doing so. When she does, she usually brings fried chicken or fried pork chops.

As for me, I have a limited repertoire. Meatloaf, baked chicken, and soups are my specialties.

We’ve found that eating together makes our discussions more fun. Or maybe it’s the wine that makes things lively? Who knows? I mean, you can’t really get a better combination than the one we’ve got going: good food, good friends, and good mysteries.

You can find The Friday Night Mystery Club on – Amazon

About Joanna Campbell Slan

Joanna is a New York Times Bestselling, USA Today Bestselling, and Amazon Bestselling author as well as a woman prone to frequent bursts of crafting frenzy, leaving her with burns from her hot glue gun and paint on her clothes. And the mess? Let’s not even go there.

Otherwise, Joanna’s a productive author with more than 80 written projects to her credit. Her non-fiction work includes how to books, a college textbook for public speakers, and books of personal essays (think Chicken Soup for the Soul).

Currently, she writes six fiction series: The Kiki Lowenstein Mystery Series (Agatha Award Finalist, contemporary, St. Louis setting, crafting), the Cara Mia Delgatto Mystery Series (contemporary, Florida setting, DIY, and recycling), the Jane Eyre Chronicles (Daphne du Maurier Award Winner, 1830s England, based on Charlotte Brontë’s classic), the Sherlock Holmes Fantasy Thrillers (late 1800s, based on Arthur Conan Doyle’s books), the Tai Chi Mystery Series (featuring a mature female amateur sleuth!) and the Friday Night Mystery Series (set in Decatur, IL in 1986 with a spunky female heroine.)

A former TV talk show host, college teacher, and public relations specialist, Joanna was one of the early Chicken Soup for the Soul contributors. She won a Silver Anvil for her work on the original FarmAid concert to benefit farmers.

In her ongoing quest never to see snow again, Joanna lives with her husband and their Havanese puppy, Jax, on an island off the coast of Florida. You can email her at jcslan@joannaslan.com or visit her website at https://linktr.ee/jcslan

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You can find The Friday Night Mystery Club on – Amazon

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None Without Sin…Again!

I’m reposting this post because None Without Sin is part of a blog tour right now, and I posted a month early! My mistake!

I’ve always been a big fan of shows like Father Brown and Father Dowling, but move over boys, because now we have Reverend Candace Miller teaming up with journalist Brian Wilder in Michael Bradley’s latest mystery, None Without Sin.  What is it about the mix of faith and trying to get the bad guy? Every time Detective Murdoch crosses himself when he finds a body, I find myself nodding at the tv. Read more about None Without Sin below, including a wonderful excerpt. Don’t forget to enter Michael’s giveaway!

 

About the Book

 

None Without Sin by Michael Bradley

 

Be sure your sin won’t find you out.

 

When a Delaware real estate mogul is murdered, newspaper journalist Brian Wilder wants the scoop on the killing, including the meaning behind the mysterious loaf of bread left with the corpse. Reverend Candice Miller, called to minister to the grieving family, quickly realizes that the killer has adopted the symbolism of sin eating, a Victorian-era religious ritual, as a calling card. Is it the work of a religious fanatic set to punish people for their missteps, or something even more sinister?

As more victims fall, Brian and Candice follow a trail of deceit and blackmail, hoping to discover the identity of the killer—and praying that their own sins won’t catch the killer’s attention.

“Loaded with twists, Bradley’s vibrant and gripping thriller will make readers eager for more.”
—August Norman, author of Sins of the Mother

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery
Published by: CamCat Books
Publication Date: August 2, 2022
Number of Pages: 400
ISBN: 0744305950 (ISBN13: 9780744305951)
Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads | CamCat Books

Read an excerpt:

SATURDAY

CHAPTER 1

The loaf of brown bread looked distinctly out of place resting on the dead man’s chest, leaving Candice Miller to wonder if all crime scenes contained such incongruities. She expected blood. Yellow police tape? Definitely. But baked goods? This seemed outrageous even for the most imaginative of minds. Yet, there it was, reminding her of the artisan bread she would get at the steakhouse near the mall. Never going to eat there again, she thought.

The scene was not gory, at least not to the degree she had expected. What blood there was had pooled around the man’s sternum and left a crimson stain on the front of his white Oxford shirt. The round loaf of bread was split down the middle, and the bottom of each half soaked up enough plasma to darken the crust to almost pitch-black. The corpse of Robbie Reynolds was stretched out on a black leather sofa along the far wall. His face—which was turned toward the door—was pale and lifeless. His vacant eyes stared at her from across the room. A sensation like a cold finger touched the back of her neck for one brief second.

Everything else looked normal. The pool table in the center of the room showed signs of a game in progress, with balls scattered across the green felt. A cue lay nearby on the plush beige carpet, as if it had been dropped on the floor by the dead man. Otherwise, there was no sign of violence. If not for the blood, Candice might have thought Robbie was just napping.

Chief Lyle Jenkins nudged her away from the doorway. “Down here, Reverend.” The police chief moved between her and the door—presumably to block her view—and then gestured toward an archway a few steps down the hall.

Candice took one last glance at the dead man. She should have felt a sense of revulsion or been horrified by her first murder scene. But there was only a sense of curiosity, of wonder. Who killed him? Why leave behind a loaf of bread?

She stepped from the door and moved along the hall in the direction the police chief had indicated. “Such a shame.”

“That’s life,” Lyle said, his voice deep and brusque.

Her jaw tightened with his words. His callousness angered her, but she knew Lyle Jenkins had a reputation of being an unfeeling hard-ass. She refused to be goaded by his insensitivity and tried to ignore his remark.

She passed through the archway across the hall into the sprawling living room. The early afternoon sun blazed through high windows, bathing everything in a warm light. Detective Mick Flanagan stood beside a stone fireplace opposite the archway. His ginger hair was tussled, his clothing wrinkled, as if he had dressed haphazardly before rushing to the crime scene. A silver badge dangled on a thin chain from his neck. He smiled momentarily, then his lips sank back into grave frown. He crossed the room to greet Candice.

“How is Andrea?” she asked.

“Not good.” Mick ran his hand through his hair. “Thanks for coming.”

Chief Jenkins leaned in and asked, “Did she say anything yet?” “Nothing new,” Mick said. “Just what she told you earlier.”

Candice touched Mick’s shoulder. “Let me talk to her. She needs comfort, not questions.”

The police chief grunted. “That’s all fine and dandy, but we’ve got a crime scene to process. The sooner we can get the family out of here the better.” He turned abruptly and walked from the room.

Mick rubbed the back of his neck. “Sorry about that.” Candice rolled her eyes and shook her head. “What happened?”

He shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine. She found the body when she came home an hour ago. That’s all she told us.”

“I can’t understand why anyone would want to kill him.” This seemed like the right thing to say about a murder victim, but Can- dice knew Robbie Reynolds well enough to know he wasn’t with- out his secrets. In a small city like Newark, rumors were always easy to find.

“He helped my wife and I buy our first home,” Mick said.

“Give me a few minutes with her.”

Candice moved to the long Chesterfield sofa facing the fire- place. Its tan leather was cracked and worn. Andrea Reynolds sat with her head bowed; her shoulders quaking with each sob. Long ash brown hair fell forward and obscured her face from view.

Andrea clutched a balled-up tissue in her hand. She didn’t seem to notice Candice’s arrival.

Seated at the opposite end of the sofa was Marissa, the Reynolds’ pre-teen daughter. Her hands were folded in her lap, and her eyes held a blank stare. The girl’s blonde hair looked shorter than it had on Sunday. Must have got a haircut this week. The Reynolds family always sat in the front row during Sunday service, and it was hard to miss the beaming smile on Marissa’s face. The ten-year-old girl had pushed herself as far into the corner of the sofa as possible, as if trying to escape the horror around her. Marissa glanced up at Candice, then dropped her eyes to the floor.

Candice approached the sofa and took a seat next to Andrea. She wrapped her arm around the shoulders of the grieving woman, who glanced up to give Candice a feeble smile. Bloodshot eyes bore witness to her anguish.

“Oh, Candice.” Andrea sniffed, then wiped her nose with the tissue. “Who would do this?” Her voice was broken and soft.

Candice stared at her for a long moment, searching for the right words. Despite her time at seminary and her short experience as an Episcopalian priest, she’d always struggled with providing comfort to grieving families in the wake of a loss. Her words seemed inadequate, even trite. There was nothing she could say that wouldn’t sound like a cliché, like some canned response to grief. “Time heals all wounds.” “He’s in a better place.” “God will get you through this.” That last one, in particular, had been a source of contention for her lately.

“Andrea, I know it may not seem like it right now, but this pain will pass,” Candice said, cringing within as she spoke.

Andrea broke into an uncontrolled sob and buried her face in Candice’s shoulder. As the woman cried, Candice glanced at Mick.

He rolled his eyes and folded his arms as a faint sigh slipped from his lips. She suppressed a semi-panicked urge to giggle. Five years on the force, and he gets more like Chief Jenkins every day. Then, after a further moment’s thought, she caught the irony and chastised herself for her own callousness.

The seemingly endless stream of Andrea’s tears dampened the collar of Candice’s blouse. When she lifted her head, the woman blotted at her swollen eyes with a tissue. Her face was red and blotchy, with a network of little purple veins on her nose.

“Mick needs to ask you some questions,” Candice said. “Do you feel up to talking?”

Andrea blew her nose on the tissue. “I think so.”

Candice took hold of Andrea’s hand and squeezed it. “I’ll be right here beside you.”

Mick mouthed a silent “thank you” to Candice, and then said, “Andrea, I know this is a difficult time for you, but the sooner you can tell me what happened—”

Andrea cut him off. “We’d gone up to New York City yester- day.” She gestured to her daughter at the other end of the sofa. “A girls’ night out.”

Andrea dabbed once again at her eyes with a tissue to wipe away fresh tears. “Marissa and I took the train up to see a Broadway show. We had dinner before the show and stayed the night at a hotel on Time Square.”

“When did you return home?” Mick asked.

“About an hour ago,” Andrea replied. “We’d planned to be home earlier, but the train was running late.”

Candice toyed with a hangnail on her right ring finger.

She felt a flutter of guilt for not saying or doing more. But, how to behave at a crime scene had not been part of the curriculum at seminary. First murder scene and I didn’t even pray with the widow. Way to go.

She looked toward Marissa. The young girl—wearing pale blue jeans with sequins in the shape of a flower on the right pant leg— hadn’t moved. She looked distant and afraid. Very different from the affable, high-spirited preteen Candice was used to seeing on Sundays. It seemed as if everyone had forgotten Marissa was even in the room. This was not the type of conversation the girl should hear.

“Sorry to interrupt,” Candice said. “What about Marissa? Does she need to be here?”

At the mention of her name, Marissa looked up at them. Her eyes were wide.

“Until we’ve cleared the crime scene, you won’t be able to stay in the house,” Mick said to Andrea. “Do you have someplace the two of you can go?”

Andrea toyed with the tissue in her hand. The flimsy material was creased and shredded. “We can stay at my mother’s house.” She gestured toward Candice. “I called her right after I called you. She can take care of Marissa while I . . .” Her words drifted off.

Candice rose from the sofa. “Why don’t I take Marissa upstairs and help her get a bag packed? You can stay here. Talk to Mick. Do what you need to do.”

Andrea stared at her for a moment. Her eyes welled with tears, and she reached out her hand. “Thank you.”

Candice smiled, took the woman’s hand, and gave it a reassuring squeeze. “Will you be okay?”

“Yeah.” There was some hesitation in Andrea’s voice.

Candice walked to the other side of the sofa and knelt before the young girl. “Marissa, how about you come with me? We’ll go up to your room and pack your suitcase. You’re going to spend a few days at Grandma’s house.”

Marissa didn’t move at first.

“Sweetie, go with Pastor Miller,” Andrea said.

After a brief glance at her mother, the young girl slipped from the sofa. Candice took the girl’s hand and led her from the room. As they moved down the hall toward the stairs, Candice glanced back at the doorway of the room where Robbie Reynolds lay dead. The blood-soaked loaf of bread resurfaced in her memory. That was downright odd. Why would someone leave a loaf of bread on a dead man’s chest? Yet, the concept seemed eerily familiar some- how. A distant memory she couldn’t quite reach.

***

The girl’s bedroom looked as if every Disney princess movie had detonated within it. Movie posters from Moana, Frozen, and Tangled hung on the walls. Images from Beauty and the Beast covered the comforter on the twin bed. Small statuettes of the seven dwarfs lined the top of the nearby bookshelf. Candice hadn’t been to Disney World, but she imagined this was what almost every gift shop in the park might look like.

Marissa crossed the room and sat on the bed; her head bowed, staring at her feet. She bit her bottom lip and said nothing. Can- dice reached over and put her arm around Marissa’s shoulders.

The young girl looked up at Candice. Her blue eyes were puffy and bloodshot. “Is Daddy okay?”

The question shocked Candice and left her reeling for an answer. How could Marissa not know her father was dead? Wasn’t she in the house when Andrea discovered the body? Candice struggled to find the right words. Talking with children had never been her strength. As an only child, she had never had a younger sibling to bond with. Never learned the art of relating to adolescents. Her jaw tightened at the idea of being the harbinger of tragic news. “Let’s not worry about that. Let’s pack a few things and get you outside. Your grandma will be here soon.”

Marissa didn’t move, just turned her gaze to the floor and stared. “I saw the blood. Mommy doesn’t think I saw it, but I did.” “You saw it?” Candice bit her bottom lip. She’s going to need years of therapy.

The girl nodded. “She told me not to look, but I did.” There was a pause. “Is Daddy dead?”

Candice pulled the girl closer, giving her a comforting squeeze. Marissa stared up at her. A young life untouched by tragedy . . . until now. As much as she wanted to, Candice knew she couldn’t shirk this responsibility. “Yes. Your father’s dead.”

She waited for the girl to break down. To burst into tears. To kick and scream. To run from the room. But nothing happened. Marissa was silent. Her big eyes filled with sadness; her mouth curled down in a frown. But her grief seemed subdued, almost con- trolled, as if the girl had already come to terms with her father’s death. Candice touched the girl’s arm. “Let’s pack up a few things. Do you have a bag?”

Marissa nodded, then climbed from the bed and drew a small Cinderella suitcase from beneath it. She set it on the bed and flipped open the top.

“Pick out some clothes for an overnight stay,” Candice said. “Make that a few days’ stay.”

Marissa wandered over to the nearby dresser and pulled open the top drawer. The young girl picked through her clothes as if having trouble deciding what to take. Candice allowed her gaze to drift to the end table. A paperback rested face down next to the Little Mermaid bedside lamp. She turned it over and read the title. It was a Nancy Drew mystery. She smiled. The Mystery at Lilac Inn. I remember that one, she thought. Ghostly apparitions. A stolen inheritance. No murder. Just one in a series of stories that always come with a happy ending. No one gets hurt and the world is perfect on the last page. When she set the book back down on the bedside table, a glint from the nearby bookshelf caught her eye. She spied a small crystal statuette of an angel sitting on the second shelf. Her pulse quickened for an instant.

With the suitcase packed, Candice led the girl from the bed- room and down the stairs. A uniformed police officer waited at the bottom. Two overlapping sheets of plastic had been hung over the doorway leading into the “death” room. The sheets were attached along the edges of the doorframe with yellow tape. Blurred shapes and figures were all that could be seen through the semi-trans- parent plastic. Candice was grateful Marissa would be spared any further horror. She nodded at the officer, then led Marissa out of the house and into the afternoon sun.

CHAPTER 2

Brian Wilder downshifted and halted for the traffic light at the bottom of the off-ramp. His two-hour drive along Delaware’s beach expressway from Rehoboth Beach had been a blur. The Friday night birthday party had gone into the early hours of the morning, forcing him to crash on the couch of Chris Carson, the birthday boy himself.

Amber Fox, morning host at WREB-FM, had thrown a surprise birthday party for her co-host, Chris. Brian had the dubious responsibility of getting him to the Mexican restaurant for the par- ty. He never realized how difficult it would be to keep a surprise from a blind man. They’d only just stepped across the restaurant’s threshold when Chris leaned toward Brian to ask how many people were waiting in the back room for them. It wasn’t until later in the evening that Chris explained how he knew.

“Did someone let slip about the party?” Brian had asked.

Chris shook his head. “Not at all. It was a perfectly planned surprise party.”

“But, how—”

“How did I know?” said Chris. “Do you remember the loud music playing when we entered the restaurant?”

“Yeah, but what’s—”

“What about the soccer game on the bar TV?” “No . . .”

Chris smiled. “And the woman at the bar nagging her husband about his drinking?”

Brian shook his head. “Nope.”

“Then, you probably didn’t hear Amber in the back room trying to shush everyone when we arrived.”

“No.” Brian sighed. “Can’t say I did.”

He had known Chris Carson for years before the accident that robbed the radio DJ of his sight. Chris was just as much a smart-ass now as he had been then. Perhaps more so.

When the light changed, Brian turned left, heading toward downtown Newark. The fifty-plus-year-old car roared up the street and brought a smile to his face. The candy apple–red Mustang was one of the few luxuries he allowed himself. Brian was meticulous in his care and maintenance of the Mustang. If only he’d put that level of care into his relationship with Allison, his daughter. A sense of guilt washed over him.

He glanced at his mobile phone on the passenger seat. He toyed with the idea of calling her, but their last call had ended in a fierce argument, just like so many others. No point in upsetting her weekend, he thought.

The car raced across an overpass. Northbound traffic on the interstate below was backed up, creeping along. Early beachgoers on their way to the Jersey shore. Although the morning was windy, the weekend was shaping up to be the first nice one of the month. Rain, cold temperatures, and the occasional snow flurry had made the first two weeks of March less than pleasant. This third week— with temps in the mid-sixties—seemed to be the trigger for every- one to emerge from a self-induced winter hibernation.

As he glided past a slow-moving U-Haul, his mobile phone rang. He slipped the hands-free earpiece into his ear and pressed the button to answer.

“Yo Brian, where are you?” Jessica O’Rourke asked. The part- time newspaper photographer spoke quickly; her young throaty voice full of excitement.

“Just got off the highway,” he said. “Maybe ten minutes out.

Why?”

“The police scanner’s blowing up. Something’s rotten in New- ark. Cops and paramedics have converged on Annabelle Street. Sounds serious,” she said, her words coming out in rapid fire.

Brian narrowed his eyes. Annabelle Street was in a select neighborhood on the north side of Newark. Half-million-dollar houses. Land Rovers and Mercedes in driveways. The mayor had a house in the neighborhood. So did the dean of Northern Delaware University. “Thanks for the tip.”

“Look,” said Jessica, a hint of hesitation in her voice. “I’ve got a wedding to shoot in three hours. I can’t meet you there.”

Brian smiled. “No worries. I’ve got my camera in the trunk.” His years as a journalist had taught him to be flexible, often taking photos for his own articles. A photographer by his side was a luxury he’d learned to do without. His pictures would never be as good as Jessica’s, but they’d be just fine for the newspaper. “You can criticize my picture-taking skills later.”

“How was the party?” she asked.

Heavy traffic slowed Brian’s approach into the city of Newark. He braked as the line of cars ahead came to a crawl. “You missed a good time.” He thought again about the previous night. “Chris was disappointed you weren’t there.”

She sighed. Chris Carson’s “crush” on Jessica was public knowledge—as was her unwillingness to be tied down in any relationship. “He’ll get over it,” she said.

Brian laughed. “Go to the wedding. Enjoy yourself.”

***

Three police cars were parked in front of a house on Annabelle Street, and an ambulance was backed into the driveway. Brian parked the Mustang along the curb a few houses up the block. Be- fore climbing from the car, he reached into the glovebox and dug out a spiral notebook and a pen. From the trunk, he grabbed a black camera bag and slung it over his shoulder.

As he walked along the sidewalk, he noticed a small crowd of onlookers across the street. The house at the center of everyone’s attention was a modern take on a classic Victorian. A police officer leaned on the white railing of the wraparound porch. A two-story turret rose high above the house, black shingles covering its peak. The white siding was bright in the afternoon sun. Brian recognized the house.

It belonged to Robbie Reynolds.

He sifted through a mental dossier of the man. Robbie Reynolds. Mid-forties. Married with one child. Wife’s name is Andrea. Born and raised in Delaware. Attended and dropped out of North- ern Delaware University. Local real estate agent. No, local real estate mogul. Self-proclaimed “king of Newark real estate.”

The facts came readily to mind, as did the rumors. Egotist.

Gambler. Womanizer.

As Brian approached a nearby police car, he was surprised to find Father Andrew Blake in conversation with Sergeant Stacy Devonport. The priest’s black hair was peppered with specks of gray; a few strands above his forehead waved with the afternoon breeze. He wore his customary black tab collar shirt and slacks. A black jacket hung awkwardly from Andrew’s gaunt frame, looking like it was a size too big. The priest’s presence was puzzling. As far as Brian knew, the Reynolds family wasn’t Catholic.

Stacy shook Brian’s hand and smiled. “I bet I can guess what brings you here.”

“Same reason that brought you.” He turned to Andrew. “I’m surprised. I don’t recall ever seeing the Reynolds at St. Matthews.”

“How would you know, Brian?” Andrew folded his arms and tilted his head to the side. “You’re not exactly a regular attendee at Sunday Mass.”

Stacy laughed at the priest’s rebuke. “He’s got you there.”

Brian shrugged off their remarks. “I’ve been busy.” It was easier to lie than try to explain why he’d not been to church in a while. He gestured toward the house. “What’s going on, Stacy? Why the heavy police presence?”

“I can’t tell you much.” She rested the roll of crime scene tape on the trunk of the police car. “I’ve been relegated to crowd control. Haven’t been inside.”

Brian glanced at the crowd across the street. Ten, maybe eleven people. “Yeah. I see you’ve got your work cut out for you.”

Stacy folded her arms. “Hey, if that throng gets out of hand—”

“That’s a throng?” Brian raised an eyebrow. He let the moment linger before straightening up and narrowing his eyes. “Seriously, what’s going on?”

“Suspicious death.” Stacy turned her gaze toward the house, then back at Brian. “Robbie.”

A slight heaviness pressed down on his shoulders. Brian’s dealings with the real estate agent were infrequent and always all business. Robbie ran a weekly half-page ad in the Monday edition in the newspaper, but often sent it, along with a check, in the mail. Brian’s only other dealings with the man had been when he first arrived in Newark.

Robbie was the real estate agent who helped Brian find the building that now served as the office of the Newark Observer. Since then, Brian rarely had to see the man face-to-face. But that only meant the pang of grief was momentary. A death was still a death after all. “How?”

“All I know is it’s suspicious.” She shrugged. “Nothing else.”

Brian gestured toward a black Dodge Charger parked up the street. “I see he’s here already.”

“The chief? Yeah, he’s in there now. Want me to tell him you’re here?”

Brian gave a nod, and Stacy spoke into the radio mic attached to her shoulder. He flipped open the notebook, made a couple notations, and closed it again.

“He’ll be right out,” she said. “Word of warning. He’s not in the best of moods. He’s missing his grandson’s Little League game for this.”

“Thanks for the heads-up. Where’s Flanagan? Couldn’t he handle this?”

Stacy gestured toward the house. “He’s here, too, but you know how the chief is. He’s got to stick his nose into every investigation.” She looked over at the crowd, which had now grown to twelve people. “If you’ll excuse me . . .”

As Stacy strode off, Brian turned back to Andrew. The priest stared across the lawn at the Reynolds’ family home, arms hanging limp at his sides, his eyes wet and dull.

Brian touched the priest’s shoulder. “Andrew?”

“Man’s propensity to commit violence against another never ceases to amaze me.” Andrew slipped his hands into his trouser pockets and sighed. “You’ve probably seen that more than most people. How do you get used to it?”

Brian mulled over the remark.

A twenty-two-year journalism career had certainly shown him the darkest sides of human brutality. He’d covered two wars in the Middle East. Been at ground zero on 9/11. Reported on the violence between the drug cartels in South America. Then there were more natural disasters than he could remember. All for Time, Newsweek, and a dozen other magazines and newspapers. He’d seen more death than one man probably should. “You don’t,” he finally said.

Brian watched the black van from the county medical examiner’s office drive past and pull into the driveway. “Why are you here?”

Andrew rocked on the balls of his feet. “I’m just a chauffeur. Do you know Candice Miller, pastor at Trinity Episcopal Church? No?” He paused for a second; his lips thinned to a downward arch. “Remind me to introduce you. Anyway, we were meeting at the rectory for our weekly chess game.”

Brian knew of the church on the corner of Haines Street and Delaware Avenue, but he couldn’t recall ever meeting the pastor. He made a mental note to take Andrew up on his offer of an intro- duction. “You found a sucker who doesn’t mind losing all the time?” Andrew snorted with amusement. “We’re pretty evenly matched, thank you very much. We were just settling down to play when Candice got the call about Robbie. His wife called. They go to Candice’s church. I offered to drive her.”

“So, driving Ms. Miller?”

Andrew turned to look at the house. “You could say that.”

A flurry of activity outside the house caught Brian’s eye. Police chief Lyle Jenkins stepped from the house, paused at the base of the porch steps, then moved across the lawn toward Brian and An- drew with purposeful strides. A moment later, two additional people emerged from the house. Brian recognized Marissa Reynolds, but the woman with her was a stranger. She was petite with dark hair and wore a lavender windbreaker. The woman carried a small, bright-colored suitcase. She guided Marissa to a porch swing, and they sat together.

Brian was still studying the pair when Lyle Jenkins approached. The stout police chief—dressed in faded blue jeans and a gray polo—wore his holster and gun belt low on his waist. A gold badge hung from his neck on a silver chain and bounced off his chest. The touch of gray in his black hair was highlighted by his dark complexion. “Wilder, how did I know you’d show up here?” He held out his hand.

Brian returned the hardy handshake. “You going to give me a scoop? Or do I have to wait for the press conference?”

Lyle cocked his head. “How exclusive can you really be with that rag of yours?”

Brian snorted, knowing the chief had a point. The Newark Observer was a twice-weekly newspaper. Even if he was the first to a story, the larger news outlets would have covered it ad nauseam before the next issue of the Observer hit the streets.

“I hear its murder,” Brian said.

Andrew shook his head and made a tsk-tsk sound. “I believe the words used were ‘suspicious death.’”

“That’s all you’re getting at the moment,” Lyle said. He then leaned toward Brian, conspiratorially. “Off the record, Flanagan’s got his hands full with this one.” He glanced around, then hitched his thumb into his belt. “Where’s your sidekick?”

“Shooting a wedding.” Brian tapped the camera slung over his shoulder. “I’m on my own.”

A gray Chevy Malibu slowly pulled up to the entrance of the driveway. The driver seemed confused as to where to park, first attempting to pull into the driveway behind the medical examiner’s van. Then, thinking better of it, the driver backed up and drove past the house to park along the curb. An elderly woman climbed from the car and headed for the house. She was stopped at the end of the driveway by two police officers. Their conversation started cordially enough. But when it was clear the officers weren’t going to let her pass, she became more animated. Her arms flew in wild gestures, pointing at the house. From where he stood, Brian heard the woman’s voice grow louder as she became more frustrated.

“. . . daughter needs me! Don’t you have any sympathy for what’s happened here?” The woman placed her hands on her hips, almost as if she were daring the officer to stand in her way. Obviously, she was a force to be reckoned with. Brian took pity on the officer. It was probably not going to be a battle he would win.

“Grandma!”

The cry came from the front porch. Marissa leapt from the porch swing and ran down the steps. The grandmother pushed past the police officers and met her granddaughter halfway. They embraced, and Marissa appeared to break down into tears.

Lyle let out a gruff sigh and shook his head. “I need to take care of this.”

“Chief, I’d like to check on Candice, if you don’t mind,” An- drew said.

Lyle’s eyes tightened and his lips curled down. He pointed at the house. “That is a crime scene, not a social club.”

Andrew folded his arms. “Even the comforter needs to be comforted sometimes.”

Lyle allowed a loud sigh to slip from his lips—a clear sign of reluctant capitulation. “Fine. Come with me,” Lyle finally said. “You can go as far as the porch. But, stay out of the house, understand?” The police chief turned and started toward the house, Andrew just steps behind. Brian shrugged his shoulders and took a step forward to follow.

“Not you, Wilder,” said Lyle, without looking back.

***

Excerpt from None Without Sin by Michael Bradley. Copyright 2022 by Michael Bradley. Reproduced with permission from CamCat Books. All rights reserved.

Author Bio:

Michael Bradley

Michael Bradley is an award-winning author from Delaware. He spent eight years as a radio DJ “on the air” before realizing he needed a real job and turned to IT. Never one to waste an experience, he used his familiarity with life on the radio for many of his suspense novels. His third novel, Dead Air (2020), won the Foreword INDIES Award as well as the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award.

Catch Up With Michael Bradley:
www.MBradleyOnline.com
Goodreads
BookBub – @mjbradley88
Instagram – @mjbradley88
Twitter – @mjbradley88
Facebook – @mjbradley88

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GIVEAWAY:

This is a giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Tours for None Without Sin by Michael Bradley. See the widget for entry terms and conditions. Void where prohibited.
 

Doggone Dead

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Looking for a cozy mystery that takes place in the summertime? My third book in the Pecan Bayou Series, Doggone Dead, showcases a little town in Texas full of Fourth of July fun. There’s a beauty pageant, a pet parade, a fair, a runaway puppy, and a ghost who is Pecan Bayou PD’s person of interest in a murder.

I had a lot of fun writing this book, and found while researching I needed to watch You Tube videos of exploding port-a-potties. Pretty fascinating, if not disgusting. I also enjoyed writing Betsy as a beauty pageant judge, which I pulled from my own experience. Every time she turns a corner, she runs into tap dancing little girls with their hovering mothers. It wasn’t quite that bad for me, but wow, that’s a deep underbelly of glamour.

About the Book

Give me land lots of land….and a puppy on the loose. When Betsy Livingston’s puppy runs away, she has no idea it will lead her to a murder on a movie cowboy star’s estate. Not only has there been a murder, but the town reports sightings of the dead cowboy himself. He’s out to seek revenge on all who wronged his daughter who became the victim of her own money-loving butler. Enjoy a little time on the Fourth of July in the tiny town of Pecan Bayou, Texas where old cowboys never die...

I have to admit after my dear dog Hank died the year before I wrote this book and, I found myself watching Marley and Me over and over again.  The puppy in the book has all the great qualities Hank had except he never chewed the arm off of a leather couch. 

Excerpt: Doggone Dead
Zachary proudly took his new puppy’s leash out of the cabinet. I held our newest member of the family, Butch, a twelve-pound weimaraner. We opened the front door and stepped out into the smothering Texas heat of late June. Zach had received Butch for his tenth birthday after weeks of parental harassment. I had relented, finally, hoping that Zach was ready for the responsibility of a dog. He promised me on bended knee that he would feed him, bathe him and walk him.
“Zach, we need to be careful walking him. He’s so little, but he’s strong, so he can for sure wriggle out of that collar.” As if to illustrate my point, Butch started squirming as he felt the constraints of the collar and leash. He had used his entire weight to pull loose from the contraption.
“I know, mom. Don’t worry,” Zach reassured me, his voice reflecting the impatience he must have been feeling. He reached down and patted Butch on the head. “It’s okay, boy, we’re just going for a little walk.”
As we headed down the driveway, Butch immediately responded to the fresh air rushing around him, and he was spurred to freedom.
“Hold on tight, Zach.”
“I am. I am. He’s really pulling me hard. Slow down, boy!”
Zach, arm outstretched, reached the curb of our street. Butch, blissfully unaware of the dangers of cars, plowed out on to the road, pulling Zach along behind him.
I heard it before I saw it. The low rumble of an engine going at a high speed increased in volume as I spotted a shiny red Corvette coming around the corner. A young man, biceps bulging out of his black sleeveless T-shirt, was behind the wheel.
Zach was now in the middle of the street with Butch heading toward the other side. My heart exploded as I ran into the street directly into the path of the car, swooping up Zach and causing the two of us to fall into the grassy lawn of the neighborhood playground. As I felt my knees pound into the dirt, the horn blared from the car. Its owner had hit the power windows and yelled, “Keep your stupid kid out of the road!”
I jumped up ready to yell something back that wouldn’t be listed as an appropriate response by the parenting magazines when I heard Zach yell behind me.
“Mom! Butch got away!”
I turned back to Zach to see little Butch skittering through the sand under the swings and then hightailing it across the park to the other side.
There were two distinct sides to our little playground. Most of the homes on our side were three- or four-bedroom ranches, nice driveways, lawns cut by the owners and plenty of kids. The other side of the play area was a newer subdivision that had been built in the last ten years when Charlie Loper, a faded cowboy star, had sold off the land around his house in town. Even though he had acreage out in the country, the home in town became a storehouse for many of the props he used in the score of old-time Westerns he had starred in during the ’40s and ’50s.
Now that the subdivision had been built around the elegant structure, most of the houses on that side of the playground were two-story red brick, with short driveways and high mortgages. They were beautiful to walk through, and their manicured lawns, well-placed flowers and trees and fresh paint could be seen and envied from our side of the swing sets. Our newest family member was bound and determined to move up in the world and had headed for the shinier side of the street.
Zach and I ran after him, yelling out his name. I was amazed that anything with such short legs could move so darned fast. Butch zipped across the street on the other side of the park. I grabbed Zach by the shoulders, stopping him before he ran out into traffic for a second time.
“Look both ways!” I blurted.
Zach obediently jerked his head in both directions then up at me. I nodded back and we ran across the street together. Unfortunately, my bout of parenting gave the dog an even bigger head start on us. His little butt wiggled as his wagging tail seemed to propel him down the street. Butch looked all around, happy to be exploring. He came upon the biggest house in the neighborhood, the old Loper home, and shimmied under two giant wrought-iron gates that joined the large segments of gray brick walls surrounding the house.
“He went in the cowboy house!” shouted Zach.
“Butch!” I yelled out, now grasping the black curlicues of the gate.
“Butch! You get back over here. Bad dog. Bad dog!”
Butch, not feeling the guilt, went right on taking time to pee on the historic fountain, a bronze depiction of Charlie Loper on a bucking bronco with his six gun shooting into the air. Once he’d finished tagging the statue, he happily scampered around the back of the house.
I shook the gate, the sound of metal rattling in our ears. There was a black box with a speaker and a button near the bottom. I pushed the button.
“Hello?”
No answer.
I tried the latch on the gate. It was locked. God forbid someone from the other side of the park should get in to experience opulent cowboy luxury.
I hit the buzzer again. “Hello, is anyone in there? I’m sorry, but our dog just crawled under your fence.”
Again, no answer.
Zach now slid in front of me and pushed the speaker button. “Helllllllooooo …” He elongated his greeting as if yelling into an empty canyon. Feeling his approach might work, he repeated it.
The black box rustled. “May I help you?” a clipped British accent came over the airway. Not exactly the voice you would expect to hear while staring at a statue of a man on a bucking horse. Whoever this guy in the box was, he didn’t sound pleased we were pushing his button.
“Yes,” I answered. “Our puppy crawled under your front gate, and I’m afraid he’s running around on your grounds.”
Silence. I waited for around ten seconds until Zach pulled at my sleeve, urging me to push the button again.
“Are you there?” I asked. “Sir?”
More silence.
“Sir? Did you hear what I said? Our puppy has …”
“I heard you,” he cut me off.
“Have you seen him?”
“No. I have not. Please leave.”
I pushed the button, ignoring the black box’s command. “Are there any other ways out besides this gate?”
“I have not seen your puppy,” the increasingly perturbed voice said. “You are at the only entrance and exit of the estate. You must have been mistaken. Good day.”
We had been dismissed. Zach breathed in deep and exhaled with a cry. “Where’s Butch, Mom?”
“I don’t know, baby. Let’s walk down the block and call for him. Maybe he got out the other side somehow.”
“But the guy said …”
“I know what the guy said.” Upon looking at the grounds inside the fence a second time, I noticed overgrown foliage around the house. There was also a line of rust around the fountain. From the street all you could see was the fountain and paved area around it, but once you looked inside the gate, the façade of Hollywood elegance fell flat. The grass was too high, the shrubs looked like monsters from a second-rate horror movie, and there were no flowers. They might have an uptown butler, but the place was looking ragged.
“You know, there could be a hole in the fence somewhere,” I suggested. “We’ll check all through the neighborhood, okay, pal?”
“Okay.” Zach clutched the little blue leash with the empty collar to his chest. We called for Butch as we walked down the street. After a half hour with no luck, I knew we had to head home.
“What do you say we talk to Dr. Springer, the veterinarian? Maybe because Butch was a rescue he has a chip in him or something.”
“A rescue?”
“Uh … yep. That’s the case. A lot of little dogs need homes, and we were the ones for him.”
“Do you think he went back to his old home? Do you think he went to find his mom and dad?”
I was never sure if getting a dog was a good idea and had put Zach off for years. Now it was lost, and I would move heaven and earth to get it back. As we walked along, Zach talked about how the science of the microchips in dogs worked because obviously the older generation would know nothing of modern technology. As we crossed the street back toward the playground in front of the Loper estate, I heard something. Something faint.
It sounded like a tiny whimper.
I turned around as Zach ran to the swings to jump on. Could I have mistaken it for something else? I tried to isolate the sound. Zach called to me from across the park.
“Mom? Come push me.” Zach stopped pushing his toes into the ground and stood up in front of the swing. “Do you see Butch?”
“I don’t know. I thought I heard something.”
 “Was it Butch?”
My eyes scanned the estate and up and down the street. The whimper seemed to have faded. My neighbor’s dog barked on our side of the park. That must have been what I’d been hearing.
“No, I guess not. We’ll head over to Dr. Springer’s office.”
“Can we go right now?” he urged.
“Sure,” I said, glancing back. The cowboy on top of the fountain looked back at us blankly. Who lived in that house? Charlie Loper was long dead, and I wasn’t really sure who lived there now. He had been known as the best shot in the West and the best tenor in Texas. Did his widow still live there? She would have to be pretty old by now. I hadn’t really thought about it. I would have to ask Maggie. Whoever it was, they didn’t hit the town haunts like the beauty parlor or the barbecue joint. Why live in a town if you never left your own house? I also would have picked up on a guy with a British accent shopping at the grocery store or ordering at the counter of Earl’s Java.
That gray brick wall had effectively shut the rest of us out. Why did anyone need that much privacy? It wasn’t exactly as if the dead Charlie had any groupies.
“Mom? Let’s go.” Zach pulled at my arm. “We have to get Butch back.”

I looked back one last time to see an upstairs light come on in the Loper estate as the afternoon sun was fading.

Would you like to read this book? You can purchase Doggone Dead through my book page or you can click on the banner below and join my mailing list through this month’s Cozy Mystery Tribe Giveaway and get it for FREE.

Wolf Bog

Wolf Bog by Leslie Wheeler Banner

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Dry enough for you? In Wolf Bog, a lake dries up with a summer drought, and being a mystery, you know what they find! Leslie Wheeler brings us the third book in her Berkshire Hilltown Mystery Series, so let’s go on a hike with her main character Kathryn Stinson. Who knows what might turn up?

Be sure to enter the giveaway below!

 

Synopsis:

Wolf Bog by Leslie Wheeler

It’s August in the Berkshires, and the area is suffering from a terrible drought. As wetlands dry up, the perfectly preserved body of a local man, missing for forty years, is discovered in Wolf Bog by a group of hikers that includes Kathryn Stinson. Who was he and what was his relationship with close friend Charlotte Hinckley, also on the hike, that would make Charlotte become distraught and blame herself for his death? Kathryn’s search for answers leads her to the discovery of fabulous parties held at the mansion up the hill from her rental house, where local teenagers like the deceased mingled with the offspring of the wealthy. Other questions dog the arrival of a woman claiming to be the daughter Charlotte gave up for adoption long ago. But is she really Charlotte’s daughter, and if not, what’s her game? Once again, Kathryn’s quest for the truth puts her in grave danger.

Praise for Wolf Bog:

“Wheeler’s deep sense of place—the Berkshires—illuminates a deftly woven plot and a quirky cast of characters that will keep you glued to the pages until the last stunning revelation. It’s always a pleasure to be in the hands of a pro.”

Kate Flora, Edgar and Anthony nominated author

“When a long-lost teenager turns up dead, a cold case turns into hot murder. A deliciously intriguing Berkshire mystery.”

Sarah Smith, Agatha Award-winning author
of The Vanished Child and Crimes and Survivors

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery/Amateur Sleuth/Suspense
Published by: Encircle Publishing
Publication Date: July 6, 2022
Number of Pages: 336
ISBN: 164599385X (ISBN-13: 978-1645993858)
Series: A Berkshire Hilltown Mystery, #3
Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Read an excerpt:

Charlotte’s brow furrowed as she stared at the bog. “There’s something down there. A dead animal or…?” She raised her binoculars to get a better look.

“Where?” Wally asked. She pointed to a spot on the peat at the edge of the water. Wally had barely lifted his binoculars when Charlotte cried, “Oh, my God, it’s a body!” And took off toward it.

“No, don’t go there!” Wally grabbed at her, but she eluded him. When Charlotte was almost to the body−−if that’s what it was−−she began to sink into the bog. She waved her arms and twisted her legs, trying desperately to get out, but her struggles only made her sink deeper.

Kathryn’s heart seized. They had to rescue Charlotte, but how without getting stuck themselves? Brushing past Wally, Steve started down the slope. Wally caught him, pulled him back, and handed him over to Hal Phelps. “You stay put. Everyone else, too. I’ve had experience hiking around this bog, and I think I can get her out. Stop struggling and try to keep calm,” he called down to Charlotte. “Help is on the way.”

Wally made his way carefully to where Charlotte stood, caught in the mire. He tested each step before putting his full weight on it, backtracking when he deemed the ground too soft. When he was a few yards away, he stopped.

“This is as far as I can safely come,” he told Charlotte. He extended his hiking pole and she grabbed it. Then, on his instructions, she slowly and with great effort lifted first one leg, then the other out of the muck and onto the ground behind her. Wally guided her back to the others, following the same zigzag pattern he’d made when descending. Charlotte went with him reluctantly. She kept glancing back over her shoulder at what she’d seen at the water’s edge.

Kathryn trained her binoculars on that spot. Gradually an image came into focus. A body was embedded in the peat. The skin was a dark, reddish brown, but otherwise, it was perfectly preserved. Bile rose in her throat.

Charlotte moved close to Kathryn. “You see him, don’t you?” Her face was white, her eyes wide and staring.

“See who?” Wally demanded.

“Denny,” Charlotte said. “You must’ve seen him, too.”

“I saw something that appears to be a body, but–” Wally said.

“So there really is a dead person down there?” Betty asked.

“It looks that way,” Wally said grimly. “But let’s not panic. I’m going to try to reach Chief Lapsley, though I doubt I’ll get reception here. We’ll probably have to leave the area before I can.”

“We can’t just leave Denny here to die,” Charlotte wailed.

“Charlotte,” Wally said with a pained expression, “whoever is down there is already dead.”

She flinched, as if he’d slapped her across the face. “No! I’m telling you Denny’s alive.” She glared at him, then her defiant expression changed to one of uncertainty. “Dead or alive, I’m to blame. I’m staying here with him.”

***

Excerpt from Wolf Bog by Leslie Wheeler. Copyright 2022 by Leslie Wheeler. Reproduced with permission from Leslie Wheeler. All rights reserved.

Author Bio:

Leslie Wheeler

An award-winning author of books about American history and biographies, Leslie Wheeler has written two mystery series. Her Berkshire Hilltown Mysteries launched with Rattlesnake Hill and continue with Shuntoll Road and Wolf Bog. Her Miranda Lewis Living History Mysteries debuted with Murder at Plimoth Plantation and continue with Murder at Gettysburg and Murder at Spouters Point. Her mystery short stories have appeared in numerous anthologies. Leslie is a member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime, and a founding member of the New England Crime Bake Committee. She divides her time between Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the Berkshires, where she writes in a house overlooking a pond.

Catch Up With Leslie:
www.LeslieWheeler.com
Goodreads
BookBub – @lesliewheeler1
Twitter – @Leslie_Wheeler
Facebook – @LeslieWheelerAuthor

ENTER TO WIN:

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Double Dipped

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Time to load up the car and head to a little town from your childhood. Retta has just packed up her classroom and can’t decide whether or not to sign a contract for the next year. What to do? Retta is at odds with life. She returns to Moon Lake, her summer haven, to find things have changed and not for the better. Double Dipped is a novella by Terry Korth Fischer in eBook and audiobook and a great vacation read!

Oh, and I’ll take a scoop of rocky road and another of French vanilla, Terry.

About Double Dipped

Accepting second best is good for her career, but first-grade teacher, Retta Curt, delays signing up for the disappointment. Given two weeks to consider her contract, she retreats to Gram’s cottage on Moon Lake, the last place she felt contentment. But the cottage is derelict; Cousin Julie, distant; childhood beaux, Dean, bitter; and Sweet Picks, the family ice cream stand, in danger of folding. A surly newcomer is buying and then running down properties until nothing remains of the idyllic lakeside community she remembers. When vandals target Sweet Picks, Retta’s dreams to recapture her happy childhood collapse, and the return to Moon Lake becomes a decision worse than accepting her teaching contract. Disheartened. Star-crossed. Can Retta save the family business and rediscover happiness, or is she destined for a second-best future?

Buy Links: Amazon Barnes & Noble Apple

Listen to an Excerpt from the Audiobook

Buy Links: Amazon Barnes & Noble Apple

My Review

Retta has returned to her childhood vacation spots at moon lake as she considers whether to sign a teaching contract. She finds things have changed and not for the better. Her grandmother’s cottage is in disrepair and her teenage crush is a man who life has kicked around. I loved this story because it took the returning home vibe you so often see in Hallmark movies, but showed the disillusionment of reality. Don’t worry, this is a positive tale of hope, friendship and family. Don’t miss the cute long-haired dachshund named Herman.

RIP my sweet Martin! I thought of you while I read this book!

About the Author

Terry Korth Fischer writes short stories, memoirs, and mysteries. Transplanted from the Midwest, Terry lives in Houston, Texas. When not writing, she loves reading, frolicking with the kittens, and basking in the sunshine. Yet, her heart often wanders to the country’s heartland, where she spent a memorable—ordinary but charmed—childhood. Learn more about Terry at her author website: https://terrykorthfischer.com

Author Links:

Website: https://terrykorthfischer.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/terryiswriting

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TerryIsWriting

Amazon Author Page: www.amazon.com/author/terrykorthfischer

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/14349440.Terry_Korth_Fischer

BookBub: https://www.bookbub.com/profile/terry-korth-fischer

Newsletter: https://tinyletter.com/TerryKorthFischer

None Without Sin

I’ve always been a big fan of shows like Father Brown and Father Dowling, but move over boys, because now we have Reverend Candace Miller teaming up with journalist Brian Wilder in Michael Bradley’s latest mystery, None Without Sin.  What is it about the mix of faith and trying to get the bad guy? Every time Detective Murdoch crosses himself when he finds a body, I find myself nodding at the tv. Read more about None Without Sin below, including a wonderful excerpt. Don’t forget to enter Michael’s giveaway!

 

About the Book

 

None Without Sin by Michael Bradley

 

Be sure your sin won’t find you out.

 

When a Delaware real estate mogul is murdered, newspaper journalist Brian Wilder wants the scoop on the killing, including the meaning behind the mysterious loaf of bread left with the corpse. Reverend Candice Miller, called to minister to the grieving family, quickly realizes that the killer has adopted the symbolism of sin eating, a Victorian-era religious ritual, as a calling card. Is it the work of a religious fanatic set to punish people for their missteps, or something even more sinister?

As more victims fall, Brian and Candice follow a trail of deceit and blackmail, hoping to discover the identity of the killer—and praying that their own sins won’t catch the killer’s attention.

“Loaded with twists, Bradley’s vibrant and gripping thriller will make readers eager for more.”
—August Norman, author of Sins of the Mother

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery
Published by: CamCat Books
Publication Date: August 2, 2022
Number of Pages: 400
ISBN: 0744305950 (ISBN13: 9780744305951)
Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads | CamCat Books

Read an excerpt:

SATURDAY

CHAPTER 1

The loaf of brown bread looked distinctly out of place resting on the dead man’s chest, leaving Candice Miller to wonder if all crime scenes contained such incongruities. She expected blood. Yellow police tape? Definitely. But baked goods? This seemed outrageous even for the most imaginative of minds. Yet, there it was, reminding her of the artisan bread she would get at the steakhouse near the mall. Never going to eat there again, she thought.

The scene was not gory, at least not to the degree she had expected. What blood there was had pooled around the man’s sternum and left a crimson stain on the front of his white Oxford shirt. The round loaf of bread was split down the middle, and the bottom of each half soaked up enough plasma to darken the crust to almost pitch-black. The corpse of Robbie Reynolds was stretched out on a black leather sofa along the far wall. His face—which was turned toward the door—was pale and lifeless. His vacant eyes stared at her from across the room. A sensation like a cold finger touched the back of her neck for one brief second.

Everything else looked normal. The pool table in the center of the room showed signs of a game in progress, with balls scattered across the green felt. A cue lay nearby on the plush beige carpet, as if it had been dropped on the floor by the dead man. Otherwise, there was no sign of violence. If not for the blood, Candice might have thought Robbie was just napping.

Chief Lyle Jenkins nudged her away from the doorway. “Down here, Reverend.” The police chief moved between her and the door—presumably to block her view—and then gestured toward an archway a few steps down the hall.

Candice took one last glance at the dead man. She should have felt a sense of revulsion or been horrified by her first murder scene. But there was only a sense of curiosity, of wonder. Who killed him? Why leave behind a loaf of bread?

She stepped from the door and moved along the hall in the direction the police chief had indicated. “Such a shame.”

“That’s life,” Lyle said, his voice deep and brusque.

Her jaw tightened with his words. His callousness angered her, but she knew Lyle Jenkins had a reputation of being an unfeeling hard-ass. She refused to be goaded by his insensitivity and tried to ignore his remark.

She passed through the archway across the hall into the sprawling living room. The early afternoon sun blazed through high windows, bathing everything in a warm light. Detective Mick Flanagan stood beside a stone fireplace opposite the archway. His ginger hair was tussled, his clothing wrinkled, as if he had dressed haphazardly before rushing to the crime scene. A silver badge dangled on a thin chain from his neck. He smiled momentarily, then his lips sank back into grave frown. He crossed the room to greet Candice.

“How is Andrea?” she asked.

“Not good.” Mick ran his hand through his hair. “Thanks for coming.”

Chief Jenkins leaned in and asked, “Did she say anything yet?” “Nothing new,” Mick said. “Just what she told you earlier.”

Candice touched Mick’s shoulder. “Let me talk to her. She needs comfort, not questions.”

The police chief grunted. “That’s all fine and dandy, but we’ve got a crime scene to process. The sooner we can get the family out of here the better.” He turned abruptly and walked from the room.

Mick rubbed the back of his neck. “Sorry about that.” Candice rolled her eyes and shook her head. “What happened?”

He shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine. She found the body when she came home an hour ago. That’s all she told us.”

“I can’t understand why anyone would want to kill him.” This seemed like the right thing to say about a murder victim, but Can- dice knew Robbie Reynolds well enough to know he wasn’t with- out his secrets. In a small city like Newark, rumors were always easy to find.

“He helped my wife and I buy our first home,” Mick said.

“Give me a few minutes with her.”

Candice moved to the long Chesterfield sofa facing the fire- place. Its tan leather was cracked and worn. Andrea Reynolds sat with her head bowed; her shoulders quaking with each sob. Long ash brown hair fell forward and obscured her face from view.

Andrea clutched a balled-up tissue in her hand. She didn’t seem to notice Candice’s arrival.

Seated at the opposite end of the sofa was Marissa, the Reynolds’ pre-teen daughter. Her hands were folded in her lap, and her eyes held a blank stare. The girl’s blonde hair looked shorter than it had on Sunday. Must have got a haircut this week. The Reynolds family always sat in the front row during Sunday service, and it was hard to miss the beaming smile on Marissa’s face. The ten-year-old girl had pushed herself as far into the corner of the sofa as possible, as if trying to escape the horror around her. Marissa glanced up at Candice, then dropped her eyes to the floor.

Candice approached the sofa and took a seat next to Andrea. She wrapped her arm around the shoulders of the grieving woman, who glanced up to give Candice a feeble smile. Bloodshot eyes bore witness to her anguish.

“Oh, Candice.” Andrea sniffed, then wiped her nose with the tissue. “Who would do this?” Her voice was broken and soft.

Candice stared at her for a long moment, searching for the right words. Despite her time at seminary and her short experience as an Episcopalian priest, she’d always struggled with providing comfort to grieving families in the wake of a loss. Her words seemed inadequate, even trite. There was nothing she could say that wouldn’t sound like a cliché, like some canned response to grief. “Time heals all wounds.” “He’s in a better place.” “God will get you through this.” That last one, in particular, had been a source of contention for her lately.

“Andrea, I know it may not seem like it right now, but this pain will pass,” Candice said, cringing within as she spoke.

Andrea broke into an uncontrolled sob and buried her face in Candice’s shoulder. As the woman cried, Candice glanced at Mick.

He rolled his eyes and folded his arms as a faint sigh slipped from his lips. She suppressed a semi-panicked urge to giggle. Five years on the force, and he gets more like Chief Jenkins every day. Then, after a further moment’s thought, she caught the irony and chastised herself for her own callousness.

The seemingly endless stream of Andrea’s tears dampened the collar of Candice’s blouse. When she lifted her head, the woman blotted at her swollen eyes with a tissue. Her face was red and blotchy, with a network of little purple veins on her nose.

“Mick needs to ask you some questions,” Candice said. “Do you feel up to talking?”

Andrea blew her nose on the tissue. “I think so.”

Candice took hold of Andrea’s hand and squeezed it. “I’ll be right here beside you.”

Mick mouthed a silent “thank you” to Candice, and then said, “Andrea, I know this is a difficult time for you, but the sooner you can tell me what happened—”

Andrea cut him off. “We’d gone up to New York City yester- day.” She gestured to her daughter at the other end of the sofa. “A girls’ night out.”

Andrea dabbed once again at her eyes with a tissue to wipe away fresh tears. “Marissa and I took the train up to see a Broadway show. We had dinner before the show and stayed the night at a hotel on Time Square.”

“When did you return home?” Mick asked.

“About an hour ago,” Andrea replied. “We’d planned to be home earlier, but the train was running late.”

Candice toyed with a hangnail on her right ring finger.

She felt a flutter of guilt for not saying or doing more. But, how to behave at a crime scene had not been part of the curriculum at seminary. First murder scene and I didn’t even pray with the widow. Way to go.

She looked toward Marissa. The young girl—wearing pale blue jeans with sequins in the shape of a flower on the right pant leg— hadn’t moved. She looked distant and afraid. Very different from the affable, high-spirited preteen Candice was used to seeing on Sundays. It seemed as if everyone had forgotten Marissa was even in the room. This was not the type of conversation the girl should hear.

“Sorry to interrupt,” Candice said. “What about Marissa? Does she need to be here?”

At the mention of her name, Marissa looked up at them. Her eyes were wide.

“Until we’ve cleared the crime scene, you won’t be able to stay in the house,” Mick said to Andrea. “Do you have someplace the two of you can go?”

Andrea toyed with the tissue in her hand. The flimsy material was creased and shredded. “We can stay at my mother’s house.” She gestured toward Candice. “I called her right after I called you. She can take care of Marissa while I . . .” Her words drifted off.

Candice rose from the sofa. “Why don’t I take Marissa upstairs and help her get a bag packed? You can stay here. Talk to Mick. Do what you need to do.”

Andrea stared at her for a moment. Her eyes welled with tears, and she reached out her hand. “Thank you.”

Candice smiled, took the woman’s hand, and gave it a reassuring squeeze. “Will you be okay?”

“Yeah.” There was some hesitation in Andrea’s voice.

Candice walked to the other side of the sofa and knelt before the young girl. “Marissa, how about you come with me? We’ll go up to your room and pack your suitcase. You’re going to spend a few days at Grandma’s house.”

Marissa didn’t move at first.

“Sweetie, go with Pastor Miller,” Andrea said.

After a brief glance at her mother, the young girl slipped from the sofa. Candice took the girl’s hand and led her from the room. As they moved down the hall toward the stairs, Candice glanced back at the doorway of the room where Robbie Reynolds lay dead. The blood-soaked loaf of bread resurfaced in her memory. That was downright odd. Why would someone leave a loaf of bread on a dead man’s chest? Yet, the concept seemed eerily familiar some- how. A distant memory she couldn’t quite reach.

***

The girl’s bedroom looked as if every Disney princess movie had detonated within it. Movie posters from Moana, Frozen, and Tangled hung on the walls. Images from Beauty and the Beast covered the comforter on the twin bed. Small statuettes of the seven dwarfs lined the top of the nearby bookshelf. Candice hadn’t been to Disney World, but she imagined this was what almost every gift shop in the park might look like.

Marissa crossed the room and sat on the bed; her head bowed, staring at her feet. She bit her bottom lip and said nothing. Can- dice reached over and put her arm around Marissa’s shoulders.

The young girl looked up at Candice. Her blue eyes were puffy and bloodshot. “Is Daddy okay?”

The question shocked Candice and left her reeling for an answer. How could Marissa not know her father was dead? Wasn’t she in the house when Andrea discovered the body? Candice struggled to find the right words. Talking with children had never been her strength. As an only child, she had never had a younger sibling to bond with. Never learned the art of relating to adolescents. Her jaw tightened at the idea of being the harbinger of tragic news. “Let’s not worry about that. Let’s pack a few things and get you outside. Your grandma will be here soon.”

Marissa didn’t move, just turned her gaze to the floor and stared. “I saw the blood. Mommy doesn’t think I saw it, but I did.” “You saw it?” Candice bit her bottom lip. She’s going to need years of therapy.

The girl nodded. “She told me not to look, but I did.” There was a pause. “Is Daddy dead?”

Candice pulled the girl closer, giving her a comforting squeeze. Marissa stared up at her. A young life untouched by tragedy . . . until now. As much as she wanted to, Candice knew she couldn’t shirk this responsibility. “Yes. Your father’s dead.”

She waited for the girl to break down. To burst into tears. To kick and scream. To run from the room. But nothing happened. Marissa was silent. Her big eyes filled with sadness; her mouth curled down in a frown. But her grief seemed subdued, almost con- trolled, as if the girl had already come to terms with her father’s death. Candice touched the girl’s arm. “Let’s pack up a few things. Do you have a bag?”

Marissa nodded, then climbed from the bed and drew a small Cinderella suitcase from beneath it. She set it on the bed and flipped open the top.

“Pick out some clothes for an overnight stay,” Candice said. “Make that a few days’ stay.”

Marissa wandered over to the nearby dresser and pulled open the top drawer. The young girl picked through her clothes as if having trouble deciding what to take. Candice allowed her gaze to drift to the end table. A paperback rested face down next to the Little Mermaid bedside lamp. She turned it over and read the title. It was a Nancy Drew mystery. She smiled. The Mystery at Lilac Inn. I remember that one, she thought. Ghostly apparitions. A stolen inheritance. No murder. Just one in a series of stories that always come with a happy ending. No one gets hurt and the world is perfect on the last page. When she set the book back down on the bedside table, a glint from the nearby bookshelf caught her eye. She spied a small crystal statuette of an angel sitting on the second shelf. Her pulse quickened for an instant.

With the suitcase packed, Candice led the girl from the bed- room and down the stairs. A uniformed police officer waited at the bottom. Two overlapping sheets of plastic had been hung over the doorway leading into the “death” room. The sheets were attached along the edges of the doorframe with yellow tape. Blurred shapes and figures were all that could be seen through the semi-trans- parent plastic. Candice was grateful Marissa would be spared any further horror. She nodded at the officer, then led Marissa out of the house and into the afternoon sun.

CHAPTER 2

Brian Wilder downshifted and halted for the traffic light at the bottom of the off-ramp. His two-hour drive along Delaware’s beach expressway from Rehoboth Beach had been a blur. The Friday night birthday party had gone into the early hours of the morning, forcing him to crash on the couch of Chris Carson, the birthday boy himself.

Amber Fox, morning host at WREB-FM, had thrown a surprise birthday party for her co-host, Chris. Brian had the dubious responsibility of getting him to the Mexican restaurant for the par- ty. He never realized how difficult it would be to keep a surprise from a blind man. They’d only just stepped across the restaurant’s threshold when Chris leaned toward Brian to ask how many people were waiting in the back room for them. It wasn’t until later in the evening that Chris explained how he knew.

“Did someone let slip about the party?” Brian had asked.

Chris shook his head. “Not at all. It was a perfectly planned surprise party.”

“But, how—”

“How did I know?” said Chris. “Do you remember the loud music playing when we entered the restaurant?”

“Yeah, but what’s—”

“What about the soccer game on the bar TV?” “No . . .”

Chris smiled. “And the woman at the bar nagging her husband about his drinking?”

Brian shook his head. “Nope.”

“Then, you probably didn’t hear Amber in the back room trying to shush everyone when we arrived.”

“No.” Brian sighed. “Can’t say I did.”

He had known Chris Carson for years before the accident that robbed the radio DJ of his sight. Chris was just as much a smart-ass now as he had been then. Perhaps more so.

When the light changed, Brian turned left, heading toward downtown Newark. The fifty-plus-year-old car roared up the street and brought a smile to his face. The candy apple–red Mustang was one of the few luxuries he allowed himself. Brian was meticulous in his care and maintenance of the Mustang. If only he’d put that level of care into his relationship with Allison, his daughter. A sense of guilt washed over him.

He glanced at his mobile phone on the passenger seat. He toyed with the idea of calling her, but their last call had ended in a fierce argument, just like so many others. No point in upsetting her weekend, he thought.

The car raced across an overpass. Northbound traffic on the interstate below was backed up, creeping along. Early beachgoers on their way to the Jersey shore. Although the morning was windy, the weekend was shaping up to be the first nice one of the month. Rain, cold temperatures, and the occasional snow flurry had made the first two weeks of March less than pleasant. This third week— with temps in the mid-sixties—seemed to be the trigger for every- one to emerge from a self-induced winter hibernation.

As he glided past a slow-moving U-Haul, his mobile phone rang. He slipped the hands-free earpiece into his ear and pressed the button to answer.

“Yo Brian, where are you?” Jessica O’Rourke asked. The part- time newspaper photographer spoke quickly; her young throaty voice full of excitement.

“Just got off the highway,” he said. “Maybe ten minutes out.

Why?”

“The police scanner’s blowing up. Something’s rotten in New- ark. Cops and paramedics have converged on Annabelle Street. Sounds serious,” she said, her words coming out in rapid fire.

Brian narrowed his eyes. Annabelle Street was in a select neighborhood on the north side of Newark. Half-million-dollar houses. Land Rovers and Mercedes in driveways. The mayor had a house in the neighborhood. So did the dean of Northern Delaware University. “Thanks for the tip.”

“Look,” said Jessica, a hint of hesitation in her voice. “I’ve got a wedding to shoot in three hours. I can’t meet you there.”

Brian smiled. “No worries. I’ve got my camera in the trunk.” His years as a journalist had taught him to be flexible, often taking photos for his own articles. A photographer by his side was a luxury he’d learned to do without. His pictures would never be as good as Jessica’s, but they’d be just fine for the newspaper. “You can criticize my picture-taking skills later.”

“How was the party?” she asked.

Heavy traffic slowed Brian’s approach into the city of Newark. He braked as the line of cars ahead came to a crawl. “You missed a good time.” He thought again about the previous night. “Chris was disappointed you weren’t there.”

She sighed. Chris Carson’s “crush” on Jessica was public knowledge—as was her unwillingness to be tied down in any relationship. “He’ll get over it,” she said.

Brian laughed. “Go to the wedding. Enjoy yourself.”

***

Three police cars were parked in front of a house on Annabelle Street, and an ambulance was backed into the driveway. Brian parked the Mustang along the curb a few houses up the block. Be- fore climbing from the car, he reached into the glovebox and dug out a spiral notebook and a pen. From the trunk, he grabbed a black camera bag and slung it over his shoulder.

As he walked along the sidewalk, he noticed a small crowd of onlookers across the street. The house at the center of everyone’s attention was a modern take on a classic Victorian. A police officer leaned on the white railing of the wraparound porch. A two-story turret rose high above the house, black shingles covering its peak. The white siding was bright in the afternoon sun. Brian recognized the house.

It belonged to Robbie Reynolds.

He sifted through a mental dossier of the man. Robbie Reynolds. Mid-forties. Married with one child. Wife’s name is Andrea. Born and raised in Delaware. Attended and dropped out of North- ern Delaware University. Local real estate agent. No, local real estate mogul. Self-proclaimed “king of Newark real estate.”

The facts came readily to mind, as did the rumors. Egotist.

Gambler. Womanizer.

As Brian approached a nearby police car, he was surprised to find Father Andrew Blake in conversation with Sergeant Stacy Devonport. The priest’s black hair was peppered with specks of gray; a few strands above his forehead waved with the afternoon breeze. He wore his customary black tab collar shirt and slacks. A black jacket hung awkwardly from Andrew’s gaunt frame, looking like it was a size too big. The priest’s presence was puzzling. As far as Brian knew, the Reynolds family wasn’t Catholic.

Stacy shook Brian’s hand and smiled. “I bet I can guess what brings you here.”

“Same reason that brought you.” He turned to Andrew. “I’m surprised. I don’t recall ever seeing the Reynolds at St. Matthews.”

“How would you know, Brian?” Andrew folded his arms and tilted his head to the side. “You’re not exactly a regular attendee at Sunday Mass.”

Stacy laughed at the priest’s rebuke. “He’s got you there.”

Brian shrugged off their remarks. “I’ve been busy.” It was easier to lie than try to explain why he’d not been to church in a while. He gestured toward the house. “What’s going on, Stacy? Why the heavy police presence?”

“I can’t tell you much.” She rested the roll of crime scene tape on the trunk of the police car. “I’ve been relegated to crowd control. Haven’t been inside.”

Brian glanced at the crowd across the street. Ten, maybe eleven people. “Yeah. I see you’ve got your work cut out for you.”

Stacy folded her arms. “Hey, if that throng gets out of hand—”

“That’s a throng?” Brian raised an eyebrow. He let the moment linger before straightening up and narrowing his eyes. “Seriously, what’s going on?”

“Suspicious death.” Stacy turned her gaze toward the house, then back at Brian. “Robbie.”

A slight heaviness pressed down on his shoulders. Brian’s dealings with the real estate agent were infrequent and always all business. Robbie ran a weekly half-page ad in the Monday edition in the newspaper, but often sent it, along with a check, in the mail. Brian’s only other dealings with the man had been when he first arrived in Newark.

Robbie was the real estate agent who helped Brian find the building that now served as the office of the Newark Observer. Since then, Brian rarely had to see the man face-to-face. But that only meant the pang of grief was momentary. A death was still a death after all. “How?”

“All I know is it’s suspicious.” She shrugged. “Nothing else.”

Brian gestured toward a black Dodge Charger parked up the street. “I see he’s here already.”

“The chief? Yeah, he’s in there now. Want me to tell him you’re here?”

Brian gave a nod, and Stacy spoke into the radio mic attached to her shoulder. He flipped open the notebook, made a couple notations, and closed it again.

“He’ll be right out,” she said. “Word of warning. He’s not in the best of moods. He’s missing his grandson’s Little League game for this.”

“Thanks for the heads-up. Where’s Flanagan? Couldn’t he handle this?”

Stacy gestured toward the house. “He’s here, too, but you know how the chief is. He’s got to stick his nose into every investigation.” She looked over at the crowd, which had now grown to twelve people. “If you’ll excuse me . . .”

As Stacy strode off, Brian turned back to Andrew. The priest stared across the lawn at the Reynolds’ family home, arms hanging limp at his sides, his eyes wet and dull.

Brian touched the priest’s shoulder. “Andrew?”

“Man’s propensity to commit violence against another never ceases to amaze me.” Andrew slipped his hands into his trouser pockets and sighed. “You’ve probably seen that more than most people. How do you get used to it?”

Brian mulled over the remark.

A twenty-two-year journalism career had certainly shown him the darkest sides of human brutality. He’d covered two wars in the Middle East. Been at ground zero on 9/11. Reported on the violence between the drug cartels in South America. Then there were more natural disasters than he could remember. All for Time, Newsweek, and a dozen other magazines and newspapers. He’d seen more death than one man probably should. “You don’t,” he finally said.

Brian watched the black van from the county medical examiner’s office drive past and pull into the driveway. “Why are you here?”

Andrew rocked on the balls of his feet. “I’m just a chauffeur. Do you know Candice Miller, pastor at Trinity Episcopal Church? No?” He paused for a second; his lips thinned to a downward arch. “Remind me to introduce you. Anyway, we were meeting at the rectory for our weekly chess game.”

Brian knew of the church on the corner of Haines Street and Delaware Avenue, but he couldn’t recall ever meeting the pastor. He made a mental note to take Andrew up on his offer of an intro- duction. “You found a sucker who doesn’t mind losing all the time?” Andrew snorted with amusement. “We’re pretty evenly matched, thank you very much. We were just settling down to play when Candice got the call about Robbie. His wife called. They go to Candice’s church. I offered to drive her.”

“So, driving Ms. Miller?”

Andrew turned to look at the house. “You could say that.”

A flurry of activity outside the house caught Brian’s eye. Police chief Lyle Jenkins stepped from the house, paused at the base of the porch steps, then moved across the lawn toward Brian and An- drew with purposeful strides. A moment later, two additional people emerged from the house. Brian recognized Marissa Reynolds, but the woman with her was a stranger. She was petite with dark hair and wore a lavender windbreaker. The woman carried a small, bright-colored suitcase. She guided Marissa to a porch swing, and they sat together.

Brian was still studying the pair when Lyle Jenkins approached. The stout police chief—dressed in faded blue jeans and a gray polo—wore his holster and gun belt low on his waist. A gold badge hung from his neck on a silver chain and bounced off his chest. The touch of gray in his black hair was highlighted by his dark complexion. “Wilder, how did I know you’d show up here?” He held out his hand.

Brian returned the hardy handshake. “You going to give me a scoop? Or do I have to wait for the press conference?”

Lyle cocked his head. “How exclusive can you really be with that rag of yours?”

Brian snorted, knowing the chief had a point. The Newark Observer was a twice-weekly newspaper. Even if he was the first to a story, the larger news outlets would have covered it ad nauseam before the next issue of the Observer hit the streets.

“I hear its murder,” Brian said.

Andrew shook his head and made a tsk-tsk sound. “I believe the words used were ‘suspicious death.’”

“That’s all you’re getting at the moment,” Lyle said. He then leaned toward Brian, conspiratorially. “Off the record, Flanagan’s got his hands full with this one.” He glanced around, then hitched his thumb into his belt. “Where’s your sidekick?”

“Shooting a wedding.” Brian tapped the camera slung over his shoulder. “I’m on my own.”

A gray Chevy Malibu slowly pulled up to the entrance of the driveway. The driver seemed confused as to where to park, first attempting to pull into the driveway behind the medical examiner’s van. Then, thinking better of it, the driver backed up and drove past the house to park along the curb. An elderly woman climbed from the car and headed for the house. She was stopped at the end of the driveway by two police officers. Their conversation started cordially enough. But when it was clear the officers weren’t going to let her pass, she became more animated. Her arms flew in wild gestures, pointing at the house. From where he stood, Brian heard the woman’s voice grow louder as she became more frustrated.

“. . . daughter needs me! Don’t you have any sympathy for what’s happened here?” The woman placed her hands on her hips, almost as if she were daring the officer to stand in her way. Obviously, she was a force to be reckoned with. Brian took pity on the officer. It was probably not going to be a battle he would win.

“Grandma!”

The cry came from the front porch. Marissa leapt from the porch swing and ran down the steps. The grandmother pushed past the police officers and met her granddaughter halfway. They embraced, and Marissa appeared to break down into tears.

Lyle let out a gruff sigh and shook his head. “I need to take care of this.”

“Chief, I’d like to check on Candice, if you don’t mind,” An- drew said.

Lyle’s eyes tightened and his lips curled down. He pointed at the house. “That is a crime scene, not a social club.”

Andrew folded his arms. “Even the comforter needs to be comforted sometimes.”

Lyle allowed a loud sigh to slip from his lips—a clear sign of reluctant capitulation. “Fine. Come with me,” Lyle finally said. “You can go as far as the porch. But, stay out of the house, understand?” The police chief turned and started toward the house, Andrew just steps behind. Brian shrugged his shoulders and took a step forward to follow.

“Not you, Wilder,” said Lyle, without looking back.

***

Excerpt from None Without Sin by Michael Bradley. Copyright 2022 by Michael Bradley. Reproduced with permission from CamCat Books. All rights reserved.

Author Bio:

Michael Bradley

Michael Bradley is an award-winning author from Delaware. He spent eight years as a radio DJ “on the air” before realizing he needed a real job and turned to IT. Never one to waste an experience, he used his familiarity with life on the radio for many of his suspense novels. His third novel, Dead Air (2020), won the Foreword INDIES Award as well as the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award.

Catch Up With Michael Bradley:
www.MBradleyOnline.com
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Twitter – @mjbradley88
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GIVEAWAY:

This is a giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Tours for None Without Sin by Michael Bradley. See the widget for entry terms and conditions. Void where prohibited.
 

Murder is No Picnic

Listen to this blog as a podcast.

Time for a Fourth of July Mystery, so get those murderous sparklers out! Not only does the Fourth mean fireworks, but let’s throw in some delicious food with recipes included in the book. Murder is No Picnic features Sam, an unintentional You-Tube Star who is searching for a recipe for blueberry buckle. She is thrown into solving a mystery that hits very close to home. Scroll down to read more about Murder is No Picnic and to enter Amy’s giveaway.

About Murder is No Picnic 

Murder Is No Picnic (A Cape Cod Foodie Mystery)

Cozy Mystery

3rd in Series

Setting – Cape Cod, Massachusetts

Publisher ‏ : ‎ Berkley (June 7, 2022)

Mass Market Paperback ‏ : ‎ 336 pages

The Fourth of July is coming, and for professional food lover Samantha Barnes, it’s all about the picnic. Okay, and the fireworks. And the parade. But mostly the picnic. What could be better than a DIY clambake followed by the best blueberry buckle in the world? Sam has finally found the perfect recipe in the kitchen of Clara Foster, famed cookbook author and retired restaurateur, and she’s thrilled when Clara agrees to a buckle baking lesson.

 

But when Clara dies in a house fire blamed on carelessness in the kitchen, Sam doesn’t believe it. Unfortunately, her doubts set in motion an investigation pointing to the new owner of Clara’s legendary restaurant—and a cousin of Sam’s harbormaster boyfriend. So, in between researching the Cape’s best lobster rolls and planning her clambake, Sam needs to find Clara’s killer before the fireworks really start….

Let’s Talk to Samantha Barnes from Murder is No Picnic

Please tell us about your latest adventure. 

MURDER IS NO PICNIC is the latest in the Cape Cod Foodie mysteries series featuring yours truly Samantha Barnes (Sam to my friends), disgraced ex-chef and the world’s most reluctant YouTube star.  

I never intended to live in books that had “murder” in the title.  I just wanted to go back home to Cape Cod and lie low for a bit while my YouTube notoriety died down (long story, two chefs, one of them me, one my ex-husband, both with chefs knives, you get the picture).  Next thing I know, I’m living in this Cape Cod Foodie series and falling over dead bodies right and left.  And then finding out whodunit.  That part’s kind of fun, I have to admit.  

But it’s not always easy trying to balance my job as the local paper’s “Cape Cod Foodie” with a complicated love life, a posse of just-slightly-odd friends, a falling-down house, a ginormous dog, and a propensity for falling over dead bodies.  

In MURDER IS NO PICNIC, the Fourth of July is coming, and for me, it’s all about the picnic. Okay, and the fireworks. And the parade. But mostly the picnic. What could be better than a DIY clambake followed by the best blueberry buckle in the world? I’ve finally found the perfect recipe in the kitchen of Clara Foster, famed cookbook author and retired restaurateur, and I’m thrilled when Clara agrees to a buckle baking lesson.  

But when Clara dies in a house fire blamed on carelessness in the kitchen, I don’t believe it. Unfortunately, my doubts set in motion an investigation pointing to the new owner of Clara’s legendary restaurant—and a cousin of my harbormaster boyfriend.  So, in between researching the Cape’s best lobster rolls and planning my clambake, I need to find Clara’s killer before the fireworks really start…. 

Do you have any friends/sidekicks helping you out? 

Oh, yeah! There’s that posse of just-slightly-odd friends that I mentioned above. Here’s how I describe them in MURDER IS NO PICNIC: 

I love my friends. I love my organic farmer friend Miles Tanner, who looks like a gay Paul Bunyan. I love my best friend from childhood, Jenny Snow Singleton, who has three rowdy boys and is married to a high-powered lawyer but is growing her own videography business like the tycoon she secretly is. I love Jillian Munsell, who manages the local nursing home with immense efficiency and warmth and who is the best baker I have ever known (and as a onetime chef, I have known a few). I love Helene Greenberg, my sixty-something next-door neighbor and the town librarian, who wears T-shirts that say things like “I do a thing called what I want.” I even kind of love my friend/boss, Krista Baker, the editor in chief of the Cape Cod Clarion, who, when I complain that she can be a bit overbearing, dismisses me with a quick “I’m not bossy. I have executive leadership skills.” A reply which, I might add, she got from a tote bag my mother gave her for Christmas. Thanks, Mom. 

So, yeah, I love them. Even Krista. Sometimes. But at that moment, I loved my blueberry buckle more. 

And then, of course, there’s that ginormous dog I mentioned, named Diogi (as in D-O-G, get it?). He’s is your typical Cape Cod mutt, part yellow Lab, part whatever (given his size, perhaps Great Dane). He is loyal and well-meaning, but he is not particularly intellectual. The only commands he responds to are “shut up” (on occasion), “sit” (on occasion), “stay” (almost never), and “go find Helene” (always). And, oh yes, “sic ’em.” Don’t ask. On the other hand, his emotional intelligence is impressive. If you are feeling blue, Diogi is exactly what you need. First, he will lay his big head in your lap until you smile just a little bit, and then he will take you out for a nice long walk to cheer you up.  It never fails. 

Do you have any special skills to fight crime? 

Absolutely not.  Unless you count completely ignoring Helene when she tells me to be “very, very careful.” And a pretty strong conviction that as a general rule I don’t think people should get away with killing other people.  

Are you a full-time detective or do you do something else? 

I am definitely not a full-time detective.  I’m just the Cape Cod Foodie. But it seems like I do have a knack for getting involved in murders. On my first assignment in A SIDE OF MURDER, I promptly found a dead body. (Sigh.) And then I did it again in AN EGGNOG TO DIE FOR, when I stumbled over a very dead Santa in a very hip restaurant. (Sigh again.) And now I have to convince everybody that Clara Foster did not set her own house on fire… 

What are you most frightened of in this story? 

I think this excerpt might give you an idea: 

I wasn’t particularly concerned when I didn’t see Diogi’s big yellow head hanging out of the truck window. He often took a snooze while I was running some errand or another. But my world changed forever when I opened the driver’s side door. The truck cab was empty, completely empty. As was the pavement outside the truck. No Diogi in the truck. No Diogi outside the truck… 

Is there anything funny that happens to you or another character in this story? 

If by funny you mean embarrassing, absolutely.  Wait until you see me make a fool of myself on Antiques in the Attic.  Another star turn by the world’s most reluctant YouTube star.  

If I were to choose an actor or actress to play your part in a movie, who would that be?

Well, if anyone can find an actress who meets this description, I wish they’d let me know:  

I stand six feet one and a half inches in my stocking feet, six two and a half in my chef’s clogs.  I’m not exactly beautiful, especially when I’m sweating over a hot stove, but, as my grandfather used to say, I clean up nice.  When I’m not wearing the standard black-and-white checked chef’s pants and double-breasted white jacket, I have a weakness for floaty dresses and dangly earrings.  

9. Do you have any final words you would like to leave with our readers? 

I would love it if you actually tried some of the to-die-for (sorry, please forgive the pun) recipes at the end of each of the Cape Cod Foodie books. Then invite your friends and family to sit down at your kitchen table, open a bottle of wine and enjoy! Because cooking for and/or sharing a meal with people you love is, in my opinion, one of life’s great gifts. 

10. Let’s give your author a chance to speak. Anything you would like to add? 

Well, what I’d actually like to add is a big old THANK YOU to my readers.  Thank you, thank you, thank you! Thank you for buying my books and all your lovely reviews on Amazon and GoodReads! Thank you for patronizing local bookstores when you can! Thank you for loving Cape Cod! But most of all, thank you for taking Sam and the gang into your hearts. 

About Amy Pershing

Amy Pershing, who spent every summer of her childhood on Cape Cod, was an editor, a restaurant reviewer and a journalist before leading employee communications at a global bank. A few years ago she waved goodbye to Wall Street to write full time. Murder Is No Picnic is the third of the Cape Cod Foodie mysteries featuring Samantha Barnes, a disgraced but resilient ex-chef who retreats home to Cape Cod where she finds herself juggling a new job as the local paper’s “Cape Cod Foodie,” a complicated love life, a posse of just-slightly-odd friends, a falling-down house, a ginormous dog and a propensity for falling over dead bodies. Elizabeth Gilbert called the first book in the series, A Side of Murder, “the freshest, funniest mystery I have ever read,” and Kirkus Reviews gave the second book, An Eggnog to Die For, a starred review, saying, “A delightful sleuth, a complex mystery, and lovingly described cuisine: a winner for both foodies and mystery mavens.”

Author Links

Website: AmyPershingAuthor.com

Follow amypershingauthor on Facebook

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Sign up for News from the Cape Cod Foodie!

Purchase Links

Random House 

Amazon     B&N      Kobo     Google Books    IndieBound   Bookshop.org

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Bayou Book Thief


Listen to this blog post as a podcast.
Today’s book is Bayou Book Thief by Agatha Award winning author, Ellen Byron. First of all, I love vintage cookbooks and have collected them for years. I think it started when my mother-in-law, a resident of a New Orleans suburb, gave me the gigantic Times Picayune cookbook in the first year of my marriage. I had never eaten New Orleans cooking, but once I tasted it, I knew my life had just gained pure culinary pleasure (and I gained a few pounds).   Not only does Ellen write wonderful mysteries, but you should check out some of her short stories! Read more about Bayou Book Thief and enter the giveaway below.

About Bayou Book Thief 

Bayou Book Thief (A Vintage Cookbook Mystery)

Cozy Mystery

1st in Series

Setting – New Orleans Louisiana

Publisher ‏ : ‎ Berkley (June 7, 2022)

Mass Market Paperback ‏ : ‎ 304 pages

A fantastic new cozy mystery series with a vintage flair from USA Today bestselling and Agatha Award–winning author Ellen Byron.

Twenty-eight-year-old widow Ricki James leaves Los Angeles to start a new life in New Orleans after her showboating actor husband perishes doing a stupid internet stunt. The Big Easy is where she was born and adopted by the NICU nurse who cared for her after Ricki’s teen mother disappeared from the hospital.

Ricki’s dream comes true when she joins the quirky staff of Bon Vee Culinary House Museum, the spectacular former Garden District home of late bon vivant Genevieve “Vee” Charbonnet, the city’s legendary restauranteur. Ricki is excited about turning her avocation – collecting vintage cookbooks – into a vocation by launching the museum’s gift shop, Miss Vee’s Vintage Cookbooks and Kitchenware. Then she discovers that a box of donated vintage cookbooks contains the body of a cantankerous Bon Vee employee who was fired after being exposed as a book thief.

The skills Ricki has developed ferreting out hidden vintage treasures come in handy for investigations. But both her business and Bon Vee could wind up as deadstock when Ricki’s past as curator of a billionaire’s first edition collection comes back to haunt her.

Will Miss Vee’s Vintage Cookbooks and Kitchenware be a success … or a recipe for disaster?

You can find Bayou Book Thief at these online retailers:

AmazonB&NKoboGoogle BooksAlibrisIndieBoundPenguinRandomHouse

About Ellen Byron

Ellen’s Cajun Country Mysteries have won the Agatha Award for Best Contemporary Novel and multiple Lefty Awards for Best Humorous Mystery. Bayou Book Thief will be the first book in her new Vintage Cookbook Mysteries. She also writes the Catering Hall Mystery series under the name Maria DiRico.

Ellen is an award-winning playwright, and non-award-winning TV writer of comedies like Wings, Just Shoot Me, and Fairly Odd Parents. She has written over two hundred articles for national magazines but considers her most impressive credit working as a cater-waiter for Martha Stewart. An alum of New Orleans’ Tulane University, she blogs with Chicks on the Case, is a lifetime member of the Writers Guild of America and will be the 2023 Left Coast Crime Toastmaster. Please visit her at https://www.ellenbyron.com/

Author Links

Newsletter: https://www.ellenbyron.com/

Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/ellenbyronauthor/

https://www.facebook.com/CateringHallMysteries/

Instagram:

https://www.instagram.com/ellenbyronmariadirico/

Bookbub:

https://www.bookbub.com/profile/ellen-byron

https://www.bookbub.com/authors/maria-dirico

Goodreads:

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/23234.Ellen_Byron

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/19130966.Maria_DiRico

You can find Bayou Book Thief at these online retailers:

AmazonB&NKoboGoogle BooksAlibrisIndieBoundPenguinRandomHouse
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The Collector


Listen to this blog post!

Hot enough for you? Today we’re off to the air-conditioned museum for a fictional visit to a globe-hopping mystery. Works of art are being destroyed and people are being killed! Who is behind this skullduggery? Find out more below and enjoy an excerpt from the first chapter of The Collector. Don’t forget to enter Lane’s giveaway for a $10 Starbucks gift card! Time for some iced coffee.

About the Book:

Art expert Emma Kelly arrives at the Metropolitan Museum to meet with disgraced philanthropist Boyle York only to learn he has been murdered. His body and a nearby masterpiece are splattered with blue paint. In the following days, works of art around the world are attacked with the same paint, which Emma believes has something to do with the Virgin Mary. Emma’s husband, Elliott Baldwin, the Assistant Director in charge of the FBI’s New York City field office, isn’t convinced but appreciates her expertise.

Following a lead, Emma travels to her other home in Bath, England, and continues her search for one of the most famous Nazi-looted paintings. When a diver hired to explore a sunken Nazi submarine is murdered with the same weapon used to kill Boyle York, Emma wonders if the art crimes on three different continents are actually an attempt to trip her up.

Emma races against the clock to countries with Virgin Mary apparition sites in an attempt to save the world’s most beloved artwork. Can she convince the Vatican to disavow the perpetrators and stop the attacks and bring justice to the mastermind behind them before it’s too late?

Read an Excerpt:

Chapter One

Monday in Manhattan
Everybody had a story and then another story. Even the police. I stood at the Metropolitan Museum entrance, shifting my weight from one foot to the other, relying on that philosophy to help me figure out how to get what I wanted. Left. I considered my predicament. My meeting with a potential client was to start in five minutes, but the yellow crime scene tape strung along the portico was uninterested. Right. I studied the NYPD officers lined up guarding the doors from people like me. I would plead my case to one of them. It was a matter of choosing the right one. One had a story that would make him or her more likely to let me in so I could be on time for my meeting.
I wasn’t the only person with a mission, standing outside the Met that day. A month ago, in mid-March, a hundred or so protestors had taken over the iconic steps. They came and they stayed. They were angry and united in their desire for the Met to cut all ties with the man I was there to meet. He was the president of the co-op board for a building, less than a quarter mile away, that became a death trap in one of the worst high-rise apartment fires in Manhattan’s history. According to their posters, many were relatives of the hundred plus people who had lost their life that day. Depending on which newspaper you read, the deaths were either due to the board’s misguided choices to keep homeowner fees low to help the senior citizens living at The Henckley Tower, or because for years the building’s managers had intentionally misled city inspectors. I hoped my theory about everyone having a story and then another story would hold fast, but neither view redeemed billionaire philanthropist Boyle York.
The people behind me in the April sun probably thought these famous steps had been there forever. Not so. The stairs were added to the building in 1975. A story and then another story. The steps were usually dotted with New Yorkers, side by side with tourists, eating, drawing, reading, flirting, texting, sunbathing all day long. Non-protesting locals no longer came to hang out here, either in sympathy for the deceased, or because they felt it was too much work to care about what happened to a bunch of rich people. For whatever reason, they no longer came, and this public space had been transformed. According to the New York Times, museum attendance was down significantly from the usual six million plus visitors a year.
One and then two people in the crowd caught me looking back at them. Whose side are you on? their looks demanded. A white van pulled up on Fifth Avenue and when members of a television crew got out, the chance to see someone famous diverted their attention. I turned my face from them and got back to deliberating, comparing, discarding one after another of the police officers. Today’s protest was peaceful, as they had been each day since the start. I had friends and acquaintances in most of the Met’s seventeen curatorial departments, and, according to them, the museum entrance had never been blocked; tourists hadn’t been harangued. I didn’t see anyone so much as littering. The protestors were asked to come no closer than the second landing from street level, and they hadn’t. So, what was the reason for today’s heightened police presence?
In less than a minute, a broad-shouldered African American man wearing a black polo and khakis, with a gold detective’s badge clipped to his belt, next to a real gun, came out the middle set of doors. The uniformed officers straightened to alert attention. He nodded to an one here and there, and spoke to a few, but mostly he scrutinized the demonstrators. Was he the one I should tell the tape didn’t apply to me? Of course, he was. If any of the others told me “Sure, go right ahead, what were we thinking making you wait here,” he could overrule them. I might as well save time and go straight to large and in charge. Here some people might make the mistake of confusing the job with the person, but I wasn’t one of them. I made eye contact and took a step toward him.
“Emma? Emma!”
Reactively, I turned to the high-pitched voice and instantly regretted it. Valerie, my former sister-in-law, and now part-time employer was climbing the stairs to join me. Her progress was hindered only slightly by a black pencil skirt and four-inch heels.
“What are you doing here?” Her gestures were bird-like jerky.
I had never seen her still or calm. I exhaled to keep from getting jumpy myself.
Had I imagined the emphasis on you? No, I hadn’t. In the two years since the death of my then husband, Valerie’s brother, the woman’s treatment had gone from superficial sympathy all the way down to its current suspicious contempt. Why she hadn’t fired me from my job as title underwriter for fine arts at SIRA Fine Arts Insurance Corporation when I remarried six months ago, I had yet to fathom. My best guess was the adage about keeping your enemies closer. She wanted me to stay. We compromised and, for the last three months, I’d worked with her international clients, working a day or two a week for SIRA and spending the rest of the time getting my new fine art recovery agency off the ground, and being an adjunct professor at NYU. The arrangement worked well for me, but my new husband, Elliott, wanted me to cut all ties with SIRA. He didn’t trust Valerie and he wasn’t wild about my weekly trips to Europe.
She looked me up and down with narrowed, darting eyes. I stood stock-still, allowing myself to be scrutinized because I didn’t care anymore.
“Well?” Valerie prompted.
I hadn’t answered. Was it happening again? The drift. No. I had been sharp and present, even serious, for months.
She pointed at the crime scene tape. “Is this because of the protestors?”
I shrugged. “I don’t think so. It’s new.”
“Then what happened?” She tapped the phone she held. “Hmm, nothing online yet.” Her head jerked back at me. “Did someone try to steal a piece of art? Or, God forbid, did someone really get out with something? Is that why you’re here? You did it!”
I raised my eyebrows and my mouth fell open.
“I didn’t mean you stole a piece of art! I mean, you started your own art recovery agency and…”
I shook my head. “I don’t know what happened in the museum. I’m here for a meeting.”
My contacts worked in museums and insurance companies, where they knew me as a title underwriter. I was having a hard time getting word out about my new agency and hoped a real case would come out of the meeting.
“Just think, if someone stole something, you might have your first case.” She was fishing for me to tell her who I was meeting and why. She had tried that maneuver on me one too many times. I didn’t know the purpose of the meeting, but why give her that satisfaction? Had something finally happened in the art world, especially in Manhattan, that Valerie Patterson didn’t know about?
She patted my arm. “Don’t overdo it. Too much stress might be, well, not good. How are you? Really.” She was letting me know she hadn’t forgotten about my year of crazy.
I had metaphorically skied without snow ploughing and biked without my hand hovering over the brake. In my head, I called it my year of being Banksy.

You Can Purchase the Collector By Clicking This Link to Go to Amazon

My Review

I have always loved mysteries involving the world of art because they involve situations that are totally different from other crime stories. First of all, art thieves need to have working knowledge of valuable art collectibles and then they also need to get past the high security museums employ to keep their masterpieces safe. But what about the average person, like me, who wouldn’t know a Degas from a swap meet special? That’s where Lane Stone’s new mystery The Collector comes to the rescue. Priceless pieces of art are being attacked and Emma, her main character is on the trail of international art saboteurs. Not only is it easy to understand the art world, but the reader grows to respect importance of the work being destroyed. You’ll find plenty of action, romance and intrigue in this fast paced story in A Big Picture Mystery Series.

About Lane Stone

Lane Stone lives in Alexandria, Virginia and Lewes, Delaware with her husband, Larry Korb, and their Standard Schnauzer, Cordy. She’s the author of THE COLLECTOR, an art thriller, which is the first book in The Big Picture trilogy. The first book in the Old Town Antiques Mystery series, DEAD MEN DON’T DECORATE, will be published in November 2022, and will be written as Cordy Abbott. She is the author of the Pet Palace Mysteries and the Tiara Investigation Mystery series.

When not writing she enjoys characteristic baby boomer pursuits: being a dog Mom, traveling and volunteering for good causes, like AAUW and the Delaware River & Bay Lighthouse Foundation. She serves on several boards.

She has a post-graduate certificate in Antiquities Theft and Art Crime. She is represented by Dawn Dowdle, Blue Ridge Literary Agency.

Stay in touch – Visit her at www.LaneStoneBooks.com, on Twitter @themenopausedog on Goodreads and on Facebook @LaneStoneWriter

June 2022 Books to the Ceiling Newsletter

Exciting News


You can listen to Books to the Ceiling as a Podcast!

Books to the Ceiling Podcast Link

First, welcome to my 700+ new subscribers! This is a monthly newsletter where I feature books and giveaways hosted by authors. There are a couple of them in this newsletter, so be on the lookout!
I have started reading my blog posts as a podcast and they are available on Spotify and Google. Not all of my blog posts have been converted, but here are a few!

The Venice Sketchbook

Surviving Savannah

Dead Man’s Leap

The Rising

Murder She Wrote: Killer on the Court

I’m having a lot of fun making the podcasts and if you enjoy them too, then please hit follow!
Pick up a copy of A Dash of Murder and check the other 99 Cent Cozies Available in this Offer!



Featured Books on Books to the Ceiling in June 2022


June 3
Art expert Emma Kelly arrives at the Metropolitan Museum to meet with disgraced philanthropist Boyle York only to learn he has been murdered. His body and a nearby masterpiece are splattered with blue paint. In the following days, works of art around the world are attacked with the same paint, which Emma believes has something to do with the Virgin Mary. Emma’s husband, Elliott Baldwin, the Assistant Director in charge of the FBI’s New York City field office, isn’t convinced but appreciates her expertise.

Following a lead, Emma travels to her other home in Bath, England, and continues her search for one of the most famous Nazi-looted paintings. When a diver hired to explore a sunken Nazi submarine is murdered with the same weapon used to kill Boyle York, Emma wonders if the art crimes on three different continents are actually an attempt to trip her up.

Emma races against the clock to countries with Virgin Mary apparition sites in an attempt to save the world’s most beloved artwork. Can she convince the Vatican to disavow the perpetrators and stop the attacks and bring justice to the mastermind behind them before it’s too late?


June 10/Print Copy Giveaway
Twenty-eight-year-old widow Ricki James leaves Los Angeles to start a new life in New Orleans after her showboating actor husband perishes doing a stupid internet stunt. The Big Easy is where she was born and adopted by the NICU nurse who cared for her after Ricki’s teen mother disappeared from the hospital.
The skills Ricki has developed ferreting out hidden vintage treasures come in handy for investigations. But both her business and Bon Vee could wind up as deadstock when Ricki’s past as curator of a billionaire’s first edition collection comes back to haunt her.


June 17/Print Copy Giveaway
The Fourth of July is coming, and for professional food lover Samantha Barnes, it’s all about the picnic. Okay, and the fireworks. And the parade. But mostly the picnic. What could be better than a DIY clambake followed by the best blueberry buckle in the world? Sam has finally found the perfect recipe in the kitchen of Clara Foster, famed cookbook author and retired restaurateur, and she’s thrilled when Clara agrees to a buckle baking lesson.
But when Clara dies in a house fire blamed on carelessness in the kitchen, Sam doesn’t believe it. Unfortunately, her doubts set in motion an investigation pointing to the new owner of Clara’s legendary restaurant–and a cousin of Sam’s harbormaster boyfriend. So, in between researching the Cape’s best lobster rolls and planning her clambake, Sam needs to find Clara’s killer before the fireworks really start…

The Twist and Shout Murder takes place in 1962 where Dot Morgan is told to learn to type. Instead, she learns how to catch a killer.
Pick Up Your Copy of The Twist and Shout Murder!

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Murder She Wrote: Killer on the Court

Murder, She Wrote: Killer on the Court

Listen to this Blog Post

Let’s go on vacation with Jessica Fletcher! That’s right, she’s heading to the beach, but of course, you and I both know there will be a mystery to solve. Believe it or not, this is number 55 in the Murder She Wrote Series! Have you read them all? Be sure to scroll down and enter the giveaway😎

About MSW: Killer on the Court

Murder, She Wrote: Killer on the Court

Cozy Mystery

55th in Series

Berkley (May 17, 2022)

Jessica Fletcher’s sunny beach vacation with her nephew’s family takes a dark turn in this new installment in the USA Today bestselling series.

Jessica is delighted when her nephew Grady invites her to spend a few days with his family in an oceanside New York bungalow. She packs her bags and heads down to the city, ready to spend some quality time with Grady, his wife, Donna, and their young son, Frank.

But the morning after Jessica’s arrival, Donna finds her boss dead on a tennis court, and Jessica’s dreams of a relaxing visit are quashed. Everyone in the small beachside community is a suspect, and the local authorities—headed by an old colleague of Cabot Cove sheriff Mort Metzger—have asked that no one leave town. Will Jessica be able find a killer and salvage the rest of her trip?

My Review

Jessica goes on vacation in the 55th installment of Murder She Wrote: Killer on the Court. One of the things I love about the Murder She Wrote Series is that the characters in Jessica’s world come back into her stories. As I read the book I clearly saw Grady from the 1990s television series and now I’ve taken a shine to little Frank. In this adventure, Jessica goes to the beach with Grady and family because his wife, Donna got a sweet job perk of a beach house for a month.  The murder takes place on a tennis court and Jessica is left to figure out the various entanglements of the Donna’s coworkers and family of the deceased. Mort Metzger helped out from the shadows and of course she has a new co-investigator on the local police force. If you love Murder She Wrote as much as I do, then you should check out Killer on the Court!

About the Authors

Along with Jessica Fletcher, Terrie Farley Moran co-writes the Murder She Wrote mystery series including  Murder, She Wrote: Killer on the Court. She is the author of the Read ‘Em and Eat cozy mystery series and also co-writes the Scrapbooking Mysteries with Laura Childs. Recipient of both the Agatha and the Derringer Awards, Moran has published numerous mystery short stories. The only thing Terrie enjoys more than wrangling mystery plots into submission is hanging out with any or all of her seven grandchildren.

Author Links – Webpage   Facebook 

Purchase Links – AmazonB&NKoboIndieBoundBookshop.orgPenguinRandomHouse - 

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The Rising

Ever have to depend on someone you weren’t sure you could trust? What if it involves matters of life and death? Kerry Peresta’s new book, The Rising, raises that very question.

Synopsis:

The Rising by Kerry L Peresta

After an assault that landed her in a hospital as a Jane Doe two years earlier, Olivia Callahan has regained her speech, movement, and much of the memory she lost due to a traumatic brain injury. The media hype about the incident has faded away, and Olivia is ready to rebuild her life, but her therapist insists she must continue to look back in order to move forward. The only person that can help her recall specifics is her abusive ex-husband, Monty, who is in prison for murder. The thought of talking to Monty makes her skin crawl, but for her daughters’ sake and her own sanity, she must learn more about who she was before the attack.

Just as the pieces of her life start falling into place, she stumbles across the still-warm body of an old friend who has been gruesomely murdered. Her dream of pursuing a peaceful existence is shattered when she learns the killer left evidence behind to implicate her in the murder. The only person that would want to sabotage her is Monty—but he’s in prison! Something sinister is going on, and Olivia is desperate to uncover the truth before another senseless murder is committed.

Book Details:

Genre: Psychological Suspense, Thriller, Crime Fiction, Suspense, Mystery
Published by: Level Best Books
Publication Date: March 29, 2022
Number of Pages: 300
ISBN: 168512092X (ISBN-13: 978-1685120924)
Series: Olivia Callahan Suspense, Book 2
Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

“How low you fall points to how high you’ll rise.”
~Matshona Dhliwayo

The stark buildings and barbed-wire-topped walls surrounding the correctional facility reminded me of a Hitchcock movie.

My fingers tightened on the steering wheel. I found a parking spot, and waited in the car a minute, taking in the starkness and finality of a prison compound. My heart did a little lurch when I thought about Monty—my ex-husband and the father of my two daughters—inside. Incarcerated. I guess since I hadn’t seen him since his indictment, it didn’t seem real.

However, I’d learned that having sympathy for Monty was like having sympathy for a snake just before it sank its fangs. “It’s been eighteen months. You can keep it together with this psycho,” I hissed to myself. I hiked my purse onto my shoulder and walked out into the buttery sunshine toward the visitors’ entrance.

I presented my driver’s license, endured a frisk, offered my hand for the fingerprint process, and walked through the metal detector, which of course, went off. With stoic resignation, I endured another frisk, a few hard glances from the guards, and eventually pulled the culprit from the pocket of my pants, an aluminum foil candy bar wrapper.

While I waited for Monty at one of the small, circular tables in the visitors’ room, I scanned the list of do’s and don’ts. Hands must be visible at all times. Vulgar language not allowed. No passing anything to the prisoner. No jewelry other than a wedding band or religious necklace.

I stared at my hands, sticky with sweat. My heart beat in my throat.

I lifted my curls off my forehead and fanned my face with one hand. Three other visitors sat at tables. One woman with graying hair piled like a crown on her head stared at the floor. When she noticed that I was looking at her, she raised her head and threw me a sad smile. A younger woman at another table struggled to keep two young children under control, and an older couple with stress-lined faces whispered to each other as they waited. The room had tan, cinder block walls, a drop-in ceiling with grid tiles that probably hid video cameras, and a single door. No windows. A scrawny, fake plant in one corner made a half-hearted attempt at civility.

The metal door opened. My thoughts were mush, a blender on high. Could I do this? After two years of physical therapy, occupational therapy, and every other kind of therapy the docs could throw at me, shouldn’t I react better than this?

Remember, they’re only feelings.

I squared my shoulders. Wiped my palms on my pants.

As Monty offered his cuffed wrists to the corrections officer, he scanned the room under lowered eyelids. When he saw me, he gave me a scorched- earth glare. After the guard removed his handcuffs, he shook out his arms and rubbed his wrists. The raven-black hair was longer, and brushed his shoulders. He’d been working out. A lot. He wore a loose-fitting top and pants. Orange. As usual, he was larger than life, and in the bright white of the visiting space, surrounded by matching plastic tables and chairs, he was a raven-haired Schwarzenegger in a room full of Danny DeVito’s. I’d once had hope for reconciliation. The thought gave me the shakes now.

He dropped into the chair across from me and plopped his hands on the table. “What do you want?”

I spent a few seconds examining his face—this man I’d spent twenty, long years trying to please, and the reason I’d been assaulted and left for dead by Niles Peterson, a wreck of a man whose life Monty had destroyed as well.

The man responsible for my convoluted recovery from a brain injury that stole my past. Even after two years, I still had huge gaps in my memory, and staring at him felt like staring at a stranger instead of an ex-husband. “My therapist says I need to look back to move forward. I wanted to ask you a few questions, that’s all.”

“Okay,” he grumbled. “I’ll give you a few minutes. Oh, and you’ll love this. I have to attend counseling sessions about how to keep my ‘darker dispositions’ under control, and I have one of those in thirty minutes.”

Resisting a smile, I quipped, “Are they helping?” He rolled his eyes. “What are the questions?”

“I still have problems remembering stuff. There are things I need to… figure out about who I was before—”

“Before you hooked up with my ole’ buddy Niles?” he interrupted, with a smirk. “Before you threw away everything we had? Before you got yourself in a situation that could’ve gotten you killed? Before you started treating me like a piece of shit?”

I was careful not to react. I’d had enough therapy to understand how to treat a control freak that tried to make me the reason he ended up in prison. That part of my life—the part where Monty had been in charge and his spouse had to obey or else—was over. “Are you done?” I asked.

He clamped his lips together.

I folded my hands on the table and leaned in. “I’ll get right to the point. What drew you to me in the first place? What was I like before the accident, from your perspective?”

Monty tried to get comfortable in the plastic chair. Beneath his immense bulk, it seemed like a child’s chair. “Is that how you’re dealing with it?” His lips twisted in disgust. “It was an assault, Olivia. He tried to rape you, for God’s sake.”

I looked away. “It’s over, and he’s in the ground, thanks to you.”

He crossed his arms and glared. A corrections officer lifted his hand. With a grunt, Monty slapped both hands on the small table where the officer could see them.

After a few beats, he sneered, “You mean besides the obvious attraction of an older guy to a high school girl?” “Give me a break, Monty.”

He chuckled. “You were kind of…I don’t know…scared. I was drawn to you in a protective way. You were shy.”

I frowned. “What was I scared of?”

“Your crazy mom had married some jerk that kept you off balance all the time. Don’t you remember him?”

I thought for a few seconds. Nothing came.

“That coma still messes with you, doesn’t it? Well…might be good not to remember. Maybe he did things to you that he shouldn’t have.” Monty raised his eyebrows up and down.

I wanted to slap him, but I kept my expression neutral.

“A brain injury recovery is unpredictable. I still lose memories, even if someone has drilled them into me. I’m trying to use visualization. I have this feeling…that if I can see it, the rest will be like dominos.”

“So you may not ever remember? Even the good things about our marriage?”

I laughed. “We must have very different perspectives about the word ‘good’, Monty.”

Monty’s jaw muscles flexed. “Next?”

“Was I a capable mother? Was I available and…loving to the kids?”

Maybe it was my imagination, but his lower lip quivered. Did the guy have a heart after all? I’d always believed he loved our daughters. I hoped this was true.

“Olivia, you were a good mother. We had our problems, but you made a good home, and took excellent care of the kids. You were at every freakin’ event, every school fundraiser, everything.” He scowled. “I took a big back seat to the kids.”

“What problems did we have? When did they start?”

He leaned in. “You don’t remember our sex life? How terrible it was? Nothing I could do would get you to….” He shook his head. “You couldn’t even fix a decent meal. You should have been grateful you married someone like me so I could…teach you things.”

CHAPTER ONE

“Keep your voice down!” I insisted, embarrassed.

He cocked his head and grinned. “You always had this…desperate need for my approval or whatever. And when you conveniently avoided telling me you weren’t taking birth control it caused a lot of issues that could’ve been avoided.” He snorted. “Like being in here.”

I tried to rein in my disgust.

“So, let me get this straight. Your priority in our marriage was sex and good food and to pin all our issues on your child bride?” My tone hardened. “A young woman who came from a single-parent home? Who had no understanding what a good and normal guy was like?”

He gave me a look that could peel the skin off my face.

“How did you react when I didn’t do things the way you wanted?” I continued.

“Like any man who’d been disrespected. I corrected the issue.”

“How? By yelling? Physical force? Kicking your pregnant wife in the stomach?” This was a memory I had recovered.

A vein pulsed in his neck.

“How often, Monty? Were these reactions a…a lifestyle in our marriage?” “Look,” he snarled, “I don’t know that this is productive.”

“It is for me,” I said, brightly.

I glanced at the closest officer. He had his hands full with an issue at one of the other tables.

“Mom told me that Serena and Lilly floated out to sea one time, on a rubber raft. Do you remember that?”

His eyes found a spot on the wall.

“So you do remember. What happened?”

“Look, they were, I don’t know, four and six or so. I didn’t think it would be a problem for me to run grab a drink from our bag, and come back. I was gone less than five minutes. How could I know they’d lose control of the raft?”

An earthquake of anger shot through me. “You turned your back on a four-year-old and a six-year-old and expected them to have control of a raft? They were babies!”

“Yeah. Well.” He rose. “Looks like this question thing of yours isn’t working for me.” He pushed his chair in with a bang. The correctional officer gave him a look. Monty strode to the officer’s station and held out his wrists. Adrenaline made me a little shaky after he’d gone, but it wasn’t from fear of the man. My therapist would call this real progress.

I left the room and gathered my things from the visitors’ processing center. As I walked out of the prison facility, all I could think about was…why? Why had I married this guy? And stayed for twenty years? I couldn’t even remember myself as a person who could do that.

At least I’d dragged more information out of him. I was determined to piece together the puzzle of the past I’d lost.

***

Excerpt from The Rising by Kerry L Peresta. Copyright 2022 by Kerry L Peresta. Reproduced with permission from Kerry L Peresta. All rights reserved.

Author Bio:

Kerry L Peresta

Kerry’s publishing credits include a popular newspaper column, “The Lighter Side,” (2009—2011), and magazine articles in Local Life Magazine, The Bluffton Breeze, Lady Lowcountry, and Island Events Magazine. She is the author of three published novels, The Hunting, women’s fiction, The Deadening, Book One of the Olivia Callahan Suspense Series, and The Rising, Book Two. Book Three in this series releases in 2023 by Level Best Books. She spent twenty-five years in advertising as an account manager, creative director, editor, and copywriter. She is past chapter president of the Maryland Writers’ Association and a current member and presenter of Hilton Head Island Writers’ Network, South Carolina Writers Association, and the Sisters in Crime organization. Kerry and her husband moved to Hilton Head Island, SC, in 2015. She is the mother of four adult children, and has a bunch of wonderful grandkids who remind her what life is all about.

Catch Up With Kerry L Peresta:
www.KerryPeresta.net
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Twitter – @kerryperesta
Facebook – @klperesta

 

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Dead Man’s Leap

This blog post is available as a podcast

Just what kind of secrets are being kept by the junk in your attic? An old sewing machine, a portrait of a woman you’ve never met, a menu from a restaurant you’ve never heard of? That’s some good mystery making material! Read more about Dead Man’s Leap below where secrets abound in what they found!

About Dead Man’s Leap:

Rushing waters…dead bodies…secrets…

As Bianca St. Denis and her neighbors scour their attics for donations to the charity rummage sale, they unearth secrets as well as prized possessions. Leonard Marshall’s historic inn hosts the sale each year, but it is his basement that houses the key to his past. When an enigmatic antiques dealer arrives in town, he upends Leonard’s carefully reconstructed life with an impossible choice that harkens back to the past.

Meanwhile, when a storm forces the villagers of Batavia-on-Hudson to seek shelter, the river rises and so do tempers. Close quarters fuel simmering disputes, and Sheriff Mike Riley has his work cut out for him. When the floods wash up a corpse, Bianca once again finds herself teaming up with Sheriff Riley to solve a mystery. Are they investigating an accidental drowning or something more nefarious?

Dead Man’s Leap explores the burden of secrets, the relief of renunciation, and the danger of believing we can outpace our past.

Book Details:

Genre: Traditional Mystery
Published by: Level Best Books
Publication Date: April 5, 2022
Series: A Batavia-on-Hudson Mystery, #2
You can find Dead Man’s Leap at Amazon

Excerpt from Dead Man’s Leap:

CHAPTER ONE

He inched toward the precipice, his toes gripping the stone ledge as if they had a will of their own. He lifted his head and squinted into the sunlight still streaming through the blackening clouds. He took in the expanse of rushing water below. In all his eighteen years, Trevor had never seen the creek roil so ferociously.

A clap of thunder startled him. His toes relaxed, and he felt as if the slightest wind could take him over the edge. Lightheaded for a second, he regained his footing and his purpose.

He had no choice if he wanted all this to stop.

He needed to do it.

And do it now.

The downpour would break again soon. But for now, all he could hear was the rushing of Horseshoe Falls beneath him, the roar drowning out the noise of his past.

Of his father.

Of his mother.

Yes, his mother. He had expected his father to be weak, and wasn’t surprised at all after he left. But his mother? A mother’s love is supposed to be unconditional. At least that’s what she had always said before she had turned their world upside down. It was bad enough when she had played at being the sexiest woman in town. At least when his friends teased him then, it was meant to be fun. But this was worse, far worse. Now they wanted nothing to do with him. Now they used him as a punching bag.

His gang no longer looked to him as their leader. They ridiculed him for what his mother had done. From the beginning, he knew those kids were bad news. What choice did he have? In grade school he’d been bullied. Well, he had put a stop to that in high school. Can’t be bullied if you’re the biggest bully.

His mother was gone. His father was gone. And now his posse. First, it was the cold shoulder, and a few snide remarks. Then he was cornered in the locker room after the game one day. That was the hardest. He hadn’t taken a beating like that since the fifth grade. But the tables had been turned on him so fast that he never saw it coming. Trevor realized now that they were never friends. They were just a group of trouble makers who hung out together. Good riddance to them. He didn’t need them anymore.

Another thunderclap reminded him where he was. On the edge. Right on the edge. He either had to do this properly or he would be going over anyway.

Trevor looked over his shoulder one last time and heard a faint commotion in the background. Once they rounded the path, he closed his eyes and jumped.

* * *

Bianca St. Denis stretched to grab the cord just out of reach above her head and yanked on it with all her force to bring down the attic staircase. She tilted her head to avoid being struck as it made its way down. She unfolded the retractable stairs and put one foot on the first rung. But there she stopped, not sure she could take the next few steps. At forty-two the issue wasn’t her physical ability to climb the steps, she was active, even fairly athletic. The old saying went “the mind was willing but the body was not.” Well, in her case “the body was willing but the mind was not.”

She had stayed out of the attic all these months since Richard’s death. She had made do without her ski parka this past winter, and used Richard’s barn jacket she’d found in the mudroom instead. She had made do without the spring curtains she would normally switch out in the living room each March. The winter ones still hung heavy and foreboding. And she made do without the patio cushions she had sewn two seasons ago. She simply sat on the raw wood when she wanted to read or eat in the backyard. She hadn’t realized the number of things she had been doing without by avoiding the attic, not until the town started buzzing about the rummage sale. She pretended it was because she hadn’t had time to search for the items, but she knew better.

She took her foot off the rung, bent and picked up the stairs again, refolded them, and let them float to the ceiling. The hatch closed with a neat click.

* * *

Once Trevor hit the water, his tension disappeared. He welcomed the release and let himself drop. Slowly he was pulled down into the chaos of the rushing water, but his mind had floated above it all. He didn’t feel a thing, he observed it instead. He watched as his body sank, as it swirled in the vortex of the overfull creek. He watched as his body escaped the current and floated peacefully in the murky water. And he watched as he gave in to full renunciation and allowed the water to decide what was to become of him.

His thoughts slowed, as muddy as the water surrounding him.

They slowed, but he could not make them disappear.

He had managed to avoid jumping off Dead Man’s Leap every summer, but this year he knew he couldn’t get away with it. They had already threatened to make sure he jumped this year. That was only part of what the summer had in store for him. Who could he turn to? His grandparents had no idea what he was going through. They always hid their heads in the sand anyway. There was nothing they could do for him. So, he had taken matters into his own hands.

He was shocked when his head broke the surface, and despite himself he gasped for air in enormous mouthfuls until he gagged. He bobbed there, undecided, until he finally attempted the few strides to reach the cove. It took him longer than he expected, like swimming in molasses. A cross between his fatigue, his indifference, and the strong current kept him from reaching the bank in the three strokes it would normally require. On his knees, he crawled out of the pull of rushing water and dropped on the shore.

* * *

Leonard Marshall picked up the package, the paper crinkling in his hand. He carefully unwrapped one layer, then another. Layer after layer until he held the smooth tiny statuette in his hand. He trembled, and smiled, attracted and repulsed at the same time. How could such a tiny thing hold so many emotions for him? So much power over him? It was so small he could cradle it in the palm of his hand. He closed his fingers around it. It disappeared. He opened them again, and there it was. With it came a flood of memories. Exhilarating. His heart raced with a quick pat, pat, pat.

The basement door creaked. He took in a breath.

Time slowed and his heart with it.

Thump……thump……thump.

The light clicked on.

Another creak. Above him a step, a pause, another step. The door ached on its hinges as it opened wider. The light flicked off. The door closed. The steps faded. He let out his breath.

* * *

Trevor had never experienced fatigue like this. He crawled onto shore in the shadow of the cliff and collapsed. He never expected to make it out of the water, and now that he had, he lay there drawing in large mouthfuls of air, as if his lungs would never get enough. He stayed there, staring up at the sky, watching the dark clouds shapeshift. The rain would be there any moment, and to his surprise, he welcomed it.

As his breathing relaxed, he realized that the pain he felt was a sharp object stabbing his back. He rolled over, removed it, and threw it off to the side. As he turned to lay back down, his blurry eyes focused on the object. It was a bone. A human bone? He scrambled onto his knees and slowly made his way over to it. He was repulsed and fascinated, but mostly he was frightened by the sight of a bone and what that could mean. What had happened here, right here in this cove?

In the distance, he heard their drunken voices again. He knelt and grabbed handfuls of dirt to cover the bone. He heard them approach the edge of the cliff.

“He came this way. I saw him jump.”

“He’s too chicken, he didn’t jump. But when I find him, he’ll jump alright. He’ll jump or I’ll send him flying.”

“He jumped, I tell ya. Leave him alone. You wanted him to jump, and he did. I saw him. Let it go, already.”

“Yeah, well if he jumped, where is he?”

“You think he’s still under? You think he hit his head like that kid a while back?”

“I’m telling you, he didn’t jump.”

“There’s nowhere else to go but down. Of course, he jumped.”

“I’m going in. If he did jump, we’ll find him down there. He’s probably hiding under the cliff.”

Trevor carefully picked his way out of the cove. Scraping up against the cliff as close as his body would allow, he followed the contours until he came out on the other side of the falls. With his last bit of strength, he climbed up the rocky trail alongside Horseshoe Falls.

***

Excerpt from Dead Man’s Leap by Tina deBellegarde. Copyright 2022 by Tina deBellegarde. Reproduced with permission from Tina deBellegarde. All rights reserved.

You can find Dead Man’s Leap on Amazon

Author Bio:

Tina deBellegarde

Tina deBellegarde has been called “the Louise Penny of the Catskills.” Winter Witness, the first book in her Batavia-on-Hudson Mystery series, was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel, a Silver Falchion Award and a Chanticleer Mystery and Mayhem Award. Her story “Tokyo Stranger” which appears in the Mystery Writers of America anthology When a Stranger Comes to Town edited by Michael Koryta has been nominated for a Derringer Award. Tina’s short fiction also appears in The Best New England Crime Stories anthologies. She is the vice-president of the Upper Hudson Chapter of Sisters in Crime, a member of Mystery Writers of America and Writers in Kyoto. She lives in Catskill, New York, with her husband Denis and their cat Shelby where they tend to their beehives, harvest shiitake mushrooms, and cultivate their vegetable garden. She winters in Florida and travels to Japan regularly to visit her son Alessandro.

Catch Up With Tina deBellegarde:
tinadebellegarde.com
Goodreads
BookBub – @tinadebellegarde
Instagram – @tdb_writes
Twitter – @tdbwrites
Facebook – @tinadebellegardeauthor

New Reviews for The Twist and Shout Murder!

The Twist and Shout Murder

The reviews are still coming in from Net Galley. Here are just a few.

A new review for The Twist and Shout Murder


Fun and Frothy!

The first in the Swinging Sixties Mysteries set in 1962. Feisty Dot Morgan gets thrown into a bizarre world when a death occurs. Nothing like he secretarial school ambience she was getting used to. With an eccentric cast of characters and a likeable, strong protagonist this is a fun and frothy cosy mystery with a good sense of time and place. ~Ruth G./Reviewer

Intriguing!

It’s 1962 and Dot Morgan, who shares a top floor, modest apartment with her cousin, Ellie, dreams of completing secretarial school. Dot’s dad, who is a clerk at the local courthouse in Camden, Texas, with twenty years of experience, hopes to run as a candidate in the elections following the death of Phil Boggs. Her mum is a librarian. Wanting to help with her dad’s election campaign, Dot joins the Camden Ladies Club, in place of her mum. Busy Dot, who is in the final semester of her course at Hudson Secretarial School, is asked to make thirty flower arrangements for the Founder’s Day Banquet which is just around the corner. The day before the Banquet Dot loads her once red car with the flower arrangements and ends up in a disagreement with Barb Manning, the president of the Ladies Club. The next day at the Banquet the brother-in-law of the club’s president is found dead.

The mystery is intriguing and I thoroughly enjoyed attempting to solve the puzzle of the murder alongside Dot. She’s a strong character, very likeable and she’s surrounded by a fun supporting cast. Roll on book two; I’ll certainly be in the queue! ~Bridget E./Reviewer

This Book Was So Good!

Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for the early copy
This book was so good!
I loved how this book captured my attention in the first chapter, the author went right in and she did not slow down til the last sentence. Michelle C./Reviewer

Murder, Sweet Murder

We have an historical mystery this week taking place in 1801.  Take a look at the excerpt below. You can just feel the tension coming out of this short passage! Be sure to enter the giveaway at the bottom of the blog post.💰

 

Murder, Sweet Murder

by Eleanor Kuhns

April 11 – May 6, 2022 Virtual Book Tour

Synopsis:

Murder, Sweet Murder by Eleanor Kuhns

Will Rees accompanies his wife to Boston to help clear her estranged father’s name in this gripping mystery set in the early nineteenth century.

January, 1801. When Lydia’s estranged father is accused of murder, Will Rees escorts her to Boston to uncover the truth. Marcus Farrell is believed to have murdered one of his workers, a boy from Jamaica where he owns a plantation. Marcus swears he’s innocent. However, a scandal has been aroused by his refusal to answer questions and accusations he bribed officials.

As Will and Lydia investigate, Marcus’s brother, Julian, is shot and killed. This time, all fingers point towards James Farrell, Lydia’s brother. Is someone targeting the family? Were the family quarreling over the family businesses and someone lashed out? What’s Marcus hiding and why won’t he accept help?

With the Farrell family falling apart and their reputation in tatters, Will and Lydia must solve the murders soon. But will they succeed before the murderer strikes again?

Book Details:

Genre: Historical Mystery
Published by: Severn House Publishers
Series: Will Rees Mysteries #11
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

After regarding Rees for several seconds, Mr Farrell extended his hand. Rees grasped it, painfully conscious of his rough hand, calloused by both farm work and weaving. ‘Please attend me in my office,’ Mr Farrell said. ‘We are expecting a few guests for dinner tonight so we will have little time to talk then.’ Turning, he strode away. Rees started to follow but, realizing that Lydia was not by his side, he turned back. She stood hesitantly by the table, her hands tightly clenched together. Rees glared at Mr Farrell’s back and then, reaching out, he pulled one of her hands through his elbow. Together they followed her father into his office.

As Farrell moved a stack of papers from the center of the desk to one side, Rees looked around. A large globe on a stand stood to the right of Farrell’s desk and one chair had been drawn up to the front. A seating area, with additional chairs, were arranged by the window that looked out upon the front garden. A table in the center held an intricately carved tray with a crystal decanter and several glasses. Shelves of books lined the wall behind and adjacent to the desk, on Rees’s right.

The room was chilly although the fire was burning. Newly laid, it had been lighted, no doubt by some anonymous servant.

Farrell looked up and his eyes rested on Lydia in surprise. Rees felt his wife shrink back, intimidated. He was not going to stand for that. He pulled a chair from the window grouping and placed it in front of the desk. She hesitated for a few seconds and then, lifting her chin defiantly, she sat down. Once she was seated, Rees lowered himself into the opposite chair. After one final dismissive glance at his daughter, Farrell looked at Rees.

‘So, you are a weaver.’

‘That is so,’ Rees said, adding politely, ‘I understand you are a merchant.’

Farrell smiled. ‘I see your wife has told you very little about me or my profession.’ Since responding in the affirmative seemed somehow disloyal to Lydia, Rees said nothing.

Farrell took a box from his desk drawer and opened it to extract a cigar. ‘Would you like a smoke?’

‘No thank you,’ Rees said.

‘Or a glass of rum? Or whiskey if that is your tipple.’ When Rees declined again, Farrell put away the cigars and walked to the fireplace to light a splint. The end of the cigar glowed red and the acrid scent of burning tobacco filled the room. Puffing, Farrell returned to his seat. ‘I suppose one could say I was a merchant. But I do so much more. I own a plantation as well as a fleet of ships that sail between Boston, the West Indies and Africa. In Jamaica they take on sugar and molasses which are returned to Boston. Some of it is transformed into rum in my distillery. I export the liquor overseas, both to England and to Africa where the proceeds are used to purchase slaves.’

Sick to his stomach, Rees glanced at Lydia. She was staring at her hands, her face flaming with shame. Although she had alluded to her father’s profession, she had not told him the half of it. She had not told him of her father’s pride in it. Rees understood why she hadn’t.

‘Most of the slaves are brought to the sugar plantation,’ Farrell continued, seemingly oblivious to his daughter’s distress, ‘but some are sold in the Southern states. And you needn’t look so shocked. Why that upstart Republican with his radical ideas, Mr Jefferson, owns slaves. And he may be the next President. I suppose you voted for him.’

Rees did not respond immediately. Although many of Mr Jefferson’s ideas were appealing, Rees had found in the end that he could not vote for a slave holder. Instead, he had voted for Mr Adams. But that gentleman had not placed; the election was a tie between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr. Sent to the House for resolution, Jefferson had won by one vote.’ No,’ Rees said carefully, keeping his voice level with an effort, ‘I voted for his opponent.’

‘Well, that makes us kin then. Although you will meet a few slaves here in Boston, in this very house.’ He grinned and Rees thought of Morris and Bridget with their tinted skin. ‘But few, very few. Neither the Africans nor the Spanish Indians adapt well to this northern climate and they quickly die.’ This was said with indifference as though he spoke of a broken chair.

Farrell flicked a glance at his daughter and smiled. With a surge of anger, Rees realized that Farrell fully understood the effect his speech would have on her and was enjoying her misery. Rees gathered himself to rise from his chair. Lydia reached out and grasped his sleeve.

‘This is for Cordy,’ she whispered. Rees sat down again, his body stiff.

‘But you did not come to listen to me natter on about my profession,’ Farrell said, watching the byplay with interest. ‘Shall we discuss that ridiculous murder, the one of which I am accused?’

Rees looked into Lydia’s beseeching eyes and after a few seconds he relaxed into his seat. God forgive him, a part of him hoped Marcus Farrell was guilty.

‘Go on,’ Rees said coldly. Marcus smiled.

‘Permit me to save you both time and effort,’ he said. ‘I did not kill that boy.’

‘Then why do people think you did?’ Rees asked. Puffing furiously, and clearly unwilling to reply, Farrell took a turn around the room.

‘Did you know him?’ Lydia asked, her voice low and clear. ‘This Roark?’

Farrell stood up so abruptly his chair almost tipped over. ‘Yes, I knew him.’ He glanced at Rees. ‘We were seen, Roark and I, arguing down at Long Wharf.’

‘Arguing about what?’ Rees asked.

‘It is not important. He was a nobody.’ Farrell glared at Rees, daring him to persist. Rees waited, never removing his gaze from the other man. Sometimes silence made the best hammer. Finally, Farrell said angrily, ‘He wanted a rise in his wages. I said no. He disagreed. That was all there was to it.’

Rees glanced at Lydia and found her staring at him. He knew, and he suspected she did too, that her father had just lied to them.

***

Excerpt from Murder, Sweet Murder by Eleanor Kuhns. Copyright 2021 by Eleanor Kuhns. Reproduced with permission from Eleanor Kuhns. All rights reserved.

Author Bio:

Eleanor Kuhns

Eleanor Kuhns is the 2011 winner of the Mystery Writers of America/Minotaur first mystery novel. Murder, Sweet Murder is the eleventh mystery following the adventures of Rees and his wife. She transitioned to full time writing last year after a successful career spent in library service. Eleanor lives in upstate New York with her husband and dog.

Catch Up With Eleanor Kuhns:
www.Eleanor-Kuhns.com
Goodreads
BookBub
Twitter – @EleanorKuhns
Facebook – @writerkuhns

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Never Broken

Ready for a great mystery? I love mysteries that feature reporters and Lori Duffy Foster has created that world for us in the second book in the Lisa Jamison Mystery Series, Never Broken.

About the Book

The near corpse of a stranger had no idea where he’d been, how long he’d been there or who had kept him captive. But one thing intrigued journalist Lisa Jamison even more than his story: recent memories of a woman named Chandra Bower.

Seven years had passed since Chandra disappeared from Seneca Springs without a trace. Police investigators still compared DNA records whenever an unidentified body appeared, hoping to at least bring her family closure. Lisa still chased down leads from desperate family and friends, being careful to hide her investigations from an editor who thought she’d become obsessed with a woman who was clearly dead.

But this man had just seen her, sewing designer clothes in a dark, filthy basement with about twenty other men and women under horrifically inhumane conditions. And the sweatshop workers all had one thing in common: All were people of color.

A split-second decision to help the man takes Lisa on a race against time. His captors want him back, there is evidence someone on the police force might be involved and the man knows that if he were recaptured, they would torture him until he revealed the names of the two people who helped him escape: Lisa Jamison and Chandra Bower.

Lisa promised her teenage daughter she would stay away from the dangerous stories ever since her job had nearly gotten them both killed two years before. But she no longer has a choice. She must keep the stranger hidden while she gathers enough evidence to turn the case over to city police or the FBI. At least three lives—her own, the stranger’s and Chandra’s—depend on it.

Never Broken is available at these online retailers:

Amazon Barnes and Noble Joseph-Beth IndieBound Books A Million Kobo

My Review

This one is a page-turner. A reporter named Lisa happens upon a man who has been badly mistreated and is terrified. When he reveals he is a part of a group of slaves who are forced to work sewing clothing, she decides to hide him and go in search of the story. There is a young woman who disappeared years ago and this man is a connection to her. There were a couple of times when I would be reading and then did a face palm as Lisa drew a little too close to some very dangerous people, but that was actually the part I liked the best in the end. This is the second book in this series and now I need to back up and read the first.

About the Author

Lori Duffy Foster is a former crime reporter who writes from the hills of Northern Pennsylvania, where she lives with her husband and four children. She was born and raised in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State, where a part of her heart remains. Her short fiction has appeared in the journal Aethlon, and in the anthologies Short Story America and Childhood Regained. Her nonfiction has appeared in Healthy Living, Running Times, Literary Mama, Crimespree and Mountain Home magazines. A Dead Man’s Eyes, the first in the Lisa Jamison mystery/suspense series, is her debut novel. Look for book two in the series, Never Broken, in April of 2022. She is also author of Raising Identical Twins: The Unique Challenges and Joys of the Early Years. Lori is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, The Historical Novel Society, International Thriller Writers and Pennwriters She also sits on the board of the Knoxville (PA) Public Library. Visit Lori online at http://www.loriduffyfoster.com or on Facebook @loriduffyfosterauthor, on Instagram @lori.duffy.foster or on Twitter @loriduffyfoster.

What is Happening at Books to the Ceiling in April

Oh Holy Fright is Free in April


Exciting News

The Next Book in the Swinging Sixties Series is in the Works!
If I Had a Hammer, due out in January 2023 has now entered the editing process and hopefully, if all goes well, it will be out next January. This continues the mystery-solving adventures of Dot Morgan who now has started her first job. Important things happened in 1963 including the assassination of John F. Kennedy. A traumatic event like this changes a person and it greatly effects Dot and her cousin Ellie, sometimes in a sad way and sometimes in funny way. That’s all I can say right now, accept, I found this hammer meme and had to laugh!

Oh Holy Fright is FREE during the month of April! I know, you’re thinking about the Easter Bunny not Santa, but pick it up and put it in your Christmas TBR pile!

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I was featured over at The Shelf Life Blog, hosted by C.J. Peterson! Click here to find out more about my writing process and the books I read growing up!

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FEATURED BOOKS FOR THIS MONTH

Never Broken
April 15
The near corpse of a stranger had no idea where he’d been, how long he’d been there or who had kept him captive. But one thing intrigued journalist Lisa Jamison even more than his story: recent memories of a woman named Chandra Bower.

Murder, Sweet Murder
March 11
January, 1801. When Lydia’s estranged father is accused of murder, Will Rees escorts her to Boston to uncover the truth. Marcus Farrell is believed to have murdered one of his workers, a boy from Jamaica where he owns a plantation. Marcus swears he’s innocent. However, a scandal has been aroused by his refusal to answer questions and accusations he bribed officials.

You can subscribe to the Books to the Ceiling Newsletter HERE!

Come Visit Me at Shelf Life Today!

I’m over at Shelf Life today, author blog of C.J. Peterson. I’ve had the pleasure of joining C.J. for her ‘Tis the Season Anthology of short Christmas stories for the past two years. She and her sister run Texas Sisters Press and have been a delight to work with on these anthologies. C.J. sent me a very thorough set of interview questions about my writing process and a few questions I’ve never been asked before.

Click Here to Read my Interview on Shelf Life!

Murder in the Master

Murder in the Master

One of the reasons I never wanted to be a real estate agent was having to go into empty houses. You would never be sure what awaited behind every door! In Murder in the Master Judy Murry has created a great mystery centered around a real estate agent and her fictional friends. So great, she’s been nominated for an Agatha!

About Murder in the Master

Real estate rule #1: A dead body creates buzz. A dead body in a house for sale is never the buzz you want.

It isn’t the first-time real estate agent Helen Morrisey has found someone naked in bed while showing a house to a potential buyer. But this one is different. One glance at the bluish cast around his lips and the vacant, staring eyes, and Helen knows big-time developer Al Capelli is never going to sign another sales agreement.

His death is big news for a small, top of the Chesapeake water town where a family empire is built around secrets and their brash money style is resented by locals. Within days, his lover, her old friend, begs Helen to find the killer before she’s arrested for murder. With her fight for the underdog style, Helen jumps in. She quickly realizes that solving a murder mystery in real life is a lot more dangerous than reading one. Helen decides to create her own Detection Club of expert sleuths—Miss Marple, Jessica Fletcher, Nora Charles, Agatha Raisin, and, yes, Nancy Drew to help unearth the truth.
Detective Joe McAlister recognizes the value of Helen’s insight into back office real estate deals and local players. And for the first time since her husband’s death, Helen meets a man who might be able to return zingers as quick as she can toss them out. Mystery lovers hungry for a smart gutsy woman, a fast-moving plot, and an insider’s look into a business everyone talks about, but few understand, will devour this first in a series Murder in the Master.

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My Review

Helen Morrisey is a real estate agent who loves to read mysteries. When she finds a dead body in the master bedroom while showing a house, she enlists the help of her fictional friends, including Miss Marple, Nancy Drew and Jessica Fletcher. Picking between the red herrings and the actual killer had me guessing. I enjoyed getting a look into the world Murray created in Chesapeake Bay. This is a well-layered mystery that includes a little romance along with suspenseful storytelling.

A Visit with Judy L. Murray

Tell us a little about yourself.

I’ve dreamed of working full-time as an author since I edited my high school newspaper a gazillion years ago. When I graduated with a newspaper journalism degree from the SI Newhouse School at Syracuse University, I became a newspaper reporter. Practicality and a meager, correct that – empty checkbook took hold quickly and I entered real estate sales. I kept my hand in writing with a monthly column on real estate for a national magazine. I put my MBA to use by creating tons of corporate marketing materials. Over the years in sales, management, coaching and training, as a Philadelphia real estate broker, I was also a restoration addict. I worked with enough delusional sellers, jittery buyers, testy contractors, and diva agents to fill my head with plenty of back-office insight. More than enough to get me started on this series.

I started this first mystery about ten years ago, then set it aside. About three years ago, I picked it up again and started writing every night, well after midnight. I decided time was of the essence, as we say in real estate. I wrote and rewrote. A literary agent devoted to representing mysteries offered me representation. Shortly after, I was fortunate to have a couple publishers offer me contracts. I signed a three-book series contract with Level Best Books and am thrilled to be with a publisher with such a great reputation. That caused me to take the plunge, leave real estate and write full-time. Some days I’m mentally hyperventilating over the next scene I’m writing, but never-the-less I’m grateful.

Since my girlhood obsession with Nancy Drew, I’ve always believed in the power of words. The idea that I can create a series that enables readers to step into a detective story with smart women and twists and turns is so rewarding.

What inspired the idea behind your book? Is anything in your book based on real-life experiences or purely all imagination?

Definitely a combination. I thought there seemed to be a dearth of mature women in today’s mysteries and I hoped readers would relate to Helen, my protagonist. Real estate is a world most people are interested in since it touches so many lives. But it’s also often misunderstood. Real estate is not HGTV. It’s a lot more complicated and a lot more stressful. Houses aren’t built in a day. Buyers and sellers are highly emotional. There are a lot of moving parts. My protagonist’s career gives her the opportunity to be involved with people in a very personal way. It’s a great segue to a mystery.

The setting on the Chesapeake gives me lots of interesting locations and introductions to people with different backgrounds. I do have twins like my protagonist. My husband complains that he was already dead before the first chapter. It’s a running joke among my friends and family. We really do live on a cliff that looks onto the bay. We batten down the hatches when a storm comes up.

Who is your favorite character to create scenes for in the book?

My protagonist, Helen Morrisey, will always be my favorite.

From the first paragraph, it was important that she be a mature woman who is smart and self-sufficient. She needs to go to work every day and make a living. As competent as she is, as a recent widow Helen’s not sure how to navigate through romance in her fifties. She doesn’t even know if she wants to. She’s a slow mover. She struggles to bite her tongue and not intrude on her children’s decisions. She’s bullheaded and tends to put her foot in her mouth. She loves to eat, hates to cook, and hides Twizzlers in her desk drawer and car. She also has a history of coming to other’s defense. Helen’s life is complicated, much like ours.

Helen’s Detection Club is a central character in the series. They are her squad of famous sleuths she creates in her mind to guide her through a maze of clues. Each of her Detection Club members brings different talents to crime solving. When I created this group, I wasn’t sure how they would be received. But their uniqueness seems to be one of the elements in my series readers really enjoy. They like seeing these favorites in action in current day. Ironically, as we get more and more familiar with Helen, we’ll see more and more of their individual traits reflected in her.

Here’s a partial scene that helps set up Helen’s relationship with the detective investigating:

            Tuesday afternoon, Joe pulled in beside Helen when she parked at Safe Harbor. He unfolded his legs as he climbed out of a black Ford Explorer.

            Helen deliberately took her time. She tucked her hair behind her ears and pasted on an overly bright smile. “What brings you back, Detective? Any news on Capelli’s possible murder?” Her tone was deliberately cheeky as she walked past him. Joe smirked.

            “News travels fast. Who told you?”

            “Well, no one picks up on the local happenings faster than real estate agents. We usually find out the dirt sooner than later.” She emphasized “sooner.” The fact he was rather hunky, and she guessed, mid-fifties, was a major plus in her book. But it wasn’t going to keep Helen from trying to steal his thunder. Most men couldn’t keep up with her banter. It was a good way to keep them on their toes and out of her personal space.

            “Since most agents are women, I’m not surprised to hear gossip fills your day.”

            She stopped dead in her tracks. His stock dropped. Or did it go up? “Did you really just say that?”

            Joe held his hands up. “Sorry. That was out of line.”

            Helen studied his face and decided a man who apologized was worth forgiving, at least the first time. Besides, she had egged him on. “What is it you forgot to ask me? We gossipy agents are always short on time, even if you’re not.” She took off toward the entrance, her heels clicking across the slate walk and up the front steps. She was enjoying their fencing conversation.

If an actor or actress were to play this part, who would it be?

That’s a really hard question. I’m not much of a follower of Hollywood. Probably a combination of Myrna Loy’s style and Patricia Heaton.

Is this book a part of a series?

Yes. The series is Chesapeake Bay Mysteries. I like the setting because it places my readers in a waterfront village and reflects part of our country’s history and the people who, even today, make their living on the water. My second book, Killer in the Kitchen, comes out this September. Helen becomes involved with a celebrity chef for a television shopping network. The third is likely to be called Peril in the Pool House.

Where can readers leave reviews?

Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, wherever they’d like. I’m always grateful for my readers’ enthusiasm.

How can readers find your books and are there more coming in this series?

They can find my debut mystery everywhere online along with independent bookstores. I have more and more libraries stocking it. Since my favorite place to spend time is in a library, I’m delighted librarians are promoting it. Finding Murder in the Master on the bookshelf of new releases in my local library was such an incredible personal moment for me. To then be nominated for an Agatha Award as Best First Book, is beyond rewarding. The dream I had when I was in my teens is finally here.

Thanks so much to Books to the Ceiling for inviting me for this interview. I so appreciate the opportunity.

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Her Hidden Genius

Today we look at Marie Benedict’s latest book, Her Hidden Genius in honor of Women’s History Month! This is the fascinating story of a Rosalind Franklin, a wicked smart scientist in the middle of a boy’s club in 1952. It makes you wonder how many other breakthroughs came from the work of women but the credit went to men? Read more about Dr. Franklin and her story below as well as my review.

About Her Hidden Genius

She changed the world with her discovery. Three men took the credit.

Rosalind Franklin has always been an outsider—brilliant, but different. Whether working at the laboratory she adored in Paris or toiling at a university in London, she feels closest to the science, those unchanging laws of physics and chemistry that guide her experiments. When she is assigned to work on DNA, she believes she can unearth its secrets.

Rosalind knows if she just takes one more X-ray picture—one more after thousands—she can unlock the building blocks of life. Never again will she have to listen to her colleagues complain about her, especially Maurice Wilkins who’d rather conspire about genetics with James Watson and Francis Crick than work alongside her.

Then it finally happens—the double helix structure of DNA reveals itself to her with perfect clarity. But what unfolds next, Rosalind could have never predicted.

Marie Benedict’s powerful new novel shines a light on a woman who sacrificed her life to discover the nature of our very DNA, a woman whose world-changing contributions were hidden by the men around her but whose relentless drive advanced our understanding of humankind.

Available at Amazon

My Review

Rosalyn Franklin is a genius. She’s also a woman working in a man’s world in the 1950s in Paris and in London. This true story follows her as she out-thinks every man around her but never seems to get the recognition she deserves. A pure scientist, she doesn’t always know how to handle interpersonal relationships or read the clues of the people around her. When she is working in London this fault is particularly bad, causing her to have to re-evaluate her career goals as she works on the structure of DNA. I enjoyed learning about this woman and was cheering her on throughout the entire book. Great read.

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Murder at the CDC

MURDER AT THE CDC by Jon Land Banner

Murder at the CDC

This one fascinated me, not only because it is about a governmental agency on our minds a lot in the last two years, but it’s a Margaret Truman mystery written by Jon Land. His bio highlights his writing a movie that featured Milo Ventimiglia, but I liked his turn at writing the Murder She Wrote Books. Don’t forget to enter the giveaway! 

Synopsis:

Murder at the CDC by Jon Land

2017: A military transport on a secret run to dispose of its deadly contents vanishes without a trace.

The present: A mass shooting on the steps of the Capitol nearly claims the life of Robert Brixton’s grandson.

No stranger to high-stakes investigations, Brixton embarks on a trail to uncover the motive behind the shooting. On the way he finds himself probing the attempted murder of the daughter his best friend, who works at the Washington offices of the CDC. The connection between the mass shooting and Alexandra’s poisoning lies in that long-lost military transport that has been recovered by forces determined to change America forever. Those forces are led by radical separatist leader Deacon Frank Wilhyte, whose goal is nothing short of bringing on a second Civil War. Brixton joins forces with Kelly Lofton, a former Baltimore homicide detective. She has her own reasons for wanting to find the truth behind the shooting on the Capitol steps, and is the only person with the direct knowledge Brixton needs. But chasing the truth places them in the cross-hairs of both Wilhyte’s legions and his Washington enablers.

“A wonderful mystery novel, riveting until the last page.”
–Strand Magazine

“A terrific tale that never lets up.”
–Sandra Brown

Book Details:

Genre: Political Thriller
Published by: Forge
Series: Margaret Truman’s Capital Crimes, #32 | Each is a stand alone work.
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Read an excerpt from Murder at the CDC:

PROLOGUE

December, 2016

The tanker lumbered through the night, headlights cutting a thin swath out of the storm raging around it.

“I can’t raise them, sir,” said Corporal Larry Kleinhurst, walkie-talkie still pressed tight against his ear.

“Try again,” Captain Frank Hall said from the wheel.

“Red Dog Two, this is Red Dog One, do you read me? Repeat, do you read me?”

No voice greeted him in response.

Kleinhurst pressed the walkie-talkie tighter. “Red Dog Three, this is Red Dog One, do you read me? Repeat, do you read me?”

Nothing again.

Kleinhurst lowered the walkie-talkie, as if to inspect it. “What’s the range on these things?”

“Couple miles, maybe a little less in this slop.”

“How’d we lose both our lead and follow teams?”

Hall remained silent in the driver’s seat, squeezing the steering wheel tighter. Procedure dictated that they rotate the driving duties in two-hour shifts, this one being the last before they reached their destination.

“We must be off the route, must have followed the wrong turn-off,” Kleinhurst said, squinting into the black void around them.

Hall snapped a look the corporal’s way. “Or the security teams did,” he said defensively.

“Both of them?” And when Hall failed to respond, he continued, “Unless somebody took them out.”

“Give it a rest, Corporal.”

“We could be headed straight for an ambush.”

“Or I fucked up and took the wrong turn-off. That’s what you’re saying.”

“I’m saying we could be lost, sir,” Kleinhurst told him, leaving it there.

He strained to see through the big truck’s windshield. They had left the Tooele Army Depot in Tooele County, Utah right on schedule at four o’clock pm for the twelve-hour journey to Umatilla, Oregon which housed the Umatilla Chemical Depot, destination of whatever they were hauling in the tanker. The actual final resting place of those contents, Kleinhurst knew, was actually the Umatilla Chemical Agent Disposal Facility located on the depot’s grounds, about which rumors ran rampant. He’d never spoken to anyone who’d actually seen its inner workings, but the tales of what had already been disposed of there was enough to make his skin crawl, weapons that could wipe out the world’s population several times over.

Which told Kleinhurst all he needed to know about whatever it was they were hauling, now without any security escort.

“We’re following the map, Corporal,” Hall said from behind the wheel, as if needing to explain himself further, a nervous edge creeping into his voice.

He kept playing with the lights in search of a beam level that could better reveal what lay ahead. But the storm gave little back, continuing to intensify the further they drew into the night. Mapping out a route the old-fashioned way might have been primitive by today’s standards, but procedure dictated they avoid the likes of Waze and Google Maps out of fear anything web-based could be hacked to the point where they might be rerouted to where potential hijackers were lying in wait.

Another thump atop the ragged, unpaved road shook Hall and Kleinhurst in their seats. They had barely settled back down when a heftier jolt jarred the rig mightily to the left. Hall managed to right it with a hard twist of the wheel that squeezed the blood from his hands.

“Captain . . .”

“This is the route they gave us, Corporal.”

Kleinhurst laid the map between them. “Not if I’m reading this right. With all due respect, sir, I believe we should turn back.”

Hall cast him a condescending stare. “This your first Red Dog run, son?”

“Yes, sir, it is.”

“When you’re hauling a shipment like what we got, you don’t turn back, no matter what. When they call us, it’s because they never want to see whatever we’re carrying again.”

With good reason, Kleinhurst thought. Among the initial chemicals stored at Umatilla, and the first to be destroyed at the chemical agent disposal facility housed there, were containers of GB and VX nerve agents, along with HD blister agent. The Tooele Army Depot, where their drive had originated, meanwhile, served as a storage site for war reserve and training munitions, supposedly devoted to conventional ordnance. In point of fact, the military also stored nonconventional munitions there in secret, a kind of way station for chemical weapons deemed too dangerous to store anywhere else.

The normal route from Tooele to Umatilla would have taken just over ten hours via I-84 west. But a Red Dog run required a different route entirely off the main roads in order to avoid population centers. The point was to steer clear of anywhere people resided to avoid the kind of attention an accident or spill would have otherwise caused, necessitating a much more winding route Hall and Kleinhurst hadn’t been given until moments prior to their departure. A helicopter had accompanied them through the first stages of the drive, chased away when a mountain storm the forecasts had made no mention of whipped up out of nowhere and caught the convoy in its grasp. Now two-thirds of that convoy had dropped off the map, leaving the tanker alone, unsecured, and exposed, deadly contents and all.

Kleinhurst’s mouth was so dry, he could barely swallow. “What exactly are we carrying, sir?”

Hall smirked. “If I knew the answer to that, I wouldn’t be driving this rig.”

Kleinhurst’s eyes darted to the radio. “What about calling in?”

“We’re past the point of no return. That means radio silence, soldier. They don’t hear a peep from us until we get where we’re going.”

Kleinhurst watched the rig’s wipers slap at the pelting rain collecting on the windshield, only to have a fresh layer form the instant they had completed their sweep. “Even in an emergency? Even if we lost our escorts miles back in this slop?”

“Let me give it to you straight,” Hall snapped, a sharper edge entering his voice. “The stuff we’re hauling in this tanker doesn’t exist. That means we don’t exist. That means we talk to nobody. Got it?”

“Yes, sir,” Kleinhurst sighed.

“Good,” said Hall. “We get where we’re supposed to go and figure things out from there. But right now . . .” His voice drifted, as he stole a glance at the map.

Suddenly Kleinhurst lurched forward, straining the bonds of his shoulder harness to peer through the windshield. “Jesus Christ, up there straight ahead!”

“What?”

“Look!”

“At what?”

“Can’t you see it?”

“I can’t see shit through this muck, Corporal.”

“Slow down.”

Hall stubbornly held to his speed.

“Slow down, for God’s sake. Can’t you see it?”

“I can’t see a thing!”

“That’s it, like the world before us is gone. You need to stop!”

Hall hit the brakes and the rig’s tires locked up, sending the tanker into a vicious skid across the road. He tried to work the steering wheel, but it fought him every inch of the way, turning the skid into a spin through an empty wave of darkness.

“There!” Kleinhurst screamed.

“What in God’s name,” Hall rasped, still fighting to steer when a mouth opened out of the storm like a vast maw.

He desperately worked the brake and the clutch, trying to regain control. He’d been out in hurricanes, tornados, even earthquakes. None of those, though, compared to the sense of airlessness both he and Kleinhurst felt around them, almost as if they were floating over a massive vacuum that was sucking them downward. He’d done his share of parachute jumps for his airborne training and the sensation was eerily akin to those first few moments in freefall before the chute deployed. He remembered the sense of not so much being unable to breathe, as being trapped between breaths for an absurdly long moment.

The rig’s nose pitched downward, everything in the cab sent rattling. The dashboard lights flickered and died, the world beyond lost to darkness as the tanker dropped into oblivion.

And then there was nothing.

CHAPTER 1

“The hand of God is upon You! He is my shepherd and I shall not want!”

Those were the last words high school sophomore Ben McDonald heard before the shooting started. He and the other students clustered around him from the Gilman School in Maryland were on a school field trip to the Capitol Building from their Baltimore prep school, the first such trip taken since academic life returned to a degree of normalcy following the endless coronavirus nightmare. Everyone had shown up in their school uniforms, the buses had left on schedule, and the students felt like pioneers, explorers blazing a trail back into the world beyond shutdowns and social distancing.

The reduction in Capitol tour group size was still in force and had necessitated the two bus-loads of students to be divided into five groups of fifteen, give or take, three chaperones allotted to each. Ben and his twin brother Robbie’s group had gone first and they had found themselves lingering on the Capitol steps, taking pictures and chatting away with their local congressman and senator who’d come out to greet and mingle with the students on the steps at the building’s east front.

“Why are you still wearing a mask?” one of them had asked the congressman, but Ben had already forgotten the answer.

He remembered checking the time on his phone just before he heard the first shots. Ben thought they were firecrackers at first, realizing the truth a breath later when the screams began and bodies started flying.

“I am doing the Lord’s work! I am a sacrifice to his word!”

Somehow Ben gleaned those words through the screams and incessant hail of fire. The shots were coming so fast he wasn’t sure if the shooter was firing on semi or full auto. The boy never actually saw him as more than a shape amid the blur before him, enveloping his vision like a dull haze. The thin sheer curtain drawn over his eyes didn’t keep him from recording bodies crumpling, keeling over, tumbling down the steps. The force of a bullet’s momentum slammed a classmate into him, sparing Ben the ensuing fusillade that turned the other boy’s back into a pin cushion.

My brother!

The panic and shock of those initial seconds had stolen thought of Robbie from him. He wheeled about, covered in the blood of boy who had dropped off the scene.

“Robbie!”

Did he cry out his name or only think it? The steps around him looked blanketed in khaki and blue, pants and blazers that made up his Gilman uniform. The sound of gunfire continued to resound in his ears, but he wasn’t sure the shooter was still firing because no more bodies seemed to be falling. People were running in all directions, crying and screaming, Ben remaining frozen out of fear for his brother.

“Robbie!”

He saw his brother’s sandy blond hair draped down from one of the marble steps onto another. Nothing else at first, just the hair. Maybe he had dove atop a friend who’d been wounded to spare that kid more fire—that was Robbie. But there was no one beneath Him, and . . . And . . .

He wasn’t moving, his arms stretched to the sides on angles that looked all wrong. Ben dropped to his knees next to Robbie, his pants sinking into pooling patches of blood which merged and thickened beneath him. He felt something pinching him along right side of his ribcage and saw his blue shirt darkening with a spreading wave of red in the last moment before he collapsed next to his brother.

***

Excerpt from MURDER AT THE CDC by Jon Land. Copyright 2022 by Jon Land. Reproduced with permission from Jon Land. All rights reserved.

Author Bio:

Jon Land

JON LAND is the USA Today bestselling author of fifty-eight books, including eleven in the critically acclaimed Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong series, the most recent of which, Strong from the Heart, won the 2020 American Fiction Award for Best Thriller and the 2020 American Book Fest Award for Best Mystery/Suspense Novel. Additionally, he has teamed up with Heather Graham for a science fiction series that began with THE RISING (winner of the 2017 International Book Award for best Sci-fi Novel) and continues with BLOOD MOON, to be published in November of 2022. He has also written six books in the Murder, She Wrote series of mysteries and has more recently taken over Margaret Truman’s Capital Crimes series, with his second effort, MURDER AT THE CDC, to be published in February of 2022. Jon is known as well for writing the film DIRTY DEEDS, a teen comedy starring Milo Ventimiglia and Zoe Saldana, which was released in 2005. A graduate of Brown University, he received the 2019 Rhode Island Authors Legacy Award for his lifetime of literary achievements.

Catch Up With Our Author:
JonLandBooks.com
Goodreads
BookBub – @JonLand2
Twitter – @JonDLand
Facebook – @JonLandAuthor

 

 

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Record Store Reckoning

Do you own a record player? I bought one for my daughter for Christmas and now she is collecting “classics” which are actually albums I had on my shelf in the 70s. I never knew I was listening to classical music at the time! I love the idea of a mystery series in a record store and J.C. Kenney has brought it to us with main character, Darcy Gaughan, who also stopped by to answer a few questions. Scroll down to read more about Record Store Reckoning, Darcy and J.C.

About Record Store Reckoning

When the manager of Marysburg Music, Darcy Gaughan, returns to work after a vacation, she expects to jump right back into work as the store gets ready for the upcoming Record Store Day celebrations. She’s also celebrating five years of sobriety and is confident that there are good things in her future. She doesn’t expect to find her boss in his office, dead from an apparent self-inflicted stab wound.

The police rule the death a suicide. Darcy, who knew her beloved boss better than anybody, knows better. She vows to get to the truth of the matter before the murderer can get away with the crime and the record store is closed forever. Along the way, she uncovers secrets and shady deals certain town residents would rather keep hidden. Secrets some would commit murder to keep under wraps. Can she assemble the clues and put them in just the right order so everything comes together like a classic jazz album? And how is she supposed to focus on finding a killer when she also needs to figure out a way to keep the record store open? Follow along as Darcy searches for the truth while learning the greatest gifts are truly those that money can’t buy.

You can find Record Store Reckoning on Amazon!

A Visit with Darcy Gaughan

Welcome! Tell us your name, your profession and what makes you such a great amateur sleuth?

Thanks a million for having me here today. My name is Darcy Gaughan. I’m the new owner of Marysburg Music, the most amazing record store in the Midwest. I never planned on becoming an amateur sleuth, you can take that to the bank. I used to be a drummer in a punk band that toured the world. During those years, I got pretty good at studying human behavior. Especially the kind that wasn’t exactly above board. I can pick up someone’s “tell” pretty quickly. Also, I’m no quitter. When I start out on something, I see it through to the finish.

Tell us about the crime you are working on in Record Store Reckoning.

Oh, dude, it’s a tough one. My boss, Eddie Maxwell, was stabbed to death. He was my rescuer, mentor, and friend. I found him when I reported to work at the record store. Based on the evidence at the scene, the cops think he took his own life. I don’t care what the evidence looks like. I knew Eddie. There was no way in the world he’d do that. Plus, the murder weapon found at the scene doesn’t make sense. I don’t want to go into detail here, but if suicide was involved, the weapon would have been made of something else.

What other character is the most helpful to you in solving the murder?

Wow. I never really thought about it. I had a lot of help from so many different people. Probably, the most help came from my two full-time employees, Hank and Charlotte. They gave me a lot of suggestions about who to talk to and wanted the case solved as much as I did. Char may have also placed a call to an unsung hero that helped me bring the case to a close. You’ll have to read the story to get the deets though.

What other character is the most frustrating?

Kaitlin Rosengarten, the Detective-Sergeant assigned to the case is a total pain in my backside. Just because she and I had a few run-ins back when I was drinking too much, she refuses to listen to practically anything I tell her. That was then. I’ve been sober for five years. If she wouldn’t take Eddie’s murder seriously, it was up to me to prove her wrong.

What has been your scariest moment in the pursuit of crime-solving?

That’s easy. Getting shot at! There were a few ultra-scary moments when I thought I’d reached the end of my own life. I’m happy to say those bullets came close but missed the mark. If I never get shot at again, I’ll totally be okay with that.

If an actor or actress were to play your part, who would that be?

Man, that’s a tough one. I think I’d go with Emmy Rossum, who played Fiona in Shameless. She’s pretty amazing and she’s a singer, too. As a retired musician, I gotta salute a fellow woman in the music biz.

If you could be in a buddy book with any other amateur sleuth, who would that be with?

Stephanie Plum would be way cool, but I like the vibe here in the Midwest. I’ve heard about this literary agent who lives is Southern Indiana, Allie Cobb. She’s bagged a bunch of murderers. I wouldn’t mind hanging out with her. We could swap stories while we keep the streets of the State of Indiana safe!

Can we expect to see more books in this series? Give us a hint.

Totally! I know for certain there will be two more adventures involving me and my crew from Marysburg Music. Fingers crossed there will be more after that. Appreciate the time to chat but gotta get back to the record store. Rock on, friends!

About the Author

J.C. Kenney is the Amazon and Kobo bestselling author of The Allie Cobb Mysteries and The Darcy Gaughan Mysteries. His debut, A Literal Mess, was a finalist for a Muse Medallion from the Cat Writers’ Association in mystery fiction. When he’s not writing, you can find him following IndyCar racing or listening to music. He lives in Indianapolis with his wife, two children, and a cat.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JCKenney1 

Twitter: https://twitter.com/JCKenney1 

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/j.c.kenney/  

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/jckenney 

Bookbub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/j-c-kenney

The Hidden Saint

Folklore is the root of many a modern story and this tradition of storytelling spans all cultures, ethnicities and religions. Today we are learning about Jewish folklore with a wonderful tale from Mark Levenson. We’ve got crushed bridegrooms, golems and a horrible demon named who has designs on all the things we treasure in this life. Scroll down to visit with author Mark Levenson and to learn about The Hidden Saint.

Description of The Hidden Saint

THIS NEW FANTASY NOVEL TAKES READERS TO A WORLD THEY’VE NEVER ENCOUNTERED BEFORE, IN WHICH THE VAST SWEEP OF JEWISH MYTH AND MAGIC IS COMPLETELY REAL.

The historical horrors of eighteenth-century Eastern Europe are interwoven with fantastic creatures drawn from 3,500 years of Jewish myth and magic. For the first time, THE HIDDEN SAINT conjures up a very human origin story for one of the greatest superheroes of Jewish folklore: Rabbi Adam, famous for battling wizards, witches, and demons.

The story opens on a long-awaited family wedding, which turns to horror as Rabbi Adam’s children are abducted by an ancient supernatural evil.

To save them, the rabbi is joined by a golem, a man of clay pained by the burden of living among, but always apart from, humans. He’s goaded and mentored by an elderly, wisecracking housekeeper who is secretly one of the thirty-six hidden saints, or Lamed-Vavniks, upon whom the fate of the world depends.

And he’s blessed and challenged by his wife, Sarah, who leads him to a garden named Eden.

As tidal waves and fires ravage the earth and the very stars above begin to disappear, can Rabbi Adam and his companions succeed in time?

The Hidden Saint is available on Amazon

My Review

Time for a trip into a fantasy world filled with golems, demons and magic based on Jewish folklore. Rabbi Adam is a man who has suffered and is searching for answers. When the rabbi’s children are taken from him, he goes on a journey with a wonderful golem and a strange but loving old woman named Shayna. The setting of the town filled with dead people was fascinating. I loved the bird express and the mystery of his first love as Levenson expertly weaves his story. I am not usually a fantasy reader, but that didn’t seem to matter. I enjoyed the adventure! 

A Visit with Mark Levenson, Author of The Hidden Saint

Tell us a little about yourself.

I once had a high school journalism teacher who said never start an autobiography with where you were born, unless it was someplace interesting, like jail.  So you won’t get that from me. Writing is all I’ve ever done, professionally, and in just about every way possible — as a newspaper and magazine reporter, PR director, playwright, short story writer and, now, novelist. My pay-the-bills job is PR writing for large corporations, anything that touches the media, their customers, etc. Good background for a novel sometime.

What inspired the idea behind your book?

 What inspired this book was my long-term immersion in Jewish folklore. I’ve adapted Ansky’s Yiddish-theater masterpiece, The Dybbuk, for actors and puppets, written versions of the golem and Chelm stories for the stage. I love the centuries-old eastern European Jewish folktales and conceived of a way to bring them to new audiences. The Hidden Saint is a classic hero’s journey story — with an untried hero, mentor, comic sidekick, villain, etc. — but through a world I’ve never seen depicted before in fiction: the world of Jewish myth and magic. When I encountered Rabbi Adam, a Jewish superhero of sorts from the 16th century, I knew I wanted to write an origin story for him, and this is it.

Who is your favorite character to create scenes for in the book?(You can also insert a paragraph or two showing this character doing what you love best about writing him/her along with your answer.) If an actor or actress were to play this part, who would it be?

We put a bit of our hearts into each character, so they’re all our children and we can’t have favorites. So I don’t. But my favorite is Shayna, the elderly housekeeper and member of a secret society that keeps the world in existence, and also the hero’s mentor.  She’s my favorite because she says exactly what’s on her mind, no varnish but plenty of piss and vinegar. And she’s also easy to underestimate; Rabbi Adam, the protagonist, certainly does so. And she quotes Shakespeare. What’s not to like? I was inspired to create her by the late English character actress Margaret Rutherford, who played Miss Marple in a series of 1960s films. But today, any English character actress could play her — Emma Thompson, Judi Densch, Maggie Smith. An excerpt:
They traveled several miles in the wagon. Shayna was eating a small pastry she must have secreted within her voluminous cloak. When she finished, she reached into a pocket and produced her handkerchief and wiped her lips with a single, straight stroke. The golem, meanwhile, was fascinated by a white sash he had acquired from one of the Cossacks who had no further need of it. He was tying and untying it into a series of intricate knots.
“How do you do it?” Adam asked Shayna.
“Do what?” she replied as she surveyed the fields around them.
“The idea that we’re going to a wedding, after what we’ve seen…” his mouth remained open but the rest of the thought remained unspoken.
Shayna gave him an appraising look, the corners of her thin little mouth twitching for an instant. “Oh,” she said. “You think I should be a sourpuss, like you?”
The golem put down the knotted sash and watched them.
“No, I don’t—” Adam began, then stopped. “I mean, I’m not a sourpuss.”
Shayna looked straight ahead, contemplating the road, which stretched to the horizon. “It must be the light then,” she said after a while. It appeared to Adam as though a hint of a grin was evident on the golem’s great, carved face.
“You know very well what I mean,” he continued. “All the dead of Miropol. All the dead and wounded of Okop. More dead than one should have to see in a lifetime. And now we go to a wedding… We should be mourning, not on our way to celebrate—shouldn’t we?”
Around them, the afternoon wind grew stronger, colder. The golem leaned forward, awaiting Shayna’s response.
“King Solomon says that everything has its season, everything has its time,” she reminded him. “A time to weep and a time to laugh. Who’s to say that this isn’t the time to laugh?”
“Then when is the time to weep?” he cried out.
“I suspect you’ll know it when you come to it,” Shayna said.

Is this book a part of a series?

It’s the start of a series. Don’t want to provide spoilers, but the arc of the protagonist raises the question: “what does he do next.” I have some ideas about that.

Where can readers leave reviews?

All the usual places: Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Goodreads — and if you do, thank you!

How can readers find your books and are there more coming in this series?

You can find The Hidden Saint wherever you buy books online. And yes, I’m planning the sequel now.

About Mark Levenson

Mark Levenson is an award-winning dramatist, screenwriter, and short story writer, as well as a longtime journalist.

His Jewish-themed fantasy writing has won honors from The National Foundation for Jewish Culture and the American Jewish University, as well as a Union Internationale de la Marionnette-USA Citation of Excellence, an award founded by Jim Henson.

Levenson’s novel, The Hidden Saint (Level Best Books, February 2022), is the culmination of his more than 20 years of engagement with Jewish folklore. Levenson wrote The Return of the Golem and The Wise Men of Chelm for the stage, and adapted S. Ansky’s The Dybbuk for actors and puppets. His Jewish-themed short fiction credits include Mystery Weekly Magazine, Kindle Kzine, and Ami Magazine. He blogs about Jewish fantasy for The Times of Israel.

Perhaps Levenson’s interests in fantasy and folklore are in his blood; his ancestors include a magician-grandmother, “Lightfingers Ida,” and a great-great-uncle who was a Russian circus strongman.

Levenson writes for and about puppet theatre, and performs an updated version of the classic Punch & Judy. He was graduated from Cornell University. He and his family live in Westchester County, New York.

Visit Mark’s Website

The Secret in the Wall


Oh boy, we’ve got a good one. Don’t  you love a mystery where something is hidden in the wall? What could it be? A letter? Money? A BODY? I love those house flipper shows where they find a document or an old shoe in the wall. Sometimes you should take things out and sometimes, it’s best to leave them there! Be sure to read my interview with Ann as she tells the fascinating inspiration for this story.  Don’t forget to scroll down and enter the giveaway!

About The Secret In The Wall


The Secret in the Wall: A Novel (Silver Rush Mysteries)
Historical Mystery
8th in Series
Poisoned Pen Press (February 15, 2022)

Sometimes you can’t keep your gown out of the gutter…

Inez Stannert has reinvented herself—again. Fleeing the comfort and wealth of her East Coast upbringing, she became a saloon owner and card sharp in the rough silver boomtown of Leadville, Colorado, always favoring the unconventional path—a difficult road for a woman in the late 1800s.

Then the teenaged daughter of a local prostitute is orphaned by her mother’s murder, and Inez steps up to raise the troubled girl as her own. Inez works hard to keep a respectable, loving home for Antonia, carefully crafting their new life in San Francisco. But risk is a seductive friend, difficult to resist. When a skeleton tumbles from the wall of her latest business investment, the police only seem interested in the bag of Civil War-era gold coins that fell out with it. With her trusty derringer tucked in the folds of her gown, Inez uses her street smarts and sheer will to unearth a secret that someone has already killed to keep buried. The more she digs, the muddier and more dangerous things become.

She enlists the help of Walter de Brujin, a local private investigator with whom she shares some history. Though she wants to trust him, she fears that his knowledge of her past, along with her growing attraction to him, may well blow her veneer of respectability to bits—that is, if her dogged pursuit of the truth doesn’t kill her first . . .

A Few Words with Ann Parker, Author of A Secret in the Wall

How did you come with an idea for your book?

The initial inspiration for The Secret in the Wall came from a newspaper article I read back in 2017, about the unearthing of an elaborate, Victorian-era casket beneath a San Francisco home. The well-preserved body of a little girl was visible through the glass upper portion of the airtight glass-and-bronze casket. She had long, blonde hair, was wearing a white christening dress, and was holding a flower in her hand. No one knew who she was, or how she came to be lying under this house in San Francisco’s Richmond district. The mystery was eventually solved (if you’re curious, you can read about it here https://www.mercurynews.com/2017/05/09/mystery-solved-19th-century-girl-in-casket-found-under-san-francisco-house-identified/ ). This situation piqued my imagination, and in late 2019 morphed into the idea of my 19th-century protagonist uncovering a desiccated body in the wall of house. The questions become: Who is he? When did he die? Why? And why is he in the wall to begin with? And the fact that he’s discovered with a bag of gold coins just “ups the ante,” so to speak.

What scene do you hope your readers enjoy the most?

I rather hope the readers enjoy the scene where the body falls out of the wall, much to the observers’ shock and surprise, and the final confrontation scene at the end of the story when “all is revealed.” (Of course, I hope readers enjoy the scene in between these two as well…)

What other things have you written or what projects might we see in the future?

This is the eighth book in the Silver Rush series, so if someone reads The Secret in the Wall and is curious to find out more about my protagonist and her earlier adventures in San Francisco and, before then, in the silver-rush boomtown of Leadville, Colorado, I hope they will take a look at them. I have also written a few short crime-fiction stories. The newest will be in Low Down Dirty Vote #3

 If you could write any other genre what would that be?

I’m pretty happy writing historical mysteries, as they combine two genres I truly enjoy reading: historical fiction and crime fiction. Other period I think would be fun to explore are the Roaring ’20s (the 1920s, that is!), and the Cold War era. As for completely different genres, I’ve often thought it would be fun to give steampunk a try. I imagine that, if I did, it would inevitably end up as a crime fiction novel, though!

Is there a giveaway or promotion with this book?

Yes. See the Rafflecopter Giveaway below.

Where can readers leave reviews of your book?

Anywhere they’d like! Here are a few possibilities:

· Goodreads

· LibraryThing

· Amazon

· Barnes & Noble 

About Ann Parker

Ann Parker is a science writer by day and fiction writer by night. Her award-winning Silver Rush Mysteries series, published by Poisoned Pen Press, a Sourcebooks imprint, is set primarily in 1880s Leadville, Colorado, and more recently in San Francisco, California, the “Paris of the West.” The series was named a Booksellers Favorite by the Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers Association, and Ann is listed in the Colorado Authors’ Hall of Fame. The Secret in the Wall is the eighth and newest entry in the series.

Author Links

Website: https://annparker.net/

Blog: https://silverrushmysteries.blogspot.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AnnParkerAuthor/

GoodReads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/2297.Ann_Parker

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/annparkerauthor/

Purchase Links – AmazonIndieBoundBarnes & NobleBooks-A-MillionNookKobo

Visit Towne Center Books Website for Signed/Personalized copies

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review Roundup for The Twist and Shout Murder

It was a great trip around the internet visiting some wonderful book blogs. I’m feeling blessed and grateful for these readers. I’ve been writing for many years, and this is by far the best round of reviews I’ve ever received. Thank you to Lori from Escape With a Good Book Tours for making this such an easy way to let people know about my book. Here are some of the reviews that have come in so far either from the tour or from Net Galley.

Book Bloggers

If you are looking for a trip back to the 1960s, you’ll be glad you picked up The Twist and Shout Murder. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens to Dot and the rest of these characters next.
~Carstairs Considers

Who’s ready for a trip to the past? Let’s go to the 60s to follow along with Dot. I give it 4/5 stars.
~Books a Plenty Book Reviews

The Twist and Shout Murder has set this series off on a groovy start. Dot is just starting her real-world journey through the Swinging Sixties and I am excited to see where Ms. Trent takes her and the rest of the core characters next.
~Escape With Dollycas Into A Good Book

It’s a fast-paced story that left me wanting more. I hope there is a sequel and soon!
~Socrates’ Book Reviews

Reviewers

A quick and easy read that I found myself picking up after a long day to unwind. The characters are beautifully written and I came to love them within the first few pages and was rooting for them all the way to the end. At times I wanted to stop reading because I just wanted the experience to go on for longer.

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. ~Nadine Rizvi (Reviewer)

The mystery is well written and intriguing. I enjoyed trying to untangle this investigation with Dot. She’s a wonderful, strong character. She’s surrounded by a fun, likeable supporting cast.

It’s a fast-paced story that left me wanting more. I hope there is a sequel and soon! ~Yvonne Hering (Reviewer)

A good start for a new mystery series: compelling, entertaining, and well written.
Dot is an interesting characters, the historical background and the setting are interesting, the solid mystery kept me guessing.
Can’t wait to read another one in this series.
Recommended. ~Anna Maria Giacamasso (Reviewer)

1962. A small town in Texas, Wait! I’ve lived this! A most fun, quick delightful read! Dot is an amazing character. Love her Texas sass! This book grabs your attention and keeps it! I definitely want more!!! 1962. A small town in Texas, Wait! I’ve lived this! A most fun, quick delightful read! Dot is an amazing character. Love her Texas sass! This book grabs your attention and keeps it! I definitely want more!!!  ~Renee Winter (Reviewer)

 I’m looking forward to following Dot on her journey through the “Swinging Sixties” and, hopefully, beyond. Fun read with bits of the history of the time scattered throughout and a growing stronger every day main character. What’s not to like? ~June Price (Reviewer)

The Twist and Shout Murder was a fun and fast-paced read. I was able to imagine how each character looked and how they were dressed from the author’s writing. Little touches of the 60’s era were scattered throughout the story which was nice since I was born in 1960, however I would’ve like to experience more of a small town feel in the story. … look forward to reading the second book in the series to see where Dot is in her life and other series Teresa Trent has written. ~Sharon Lewis (Reviewer)

Dot is spunky and smart as a whip. She’s got gumption and just the right amount of whimsy to be the perfect “small town junior detective”.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this and didn’t see the twist coming at all. ~Jessica Rush (Reviewer)

The Twist and Shout Murder Giveaway and Book Tour!

Prizes! Interviews! Reviews!
Welcome new subscribers to my newsletter! My mailing list has almost doubled in the last month and I’m so glad you’re here. If you aren’t subscribed to my newsletter but would like to receive a monthly email from Books to the Ceiling then click on this link. I’m about to go on a multiblog tour with The Twist and Shout Murder. I would love it if you would stop by and leave a comment. Also, be sure to enter my giveaway for a chance to win a digital copy of The Twist and Shout Murder and
$25 Amazon Gift Card
Here is the tour schedule:
TWIST AND SHOUT MURDER TOUR PARTICIPANTS
February 2
FUONLYKNEW
February 2
I Read What You Write
February 3
Ascroft, eh?
February 3
Carstairs Considers
February 4
Brooke Blogs
February 4
Sapphyria’s Book Reviews
February 5
Maureen’s Musings
February 5
Books a Plenty Book Reviews
February 6
#BRVL Book Review Virginia Lee Blog
February 7
fundinmental
February 8
Literary Gold
February 8
Escape With Dollycas Into A Good Book
February 9
Christy’s Cozy Corners
February 10
MJB Reviewers
February 10
Celticlady’s Reviews
February 11
BookishKelly2020
February 11
Socrates Book Reviews

Because I love to give away stuff–I’ve also made Buzzkill for free through this Bookfunnel Giveaway. This is a “Join My Mailing List” giveaway so if you are already on it, I won’t put you on again.

My Latest Review for The Twist and Shout Murder
The characters are beautifully written and I came to love them within the first few pages and was rooting for them all the way to the end. At times I wanted to stop reading because I just wanted the experience to go on for longer.
Net Galley Review

Pick Up Your Copy of The Twist and Shout Murder Here!