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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?


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.

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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.