Category: Giveaway

SWEET WATER by Cara Reinard | #Showcase #Interview #Giveaway

Sweet Water

by Cara Reinard

January 1-31, 2021 Tour

Synopsis:

Sweet Water by Cara Reinard

What did her son do in the woods last night? Does a mother really want to know?

It’s what Sarah Ellsworth dreamed of. Marriage to her childhood sweetheart, Martin. Living in a historic mansion in Pennsylvania’s most exclusive borough. And Finn, a teenage son with so much promise. Until…A call for help in the middle of the night leads Sarah and Martin to the woods, where they find Finn, injured, dazed, and weeping near his girlfriend’s dead body. Convinced he’s innocent, Sarah and Martin agree to protect their son at any cost and not report the crime.

But there are things Sarah finds hard to reconcile: a cover-up by Martin’s family that’s so unnervingly cold-blooded. Finn’s lies to the authorities are too comfortable, too proficient, not to arouse her suspicions. Even the secrets of the old house she lives in seem to be connected to the incident. As each troubling event unfolds, Sarah must decide how far she’ll go to save her perfect life.

Sweet Water Reviews:

“An unsparing account of ‘rich people problems’ that goes on forever, like all the best nightmares.” —Kirkus Reviews

Book Details:

Genre: Domestic Thriller, Crime Fiction
Published by: Thomas & Mercer
Publication Date: January 1st 2021
Number of Pages: 364
ISBN: 1542024935 (ISBN13: 978-1542024938)
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

 

Cara Reinard

Author Bio:

Cara Reinard is an author of women’s fiction and domestic. She currently lives north of Pittsburgh with her husband, two children, and Bernese mountain dog.

Q&A with Cara Reinard

Welcome and thank you for stopping by CMash Reads
Reading and Writing:

What inspired you to write this book?

It all started with a short story I published in the Mindful Writer’s Into the Woods anthology (2018), a compilation of stories, poems & essays. My story was about two college kids who messed around with drugs in the woods in a park outside of Manhattan. Only one of the kids left the woods alive. It was a premise that stuck with me long after the story was published and one I thought could expand on. I moved the setting to Pittsburgh, thought of the most beautiful, affluent wooded area around, and started drafting Sweet Water.

What was the biggest challenge in writing this book?

I’ve never written anything with an alternating timeline before. Sweet Water flashes back to 1987, the 90s and the early 2000s. Even though I’ve lived during all those eras, it was challenging keeping my historical facts straight. For instance, I had a lot of musical references in the book and I had the copyeditor flag me a couple of times because I used bands who existed but weren’t “known” yet. On top of the alternating timeline, I had a dated journal and I had to make sure my days of the week accurately synched up.

Give us a glimpse of the research that went into this book.

Because the book was set in a real town and I used a lot of historical references I had to fact check everything. I also had to research laws and other criminal cases like the one in my book to make sure they were factually represented.

How did you come up with the title?

At last, an easy question! Sweet Water is the Native American translation for Sewickley, the name of the town where the book is set. Water is a present theme throughout the book so it seemed like a fitting title.

Your routine in writing? Any idiosyncrasies?

I wish had a set routine! I work full-time in an unrelated field and have two elementary-aged children (and a husband I talk to occasionally). I write when I have the time, although the colder months are often more productive because I’m forced inside more. I also attend one writing retreat a year where I’m usually able to crank out a lot of words. If I’m on deadline, I join other fellow authors on Twitter for #5AMwritersclub and get in some early morning edits.

Tell us why we should read your book?

Sweet Water is a domestic suspense novel and book club fiction. The alternating timeline and town, which is described as a character itself, sets it apart from other books in the same genre. I’d say readers who are fans of Kimberly McCreight and Ruth Ware will enjoy this book.

Are you working on your next novel? If so, can you tell us a little bit about it?

Yes, I’m working on my edits for Into the Sound, my second book to be released through Thomas & Mercer on December 1st, 2021. It’s a novel of domestic suspense in which a woman is forced to expose long-buried family secrets to find her missing sister after she’s suspected of being swept away during a Long Island superstorm.

Fun Questions:

Your novel will be a movie. You would you cast?

Sarah, my main protagonist – Rosamund Pike. Martin, her husband – Hugh Jackman. Joshua, Sarah’s ex – Josh Hartnett.

Favorite leisure activities/hobbies?

Running, going to shows with my husband, playing with my Bernese mountain dog and kids (cheer and hockey mom).

Favorite foods?

Anything Mediterranean, especially Italian! Or anything my husband makes for me, he’s the resident chef!

For more information, visit:
www.carareinard.com
Goodreads
BookBub – @CaraReinard
Twitter – @carareinard
Instagram – @carareinard
Facebook – Cara Reinard, Author

 

Read an excerpt:

Chapter 1

I reach for my phone inside my purse slung around my neck. It’s dangling behind my back because I had nowhere else to put it while examining the body.

“Sarah, is she breathing?” Martin asks. I turn my head to find him, but it’s too dark.

I stumble, disoriented under the canopy of trees. We’re somewhere off Fern Hollow Road, the closest turnoff to Finn’s pinned iPhone location.

“I d-don’t know,” I sputter, still shocked we found her and not Finn when we parked the car and hiked the rest of the way into Sewickley Heights Park.

“Check her—now. I need to find Finn.” Martin’s voice fades into the forest, and all I want to do is follow him, but I just spoke to my son on the phone. His speech was slurred, and his girlfriend is . . .

“Oh God.” I open my mouth and let out a strangled breath, so sick that I sway to the side.

My eyes water as I kneel beside Yazmin Veltri, a girl I’ve known for only the briefest period. The wetness soaks through the holes in my jeans, settling into my bare kneecaps, ice on bone.

“Yazmin?” I shine my phone’s light in her direction, but I’m stopped by the certain hint of marijuana.

Shit. All these years working with at-risk young women, and I couldn’t see that Finn was dating one.

“Please,” I beg the starlit sky peeking through the trees. “Let her be breathing.”

I sniffle and inhale the truth through the rotting leaves. Something terrible has happened here, and I’m too late. The autumn mist snakes in through my nose, out through my mouth, emitting tiny white puffs of air.

The forest ground is slippery, a feathered blanket beneath my knees, slathering the tops of my shoes.

I hear more hurried footsteps. Martin sounds like a mouse lost in a maze. Has he found Finn? I need to go to him, but my husband told me to stay here.

The branches scratch the tops of my feet as I move closer to her, the fallen leaves collecting between my knees. Yazmin could still be alive. A bitter taste rises in my mouth as I bite my tongue, and I’m close enough to touch her now.

My arm trembles as I place two fingers on the cold flesh of her neck. Not only cold—wet. I can’t see what I’m touching, but I can feel her absence. Right below her jawline, in the space beside her trachea where I know a steady drumbeat should exist, there’s nothing.

No pulse. My heartbeat quickens and plummets. Oh God.

My blood is rushing. Pounding. I’m sweating despite the near-thirty-degree temperature. I dip my head closer to Yazmin’s chest, careful not to tangle my hair with hers. I’ve checked on my kids enough times in the middle of the night to know this girl’s not breathing. I shut my eyes and listen anyway.

Sure enough, the steady rise and fall of Yazmin’s chest is absent along with her pulse.

“She’s dead. We have to call the police,” I announce, loud enough for Martin to hear, but not nearly as loud as the screaming in my head.

Call somebody! Help!

I hear Martin crunch closer, and I turn my back on the girl.

I scoot up on my legs and use my hands to push myself into a crouching position. My breath is heavy, and everything on my body—my hands, my knees—rattles with fear. I hear a cry in the distance.

My son’s cry. And then Martin’s rustling footsteps. Beside me again.

“Where is he?” I ask.

“He’s okay, but . . .” Martin nods to the right. “He’s injured. We need to get him out of here, Sarah.”

“Okay,” I say, but I close my eyes because my head is a ringing bell of stress even though this wooded area is one of the things that drew me to this town. The park is near the country club where we’re members, where Martin’s family have been members for years, and things like this just don’t happen here.

“Let’s go, Sarah!” Martin urges.

My eyes snap open, and I hold up my phone. “Wait. I’m calling 911. For her.”

“No.” Martin swats my hand away with the flick of his strong knuckles. The blood on my palms makes everything slick, and my cell phone goes flying across the forest like a bar of soap in the shower. I slip sideways into a bramble of branches and land on my left hip, staring at my husband’s garish face in the moonlight. He looks unfamiliar, that expression one reserved for when he loses business at work, a rare occurrence. Martin is an innovator, his causes noble. Sometimes I don’t approve of how he does things, but I usually approve of why.

“Damn it.” Martin scrambles to find my phone. Right now, I don’t approve at all.

“Why did you do that?” I ask, but I’m more surprised that he’s hit me than I am by the fact that he doesn’t agree with my decision to call the police.

“It will get reported tomorrow. We need to leave with Finn. Now.”

“What? That makes no sense.”

Martin retrieves my phone, and I’m trying to get his attention, but he’s looking right past me at the gas pipeline in the distance, a clear-cut, inclined path free of foliage about a thousand yards long in the mountainous terrain. Martin and I messed around with sleds one winter on a protected slope of land just like it, and I think maybe Finn and Yazmin planned their own adventure out here tonight and something went terribly wrong.

“Martin.” I try to get up, but my foot slips on a mossy rock.

He grabs my arm. Then drops it. “Watch yourself,” he says, but he doesn’t help me rise. He’s too busy texting.

It’s then that I hear water rushing nearby. The river rocks are indigenous to this area, like everything else woodsy and serene in Sewickley.

Sewickley, the Shawnee word for sweet water, derived from the tribe’s belief that the borough’s shores were a little sweeter on that stretch of the Ohio River, the maple trees that grow at its shores only part of the saccharine story.

“Who’re you texting?” I’m crying and my hands are still wet, but I can’t wipe them. There’s blood all over my palms, and I can’t remember how it got there; head wounds bleed the worst.

“Hold on!” Martin is standing with his back to me now, holding his phone in the air like he’s trying to decide what to do with it, a six-foot silhouette of trepidation. He scratches his dark hair and rubs his cell phone on his sweater-vest, but he doesn’t use it to call anyone, only texts.

“I’m getting legal advice from my father,” Martin says.

His father?

I picture William Sr. texting back from the comfort of one of his high-back chairs inside his home, one of the few estates that make up Sewickley Heights like a richly woven patchwork quilt—the expensive kind sewn together with colonials surrounded by alabaster columns and mile-long driveways.

“Martin?”

William’s house is a fat-thatched Tudor hiding behind manicured bushes, a peek of white here, a slip of brown there, but there’s no hiding from this.

“Of course you have to report it!” I look again—at her—and the blood is already congealing around her open head wound, her neck bent at an awkward angle, a matchstick snapped in half. The rushing water streams just behind her.

Martin’s tugging on my coat. “Get up, Sarah. We have to go.”

“We can’t leave her.” Yazmin’s long black hair is covering the expression on her face, although the one I imagine is stuck there will haunt me more than the one I cannot see. She rests on her back, and it would be an odd way to fall, backward instead of forward, her hands crossed over her chest as if she were thwarting an attack. It reminds me of a tae kwon do block from when Finn used to take classes. We’d enrolled him when he was a child because he was painfully shy, whereas Spencer, his older brother, was frequently mentioned by his teachers as boisterous or exuberant, adjectives used in private schools to describe disruptive overachievers. I might expect Spencer to get into trouble with a girl like this, but not my poor Finny.

I turn toward Martin. He’s speaking, but I’ve stopped listening.

His eyes are pleading. “She’s dead. We can’t help her. Finn was the last person with her.”

“But—”

“He’s on something, Sarah. Drugs.” Martin shakes his head furiously. “This looks bad.”

I can hear what he’s saying, but I’ve retreated into my own body, and I don’t even know who we are right now.

We used to be Martin and Sarah Ellsworth of Blackburn Road.

We were the couple sitting at a corner table at a fancy restaurant, splitting a bottle of wine. Laughing at each other’s jokes.

“We have to do something for her.” My voice is swallowed by the humming sounds of the forest and the flapping of the leaves on the trees, the river. She’s already dead, but we need to make sure she’s at least taken to the hospital so her parents can identify her. Bile rises in my mouth. My heart is beating so fast, drowning out everything else, but I faintly hear Finn’s voice again nearby.

“I’m sorry.” Martin extends his arm to help me up, but I waggle my finger in the air at him, pointing to my hands, reminding my brainy husband that I’m bloodied and pulling me up isn’t a good idea. I must’ve made the mistake of touching Yazmin in the wrong place.

“Right.” He draws his palms back.

My legs won’t work. I gaze up, silently praying. The large enveloping trees of Sewickley Heights tower above us like old wealthy gatekeepers winking in the night.

“I need your help. I can’t move him on my own, Sarah,” Martin reveals.

I close my eyes, wishing it all away. It’s all a bad dream.

“Can we just make an anonymous call from a pay phone or something? For her parents’ sake, at least?”

“You can’t. They’ll try to interview Finn, see the drug use, and assume the worst. He’ll go to jail.” His voice is thick with desperation. “Sarah, this will ruin Finn’s life. This isn’t his fault!” Martin kicks a stone with his worn loafer, a product from one of the posh boutiques that line downtown Sewickley, a mishmash of overpriced things people don’t really need displayed in windowed storefronts on cobblestone streets. There’s a place to reupholster old furniture with patterns better left to die with their original owners, a claw-foot-tub specialist, an herbal spa with enough fresh fruit remedies to double as a bakery, the imported-leather-shoe store.

I bought Martin the shoes he has on now, and he’s worn them down to the soles. He’s practical, a computer engineer and CEO of a robotics start-up in the Strip District. He does things that make sense.

But right now, he’s not making any.

“Maybe she slipped.” My voice is shallow like the night air sneaking away from my lips, but the idea of an accident fills my heart with hope. “We’ll leave an anonymous tip.” If I had my phone, I’d call myself.

I’d explain this is exactly how we found her. She wasn’t even near our son when we discovered her body.

Unless . . . we’ve messed with the scene of the crime so much that we’ve hurt Finn more than helped him. I look down at my bloody hands and cringe. As far as we know, Finn is the last one who saw Yazmin alive. This could be very bad for him. “Shit.”

Martin grabs me by the arm. “We have to go, Sarah. Get up.” I can’t see much of Martin’s face but the stringy blue vein in his forehead that only comes out when he’s upset.

It’s been only minutes, but we need to move—faster.

“We need to go to him,” I say.

“Yes.” Martin nods.

I’m in shock. That’s what’s wrong with me. I blindly follow Martin, adrenaline fueling my limbs. Finn is off the beaten path, and I feel as though I’ve already failed him for taking so long. He’s huddled over a pile of leaves, his knees tucked into his chest like he used to do when he was a little kid. He looks so small right now.

So young.

A little boy who fell off his scooter and skinned his knee. I wish this problem were as easy to fix.

I wipe my hands on my jeans and throw my arms around him.

“I’m here. Mom’s here.” Finn’s crying and I don’t know how to make it better for him. He obviously didn’t mean for the girl to get hurt, but this was no accident either. He’s made a terrible mistake, gotten himself into a horrible predicament. So Finn did what we always told him to do if he was ever in trouble—he called us.

***

Excerpt from Sweet Water by Cara Reinard. Copyright 2021 by Cara Reinard. Reproduced with permission from Cara Reinard. All rights reserved.

 

 

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THE VENTURI EFFECT by Sage Webb | #Showcase #Interview #Giveaway

The Venturi Effect by Sage Webb Banner

 

 

The Venturi Effect

by Sage Webb

on Tour November 1 – December 31, 2020

The Venturi Effect by Sage Webb

Synopsis:

After fleeing the crush of a partnership at a large Chicago criminal-defense firm and the humiliation of a professional breakdown, Devlin Winters just wants to be left alone with a couple sundowners on the deck of her dilapidated mahogany trawler on Galveston Bay. But when an old flame shows up on the boardwalk with a mysterious little boy in tow and an indictment on his heels, fate has other plans, and Devlin finds herself thrust onto a sailboat bound for St. Kitts and staring down her demons in the courtroom, as she squares off against an obsessed prosecutor with a secret of his own.

Book Details:

Genre: Legal Thriller
Published by: Stoneman House Press, LLC
Publication Date: November 15th 2020
Number of Pages: 329
ISBN: 9781733737944 (Ebook: 9781733737951)
Links: Amazon | Goodreads

 

Author Bio:

Sage Webb

Sage Webb practiced criminal defense for over a decade before turning to fiction. She is the author of two novels and the recipient of numerous literary awards in the U.S. and U.K., including second place in the Hackney Literary Awards. Her short stories have appeared in Texas anthologies and literary reviews. In 2020, Michigan’s Mackinac State Historic Parks named her an artist in residence. She belongs to International Thriller Writers and PEN America, and lives with her husband, a ship’s cat, and a boat dog on a sailboat in Galveston Bay.

Q&A with Sage Webb

What was the inspiration for this book?

The Venturi Effect springs from my own experience of moving to Texas to live on a small sailboat when I needed a change of scenery, and from fraud cases in the federal criminal-justice system—not cases I’ve been involved with, but interesting cases for which I’ve read judicial opinions and pleadings. With most of my writing, I like to stay pretty “true to life.” I agree with those who recognize the limits of “writing what you know,” but I still see “writing what you know” as providing a solid springboard for making stories.

What has been the biggest challenge in your writing career?

I consider myself lucky. I write full time. Now, most of what I write isn’t that interesting at all; it’s legal or commercial . . . and it’s pretty dry. It’s still writing, though, so I get to work on style, usage, brevity, even typography, every day. But this immersion in the written word (and in my laptop!) also means I don’t get a break. And this lack of a “break,” and the constant specter of deadlines, are the hardest parts of writing for me. There are days when I’d like to have a job working with people, or that involves doing concrete tasks that have marked starting and finishing points. With writing (in any genre or discipline), it sometimes feels like I can go on and on (alone) forever and never have the piece truly finished or polished, like there’s always one more tweak I could give it. So in that sense, the other hard part—the deadlines—does its job. The deadlines provide an end point, at least. But it can be really (like really, really) hard to juggle them. I blame deadlines (when actually it’s lupus) for my hair falling out!

What do you absolutely need while writing?

My laptop. That’s it. Because of those hard parts—the deadlines and the constant presence of the work—I’ve trained myself to write “wherever, whenever, however.” When we go on roadtrips, my husband will drive, and I’ll open up my laptop and write. If I’m choosing ideal circumstances, however, I’ll choose any situation that puts a majestic, judgmental cat close at hand.

Do you adhere to a strict routine when writing or write when the ideas are flowing?

For fiction, I write when time allows. I don’t have a routine; it’s simply a matter of working around other deadlines and commitments. When things slow down a little on the commercial/legal front, I’ll settle into a story. Sometimes I’ll feel inspired, and sometimes things will feel flatter, but either way, I’ll try to dig in. As a rule, I aim to work on one book at a time, but sometimes (like right now), I’ll have multiple book-length projects in the hopper.

Who is your favorite character from your book and why?

Assistant U.S. Attorney Xavier Charles. Perhaps he’s a little misguided at times, but he has his ideals and he tries to live up to them. He works hard, he tries hard, and he wants to be committed to things he cares about. I’d totally take him out for a cup of tea and debate him. Plus I adore his cats!

Who is your least favorite character from your book and why?

Viggo Bryson seems like the natural choice, but honestly, I think it’s Nils. Sometimes, Nils just seems kind of passive or pococurante for me. He kind of lets his life sweep him along, rather than living intentionally. His parents and brother have given him money at various times. He has allowed himself to get caught up in his brother’s tomfoolery. He loves Devlin, but he let her go when they were younger, and then, when she comes back into his life, he kind of fails to pursue her properly.

Give us an interesting fun fact or a few about your book?

Most of the details are authentic. The legal citations, the potential sentences for fraud offenses, the fraud scheme itself, the boat banter . . . all that is realistic. Writing the in-court dialogue, I would sometimes pull up publicly available transcripts of proceedings to review attorneys’ and judges’ diction and get into an authentic flow. But the part about Devlin jumping into the water in the storm is pure fiction. An experienced sailor would never do that. And for good reason. No good is going to come of that. I’ve jumped off boats in nice weather, in protected bays, for fun . . . just messing around . . . and it’s really hard to swim fully clothed, especially in shoes, and it’s really, really hard for the person steering the boat to keep track of someone in the water. That whole storm scenario involves a lot of poetic license.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

Write reviews! Please! Reviews help authors sell books. They also provide valuable feedback on so many levels, and they help the publishing industry as a whole grow and better cater to consumer preferences. Tell authors and publishers what you think about the books you read: what you think matters a lot!

Tell us a little about yourself and your background?

Devlin and I share some background. We both practiced criminal defense in the Midwest, and we both moved to Texas to get a change of scenery (though I decidedly did not break down and take my dog’s tramadol). Like Devlin and the Brysons, I raced small sailboats as a kid, and like them, I’ve sailed in Chicago. Now, my husband and I live on a forty-foot sailboat in a marina off Galveston Bay. We spend our weekends at anchor with our boat dog.

What’s next that we can look forward to?

Devlin, the Bryson brothers, and Xavier will return in 2021 in The Cult of Mammon. This second book in the series presents a darker web of fraud, while weaving in a little Civil War history and taking readers to Hawaii and California.

Then on a more personal level, I’ve got a travel narrative in the works, covering a span when I was ranging through Texas in a 15’ travel trailer in an attempt to do the adult equivalent of “running away to join the circus.”

For short stories, this past summer, I was honored to be an artist in residence for Michigan’s Mackinac State Historic Parks on Mackinac Island and spent three weeks outlining a story collection to celebrate the island. The final manuscript is due August 2021 and will include some light-hearted pieces, some flash fiction, some historical pieces. . . . Basically, it will showcase this delicious time warp in Lake Huron where cars have no place and every summer feels like 1890.

You can find Sage at:
www.sagewebb.com, Goodreads, Twitter, & Facebook!

 

Read an excerpt:

Chapter 1
Carny

Red metal boxes lined the wood-railed tourist boardwalk, giving children access to fish food if the kids could finagle quarters from parents wilted and forlorn in the triple-digit Gulf Coast heat. With the food, kids could create great frenzies of red drum, snook, spotted sea trout, or whatever fish species gathered at the boardwalk’s pilings in agitated silver vortices. Devlin Winters lifted her ballcap and wiped a sleeve across her brow. She favored long-sleeved t-shirts for just this reason—their mopping properties . . . and to protect her from the Galveston Bay sun in its unrelenting effort to grill her and the other boardwalk barkers. In the two years she’d been on the boardwalk, she’d never fed the fish.

A kid stopped beside one of the boxes.

“Can I have a quarter, mommy?” the boy asked.

He looked about eight or nine, though Devlin had little interest in guessing accurately the ages of the pint-sized patrons fueling her income stream.

“I’m not sure I have one,” the mom replied.

She appeared a bit younger than Devlin, maybe late twenties.

Once upon a time, Devlin would have looked at a mother like that and made a snide remark about crib lizards and dead ends, but nine bucks an hour in the sun makes it awfully hard for a carny to judge others. Lacking a more interesting subject, Devlin watched the woman paw through a backpack-sized purse. The chick produced a quarter and handed it to the kid, who dropped it into the box’s payment slot and ground the dial, catching in his miniature palm a limited portion of the fish food that spilled out of the machine when he lifted the metal flap. The majority of the pellets rained down onto the wooden boardwalk planks, bounced, and disappeared through the cracks between the planks.

Devlin fancied she could hear the tiny fish-food BBs hitting brown water: plink, plink, plink. Once upon another time, when she was still at Sondheim Baker, but toward the end, she would go outside in the middle of the day. Instead of sitting at her desk, drafting appellate briefs for the Seventh Circuit, she would ride the elevator down to La Salle, down seven hundred feet of glass and stainless steel and terribly expensive architecture. She would drop down those elevator cables at random times, at times rich, successful attorneys should have been at their desks. And she would turn left out of that great glass building the color of the sky and walk over to the river, that nothing-like-the-Styx river that mankind had turned back on itself, contrary to nature.

She would stand and look down into the water, which was sometimes emerald, sometimes the color of jeans before they are ever washed. Once or twice, she had reached into her purse (expensive purses, Magnificent Mile purses from Burberry and Gucci and Hermès) and she had dug around until she’d found a penny. She’d dropped the penny into the river and, even now, on the sauna-hot boardwalk with the whistle of the kid-sized train behind her and the pulses of unimpressive pop music overhead, she was sure she could hear those pennies hit the Chicago River, hit and sink down, down, and farther down.

Plink. Plink. Pli—

“You want to try this one?”

The fish-feeding entertainment had run its course and the mother stood in front of the water-gun game Devlin guarded. She gestured toward Devlin and the row of stools in front of their narrow-barreled water guns.

“Is it hard?” The kid looked up at his mom, and the mom turned to Devlin.

“He can do it, right?” she asked. “I mean, he can figure it out, right?”

“Sure, it’s easy.” Devlin lifted her cap for another mop across her hairline, and then wiped perspiration away from her eyes under her sunglasses. “It’s fun, little dude,” she said to the kid in his obviously secondhand clothes.

She wanted to care, wanted to be “affable” or whatever it is a carny should be toward summer’s ice-cream-eating cash-crop flux of kids. But wanting alone, without effort, is never enough.

The mom held out a five-dollar bill.

“You both wanna do it? I gotta have more than one person to run it for a prize.” Devlin rubbed the top of her right flip flop and foot against her left calf.

“Oh,” the woman said, “I wasn’t planning to play. I’m no good at these things.”

“Um,” Devlin stepped out of the shade of the game’s nook and cast her eyes up and down the boardwalk, “we’ll find some more kids.” She took the woman’s money without looking away from the walkway and the beggarly seabirds.

A young couple, likely playing hooky from jobs in Houston, held the hands of a girl sporting jet-black pigtails and lopsided glasses.

“Step right up, princess. You wanna win a unicorn, right?” Devlin reached back into her game nook and snatched a pink toy from the wall of unicorns, butterflies, bees, and unlicensed lookalikes of characters from movies Devlin had never heard of. She dangled the thing in the girl’s direction.

“Would you like to play, habibti?” The mom jiggled the girl’s arm.

“Tell ya what.” Devlin turned to the mom. “The whole family can play for five bucks. We’re just trying to get some games going, give away some prizes to these cuties.” She turned back to the first mother. “And don’t worry, I’ll give him three games for the fiver.”

“Hear that, Vince? You’ll get to play a few times. Is that cool?”

Vince picked at his crotch. Devlin looked away.

“Yes, we’ll all play,” the second mother said. The dad pulled a twenty out of a pocket and Devlin started to make change while Vince’s mom hefted Vince onto a stool.

“Just a five back,” the father said. “We’ll play a few times.”

“Sure thing,” Devlin replied. Then she raised her voice to run through the rules of the game, to explain how the water guns spraying and hitting the targets would raise plastic boats in a boat race to buzzers at the top of the game contraption. She offered some tired words of encouragement, got nods from everyone, and counted down. “Three, two, one.”

She pushed the button and the game loosed a bell sound across the boardwalk.

A guy in waiter’s livery hurried past, hustling toward one of the boardwalk’s various restaurants, with their patios overlooking the channel and Galveston Bay. He’d be serving people margaritas and gimlets in just a few more steps and minutes. Devlin wanted a gimlet.

She drew a deep breath, turned back to her charges. “Close race here, friends.”

An ’80s-vintage Hunter sailboat slid past in the channel, leaving Galveston Bay and making its way back to one of the marinas up the waterway on Clear Lake.

When Devlin turned back to her marksmen, the girl’s mother’s boat had almost reached the buzzer.

“Looks like we’ve got a leader here. Come on, madam. You’re almost there.”

Devlin checked her watch. She’d be off in less than an hour. She’d be back on her own boat fifteen minutes after that, with an unopened bottle of Bombay Sapphire and a net full of limes rocking above the galley sink.

The buzzer blared.

“Looks like we have a winner. Congratulations, madam.” Devlin clapped three times. “Now would you like a unicorn, a butterfly, or,” Devlin pulled a four-inch-tall creature from the wall, not knowing how to describe it, “this little guy?” She held it out for the woman’s inspection.

Habibti, you pick.” The mom patted her daughter’s back. The kid didn’t say anything, just pointed at the butterfly.

“Butterfly it is, beautiful.” Devlin unclipped the toy from the wall of plush junk and handed it to the girl. “Well, we’ve got some competition for this next one, folks, now that you’re all warmed up. Take a breather. We’ll start the next game when you’re ready.”

“Can I try?” A boy pulled at a broad-shouldered man’s hand, leading the guy toward the row of stools. It was hard to tell parentage with these kids and their mixed-up step- and half- and melded-in-other-ways families, and with this one, the kid’s dark curls and earnest eyes contrasted with the dude’s Nordic features and reminded Devlin of a roommate she’d had in undergrad, a girl from Haiti who’d taught Devlin about pikliz. Devlin hadn’t thought about Haitian food in ages. She decided she would google it later and see what she could find in Houston. A drive to discover somewhere new to eat would do her good.

Any chance at plantains and pikliz would have to wait, though. The kid and the dude now stood in front of Devlin. Ultra-dark sunglasses hid the guy’s eyes, and a ballcap with a local yacht brokerage’s logo embroidered on it cast a shadow over his face. Devlin cocked her head. She narrowed her eyes and hoped her own sunglasses were doing as good a job of being barriers. He reminded her of—

“Still time to add another player?” The dude pulled out a wallet and handed Devlin a ten.

“Sure,” she said. “Is this for both of you? You should give it a try, too. This’ll get you both in on the next two games.”

She didn’t wait for confirmation. She shoved the money in the box beside her control board of buzzer buttons and waved the guy and his kid toward stools on the far side of the now-veteran players already seated.

“Uh, sure,” the guy said, putting a hand on the kid’s back and guiding him to a seat.

Running through the rules again, Devlin envisioned those gimlets awaiting her. With Bombay Sapphire dancing before her, she counted down and then pushed the button to blast the bell and launch the game. The buzzer over the newcomer father’s boat’s track rang moments later. What kind of scummy guy just trounces a kid like that? Devlin rolled her eyes behind the obscuring lenses.

“Looks like our new guy is the winner, ladies and gentlemen. Now, would you like a unicorn, a butterfly, or this little dude?” Devlin again proffered the hard-to-describe creature, walking it over for the fellow to examine.

“What is it?” the guy asked.

Devlin shrugged. “What do you get when you cross an elephant and a rhino?”

The guy’s sunglasses gave away nothing. But something she couldn’t articulate made her feel like he was studying her.

“An ’el-if-I-know,” she said.

Still nothing . . . except that feeling of scrutiny.

“Dude, I’ve got no idea,” she replied to her reflection in the lenses.

“Grant, which one do you want?” The guy turned away and handed the unnamed creature to the kid, and then gestured at the identifiable unicorns and butterflies hanging on the wall over Devlin’s control station.

“Those are for girls,” Grant said, waving at the recognizable plushes on the wall.

“So is this one okay?” The guy patted the thing in the kid’s hand.

Grant wrinkled his nose. “Yeah, I guess so.”

“All right, folks. You’ve all got another game coming here. Competition is fierce. Who’s gonna take this last one?” Devlin strode back to her place at the control board.

“Deep inhale, everyone. Relax. All right, here we go. Three, two, one.” She pushed the starting button.

Up shot the new guy’s boat again. What a bastard. Poor Grant. This patriarchal showmanship would be worth about five or ten grand at the therapist’s in twenty-five years.

Out in the channel, two jetskis purred past, headed toward the bay. The day’s heat had cracked and the sky hinted at evening. Behind her, the victory whistle sounded. She turned. The dude with the sunglasses sat patting Grant’s shoulder, with Grant’s boat at the top of its track. So the guy wasn’t a complete fool.

“A new winner here, ladies and gentlemen.” She walked to Grant’s stool. “Now, little man, because you’ve won two prizes today, you can trade that one you’ve got and this one you’re going to get for one bigger one. You can pick from these if you want.”

She pointed at a row with only-slightly-bigger caterpillars, ambiguous characters, and a dog in a purple vest.

“That one,” Grant said, pointing at the dog.

“That one it is, good sir.” Devlin retrieved the dog, taking back the first creature and returning it to the wall in the process.

As she retraced her steps to Grant, the dog in her hand, fuzzy pictures coalesced in a fog and mist of bygone memories.

Devlin handed the dog to Grant. “There you go.”

She looked at the guy again, focusing on him for longer than she should have, feeling him perhaps doing the same to her. Yes, she had it right: it was him. She pushed a flyaway strand of bleached hair back into place beneath her cap and turned away.

“Thanks for playing this afternoon, folks,” she called. “Enjoy your evening on the boardwalk.”

The parents gathered their kids, and Devlin walked back toward her control board. Waiting for Grant and him to head off down the row of games and rides, she fussed with the cashbox and then lifted her water bottle to her lips. She could feel him and the kid lingering, feel them failing to move along, failing to leave her to forget what once was and to focus on thoughts of gimlets at sunset on the deck of a rotten old trawler.

“Um.” His voice sounded low and halting behind her. A vacuum, all heat and silence, followed and then a masculine inhale . . . and then the awkward pause.

He cleared his throat.

“Sorry to interrupt, but are you from Chicago?”

***

Excerpt from The Venturi Effect by Sage Webb. Copyright 2020 by Sage Webb. Reproduced with permission from Sage Webb. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Giveaway!:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Sage Webb. There will be Fourteen (14) winners for this tour. Seven (7) winners will each receive a $15 Amazon.com Gift Card and Seven (7) winners will each receive a physical copy of The Venturi Effect by Sage Webb (US addresses only). The giveaway begins on November 1, 2020 and runs through January 2, 2021. Void where prohibited.

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SLIGHTLY MURDEROUS INTENT by Lida Sideris | #Showcase #Giveaway

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Slightly Murderous Intent

A Southern California Mystery

by Lida Sideris

December 7 – 18, 2020 Tour

Synopsis:

Slightly Murderous Intent by Lida Sideris

There’s a shooter on the loose who keeps missing his target. But that doesn’t stop him from trying again…and again. It’s up to Corrie Locke, rookie lawyer and spunky sleuth, to find the gunman before he hits his mark, Assistant Deputy D.A. James Zachary, Corrie’s hunky and complicated frenemy.

When Corrie is stuck with more questions than answers, she enlists a team with various strengths, from weapons to cooking skills, to help her find the shooter. Her computer whiz boyfriend Michael is onboard. So is former security guard Veera. Toss in an over-the-hill informant and a couple of feuding celebrity chefs and Corrie’s got her very own A-Team. Okay, maybe it’s more like a B-Team.

Can Team Corrie hunt down the shooter before he scores a bulls-eye?

Book Details:

Genre: Traditional Mystery with some Humor
Published by: Level Best Books
Publication Date: October 20th 2020
Number of Pages: 280
ISBN: 9781947915930
Series: A Southern California Mystery, #4 || Each can be read as a Stand-Alone book
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

The last of my patience dripped onto the concrete floor beneath my feet. My fists clenched, my jaw tightened and my stomach rumbled like the start of an avalanche. I’d officially reached the cracking point.

“Today was V-day for us. Victory with a big fat V.”

Los Angeles Senior Deputy District Attorney Bruce Beckman stood at the head of our table, arms raised high. The first two fingers of each hand formed a “V”. Meanwhile, everyone’s dinner sat in front of them. Everyone’s, that is, but mine. All I had was an empty plate and an empty stomach.

“Where’s our server?” I whispered. The beach side diner was packed. “Did they run out of food?”

Beckman dropped his pose and glared at me so fiercely, my cheeks glowed from the heat.

“Sorry,” I mumbled. What did he expect? His mac n’ cheese was half eaten. I licked my lips.

“The case came close to swinging in the opposite direction,” Beckman continued. “We couldn’t have won today’s trial without this guy.” Beckman gestured toward the deputy D.A. sitting next to him.

I half stood and peered past the other diners. No sign of our server. “Slacker,” I mumbled. I slammed my napkin down beside my plate.

“Have some of mine,” Michael whispered. “Please, Corrie.”

If anyone else had offered, I would’ve cleaned his plate in thirty seconds. But Michael was my oldest friend slash newest boyfriend, and I loved him dearly from his dark floppy hair to the Chuck Taylors on his feet. We sat in a crowded hipster restaurant in Santa Monica, a hop, skip and a jump from the sparkling Pacific Ocean. Michael had barely touched his burger, waiting on my dinner with me. His stomach growled right alongside mine.

“Obviously, I picked the right man for the job,” Beckman said. “And gave him a few tips. Quite a few, actually.” He chuckled.

Weak laughter trickled around the table, followed by a groan. Did that come from me? Beckman shot me his signature scowl. I managed a shadow of an apology, and his attention returned to the man on his left. My hunger pangs took a brief hike while I assessed the object of Beckman’s praise. Assistant Deputy D.A. James Zachary flashed a grin. He was a sight for sore eyes. Or any eyes, for that matter.

“Thanks to James,” Beckman continued, “defense counsel didn’t stand a chance.”

Cheers erupted. I clapped and wriggled around in my seat. My stomach rumblings grew even louder. That’s what happened when my last meal was breakfast.

“I’ll be back,” I whispered to Michael and shoved away my chair. We sat around a table of five. Three of us were members of the world’s oldest profession. The oldest after toolmakers, farmers, the military and doctors. We were lawyers. I was the only lawyer unaffiliated with the D.A.’s office.

“Wait.” Michael took my hand.

Michael Parris wasn’t a lawyer, but he was the associate dean of the computer science department of a private tech college near downtown L.A. Michael’s lips were moving but shouting voices, clanging dinner plates and background music swallowed up his next words.

“What?” I leaned in closer, sniffing a sweet combo of sandalwood and fresh laundry that made my empty insides tingle.

He wiped his mouth on a napkin and said, “Stay here. I’ll go to the kitchen. Help yourself to my burger while you wait. I promise I won’t return empty-handed.”

“No, you stay. I want to make sure they get my order right.” I touched his shoulder. “Be back soon.”

We locked stares and his hazel eyes softened. “Two minutes. If you’re not back, I’m coming after you.”

I’d insisted my table mates eat without me, figuring my meal was on its way…fifteen minutes ago. I aimed for the kitchen, wading sideways between packed tables when I bumped into our server. She tried to push past, but I blocked the way.

“I’m still waiting,” I told her.

“No, you’re not,” she said. “You got served.”

“Crispy chicken sandwich with spicy slaw and chili cheese fries, hold the onions. It’s not on our table.” I pointed my thumb over my shoulder.

“I brought all the orders out personally.”

“Not mine.”

“You wanna talk to the manager?”

“I demand to talk to the manager.”

She tipped her head and pitched it to one side. “Big Sam’s up front by the cashier.”

I moved out of her path, and she hustled past. I continued my sideways trek, filing between chairs and dodging scurrying servers. Nearly closing time and the place was still hopping. I slowed and looked back at the kitchen. Maybe I’d get somewhere if I talked to the cook. I was about to swivel around when I spotted a manager-type; a stocky guy with a shaved head and goatee, chatting up a group of wannabe diners near the bar.

I headed for him and waited behind the blonde hostess. The cash register drawer popped open with a ping. She plucked wads of bills from beneath the drawer and shoved them into a vinyl bank bag.

“Excuse me,” I said.

She jumped and turned to me, zipping up the bag and pushing it behind her. “Yeah?” Long bangs stabbed at her eyes.

I pitched my chin toward the stocky guy. “That the manager?”

“He owns the place. Big Sam Neely.” Her attention went back to the bag. She unzipped it and continued stuffing bills inside.

I navigated closer to Big Sam and leaned against a pillar, waiting for a chance to butt into the conversation. Meanwhile, a lanky dude in a dark gray hoodie and faded jeans edged his way inside. His clothes were baggy; his hood was up and over his head. Only his nose, mouth and tinted shades were visible. Sunglasses at night weren’t unusual in L.A. I stared out at the room. A couple of diners wore shades.The guy in the hoodie flitted past me. He threw out his anchor near the hostess. My heartbeat quickened. The cash drawer still gaped open. I elbowed my way back toward him, half-expecting the guy’s hand to dart out and grab the bank bag, but he ignored the money. Instead, he eased forward and stared out toward the back of the diner. My gaze dropped to the lower left side of his jacket. The bottom edge had latched onto the large violin shaped leaf of an ornamental ficus, exposing the top of his jeans. My heart hammered against my chest. The grip of a revolver stuck out of his pocket.

***

Excerpt from Slightly Murderous Intent by Lida Sideris. Copyright 2021 by Lida Sideris. Reproduced with permission from Lida Sideris. All rights reserved.

 

 

Author Bio:

Lida Sideris

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 Award for her first book. She lives in the northern tip of Southern California with her family, rescue dogs and a flock of uppity chickens.

To learn more about Lida, please visit her:
www.LidaSideris.com, Goodreads, BookBub, Instagram, Twitter, & Facebook!

 

 

Tour Participants:

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Giveaway!!:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Lida Sideris. There will be three (3) winners. Two (2) winners will each receive one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card and One (1) winner will receive a copy of Slightly Murderous Intent by Lida Sideris (US only ~ choice of print or eBook). The giveaway begins on December 7, 2020 and runs through December 20, 2020. Void where prohibited.

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SHADOW RIDGE by M.E. Browning | #Showcase #Interview #Giveaway

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Shadow Ridge

by M.E. Browning

December 1-31, 2020 Tour

Synopsis:

Shadow Ridge by M.E. Browning

Death is one click away when a string of murders rocks a small Colorado town in the first mesmerizing novel in M. E. Browning’s A Jo Wyatt Mystery series.

Echo Valley, Colorado, is a place where the natural beauty of a stunning river valley meets a budding hipster urbanity. But when an internet stalker is revealed to be a cold-blooded killer in real life the peaceful community is rocked to its core.

It should have been an open-and-shut case: the suicide of Tye Horton, the designer of a cutting-edge video game. But Detective Jo Wyatt is immediately suspicious of Quinn Kirkwood, who reported the death. When Quinn reveals an internet stalker is terrorizing her, Jo is skeptical. Doubts aside, she delves into the claim and uncovers a link that ties Quinn to a small group of beta-testers who had worked with Horton. When a second member of the group dies in a car accident, Jo’s investigation leads her to the father of a young man who had killed himself a year earlier. But there’s more to this case than a suicide, and as Jo unearths the layers, a more sinister pattern begins to emerge–one driven by desperation, shame, and a single-minded drive for revenge.

As Jo closes in, she edges ever closer to the shattering truth–and a deadly showdown that will put her to the ultimate test.

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery (Police Procedural)
Published by: Crooked Lane Books
Publication Date: October 6th 2020
Number of Pages: 296
ISBN: 1643855352 (ISBN13: 9781643855356)
Series: A Jo Wyatt Mystery, #1
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Penguin Random House | Goodreads

 

Author Bio:

M.E. Browning

M.E. BROWNING served twenty-two years in law enforcement and retired as a captain before turning to a life of crime fiction. Writing as Micki Browning, she penned the Agatha-nominated and award-winning Mer Cavallo mysteries, and her short stories and nonfiction have appeared in anthologies, mystery and diving magazines, and textbooks. As M.E. Browning, she recently began a new series of Jo Wyatt mysteries with Shadow Ridge (October 2020).

Micki is a member of Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, and Sisters in Crime—where she served as a former president of the Guppy Chapter. A professional divemaster, she resides in Florida with her partner in crime and a vast array of scuba equipment she uses for “research.”

Q&A with M.E. Browning

What was the inspiration for this book?

I had read an article that delved into the misogyny women faced in the gaming industry and the chilling effect it had on women at all levels—from those who merely wanted to enjoy playing games to those who wanted to design them. As a writer, I saw an opportunity to parallel a female gamer’s issues with a female officer’s battle against sexism in the ranks of her department. The story took off from there.

What has been the biggest challenge in your writing career?

Balancing the myriad tasks writers must do that don’t involve actual writing. Social media is a wonderful way to interact with readers and I’ve discovered I enjoy creating graphics to post—but it is easy to get distracted and fall down the rabbit hole.

What do you absolutely need while writing?

Tea: hot, bracing, and plain. I have to admit to being a bit of a snob about it. I brew loose-leaf. My favorite purveyor is Harney & Sons—I love their Paris blend, Victorian London Fog, and spicy Holiday blend. If I can find it, I’ll splurge on Mariage Frères. Once I have tea in hand, I’ll reach for my mechanical pencil and pad, and scratch out my day’s objective. Only then will I open up Scrivener on my computer and get to work.

Do you adhere to a strict routine when writing or write when the ideas are flowing?

I do something to further my career every day, but it may not be actual writing. I start by reviewing my prior day’s words which inevitably leads to a bit of revision—not much, but enough to drop me back into my story world. Once I’ve been writing for a bit, I’ll switch gears and go for a walk. That break is often all that’s needed to come up with the solution to a problem that looked insurmountable inside my office. In the afternoon, I’ll tackle the business side of the profession.

Who is your favorite character from your book and why?

Detective Jo Wyatt. She’s a second-generation cop in a small southwestern Colorado city. I had a reader describe her as “Smart enough to know her limitations, confident enough to trust her gut, and determined enough to unravel the threads in any case.” She makes mistakes, but owns them. By the time the last page is read, I hope readers believe she’s exactly who they’d want on their doorstep if they ever needed to call for help.
Quinn, however, was the most fun to write—she doesn’t have any filters and I could push her boundaries in ways I couldn’t with Jo.

Who is your least favorite character from your book and why?

That’s a difficult question! I think a writer has to have an affinity for all her characters or they’ll fall flat on the page. But on a would-I-enjoy-sharing-a cup-of-tea-with-them scale, Professor Lucas is at the bottom of the list.

Give us an interesting fun fact or a few about your book?

Jo muses about cycling along a particular mountain road that was based on one of my favorite training rides when I lived in Durango, Colorado. Cycling for 20-30 miles through the changing colors of aspens in autumn was almost enough to distracted me from the burn in my legs and the fire in my lungs from the climb.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

Thank you! I believe a book isn’t truly a book until it’s been read. As the author, I can only control half the equation. Once the edits are finished, my job is done. It’s readers who bring my characters back to life.

Tell us a little about yourself and your background?

I dedicated 22 years of my life to law enforcement and during that time I was a field training officer, academy trainer, hostage negotiator, and coordinated the Citizens Police Academy where I met a quiet, witty woman named Sue Grafton. By education, I’m a medieval historian, and I play the Celtic harp…badly.

What’s next that we can look forward to?

Thanks for asking! I’m currently hard at work on the next Jo Wyatt adventure. Jo is called out to investigate a missing child, but as she digs into the girl’s fractured family life, Jo unearths a trove of secrets and half-lies that paints a different picture of the two parents she’s known since high school.

Catch Up With M.E. Browning On:
MEBrowning.com, Goodreads, BookBub, Instagram, Twitter, & Facebook!

 

Read an excerpt:

Chapter One

Detective Jo Wyatt stood at the edge of the doorway of the converted garage and scanned the scene for threats. She’d have the chance to absorb the details later, but even at a glance, it was obvious the occupant of the chair in front of the flickering television wouldn’t benefit from her first-aid training. The stains on the ceiling from the gun blast confirmed that.

Officer Cameron Finch stood on the other side of the sorry concrete slab that served as an entrance. “Ready?”

The only place hidden from view was the bathroom, and the chance of someone hiding there was infinitesimal, but someone always won the lottery. Today wasn’t the day to test the odds. Not when she was dressed for court and without her vest.

She pushed the door open wider. Her eyes and handgun moved in tandem as she swept the room.

A mattress on the floor served as a bed. Stacks of clothes took the place of a real closet. A dorm-sized fridge with a hot plate on top of it made up the kitchen.

Jo avoided the well-worn paths in the carpet and silently approached the bathroom. Its door stood slightly ajar, creating enough space for her to peer through the crack. Never lowering her gun, she used her foot to widen the gap.

No intruder. Just a water-spotted shower stall and a stained toilet with the seat up. A stick propped open the narrow ventilation window above the shower. Too small for even the tiniest child, but an open invitation to heat-seeking raccoons.

“Bathroom’s clear.” She holstered her gun. The cut of her wool blazer fell forward and did its best to hide the bulge of her Glock, but an observant person could tell she was armed. One of the drawbacks of having a waist.

She picked her way across the main room, staying close to the walls to avoid trampling any evidence. A flame licked the edges of the television screen—one of those mood DVDs of a fireplace but devoid of sound. It filled the space with an eerie flicker that did little to lighten the gathering dusk.

Sidestepping a cat bowl filled with water, she stopped in front of the body and pulled a set of latex gloves from her trouser pocket.

“Really?” Cameron asked.

Jo snapped them into place, then pressed two fingers against the victim’s neck in a futile search for a pulse—a completely unnecessary act that became an issue only if a defense attorney wanted to make an officer look like an idiot on the stand for not checking.

The dead man reclined in a high-backed gray chair that appeared to have built-in speakers. In the vee of his legs, a Remington 870 shotgun rested against his right thigh, the stock’s butt buried in the dirty shag carpet. On the far side, a toppled bottle of whiskey and a tumbler sat on a metal TV tray next to a long-stemmed pipe.

“Who called it in?” Jo asked.

“Quinn Kirkwood. I told her to stay in her car until we figured out what was going on.”

Jo retraced her steps to the threshold, seeking a respite from the stench of death.

A petite woman stood at the edge of the driveway, pointedly looking away from the door. “Is he okay?”

So much for staying in the car. “Let’s talk over here.” Not giving the other woman the opportunity to resist, Jo grabbed her elbow and guided her to the illuminated porch of the main house, where the overhang would protect them from the softly falling snow.

“He’s inside, isn’t he?” Quinn pulled the drawstring of her sweat shirt until the hood puckered around her neck. “He’s dead.” It should have been a question, but wasn’t. Jo’s radar pinged.

“I’m sorry.” Jo brushed errant flakes from a dilapidated wicker chair and moved it forward for her. “Is there someone I can call for you?”

She shook her head.

“How well did you know—”

“Tye. His name is—was—Tye Horton.” Quinn played with the tab of her hood string, picking at the plastic that kept the ends from fraying.

Jo remained quiet, digesting the younger woman’s unease. She was all angles: sharp shoulders, high cheekbones, blunt-cut dark hair, and canted eyes that looked blue in the open but faded to grey here in the shadows.

A pile of snow slid from a bowed cottonwood branch and landed with a dull plop. The silence broken, Quinn continued to fill it. “We have a couple classes together up at the college. He missed class. I came over to see why.”

“Does he often cut class?”

“He didn’t cut class,” she said sharply. “He missed it.” She pulled out her cellphone. “The project was due today. I should tell the others.”

What would she tell them? She hadn’t asked any questions. The pinging in Jo’s head grew louder. “Did you go inside before the officer got here?” She looked at the woman’s shoes. Converse high-tops. Distinctive tread.

Quinn launched out of her seat, sending it crashing into the porch rail. “I called you guys, remember?”

“It’s a simple yes or no.”

The smaller woman advanced and Jo fought the impulse to shove her back. “No, Officer—”

“Detective Wyatt.”

The top of Quinn’s head barely reached Jo’s chin. “Tye and I were classmates with a project due, Detective. I called him, he didn’t answer. I texted him, he didn’t respond. He didn’t show up for the game last night, which meant something was wrong. He never missed a game.”

Football. Last night Jo had pulled on her uniform and worked an overtime shift at the Sunday night game. Despite the plunging temperatures, the small college stadium had been filled to capacity.

“Did you check on him afterward?” Jo asked.

“No.” Color brightened Quinn’s pale cheeks. “By the time the game ended, it was too late. After he missed class today, I came straight over. Called the police. Here we are. Now, can I go?”

“Was Tye having any problems lately?”

“Problems?”

“With school? Friends?”

“I shared a class with him.”

Another dodge. “You knew he wasn’t at the game.”

“I figured he was finishing up his end of the project. Are we done? I’ve got class tonight.”

“I need to see your identification before you leave.”

“Un-fucking-believable.” Quinn jammed her hand into her jacket pocket and removed an old-fashioned leather coin purse. Pinching the top, she drew out her driver’s license and practically threw it at Jo.

“I’m sure you understand. Whenever there is a death, we have to treat it as a crime until we determine otherwise.”

The air left Quinn in a huff of frost. “I’m sorry. I’m just…” She dipped her face but not before Jo saw the glint of tears. “I’m just going to miss him. He was nice. I don’t have a lot of friends in Echo Valley.”

“Were the two of you dating?”

The sharpness returned to her features. “Not my type.”

“Do you know if he was in a relationship?”

“Not that I know of.”

“Would you know?”

Cameron joined the women on the porch and extended his hand to Quinn. “I’m Sergeant Finch.”

Jo sucked in her breath, and covered it with a cough. The promotional memo hadn’t been posted even a day yet.

“I’m sorry about your friend,” Cameron added.

Quinn crossed her arms, whether for warmth or for comfort, Jo couldn’t tell. “Your badge says Officer. Aren’t sergeants supposed to have stripes or something?”

“It’s official next week.”

“So. Really just an officer.”

Jo bit the inside of her cheek to keep from smiling. Served him right for acting like an ass.

“I wouldn’t say just.” Cameron hooked his thumb in his gun belt.

“Of course you wouldn’t.” Quinn drew a deep breath and let it out as if she feared it might be her last. “What happened?” she finally asked.

Jo spoke before Cameron could answer. “That’s what we’re here to find out.” She opened her notebook.

Quinn sized up the two officers like a child trying to decide which parent to ask, and settled on Cameron. “Will you get me the laptop that’s inside? It’s got our school project on it.”

“I’m sorry,” Jo answered. “But until we process the scene, everything needs to stay put.”

Quinn sought confirmation from Cameron. “Really?”

Jo shot him a look she hoped conveyed the slow torturous death he’d suffer if he contradicted her and compromised the scene.

Cameron placed his hand on Quinn’s forearm. “I’m certain it won’t take long and I’ll personally deliver it to you as soon as I can.”

“Thanks.” She shook off his hand and addressed Jo. “Am I free to go?”

Prickly thing. Jo handed Quinn’s license back to her. “I’m truly sorry about your friend. May I call you later if I have any questions?”

Cameron stepped closer, all earnestness and concern. “It would be very helpful to the investigation when she realizes she forgot to ask you something.”

The coin purse snapped shut. “Sure. Whatever.”

“Thank you,” Jo said, then added, “Be careful.”

Quinn jerked. “What?”

The wind had picked up, and waves of snow blew across the walkway. Jo pointed toward the street. “The temperature drops any lower and it’ll start to ice up. Be careful. The roads are going to be slick.”

Quinn bobbed her head. Hunched against the cold, she climbed into her bright yellow Mini Cooper.

Snow had collected on the bumper and Jo noted the plate. She’d seen the car around town, its brilliant color and tiny chassis a contrast to the trucks and four-wheel-drive SUVs most locals drove.

The car crunched down the driveway. Jo returned to the task at hand, ignoring Cameron as he followed her.

Two buildings—the main residence and the converted garage—stood at the center of the property. The driveway dumped out onto an alley and the hum of downtown carried across the crisp air. Dogs barked. Cars slowed and accelerated at the nearby stop sign, their engines straining and tires chewing into the slushed snow. A sagging chain-link fence ringed the property, pushed and pulled by a scraggly hedge.

Built in the days when a garage housed only a car and not the detritus of life, the building was barely larger than a tack room. A small walkway separated the dwellings. She followed the path around the exterior of the garage.

Eaves kept snow off the paint-glued windowsill on the far side of the outbuilding. Rambling rosebushes in need of pruning stretched skeletal fingers along the wall. Jo swept the bony branches aside. A thorn snagged the shoulder of her blazer.

She studied the ground. Snow both helped and hindered officers. In foot pursuits, it revealed a suspect’s path. But the more time separated an incident from its investigation, the more it hid tracks. Destroyed clues. This latest snow had started in the early hours of the morning, gently erasing the valley’s grime and secrets and creating a clean slate. Tye could have been dead for hours. The snow told her nothing.

As she stood again at the door, not even the cold at her back could erase the smell of blood. The last of the evening’s light battled its way through the dirty window, failing to brighten the dark scene in front of her.

She tried not to let the body distract her from cataloging the room. Echo Valley didn’t have violent deaths often. In her twelve years on the department, she’d investigated only two homicides, one as an officer, the second as a detective. Fatal crashes, hunting accidents, Darwin Award-worthy stupidity, sure, but murder? That was the leap year of crimes and only happened once every four years or so.

Cameron joined her on the threshold and they stood shoulder to shoulder. He had a shock of thick brown hair that begged to be touched, and eyes that said he’d let you. “Why so quiet, Jo-elle?”

The use of her nickname surprised her. Only two people had ever called her that and Cameron hadn’t used it in a long time. “I don’t want to miss anything.”

“What’s to miss? Guy blew his brains out.”

“It’s rarely that simple.”

“Not everything needs to be complicated.” He laughed. The boyishness of it had always charmed her with its enthusiasm. Now it simply sounded dismissive. Perhaps it always had been, but she’d been too in love to notice. “Hey, you got plans tonight?” He tried to sound innocent. She had learned that voice.

“Other than this? I don’t see as that’s any of your business.”

“Of course it’s my business. You’re still my wife.” He stared into the distance as he said it. A splinter of sun pierced the dark clouds and bled across his unguarded expression.

Yearning.

Jo stood as if on ice, afraid to move lest she lose her balance.

He seemed to wake up, and after a deep breath, he surveyed the room. “The landlord is going to be looking for a new tenant. You should give him your name. It’s got to be better than living with your old man.”

Fissures formed beneath her and it took her two blinks before she recovered her footing.

“I need to get my camera. I’ll be right back.”

She left him at the door. The December chill wormed through her wool dress slacks as she trudged the half block to her car. She drew breath after breath of the searing chill deep into her lungs to replace the hurt, the anger, the self-recriminations that burned her. She sat in the passenger seat and picked up the radio mic. She wasn’t ready to face Cameron. Not yet.

To buy herself some time, she ran a local warrant check on Quinn. Something wasn’t quite right about the woman. A warrant might explain things.

Dispatch confirmed Quinn’s address, but had nothing to add.

Jo grabbed her camera bag and crime scene kit and schlepped back to the scene, prioritizing her actions as she went. She’d need to snag another detective. Interrupt a judge’s dinner to get a search warrant. Swab the victim’s hands for gunshot residue. Try to confirm his identification. Hopefully, the person in the front house would return soon so Jo could start collecting background on the deceased. Take overview photos of the exterior first. Inside there’d be lights. Then evidence. Identify it. Bag it. Book it.

She reached the door before she ticked through all the tasks. Cameron was circling the chair.

Jo stopped on the threshold, stunned.

“No wonder they didn’t promote you.” Cameron peered into the exposed cranium. “If you can’t tell this is a suicide, you got no business being a cop—let alone a detective.”

“Get out.”

“We’re not home, sweetie. You can’t order me out here.”

“Actually, I can. Detective, remember? This is my scene and you’re contaminating it.”

He laughed. “Sergeant outranks detective.”

“I think it’s already been established that you’re not sporting stripes.”

“Yet. Couple more days.”

Three. Three days until he started wearing the stripes that should have been hers. Three days until he outranked her. Three. Damn. Days. “And until then, Officer Finch.” With exaggerated care, she took out her notebook and started writing.

“What are you doing?”

“Making a note of the path you’ve taken. Try to retrace your steps. I’d hate to have to say how badly you mucked things up.” She paused for effect. “You getting promoted and all.”

“You’re such a bitch.”

“Is that how you talk to your wife?”

He picked up the overturned bottle on the TV tray. “Johnnie Walker Gold.” He sniffed the premium Scotch whisky. “And here I would have pegged him for a Jack fan, at best.” Cameron tipped the bottle back into place and retraced his steps.

The latex gloves did nothing to warm her fingers, and Jo shoved her hands in her pockets. Had he changed or had she? “When did you become such an ass?”

“When’d we get married?” He shouldered past her, swinging his keys around his finger. Outside, the streetlamps flickered to life. “I’ll leave you to it. Even you can see it’s a slam dunk.”

She didn’t want to agree with him. “It’s only a suicide when the coroner says so.”

“Oh, Jo-elle.”

There was that laugh again, and she hated herself for warming to him.

“You’ve got to learn to choose your battles.”

***

Excerpt from Shadow Ridge by M.E. Browning. Copyright 2020 by M.E. Browning. Reproduced with permission from M.E. Browning. All rights reserved.

 

 

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THE RAGE ROOM by Lisa de Nikolits | #Showcase #Giveaway

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The Rage Room

by Lisa de Nikolits

December 1-18, 2020 Tour

Synopsis:

The Rage Room by Lisa de Nikolits

What if you made the worst mistake of your life and got the chance to fix it? Only you made it so much worse? From the incomparable crafter of nine cross-genre works of fiction, Lisa de Nikolits expands her horizons to pen a grab- you-by-the-throat, feminist speculative-fiction thriller in the style of Groundhog Day meets The Matrix.

The perfect father kills his family on Christmas Eve, and tries to undo his actions by jumping back in time. The result is murder and mayhem in dystopia. Set in 2055, the world is run by robots and virtual data, while the weather is controlled by satellite dishes. Arts and culture are no more than distant memories. People are angry, placated by prescribed visits to rage rooms to vent their boredom, fury, and discontent. Beneath the sunny skies and behind the garbage-free suburban McMansions live deeply disturbed, materialistic families.

During his time travels and increasingly desperate attempts to reserve his colossal mistake, Sharps Barkley meets the leader of the Eden Collective, a feminist army determined to save the Earth by removing all artificial intelligence and letting the Earth restore itself—if necessary, at the expense of mankind. The Eden Collective uses data gathered from the rage rooms to analyze and predict the potential and actions needed for the Earth to reset and they need to prove that time travel is an effective tool. If Sharps can go back and save his children, then there is hope for the future. Sharps is the 49th experiment and his success is pivotal. Can love prevail over anger?

The Rage Room has a multi-layered plot that is fueled by a feminist-driven courage to take charge and save the world as it exposes the effects of an increasingly digital age on our lives and, ultimately, our humanity.

What Readers Are Saying:

“In her latest captivating book, Lisa de Nikolits proffers not only a roller coaster of entertainment, but also, sharp political commentary in complicated times. The Rage Room is an intricately woven dystopian world, rich in strong female characters who easily whisk readers to a world of futuristic follies. Move over George Orwell—De Nikolits shows us how the future can be scary, exciting, and above all, female.” —Kelly S. Thompson, national bestselling author of Girls Need Not Apply: Field Notes from the Forces

“Wow, what a ride! Lisa de Nikolits has written a pulse-pounding thriller set in a troubled future that might just be ours. We see the seeds of The Rage Room in our own digital landscape. Mind-bending yet all too believable in the hands of a masterful storyteller.” —Terry Fallis, two-time winner of the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour

“If dystopian speculative fiction is your thing, with the enticement of time travel, you won’t go wrong with The Rage Room. The world de Nikolits has built is utterly fascinating, and quite horrific, yet believable. I sympathized with the main character, even though he is flawed, but that makes the story even more interesting. What a ride! The plot ratchets up like a train speeding down the tracks out of control. Gripping tension, and at the same time, highly complex, with multiple time travel redos and memories overlapping. I found that fascinating. I was absolutely riveted, and pleased to see that it ends with the hint of more books to come.” —Melodie Campbell, award-winning author of The Goddaughter series

“In turns unsettling and very funny, The Rage Room is a berserk science-fiction satire of toxic masculinity, narrated by your guide, Sharps, the neurotic, rage-filled Jason Bateman of the future. There are lines and descriptions that will stop you dead in your tracks and make you take notes.” — Evan Munday, author of The Dead Kid Detective Agency series

“We’ve all wanted to go back to the past to fix the future – but Sharps has messed things up so much in his own high- tech future-world that he has to do it. Lisa de Nikolits takes us – and him – on a wild, high-octane ride into other times and places so bizarre, blighted, funny and wise that they just might seem chillingly familiar. She turns time travel on its proverbial ear and you won’t want to get out of the passenger seat until the last page.” —Catherine Dunphy, author of Morgentaler, A Difficult Hero

“Why would one go back in time? To make things right, of course. But every time Sharps visits his past, things change in ways he can’t control, and he keeps changing from a worrier to a warrior. I loved all the witty characters, and original, daring twists in this genuine reality fiction beyond imagination!” —Suzana Tratnik, author of Games with Greta

“Dark, fun, weird, imaginative, The Rage Room is a dystopic ride perfect for the anxieties and conditions of the present day. The paranoia of Sharps Barkley seeps into you, propelling this thriller that will keep you guessing to the very end.” —David Albertyn, author of Undercard

“With The Rage Room, Lisa de Nikolits takes a deep dive into dystopia. Prepare to be alternately chilled and thrilled as the hapless hero journeys backwards and forwards in time in his increasingly desperate attempts to right his terrible wrongs, and to find some sense in his rapidly disintegrating world.” —Lorna Poplak, author of Drop Dead: A Horrible History of Hanging in Canada

“Leave it to the wild imagination of Lisa De Nikolits to bring us the dystopian future of The Rage Room, an extraordinarily inventive speculative fiction thriller with a decidedly feminist bent. Fast-paced, funny, bold, and completely engrossing, The Rage Room is an allegory, a cautionary tale, and a rollicking good read that will stay with you long after the last page has been turned.” —Amy Jones, author of We’re All in This Together and Every Little Piece of Me

The Rage Room is a hugely intriguing, intense and provocative exploration … an untangling of sorts … a measuring of societal coded messages … a scouring type of scrutiny …beckoning us… calling for curious changes of perception.” —Shirley McDaniels, Artist

Book Details:

Genre: Science Fiction
Published by: Inanna Publications
Publication Date: October 30th 2020
Number of Pages: 312
ISBN: 177133777X (ISBN13: 9781771337779)
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

BOOK ONE: TO THE MELTDOWN

1. The Rage Room

I don’t know what year it is. We aren’t allowed to know and really, I couldn’t care less. I’m in my safe place, the rage room, focussed on doing what I do best, breaking things.

Thwack. I bring the baseball bat down on what’s left of a kiddies wagon. The room is full of wagons, broken toys, junk furniture and discarded office equipment, garbage, all of it. The auto voice made her usual announcement as I entered the room: Screen-based materials are forbidden in the rage room. Glass cannot be utilized or destroyed in the rage room. We always consider your safety first! Because we care about you! All in accordance with Docket102.V, Health and Safety Code 0009: By Order of The Sacred Board, Gloria In Excelsis Deo. Yeah man, I know all the rules. And here’s what I think of your rules.

I attack the wagon again and the cheerful pink plastic replies with a slight ‘ugh’ as if asking me if that was the best I could do but it doesn’t give. I come down harder and score a crack that mocks my feeble efforts. Story of my life.

My soundtrack is on maxed. O Fortuna, Carmina Burana on repeat, volume pumped. Sometimes it’s War, by The Cult or You Lied by Tool or, incongruously, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons with a disco twist and added bass for power. Rage Against The Machine is a good one too. Thud, thud, thud, yeah. I choose my soundtrack and I like vintage, none of that auto-robo music for me.

Thinking about music choices makes me think about life choices or the lack thereof, and my wife’s beauty badge, previously known as her profile pic, flashes unbidden across my crystal path. Celeste. She looks angelic, like Farrah Fawcett in the days of Charlie’s Angels, only hundred pounds heavier, with two chipmunk teeth perching on the lower lip of her overbite. Celeste had ordered those teeth, paid premium to get her primaries longer than anyone else’s. She thought it made her sexy.

I raise the bat higher and split the wretched wagon in two. Sweetie, honey, baby, sugar. Thwack. Was it possible for the woman to utter anything without coating it with saccharine, glucose and fructose and then deep-frying it like an Oreo at fun fair? Celeste had fried my brain alright. So why did I marry her? Thwack. Because she offered me everything I wanted, the sum of which boiled down to one thing. I wanted to be normal. I wanted to be The King of Normal. And Celeste’s marrying me was the act of a desperate addict trying to set her life straight, topped up with a deep-seated desire to please her father, Daddy.

I thrash at an impervious lime green keyboard, finally picking it up and slamming it against a workbench. I’m grunting as if I’m up against heavyweight champion of the world and my thin white protective plastic suit rips off like old wallpaper. But it’s not all my fault, the suit was torn when I got into it. That’s the government for you, step into this used piece of shit, so what if it’s slick with the sweat of some other angry dude who came before you, the rules say you have to wear it, Docket809.V, Health and Safety Code 0009.12: By Order of The Sacred Board, Gloria In Excelsis Deo. The rules should say you each get a fresh new suit but that would cost too much money.

We look like giant Easter bunnies, hopping insanely behind one-way mirrors, covered from head to toe in white disposable Tyvek coverall suits with elastic wrists, booties and hoodie. All we need are big floppy ears and little bobbing white pompom tails. Hop, hop, hop in a plastic room and break plastic shit to make yourself feel better for a tiny piece of your stupid, meaningless life.

I’m a clean freak and I like my life to be scrubbed and tidy which makes the rage rooms an anomaly to be my safe place but I’m an anger addict, giving into chaos at the drop of a hammer. And the hammer drops a lot in my life which I’ve come to accept but what I can’t accept is that the white suits still disgust me. They’re damp when you pull them on and it’s like trying to wriggle into someone else’s just-discarded swimsuit. I also hate the smeared and greasy goggles with scratches like some kid used them for skateboarding, which is still a thing.

I’ve offered more than once to buy my own equipment but it’s against regulations. It’s also against the rules to self-harm in a rage room but more than one person has tried to commit suicide. I imagined them rushing in, falling to their knees and hacking their veins open, wanting to die in a thick red sea of gushing blood while their fave hate song drums out the dying pulse of their lives. Trust me, I’ve thought about trying too. It’d be a fitting place for me to meet my end but the person behind the window watches just enough to not let that happen.

Sometimes I yell profanities at the blacked-out glass window but I’m sure whoever’s watching is so used to witnessing the pointless destruction that they don’t even bother to look or listen most of the time.

I smash on, chasing release and finding none. Then the music stops, just like that and a cop-car siren sounds. Whoop, whoop, whoop! Red lights flash across the room. Green lights signal go, red for when your time is up.

I’m out of time but release was denied. Shit. I pulled my face gear off, hearing only my frustrated breath. My face is dented from the goggles and I run my fingers along the ridges and bumps. A guy opened the door and dragged in a trash can. He ignored me and I just stood there. I wasn’t ready to leave but my time was up. The siren sounded again, whoop, whoop, whoop, and still, I stood there, goggles in hand, looking the useless crap I had broken.

Another guy came, in a big fella. “Buddy,” he said, “you know the rules. You gotta go. Come on now.”

I turned to him and I couldn’t help myself, tears spilled down my face and I heard myself sobbing and he said “oh crapola, we got ourselves a wet one,” and he left. The guy behind me carried on cleaning. I had nowhere to go so I just stood there, crying.

The big guy came back and handed me a roll of paper towel. I tore off three sheets, blew my nose and handed the roll back to him.

“A bunch of us are going for a drink,” he said. “You wanna come? You need a drink. Come on.”

I thought about Celeste, waiting at home and I thought about my baby boy, Baxter. I thought about the carpet that needed vacuuming because the robovacs never got into the corners and how Bax wasn’t eating properly and how Celeste wouldn’t listen to me when I panicked about his nutrients. I needed my boy to eat properly and no one cared but me.

“But honey,” Celeste smiled, “we’ve got science, you know that. Science takes care of us. Minnie’s got everything under control. It’s not like the old days. We don’t have to worry anymore.” She was right. It wasn’t like back in the early 21st century when the news was filled with illness, devastation, human loss and natural disaster. It was, however, thanks to the pervasive fears of that time, of illness, aging and dying, that politicians had secretly funnelled billions from the taxpayer’s pockets into the science labs, and the results, once uncovered, were astounding. The powers-that-be knew they were killing the world by denying the existence of global warming and they’d collectively and secretly developed labs to create food and fuel, motivated not by altruism but because none of them wanted starve or die in a flood or drought or fire or get taken out by the newest raging disease, caused by alpacas or bearded dragons or, in the most deadly of cases, the family cat. Scientists had developed surgeries and scientific solutions for any manner of ailment or disease and Minnie, the Supreme World Leader, and her Sacred Board of Directors, shared this wealth of knowledge with the world.

So Celeste was right. Bax would be fine.

I was exhausted. All I wanted to do was lie down on the floor and carry on crying. Yes, the carpet at home needed cleaning and yes, I was worried about Bax not getting enough protein but, weighing on me more heavily than anything, was the fact that my paternity leave was over.

I was due back at work the next day, the thought of which ripped through my gut like a tumbling drum of sharp nails and broken glass, all sloshing around in an icy pit of poisoned, oily water.

So I mopped up my face and figured it would be best to follow this guy to a bar and pull myself together before I went home. I couldn’t let Celeste see me like this. She thought I was Mr. Strong and Steadfast, solid as a rock and I couldn’t let her know any different.

But I realized I needed help, so I flashed a comm to my best friend, Jazza. Need to see ya, buddy. Follow my cp. I wondered if Jazza would even respond, given that I’d sorely neglected him since I ran out the building into the waiting arms of my pat leave.

My cp. My Crystal Path. By logging in, Jazza could access my bio-hard drive, the neural implant microchip embedded in my brain. We all had them. Every interaction from my, and everyone else’s Crystal Path, moved across The Crystal Lattice which was like a large invisible digital spider’s web around the Earth, connecting all the satellites and all of us. Even the weather was satellite controlled and every strand of the information was part of the Crystal Lattice.

We were studded with implants shortly after Minnie came into power. Of course, she said it was optional but after she assumed control of the Internet, how else were we to communicate? She dominated the service providers and instated regulations that didn’t let anyone else provide access. So really, what choice did we have? In my opinion, Bax was far too young for implants, he was only a year old which didn’t stop some parents hooking their newborns up, to monitor them in their cribs, watch them at childcare, at preschool and in the playgrounds. It was important to keep an eye on the nannies, don’t you know, and make sure that the robo-carers and humans were doing a good job and not subjecting their beloved offspring to any horrifying abuse or disturbing discipline. More expensive software developments allowed parents to access the kiddies bio-stats to make sure heart rates, blood sugars and serotonin levels where all where they should be. The Crystal Path wasn’t exactly pure, it had its own form of the Dark Web just like the old days and, despite my body being riddled with every manner of software that I could get my hands on, I wasn’t sure I wanted Bax to have access to any of it. And yet, the creation of those implants were the very thing that gave me, and thousands of others, jobs.

The Crystal Path was like a map of screens that could viewed at any time, all jam-packed with data and information that we could switch on or off, supposedly curated by ourselves, we were supposedly the editors of our own content. What a joke that was. We were pawns while big business moved the pieces of our lives around the playing field.

When I went on pat leave, I shut Jazza out of my cp. You could do that, control who had access to what. Previously, Jazza had permissions to my path that Celeste didn’t even know existed. I just hoped Jazza would head my cry for help. God knew the guy owed me nothing considering how I’d dumped him when Bax was born.

I nodded at the rage room attendant.

“Yeah. I’ll come for a drink.” I ripped my suit off, a petty act of childish fury that felt so good at the time but later, felt shameful. That was me to a T – equal parts fear, guilt, shame and anger. The guy didn’t say anything as I followed him. He had a man bun. Talk about retro. Why was I even following a guy with hair like that? But I went out to the parking lot and got behind the wheel of my solar-powered station bubble, an Integratron company car, courtesy of Celeste’s father. The inside was full of yielding soft curves and cushions that molded to my body. The round rolling ball of the car’s exterior looked like just glass but it was it was plastic, shatterproof polymethyl methacrylate to be exact, with a sunshiny yellow interior. Our car interiors came in a variety of colours – sky blue, fire engine red or bubblegum Juicy Fruit pink. Pink was the most popular. The cars were cheerful, happy creatures, with scads more room than one might think, and they rolled along like soap-bubble spheres. My cp connected me to the car’s displays and controls and I could choose to drive the car or not. I always chose to drive. The cars were utterly silent and they were soundproof and it felt odd, rolling along a busy suburban street or highway, and seeing other bubbles filled with reclining people who looked like they were talking to themselves, leaning back in their colourful chairs and controlling the cars with their thoughts. There were no steering wheels or dashboards, just the flashview that connected the driver to the car via their cps.

I sniffed my pits. I was annoyed with myself for skipping the post-session cleansing shower booth and my clothes had a rank, sweaty plastic smell. I’d have to do a washdown with wipes so Bax wouldn’t smell me like this. I couldn’t let my little guy smell the fear on me. I had to get a grip.

3. Glory Days

A pay-to-play lottery. Our first project. Targetted Shoppers, or TC’s, had to rack up WinCreds by joining a points program which would score them a golden ticket to try out for the next golden ticket. If they won the round, they were promoted to a higher grade. There was a thirteen-level maze of lottery wins and points acquisitions and TC’s had to shop their way through all of them. Finally, with the odds at one in three million, they got to be one of a dozen Contestants on 123BlikiWin, the hottest reality

TV program out there. Jazz and I created it. Correction, Jazz did. He invented the whole thing and it was gold.

“We were a great team. We are a great team,” I insisted. “And even more genius was us sitting on for years, milking it. Did you score more vintage games while I was gone?” He shook his head. “Nah. Minnie’s cracked down even harder.”

Great. Going back to work wasn’t only going to be super stressful, we didn’t even have games to pass the time.

“Hey,” I said, “maybe we can do a rerun of ClothesKissezThugs?”

ClothesKissezThugs was Jazza’s follow-up idea to the Lottery 123BlikiWin. He said it was inspired by the religious baptismal trucks that rolled out after Minnie the Great’s Supreme World Leader inauguration but instead mimicking her Come-to-Jesus marathon, we marketed Come-to-Style. We paced our pitches, riding the 123BlikiWin as long as we could before offering up the couture trucks of ClothesKissezThugs.

I loved Jazza’s way of thinking and at first we had fun, hanging out at work, gaming and eating crap and feeling like we owned the world but then Mother kicked me out. She said I had to get my own apartment. She said it was time for her to do something meaningful for her life and that she was cutting the umbilical cord. I asked her what that meaningful thing was because perhaps I could do it with her

but she just looked cagey and said I wouldn’t understand.

And I got tired of cleaning up Jazza’s mess at work. It was like the guy couldn’t be in a room for ten seconds without making it look like Hoarders met The Trashman from Outer Space. About two days into our partnership, he looked over at me.

“Clean the shit up,” he said. “If you need to. But don’t expect me to do any of it and don’t expect me to change.”

Relieved that he understood me, I bagged his crap, wiped his sticky fingerprints off the surfaces and Lysoled the world endlessly. Cleaning brought me peace. Jazza said I was OCD and that there was a pill for that and I said who cared, there was Windex and bleach, I didn’t need pills or his psychoanalysis, thank you very much.

But, after career success, what was next? I began to feel empty. Bored. Lonely. I hit the rage rooms even harder.

The rage rooms were Minnie’s idea. Three years after her ascent, an outbreak of violence spread throughout the world and people smashed up cities, rampaging with baseball bats, hammers and wrenches. Minnie had outlawed firearms so at least no one got shot but the damage was nonetheless widespread and extensive. Rioters tore down parks and buildings, smashed cars and looted malls.

Minnie called in an alarmingly large secret AI army. She teargased the unruly and got things back under control. Who knew she had an army? We fell in line pronto. We thought Minnie would be furious and punitive in the aftermath but instead, she was sorrowful.

“I get it,” she said with that chocolately voice, direct to our flashviews via our cps. “Life is tough. Even when it’s good, it’s tough. Everyone has anger issues. You just need a place to express your true emotions. I didn’t realize, when I banned the Internet, that it was a drug you were hooked to. It was a place you could vent your opinions and feel like you had been heard.” She didn’t say that we were all idiots, addicted to expressing idiotic opinions but it was clear enough from her tone

“But,” she said, and her voice turned stern. “You misused the tools. I mean, my goodness, exchanging pictures of your genitals and having sexual relations willy nilly! Encrypting messages so child pornography could thrive? You lost your way. And, by God and through God, it is my Divine Destiny to help guide you back to the path of Light. God handpicked me for this job, me, with Mama at my side and we will help you!

“I thusly decree that rage rooms shall be constructed, places where you can express your most basic hatred and fears. Because I realize now that much of life is fueled by hatred, rage and fear. That’s is just the way man is. You are fundamentally flawed. But, flawed though you are, you were created in God’s image, and it is my Divine Task to help you shed the wages of sin and find your way back to that image, back to the perfect human beings that you were before you ate the apple and were lured by the snake.”

And, by Minnie’s side, her mother, Mama, leaned in and whispered something into Minnie’s ear and Minnie nodded.

“Before the Advent of Minnie, the world was depressed, obese and morbid. You spent your lives staring at screens and arguing with strangers with your ignorant opinions or pretending to love each other with likes or haha or sad faces. Emoticons! Banning emoticons was one of my greatest triumphs. Learn to talk to each other, don’t gesticulate like uneducated children flashing reader cards with a stupid face.”

A wild look had come into Minnie’s eyes and Mama laid a reassuring hand on her shoulder. Mama whispered something else and Minnie nodded again.

“But all is not lost. Every step is a step forward. So we are going to give you fun! We are going to make you happy! I thought sunshine every day would make you happy but no! I gave you solid Vitamin D, not a cloud in the sky! Then you complained, why are there no clouds you asked? You people are so hard to please! Why are you so hard to please? So I got you clouds.”

She shut her eyes and Mama patted her again. “Right. There shall be rage rooms where you can express yourselves to your heart’s content.”

In addition to the rage rooms, Minnie poured money into streaming new shows. Robots invented new dances and we became preoccupied, adult and child alike, trying to learn new moves and share clips of ourselves thus engaged. Once again, we found ourselves staring at screens, our viewing monitored by Minnie the Belle.

Minnie also gave us comfort centres. I tried them out but I’ve got restless leg syndrome and can’t lie still for any amount of time without feeling like I’m going to go nuts, the ants under my skin want to eat me alive.

“Nope, we ran ClothesKissezThugs dry.” Jazza grinned, bringing me back into the moment. “Ha but we did good with CrystalMeBooty. Knocked it out the park, yeah? Think about the good times, buddy. That was you as much as me.”

I laughed. Despite the circumstances, it was good to be talking to Jazza again, reliving our glory days.

The follow-up to ClothesKissezThugs was CrystalMeBooty. Towering crystal-sided transport trucks rolled out with strobe lights and disco mirror balls and the music became urgent, angry and hateful which only increased its appeal. Not everyone could place a purchase, TC’s had to earn points to be a Big Spender, accruing a certain level of debt before being given access to the arenas of superior consumerism. And oh, the shame if you weren’t that level. For some reason, the Big Spender and CrystalMeBooty made even more money than 123BlikiWin. Pretty soon, the whole world was in hock, just to be on the so-called right playing field.

Meanwhile, my life became increasingly, utterly meaningless. I don’t know what I would have done if Celeste hadn’t come along. She and Bax changed everything. I finally knew my purpose. Family. My family was the only thing that mattered, the only thing that gave any kind of meaning to this sham plastic world. All I wanted was to be a stand-up guy. I wanted my boy to be able to say that’s my Dad! with a mixture of choked-up pride and overwhelming love. I wanted Celeste to look over at me, there’s my man, he’s the guy, don’t you know!

But the minute I had Bax, my worries increased a thousandfold. How would I keep up in this fiercely competitive world? And, increasingly, I couldn’t afford Celeste. Of course, Celeste was a great fan of CrystalMeBooty and Daddy’s money was, as he himself often reminded me, limited when it came to keeping Celeste in the style to which the world had told her she needed to remain accustomed.

And what about when Bax grew up? How could I make sure he had what he needed, to be part of the respected world of The Haves? How could I make sure he didn’t get into drugs? There were rumours of strange sex clubs popping up like fungi in a forest, which was a bit rich coming from me, given my predilictions but I didn’t want Bax to end up an anxiety-ridden, anger-driven worrier like me.

***

Excerpt from The Rage Room by Lisa de Nikolits. Copyright 2020 by Lisa de NikI followed Man Bun to a diveolits. Reproduced with permission from Lisa de Nikolits. All rights reserved.

 

 

Author Bio:

Lisa de Nikolits

Originally from South Africa, Lisa de Nikolits is an award-winning author whose work has appeared on recommended reading lists for both Open Book Toronto and the 49th Shelf, as well as being chosen as a Chatelaine Editor’s Pick and a Canadian Living Magazine Must Read. She has published nine novels that most recently include: No Fury Like That (published in Italian under the title Una furia dell’altro mondo); Rotten Peaches and The Occult Persuasion and the Anarchist’s Solution. Lisa lives and writes in Toronto and is a member of the Sisters in Crime, Toronto Chapter; Sisters in Crime; Mesdames of Mayhem; and The International Thriller Writers.

Catch Up With Lisa de Nikolits:
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A CHRISTMAS CAROL MURDER by Heather Redmond | #Showcase #Interview #Giveaway

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A Christmas Carol Murder

by Heather Redmond

on Tour November 1 – December 31, 2020

Synopsis:

A Christmas Carol Murder by Heather Redmond

The latest novel from Heather Redmond’s acclaimed mystery series finds young Charles Dickens suspecting a miser of pushing his partner out a window, but his fiancée Kate Hogarth takes a more charitable view of the old man’s innocence . . .

London, December 1835: Charles and Kate are out with friends and family for a chilly night of caroling and good cheer. But their blood truly runs cold when their singing is interrupted by a body plummeting from an upper window of a house. They soon learn the dead man at their feet, his neck strangely wrapped in chains, is Jacob Harley, the business partner of the resident of the house, an unpleasant codger who owns a counting house, one Emmanuel Screws.

Ever the journalist, Charles dedicates himself to discovering who’s behind the diabolical defenestration. But before he can investigate further, Harley’s corpse is stolen. Following that, Charles is visited in his quarters by what appears to be Harley’s ghost—or is it merely Charles’s overwrought imagination? He continues to suspect Emmanuel, the same penurious penny pincher who denied his father a loan years ago, but Kate insists the old man is too weak to heave a body out a window. Their mutual affection and admiration can accommodate a difference of opinion, but matters are complicated by the unexpected arrival of an infant orphan. Charles must find the child a home while solving a murder, to ensure that the next one in chains is the guilty party . . .

Book Details:

Genre: Historical Mystery
Published by: Kensington Publishing
Publication Date: September 29th 2020
Number of Pages: 320
ISBN: 1496717171 (ISBN13: 9781496717177)
Series: A Dickens of a Crime #3 || A Stand Alone Mystery
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | Goodreads

 

Author Bio:

Heather Redmond

Heather Redmond is an author of commercial fiction and also writes as Heather Hiestand. First published in mystery, she took a long detour through romance before returning. Though her last British-born ancestor departed London in the 1920s, she is a committed anglophile, Dickens devotee, and lover of all things nineteenth century.

She has lived in Illinois, California, and Texas, and now resides in a small town in Washington State with her husband and son. The author of many novels, novellas, and short stories, she has achieved best-seller status at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Her 2018 Heather Redmond debut, A Tale of Two Murders, was a multi-week Barnes & Noble Hardcover Mystery Bestseller.

Her two current mystery series are “A Dickens of a Crime” and “the Journaling mysteries.” She writes for Kensington and Severn House.

She is the 2020-21 President of the Columbia River Chapter of Sisters in Crime (SinC).

Q&A with Heather Redmond

What inspired you to write this book?

The inspiration for A Christmas Carol Murder is A Christmas Carol, a novella by Charles Dickens, who is also the amateur sleuth in my series. I take inspiration from his life overall, his nonfiction writing for the period of the book, and his later novels and stories.

What was the biggest challenge in writing this book?

I can’t reveal that because it would give away the plot! I’ll give you a hint – it was a certain sort of complex character that I’d never written before. I also wanted to remain true to the comedy, horror, and pathos that are a part of the original Dickens novella. It’s just an amazing piece of creative work.

Give us a glimpse of the research that went into this book.

As I became interested in my family genealogy, my heritage started to show up in the books. In A Christmas Carol Murder, my Mayflower/Jamestown ancient planter heritage is reflected in one of the characters and I bring a bit of America into England. I try to bring a couple of real historical figures to life. This time I picked a couple of American politician/diplomats to make a cameo. I do as much research I can at the street-level, trying to get London as accurate as I can. I’m also a future stalker of Charles Dickens, trying to find out where he was and what he was doing in real life on any given day.

How did you come up with the title?

This one was really obvious. In fact, the first three books had easy titles. Book four in the series, The Pickwick Murders (out next fall), was more of a negotiation as we tried to sort out the key imagery of the title.

Your routine in writing? Any idiosyncrasies?

I prefer to write when the house is quiet, and I’m best in the mornings. If I am interrupted too much, I just sort of shut down. The pandemic has been brutal. My kid has been home 24 7 since March and my husband was home for four months. A familiar story for a lot of us right now.

Tell us why we should read your book?

Specifically, A Christmas Carol Murder is chock-full of the holiday feels. I want people to close the book with a smile as much as if they’d just watched “The Muppet’s Christmas Carol” (my favorite movie version of Dickens’s novella.) My series is an unusual historical/cozy hybrid. The stories are full of family, food, and that Scooby gang-type quality. If someone likes historical mystery but wants to avoid the full-on gore that is present in many (though certainly not all) of the genre, my books are a great choice. I think teens could safely read this series as well, especially since the main characters are in their early twenties and some key supporting characters are in their mid teens.

Are you working on your next novel? If so, can you tell us a little bit about it?

I’ve come up with the plot for the fifth Dickens book and I’m refining it. It involves a treasure hunt (yay!), and it’s mostly set just outside London for the first time. Kate is playing a much larger role in books four and five, which I think will make readers happy.

Your novel will be a movie. You would you cast?

I would cast Daniel Radcliffe as Charles Dickens and Elle Fanning as Kate Hogarth. Julie Aga would be served well by one of those super-dramatic Disney Channel redhead actresses. William could be played by Robert Pattinson.

Favorite leisure activities/hobbies?

I’m a keen watercolorist at the moment. I’ve been painting since summer 2018. I tend to have one chief hobby at a time due to limited hours, but if I had time, I’d work on family genealogy more. I read a lot as well.

Favorite foods?

I’m a popcorn-addict. That’s my go to snack. I try to eat healthy, but often fail. I’m a vegetarian and I like to cook, though maybe not more than every other day. It’s a good thing I like leftovers! I just made a dauntingly large shepherd’s pie which is taking us a while to get through.

Catch Up With Heather Redmond:
HeatherRedmond.com, Goodreads, BookBub, Instagram, Twitter, & Facebook!

 

Read an excerpt:

Chapter One

Hatfield, Hertfordshire, England, December 1, 1835

They hadn’t found the body yet. Old Sal was surely dead. Feathers had caught on candles, igniting the blaze. Maybe a yipping dog had some part in the fiery disaster. The marchioness’s advanced age had surely contributed to the fatal misadventure. The marquess, her son, had nearly killed himself in a futile attempt to rescue her.

Charles Dickens’s cough forced him to set down his pen. Ink dribbled from it, obscuring his last few words. He found it hard to stay seated, so he pushed his hands through his unruly dark hair, as if pressing on his sooty scalp would keep him on the pub bench. Only three hours of sleep before being dragged from his bed to make the twenty-three-mile journey from his rooms at Furnival’s Inn in London that morning. Nervous energy alone kept his pen moving.

He rubbed his eyes, gritty with grime and fumes from the fire, both the massive one that had destroyed the still-smoking ruins of Hatfield House’s west wing, and the much smaller one here in the taproom at Eight Bells Pub. Some light came in from out of doors, courtesy of a quarter-full moon, but the windows were small.

He called for a candle and kept working.

Putting the messy slip of paper aside, he dipped his pen in his inkwell. Starting again, he recalled the devastation of the scene, the remains of once noble apartments now reduced to rubble and ash. He filled one slip after another, describing the scene, the architecture, the theories.

When he ran out of words, he let his memories of massive oaken Tudor beams, half-burned; heaps of bricks; lumps of metal; buckets of water; black-faced people; and unending, catch-in- your-throat soot—all that remained of forty-five rooms of storied, aristocratic things—fade away.

The ringing of St. Ethelreda’s venerable church bells returned him to the moment. Had it gone eight p.m. already? Hooves and the wheels of a cart sounded in the narrow street outside. A couple of men passed by, discussing the fire. The door of the pub opened and closed,allowing the flash from a lantern to illuminate the dark room.

Charles noted the attempts to make the room festive. Greenery had been tacked to the blackened beams and draped around the mantelpiece. He thought he saw mistletoe mischievously strung up in that recess to the left of the great fireplace.

Next to it, a man slumped in a chair. He wore a tired, stained old surtout and plaid trousers with a mended tear in the knee. Next to him waited an empty stool, ready for an adoring wife or small child to sit there.

Charles stacked his completed slips of paper on the weathered table and took a fresh one from his pile, the pathos of that empty seat tugging at him. He began to write something new, imagining that last year at this time, a sweet little girl sat on the stool, looking up at the old, beaten man. How different his demeanor would have been then!

Charles drew a line between his musings and the lower blank part of the page. His pen flew again, as he made the note. Add a bit of melancholy to my Christmas festivities sketch.

Unbidden, the serving maid delivered another glass of hot rum and water. The maid, maybe fourteen, with wide, apple- colored cheeks and a weak chin, gave him a sideways glance full of suspicion.

He grinned at her and pointed to his face. “Soot from the fire. I’m sending a report back to London.” His hand brushed against his shoulder, puffing soot from his black tailcoat into his eyes.

She pressed her lips together and marched away, her little body taut with indignation. Well, she didn’t understand he had to send his report by the next mail coach. Not much time for sentiment or bathing just yet.

By the time he finished his notes, the drinks hadn’t done their job of settling his cough. He knew it would worsen if he lay down so he opened his writing desk to pull out a piece of notepaper.

Dearest Fanny, he wrote to his sister. Where to begin? I wrote to my betrothed this morning so I thought I should send my news to someone else. Was ever a man so busy? I am editing my upcoming book. Did I tell you it will be called Sketches by Boz? I have to turn in the revisions for volumes one and two by the end of the year, in advance of the first volume releasing February eighth. I am also working on an operetta, thanks to that conversation with your friend John Hullah, in my head, at least. I hope to actually commence writing it as soon as my revisions are done.

I remember all the happy Christmas memories of our earliest childhood, the games and songs and ghost stories when we lived in Portsmouth, and hope to re-create them in my own sweet home next year. How merry it will be to share Christmas with the Hogarths! To think that you, Leticia, and I will all be settled soon with our life’s companions. Soon we will know the sounds of happy children at our hearths and celebrate all the joys that the season should contain in our private chambers.

He set down his pen without signing the letter. It might be that he would have more to add before returning to London. He had no idea how long it would be before they recovered the Marchioness of Salisbury’s body, if indeed, anything was left. Restacking his papers, he considered the question of her jewels. Had they burned? At least the priceless volumes in the library all had survived, despite the walls being damaged.

His brain kept churning, so he pulled out his copy of Sketches by Boz. He would edit for a while before retiring to his room at the Salisbury Arms. No time for sleep when work had to be done.

Pounding on the chamber door woke him. Daylight scarcely streamed around the tattered edges of the inn’s curtain. Charles coughed. He still tasted acrid soot at the back of his throat. Indeed, it coated his tongue.

The pounding came again as he scratched his unshaven chin. Had the Morning Chronicle sent someone after him? He’d put his first dispatch from the fire on the mail coach. Pulling his frock coat over his stained shirt, he hopped across the floor while he tugged on his dirty trousers. Soot puffed into the air with each bounce.

“Coming, coming,” he called.

The hinges squeaked horribly when he opened the door. On the other side stood a white-capped maid. She wore a dark cloak over her dress. A bundle nestled between her joined arms. Had she been kicking the door?

“Can I help you?” Charles asked, politely enough for the hour. To his right, his boots were gone. He had left them to be polished.

The girl lifted her bundle. The lump of clothes moved.

He frowned, then leaned over the lump. A plump face topped by a thatch of black hair stared back. A baby. Was she hoping for alms? “What’s your name, girl?”

“Madge, sir. Madge Porter.”

“Well, Madge Porter, I can spare you a few coins for the babe if you’ll wait for a moment. Having hard times?”

She stared hard at him. He realized the cloaked figure was the tiny serving maid from the Eight Bells. “He’s my sister’s child.”

“I see. Is she at work?” He laugh-choked. “She’s not in here with me, if that’s what you’re thinking.”

Her mouth hung open for a moment. “No, sir, I don’t think that.”

“What, then?” He glanced around for his overcoat, which had a few coins in a pocket. “What is the babe’s name?”

“Timothy, sir.” She tightened her weak chin until her pale skin folded in on itself. “Timothy Dickens?” she warbled.

“Dickens?” He took another glance at the babe. Cherry red, pursed lips, and a squashed button of a nose. He didn’t see any resemblance to his relatives. His voice sharpened. “Goodness, Madge, what a coincidence.”

Her voice strengthened. “I don’t think so, sir.”

He frowned. The serving maid did not seem to understand his sarcasm. “I’ve never been to Hatfield before. My family is from Portsmouth. I don’t know if your Timothy Dickens is a distant relative of mine or not. Who is his father?”

“She died in the fire.”

He tilted his head at the non sequitur. “Who?”

“My sister. She died in the fire. She was in service to old Sarey.” Charles coughed, holding the doorjamb to keep himself upright. This was fresh news. “How tragic. I didn’t hear that a maid died.”

“They haven’t found the bodies.”

“That I know. I’m reporting on the fire, but then, I told you that. Thank you for the information. I’ll pay you for it if you wait a moment for me to find my purse.”

She thrust the bundle toward him. “Timothy is yer son, sir. You need to take him.”

Charles took a step back, waving his hands. “No he isn’t.”

“He’s four months old. It would have been last year, around All Hallow’s Eve. Do you remember the bonfire? She’s prettier than me, my Lizzie. Her hair is lighter, not like yers or mine.”

“Truly, I’ve never been in Hatfield before now,” he said gently. “I work mostly in London.”

She huffed out a little sob. He sensed she was coming to a crescendo, rather like a dramatic piece of music that seemed pastoral at first, then exploded. “I know yer his daddy, sir. I can’t take him. My parents are dead.”

He coughed again. Blasted soot. “I’m sorry. It’s a terrible tragedy. You’re young to be all alone with a baby.”

Her entire being seemed to shudder, then, like the strike of a cobra, she shoved the wriggling bundle into his arms and dashed down the passage.

His arms fluttered like jelly for a moment, as if his bones had fled with the horror of the orphaned child’s appearance, until the baby opened its tiny maw and Charles found his strength.

Then he realized the blankets were damp. Little fatherless, motherless Timothy whoever-he-was had soiled himself. The baby wailed indignantly but his aunt did not return.

Charles completed his reporting duties with one hand while cradling the infant, now dressed in Charles’s cleanest handkerchief and spare shirt, in the other arm. Infant swaddling dried in front of the fire. When Charles had had his body and soul together well enough to chase after little Madge Porter, the proprietor of the Eight Bells had told him she wasn’t due there until the evening.

He’d begged the man for names of any Porter relatives, but the proprietor had been unhelpful. Charles had tripped over to St. Ethelreda’s, still smelling smoke through a nose dripping from the cold. The canon had been of no use and in fact smelled of Hollands, rather than incense. He went to a barbershop, holding the baby while he was shaved, but the attendant refused to offer information.

When the babe began to cry again, he took him to a stable yard and inquired if they had a cow. A stoic stableman took pity on him and sent him to his quiet wife, a new mother herself. She agreed to nurse the child while Charles went to Hatfield House to see if the marchioness had been found yet.

He attempted to gain access to the marquess, still directing the recovery efforts. While waiting, he offered the opinion that they should pull down the remaining walls, which looked likely to kill the intended rescuers more assuredly than anything else in the vast acreage of destruction. Everyone coughed, exhausted, working by rote rather than by intelligence.

After a while, he gave up on the marquess. He interviewed those working in the ruins to get an update for the Chronicle, then went to the still-standing east wing of the house to see the housekeeper. She allowed him into her parlor for half a crown. The room’s walls were freshly painted, showing evidence of care taken even with the servant’s quarters. A large plain cross decorated the free space on the wall, in between storage cupboards.

The housekeeper had a tall tower of graying hair, stiffened by some sort of grease into a peak over her forehead. Her black gown and white apron looked untouched by the fire. When she spoke, however, he sensed the fatigue and the sadness.

“I have served this family for thirty-seven years,” she moaned. “Such a tragedy.”

He took some time with her recital of the many treasures of the house, storing up a collection of things he could report on, then let her share some of her favorite history of the house. But he knew he needed to return to gather the baby from the stableman’s wife soon.

“Do you have a Lizzie Porter employed here?”

“Yes, sir.” The housekeeper gave a little sob and covered her mouth. “In the west wing, sir. I haven’t seen her since the fire.”

His fingers tingled. “Do you think she died?”

“I don’t know, sir. Not a flighty girl. I doubt she’d have run off if she lived.”

“Not a flighty girl?” He frowned. “But she has a babe.” He was surprised to know she had kept her employment.

The housekeeper shook her head. “She’s an eater, sir, but there never was a babe in her belly.”

The story became steadily more curious. “Did she take any leave, about four months ago? In July or August?”

The housekeeper picked up her teacup and stared at the leaves remaining at the bottom. “An ague went around the staff in the summer. Some kind of sweating sickness. She had it like all the rest. Went to recuperate with her sister.”

“Madge?”

She nodded absently. “Yes, that Madge. Just a slip of a girl. Hasn’t come to work here but stayed in the village.”

“I’ve met her. How long was Lizzie with her?”

“Oh, for weeks. She came back pale and thin, but so did a couple of other girls. It killed one of the cook’s helpers. Terrible.” The housekeeper fingered a thin chain around her neck.

It didn’t sound like a group of girls made up the illness to help Lizzie hide her expectations, but the ague had been timed perfectly for her to hide wee Timothy’s birth. Who had been the babe’s wet nurse?

“Do you know where Madge lives?”

“Above the Eight Bells, sir. Servants’ quarters.” The housekeeper set down her cup and rose, indicating the interview had ended.

Charles checked around the pub again when he returned to town, just a short walk from the grand, if sadly diminished, house. The quarters for servants were empty. Madge seemed to have gone into hiding. How she could abandon her nephew so carelessly, he did not know, but perhaps she was too devastated by her sister’s death to think clearly.

A day later, Charles and the baby were both sunk into exhaustion by the long journey to London. Charles’s carriage, the final step of the trip, pulled up in front of a stone building. Across from Mary-le-Bow Church in Cheapside, it had shop space, three floors of apartments, and a half attic on top. He’d had to hire a carriage from the posting inn where the coach had left them on the outskirts of town. While he had no trouble walking many miles, carrying both a valise and an infant was more than he could manage. At least they’d kept each other warm.

He made his awkward way out of the vehicle, coughing as the smoky city air hit his tortured lungs. In his arms, the babe slept peacefully, though he had cried with hunger for part of the long coach journey.

Charles’s friends, William and Julie Aga, had taken rooms here, above a chophouse. The building exuded the scent of roasting meats. His stomach grumbled as he went up the stairs to his friends’ chambers. William was a reporter, like Charles, though more focused on crime than government.

Charles doubled over, coughing, as he reached the top of the steps. He suspected if he’d had a hand free to apply his handkerchief, it would come away black again.

The door to the Agas’ rooms opened before he had the chance to knock.

“Charles!” William exploded. “Good God, man, what a sound to torture my ears.”

Charles unbent himself and managed a nod at his friend. William had the air of a successful, fashionable man-about-town, even at his rooms on a Thursday evening. He wore a paisley waistcoat under an old black tailcoat, which fit him like it had been sewn directly on his broad-shouldered body. They both prided themselves on dressing well. His summer-golden hair had darkened due to the lack of sun. He had the look of a great horseman, though Charles knew that William, like he, spent most of his time hunched over a paper and quill.

“I like that fabric,” Charles said. “Did Julie make you that waistcoat?”

“Charles.” William waved his arms. “Whatever are you carrying in your arms?”

Charles dropped his valise to the ground. It grazed his foot. He let out a yelp and hopped. “Blast it! My toe.”

William leaned forward and snatched the bundle from Charles’s arm. The cloth over little Timothy’s face slid away, exposing the sleeping child. “No room in the inn?”

“Very funny,” Charles snarled. He rubbed his foot against the back of his calf. “That smarted.”

“Whose baby?”

“A dead serving maid’s. I remember you said that a woman across the hall from you had a screaming infant. Do you think she might be persuaded to feed this one? He’s about four months old.”

William rubbed his tongue over his gums as he glanced from Timothy to Charles, then back again.

“He needs to eat. I don’t want to starve him. Also, I think he’s a little too warm.” Charles gave Timothy an anxious glance.

“Let’s hope he isn’t coming down with something.” William stepped into the passage and gave a long-suffering sigh. Then, he crossed to the other side and used his elbow to bang on the door across from his. “Mrs. Herring?”

Charles heard a loud cry in the room beyond, a muttered imprecation, and a child’s piping voice, then the door opened. A girl about the age of his youngest brother, Boz, opened the door.

“Wot?” she said indistinctly, as she was missing several teeth.

“I need your mother,” William said, smiling at the girl.

The girl turned her head partway and shrieked for her mother. A couple of minutes later the lady of the house arrived, a fat babe burping on her shoulder. She appeared as well fed as the infant, with rounded wrists tapering into fat fingers peering out from her cotton dress sleeves.

“Mr. Aga!” she said with a smile.

Charles instantly trusted Mrs. Herring’s sweet smile. Her hand had gone to the top of her daughter’s head for a caress, the sort of woman who genuinely enjoyed her children.

“Good lady,” Charles began. “I’ve been given the custody of this orphaned child due to a rather dramatic situation. Might you be able to take him in to nurse?”

Mrs. Herring stepped toward William. She took one look at the sleeping Timothy and exclaimed, “Lor bless me!” She handed her larger infant over to her daughter, then reached out her hands to William. He promptly placed the bundle into the mother’s arms.

Charles saw Timothy stir. He began to root around. “Hungry. Hasn’t been nourished since this morning.”

“Poor mite,” Mrs. Herring cooed. “How could you have let this happen? They must be fed regularly.”

“I don’t know how to care for a baby,” Charles admitted.

“But I remembered my friends had you as a neighbor. Can you help him?”

“We’ve no room for the tiny lad,” Mrs. Herring said sternly. She coaxed her daughter back inside.

“I can pay for his board,” Charles responded.

Mrs. Herring didn’t speak but her eyebrows lifted.

“Just for tonight at first,” William suggested with an easy smile. “You can see the situation is desperate.”

Charles reached into his pocket and pulled out a shilling. “I’m good for it. Truly. This would pay for days of his care if I hire a wet nurse. He has an aunt but she disappeared. I couldn’t find her before I had to return to London.”

“We’ll talk to you again in the morning,” William said. “I won’t leave the building until we’ve spoken.”

“Where am I to put him?” she asked, staring rather fixedly at the shilling. “The bed is full and we don’t have a cradle.”

William nodded wisely, as if he’d thought of this already. “Mr. Dickens and I will consult with my wife and bring something suitable. If you can feed him while we wait?”

Mrs. Herring reached out her free hand. Charles noted she had clean nails. She seemed a good choice for wet nurse. He placed the shilling in her palm and prayed they could make longer-term arrangements for a reasonable price.

Timothy let out a thin wail.

“He sounds weak,” Charles said, guilt coloring his words.

“I’ll do what I can.” Mrs. Herring glanced at the babe in her arms, then shut the door.

***

Excerpt from A Christmas Carol Murder by Heather Redmond. Copyright 2020 by Heather Redmond. Reproduced with permission from Heather Redmond. All rights reserved.

 

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A MURDER IS FOREVER by Rob Bates | #Showcase #Interview #Giveaway

A Murder is Forever

by Rob Bates

December 1, 2020 – January 31, 2021 Tour

Synopsis:

A Murder is Forever by Rob Bates

Max Rosen always said the diamond business isn’t about sorting the gems, it’s about sorting the people. His daughter Mimi is about to learn that some people, like some diamonds, can be seriously flawed.

After Mimi’s diamond-dealer cousin Yosef is murdered–seemingly for his $4 million pink diamond–Mimi finds herself in the middle of a massive conspiracy, where she doesn’t know who to trust, or what to believe. Now she must find out the truth about both the diamond and her cousin, before whoever killed Yosef, gets her.

“[A] sprightly debut …. Bates, who has more than 25 years as a journalist covering the diamond business, easily slips in loads of fascinating information on diamonds and Jewish culture without losing sight of the mystery plot. Readers will look forward to Mimi’s further adventures.” – Publishers Weekly

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery
Published by: Camel Press
Publication Date: October 13th 2020
Number of Pages: 281
ISBN: 1603812229 (ISBN13: 9781603812221)
Series: The Diamond District Mystery Series
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

 

Author Bio:

Rob Bates

Rob Bates has written about the diamond industry for over 25 years. He is currently the news director of JCK, the leading publication in the jewelry industry, which just celebrated its 150th anniversary. He has won 12 editorial awards, and been quoted as an industry authority in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and on National Public Radio. He is also a comedy writer and performer, whose work has appeared on Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update segment, comedycentral.com, and McSweeneys He has also written for Time Out New York, New York Newsday, and Fastcompany.com. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and son.

Q&A with Rob Bates

What was the inspiration for this book?

I have written about the diamond and jewelry industry for nearly 30 years for different trade publications. I always thought there would be some great stories to tell about the industry. It’s so exotic, and different than most other industries. (For instance, most diamond deals are sealed with the word Mazal. That’s it. No contracts, no lawyers. And that’s binding.)

There are also many misconceptions about it. I wanted my book to be a true insider’s view. Many people who have walked through New York’s Diamond District have no idea what exactly what happens there. So this lifts the veil a bit.

What has been the biggest challenge in your writing career?

It’s all pretty challenging, but I consider myself lucky to get a book published in this environment.

I’ve engaged in many creative pursuits over the years, including performing sketch comedy and stand-up. They all involve a lot of rejection. When I first started looking for agents, and I experienced some turndowns, and thought, “Why am I putting myself through this again?” It worked out okay in the end. You just have to look at rejection as part of the process. One day, I’ll figure out how to do that.

The main character of my book is a laid-off journalist who also deals with rejection. I’m happy that’s in there. It’s something you don’t always see portrayed in books and media, but it’s part of life.
My day job involves writing for a trade publication. And while it’s 150 years old, and an institution, it’s faced a lot of changes and challenges, like the rest of the publishing business has. But that’s a long long story.

What do you absolutely need while writing?

I usually listen to music, just because music calms me and lifts my spirits. I probably shouldn’t, as it can distracting, but it’s a habit by now.

A deadline helps, too.

Do you adhere to a strict routine when writing or write when the ideas are flowing?

I try to set myself a goal for the month, so if I screw up one day (which happens), I can make it up later. But my work habits vary, put it that way. I wish I had a magic formula, except for making myself feel guilty. That works. Sometimes.

Who is your favorite character from your book and why?

Everyone likes the character of Max, the heroine’s father, so I guess I would say him. I can’t dispute the wisdom of the crowd.

There’s a Rabbi in the book, and he was fun to write. One character is a composite of a different jargon-spouting executives I’ve spoken with over the years. But I like all the characters. Otherwise, I wouldn’t include them.

Most of the people in the book—even the flawed ones—are fundamentally good. Maybe I’m naïve, but I think that’s true of people in general.

Getting back to the diamond business, a lot of the portrayals you have seen in films, like Uncut Gems, have been unduly harsh. The bad side of the business certainly exists; there’s problems in the industry, and the book is sometimes frank about them. But I also wanted to portray the industry like I’ve experienced it: it’s not perfect, by any means, but it’s full of good and bad people, like any other business. Some of the nicest, most decent, as well as smartest, people I’ve met work in the diamond industry. It’s full of people trying to make a living, like any business.

Who is your least favorite character from your book and why?

Some of the characters in the book do things that are unconscionable (like kill people). But I try to make them all have some good or interesting qualities. If I didn’t like them, or didn’t find them worth writing about, I’d cut them from the book.

I also tried to make even the minor characters, like a security guard who plays a bit role in a few chapters, be unique or different.

Give us an interesting fun fact or a few about your book?

The main character (Mimi) is named after my late mother, and her father is named after my grandfather, who was a diamond dealer on 47th Street. That’s in tribute to them. The characters are not based on the actual people.

Many of the quotes in this book are actual things I’ve heard in the diamond business. I’ll let people decide which ones those are.

When I started writing this, I didn’t really know what a “cozy” mystery was. But it turned out that my book fit most of its requirements: it is light-hearted, has lots of humor, features little violence, and is built around an amateur detective. It’s not set in a small community—like most cozies are—but in New York City. But the Diamond District is definitely its own community. It’s an urban cozy. Perhaps I’ve invented a new genre.

When I first started writing this, an editor suggested I make the main character female, which was not something I would have considered on my own. Obviously, that was a little challenging at times, but I had my wife look it over to make sure I was on the right track. Every now and then, she’d write “hmmm…” on something I wrote. I got rid of everything that had “hmmmm…” on it.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

Thank you! I appreciate anyone who takes the time to read my book. It means so much to me.

I’m also interested in hearing readers’ feedback. If we weren’t living in COVID, I’d be happy to meet readers in person and autograph the books, not that my signature is particularly valuable.

The news is so depressing these days. If this proves a pleasant distraction for people, I’d be happy

Tell us a little about yourself and your background?

I’m just a bald guy from suburban New Jersey. When I graduated from college, I was looking for a writing job, and there was an ad for a writer for a diamond industry publication. As I mentioned, my grandfather had been a diamond dealer, and even though he died long before all this happened, I told the interviewer that I grew up in the business, and knew all about it. That was mostly B.S., but he bought it, or maybe he just pitied me. Regardless, I’m still at it 30 years later.

What’s next that we can look forward to?

The second book in this series is coming out next year. In fact, I turned in the manuscript one day before I did this interview. The second book, “Murder’s Not a Girl’s Best Friend,” focuses on some of the social issues the industry has had to deal with, so its subject matter is a little more serious than this one. But I tried to make it also fun and enjoyable.

(By the way, I’m really happy with my first two titles: “A Murder is Forever” and “Murder’s Not a Girl’s Best Friend,” as they play on the best-known slogans in the diamond business. I’m still figuring out what the third title will be. Suggestions welcome!)

There are so many stories in the diamond business. It’s an industry that touches so many different aspects of life—marketing, politics, economics, etc. I find it fascinating, and I hope that anyone reading these books will find it fascinating, too. And I hope to keep writing these books as long as the publishing gods let me.

Catch Up With Rob Bates:
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Read an excerpt:

A MURDER IS FOREVER

By Rob Bates

CHAPTER ONE

As Mimi Rosen exited the subway and looked out on the Diamond District, she remembered the words of her therapist: “This won’t last forever.”

She sure hoped so. She had been working on Forty-Seventh Street for two months and was already pretty tired of it.

To outsiders, “The Diamond District” sounded glamorous, like a street awash in glitter. To Mimi, who had spent her life around New York, Forty-Seventh Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues was a crowded, dirty eyesore of a block. The sidewalk was covered not with glitz, but with newspaper boxes, cigarettes, stacks of garbage bags, and, of course, lots of people.

Dozens of jewelry stores lined the street, all vying for attention, with red neon signs proclaiming “we buy gold” or “50 percent off.” Their windows boasted the requisite rows of glittery rings, and Mimi would sometimes see tourists ogling them, their eyes wide. She hated how the stores crammed so many gems in each display, until they all ran together like a mess of kids’ toys. For all its feints toward elegance, Forty-Seventh Street came off as the world’s sparkliest flea market.

Mimi knew the real action in the Diamond District was hidden from pedestrians, because it took place upstairs. There, in the nondescript grey and brown buildings that stood over the stores, billions in gems were bought, sold, traded, stored, cut, appraised, lost, found, and argued over. The upstairs wholesalers comprised the heart of the U.S. gem business; if someone bought a diamond anywhere in America, it had likely passed through Forty-Seventh Street.

Mimi’s father Max had spent his entire life as part of the small tight-knit diamond dealer community. It was a business based on who you knew—and even more, who you trusted. “This business isn’t about sorting the diamonds,” Max always said. “It’s about sorting the people.” Mimi would marvel how traders would seal million-dollar deals on handshakes, without a contract or lawyer in sight.

It helped that Forty-Seventh Street was comprised mostly of family businesses, owned by people from a narrow range of ethnic groups. Most—like Mimi’s father—were Orthodox, or religious, Jews. (“We’re the only people crazy enough to be in this industry,” as Max put it.) The Street was also home to a considerable contingent of Hasidic Jews, who were even more religious and identifiable by their black top hats and long flowing overcoats. Mimi once joked that Forty-Seventh Street was so diverse, it ran the gamut from Orthodox to ultra-Orthodox.

Now Mimi, while decidedly secular, was part of it all. Working for her father’s diamond company was not something she wanted to do, not something she ever dreamed she would do. Yet, here she was.

She had little choice. She had not worked full-time since being laid off from her editing job a year ago. She was already in debt from her divorce, which had cost more than her wedding, and netted little alimony. “That’s what happens when you divorce a lawyer,” said her shrink.

Six months after she lost her job, Mimi first asked her father for money. He happily leant it to her, though he added he wasn’t exactly Rockefeller. It was after her third request—accompanied, like the others, by heartfelt vows to pay him back—that he asked her to be the bookkeeper at his company. “I know you hate borrowing from me,” he told her. “This way, it isn’t charity. Besides, it’ll be nice having you around.”

Mimi protested she could barely keep track of her own finances. Her father reminded her that she got an A in accounting in high school. Which apparently qualified her to do the books at Max Rosen Diamond Company.

“We have new software, it makes it easy,” Max said. “Your mother, may she rest in peace, did it for years.”

Mimi put him off. She had a profession, and it wasn’t her mother’s.

Mimi was a journalist. She had worked at a newspaper for nine years, and a website for five. She was addicted to the thrill of the chase, the pump of adrenaline when she uncovered a hot story or piece of previously hidden info. There is no better sound to a reporter’s ears than someone sputtering, “How did you find that out?”

“It’s the perfect job for you,” her father once said. “You’re a professional nosy person.”

She loved journalism for a deeper reason, which she rarely admitted to her cynical reporter friends: She wanted to make a difference. As a girl, she was haunted by the stories they told in religious school, how Jews were killed in concentration camps while the world turned its head. Growing up, she devoured All the President’s Men and idolized pioneering female muckrakers like Nellie Bly.

Being a journalist was the only thing Mimi ever wanted to do, the only thing she knew how to do. She longed to do it again.

Which is why, she told her therapist, she would tell her father no.

Dr. Asner said she understood, in that soft melancholy coo common to all therapists. Then she crept forward on her chair.

“Maybe you should take your father up on this. He’s really throwing you a lifeline. You keep telling me how bad the editorial job market is.” She squinted and her glasses inched up her nose. “Sometimes people adjust their dreams. Put them on hold.”

Mimi felt the blood drain from her face. In her darker moments—and she had quite a few after her layoff—she had considered leaving journalism and doing something else, though she had no idea what that would be. Mimi always believed that giving up her lifelong passion would be tantamount to surrender.

Dr. Asner must have sensed her reaction, because she quickly backtracked.

“You can continue to look for a journalism job,” she said. “Who knows? Maybe working in the Diamond District will give you something to write about. Besides,”— here, her voice gained an edge—“you need the money.” That was driven home at the end of the forty-five minutes, when Dr. Asner announced that she couldn’t see Mimi for any more sessions, since Mimi hadn’t paid her for the last three.

By that point, Mimi didn’t know whether to argue, burst into tears, or wave a white flag and admit the world had won.

It was a cold February morning as Mimi walked down Forty-Seventh Street to her father’s office, following an hour-plus commute from New Jersey that included a car, a bus, and a subway. With her piercing hazel eyes, glossy brown hair, and closely set features, Mimi was frequently told she was pretty, though she never quite believed it. She had just gotten her hair cut short to commemorate her thirty-eighth birthday, hoping for a more “mature” look. She had always been self-conscious about her height; she was five foot four and tried to walk taller. She was wearing a navy dress that she’d snagged for a good price on eBay; it was professional enough to please her father, who wanted everyone to look nice in the office, without being so nice that she was wasting one of her few good outfits. She was bundled up with multiple layers and a heavy coat—to protect against the winter chill, as well as the madness around her.

Even though it was before 9 AM, Forty-Seventh Street was, as usual, packed, and Mimi gritted her teeth as she bobbed and weaved through the endless crowd. She sidestepped the store workers grabbing a smoke, covering her mouth so she wouldn’t get cancer. She swerved around the stern-looking guard unloading the armored car, with the gun conspicuously dangling from his belt. And she dodged the “hawker” trying to lure her into a jewelry store, who every day asked if she had gold to sell, even though every day she told him no.

Finally, Mimi reached her father’s building, 460 Fifth, the most popular address on “The Street.” After a few minutes standing and tapping her foot on the security line, she handed her driver’s license to the security guard and called out, “Rosen Diamonds.”

“Miss,” growled the guard with the oversized forehead who’d seen her three days a week for the past two months, “you should get a building ID. It’ll save you time in the morning.”

“It’s okay. I won’t be working here for long,” she chirped, though she wasn’t quite sure of that.

Next stop, the elevator bank. Mimi had an irrational fear of elevators; she was always worried she would die in one. She particularly hated these elevators, which were extremely narrow and perpetually packed. She envied those for whom a subway was their sole exposure to a cramped unpleasant space.

As the car rose, one occupant asked a Hasidic dealer how he was finding things.

“All you can do is put on your shoes. The rest is up to the man upstairs.”

Only in the diamond business. Mimi’s last job was thirty blocks away, yet in a different universe.

At each floor, dealers pushed and rushed like they were escaping a fire. When the elevator reached her floor, Mimi too elbowed her way to freedom.

As she walked to her father’s office, she marveled how the building, so fancy and impressive when she was a kid, had sunk into disrepair. The carpets were frayed, the paint was peeling, and the bathroom rarely contained more than one functioning toilet. If management properly maintained the building, they’d charge Midtown Manhattan rents, which small dealers like her father couldn’t afford. The neglect suited everyone.

She spied a new handwritten sign, “No large minyans, by order of the fire department.” Mimi produced a deep sigh. She had long ago left her religious background behind. Somehow, she was now working in a building where they warn against praying in the halls. She was going backward.

Perhaps the dealer in the elevator was right. You could only put on your shoes and do your best. She grabbed her pocketbook strap, threw her head back, and was just about at her father’s office when she heard the yelling.

“I’m so tired of waiting, Yosef! It’s not fair!”

Max’s receptionist, Channah, was arguing with her boyfriend, Yosef, a small-time, perpetually unsuccessfully diamond dealer. Making it more awkward: Yosef was Mimi’s cousin.

Channah and Yosef had dated for nearly eighteen months without getting married—an eternity in Channah’s community. Still, whenever Channah complained, Mimi remembered how her ex-husband only popped the question after three years and two ultimatums.

“Give me more time,” Yosef stuttered, as he tended to do when nervous. “I want to be successful in the business.”

“When’s that going to happen? The year three thousand?”

The argument shifted to Yiddish, which Mimi didn’t understand, though they were yelling so fiercely she didn’t need to. Finally, tall, skinny Yosef stormed out of the office, his black hat and suit set off by his red face. He was walking so fast he didn’t notice his cousin Mimi standing against the wall. Given the circumstances, she didn’t stop him to say hello. She watched his back grow smaller as he stomped and grunted down the hall.

Mimi gave Channah time to cool down. After a minute checking in vain for responses to her latest freelance pitch—editors weren’t even bothering to reject her anymore—she rang the doorbell. She flashed a half-smile at the security camera stationed over the door, and Channah buzzed her in. Mimi hopped into the “man trap,” the small square space between security doors that was a standard feature of diamond offices. She let the first door slam behind her, heard the second buzz, pulled the metal handle on the inner door, and said hello to Channah, perched at her standard spot at the reception desk.

Channah had long dark curly hair, which she constantly twirled; a round, expressive face, dotted with black freckles; and a voluptuous figure that even her modest religious clothing couldn’t hide.

“Did you hear us argue?” she asked Mimi.

“No,” she sputtered. “I mean—”

Channah smiled and pointed to the video monitor on her desk. “I could see you on the camera.” Her shoulders slouched. “It was the same stupid argument we always have. Even I’m bored by it.”

“Hang in there. We’ll talk at lunch.” Mimi and Channah shared a quick hug, and Mimi walked back to the office.

She was greeted by her father’s smile and a peck on the cheek. If anything made this job worthwhile, it was that grin. Plus the money.

“How are things this morning?”

“Baruch Hashem,” Max replied. Max said “thank God” all the time, even during his wife’s sickness, when he really didn’t seem all that thankful.

Sure enough, he added, “We’re having a crisis.”

Mimi almost rolled her eyes. It was always a crisis in the office. When Mimi was young, the family joke was that business was either “terrible” or “worse than terrible.”

Lately, her dad seemed more agitated than normal. As he spoke, he puttered in a circle and his hands clutched a pack of Tums. That usually didn’t come out until noon.

“I can’t find the two-carat pear shape.” He threw his arms up and his forehead exploded into a sea of worry lines. “It’s not here, it’s not there. It’s nowhere.”

Max Rosen was dressed, as usual, in a white button-down shirt and brown wool slacks, with a jeweler’s loupe dangling on a rope from his neck. His glasses sat off-kilter on his nose, and two shocks of white hair jutted from his skull like wings. When he was excited about something, like this missing diamond, the veins in his neck popped and the bobby-pinned yarmulke seemed to flap on his head.

Mimi stifled a laugh. That was the crisis? Diamonds always got lost in the office. As kids, Mimi and her two sisters used to come in on weekends and be paid one dollar for every stone they found on the floor. “They travel,” Max would say.

It was no surprise that things went missing in that vortex of an office. Every desk was submerged under a huge stack of books, magazines, and papers. The most pressing were placed on the seat near her father’s desk, what he called his “in-chair.”

When Mimi’s mother worked there, she kept a lid on the chaos. After her death, Max hired a few bookkeepers, none of whom lasted; two years later, the job had somehow fallen to Mimi.

Eventually, Channah found the two-carat pear shape, snug in its parcel papers, right next to the bathroom keys. The only logical explanation was that Max was examining it while on the toilet.

Max sheepishly returned to his desk. Mimi loved watching her father at work. She was fascinated by how he joked with friends, took grief from clients, and kept track of five things at once. It felt exotic and forbidden, like observing an animal in its natural habitat.

For the most part, they got along, which was no small thing. Over the years, there had been tense moments as he struggled to accept that she was no longer religious. Lately, he rarely brought the topic up, and she didn’t want him to. Her split from her non-Jewish ex probably helped.

On occasion, the old strains resurfaced, in subtle ways. Max’s desk was covered with photos—mostly of Mimi’s mom and her religious sisters and their religious broods. One time when Max was at lunch, Mimi tiptoed over to glance at them, and—not incidentally—check how many were of her. It made her feel silly, yet she couldn’t help herself. She was a professional nosy person.

She got her answer: out of about twenty photos, Mimi was in three, an old family photo and two pics from her sisters’ weddings. That was less than expected. She tried not to take it personally. She had no kids and her marriage was a bust. What was there to show off?

Mimi spent most of the morning deciphering her father’s books—a task made more difficult by his aging computer system, which regularly stalled and crashed. Her father’s “new” software was actually fifteen years old.

Sometimes she wished he gave her more substantial tasks to do. While her father would never say it, he didn’t consider the diamond industry a place for women, as it had always been male-dominated—even though, ironically, it catered mostly to females. That was fine with Mimi. She didn’t want to devote her life to a rock.

At 1 PM, Channah and Mimi headed for Kosher Gourmet, their usual lunch spot. Mimi always joked, “I don’t know if it’s kosher, but it’s not gourmet.”

In the two months Mimi had worked for her father, she and Channah had become fast friends, bonding over their shared love of mystery novels, crossword puzzles, and sarcastic senses of humor.

Channah was not Mimi’s typical friend. She was twenty-three and her parents were strictly religious, even more than Mimi’s. She commuted to Forty-Seventh Street every day on a charter bus from Borough Park, a frum enclave in Brooklyn. The Diamond District was her main exposure to the wider world. She reminded Mimi of her younger, more religious self, under her parents’ thrall yet curious what else was out there.

Mimi was not Channah’s typical friend either. During their lunches, Channah quizzed her on the taste of non-Kosher food (it didn’t taste any different, Mimi told her); sex (“When the time comes,” Mimi said, “you’ll figure it out”); and popular culture (“Can you explain,” Channah once asked, “why Kim Kardashian is famous?” Mimi just said no.) Today, as usual, they talked about Yosef.

“I don’t get it.” Channah wrapped sesame noodles around her white plastic fork. “I love him. He loves me. Why not get married?”

Mimi took a sip from her Styrofoam cup filled with warm tap water. She preferred bottled water but couldn’t afford it. “Have you thought of giving Yosef an ultimatum? Tell him if he doesn’t marry you by a certain date, that’s it.”

“Yosef wouldn’t take that seriously.” Channah turned her eyes to her tray.

“Why not?”

“Cause I’ve done that already. Three times! I backed down every time.” Her fork toyed with her food. “I believe it is beshert that Yosef and I will end up together. I’ve thought so since I first met him at your father’s office, and he smiled at me. What choice do I have?” Her elbow nudged her tray across the table.

“I understand why he’s waiting. He wants to be a steady provider. That’s a good thing, right?”

Actually, Mimi found it sexist. She didn’t say that, because she found many things in Channah’s world sexist.

“He just needs to sell that pink,” Channah said, spearing a dark brown cube of chicken.

Mimi took a quick sip of water. “That pink” was an awkward subject.

One month ago, Yosef had bought a three-point-two carat pink diamond. It was the biggest purchase of his career, the kind of high-risk move that could make or break his business. Max was overjoyed. “Do you know how rare pink diamonds are?” he exclaimed. “And it’s a three-carater! Sounds like a great buy!”

That was, until Yosef proudly presented it to his uncle Max, who inspected it under his favorite lamp, muttered “very nice,” and quickly handed it back.

It was only after Yosef left that Max dismissed his nephew’s score as a strop, a dog of a diamond, the kind of unsellable item that gathered dust in a safe.

“It has so many pepper spots,” Max lamented. “The color’s not strong at all. No one will buy that thing.”

“Maybe he got it for a good price,” Mimi said.

“I’m sure whoever sold it to him said it was the bargain of the century. Anytime someone offers me a metziah, that’s a sign they can’t sell the stone. There’s a saying, ‘your metziah is my strop.’” His face sagged. “I wish he talked to me first. That stone is worthless. I don’t have the heart to tell him.”

When Channah brought up the big pink at lunch, Mimi didn’t want to dwell on the subject. “What’s happening with that?” she asked, as casually as possible.

“Didn’t you hear?” Channah jerked forward. “It got the highest grade possible on its USGR cert.”

“You’ll have to translate.” Mimi tuned out most diamond talk.

“Cert is short for certificate, meaning grading report. The USGR is the U.S. Academy for Gemological Research, the best lab in the industry.”

Mimi just stared.

“That stone’s worth four million dollars.”

That Mimi understood. “Wow.” A lot of money for a dog of a diamond.

“Four point one million, to be exact.” Channah laughed. “Don’t want to leave that point one out!”

“I thought that stone was—”

“Ugly?” Channah chuckled. “Me too! I don’t understand how it got that grade. I guess it doesn’t matter. As your father says, ‘today the paper is worth more than the diamond.’” She slurped some diet soda.

“Is Yosef going to get four million dollars?”

“Who knows? He isn’t exactly an expert in selling such a stone. Your father convinced him to post it on one of the online trading networks. Someone called him about it yesterday.”

“That’s great!”

“Hopefully. If anyone could screw this up, Yosef could.” Channah’s mouth curled downward. “I keep checking my phone to see if there’s any news.” She flipped over her iPhone, saw nothing, and flipped it back. “The way I figure, if he sells that stone, he’ll have to marry me. Unless he comes up with some new excuse. He wouldn’t do that, right? Not after all this time. Would he?”

Mimi struggled to keep herself in check. She was dying to shake Channah and scream that if Yosef wasn’t giving her what she wanted, it was time to move on. She didn’t. Yosef was her cousin. Mimi was in no position to critique someone else’s love life. She always told people hers was “on hold.” It was basically non-existent.

Plus, she remembered how, weeks before her wedding, her friends warned her that her fiancé had a wandering eye. That just strengthened her resolve to marry him, even though in retrospect, they were right. “With situations like that,” her therapist said later, “I always recommend not to say anything. Just be a supportive friend.”

Mimi waited until Channah stopped speaking. She touched her hand. “I’m sure it will work out,” she said.

***

Excerpt from A Murder is Forever by Rob Bates. Copyright 2020 by Rob Bates. Reproduced with permission from Rob Bates. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Two Murders Too Many

by Bluette Matthey

December 1-31, 2020 Tour

Synopsis:

Two Murders Too Many by Bluette Matthey

Barn burning in a sleepy farming community is a serious enough matter, but a grisly murder or two in a small midwest town is a showstopper. Throw in a serial blackmailer who has his claws in some of the town’s leading citizens and you have one big recipe for disaster.

Charlie Simmons, newly sworn in as Shannon’s policeman, takes on the challenge of investigating this cauldron of crimes in stride, untangling one thread after another from the fabric of the town of Shannon to find the simple truth.

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery
Published by: Blue Shutter Publishing
Publication Date: October 21st 2020
Number of Pages: 254
ISBN: 978-1-941611-16-6
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Smashwords | Goodreads

 

Author Bio:

Bluette Matthey

Bluette Matthey is a product of the melting pot of America’s settlers, with her ancestry rooted in the Swiss, German, and English cultures. She is a keen reader of mysteries who loves to travel and explore, especially in Europe. Bluette currently lives in Béziers, France, with her husband and band of loving cats. Other books by Bluette Matthey include the Hardy Durkin Travel Mystery series: Corsican Justice, Abruzzo Intrigue, Black Forest Reckoning, Dalmatian Traffick, and Engadine Aerie.

Guest Post

10 Things The Reader Doesn’t Know About Charlie Simmons

1) Charlie Simmons was raised on a farm on the outskirts of Shannon and was educated in a one-room country schoolhouse. The school, located not far from the Simmons farm, was known locally as the Simmons School. He graduated at the end of his senior year.

2) Charlie has a second breakfast every morning which consists of a piece of pie and mug of steaming black coffee. His favorite pie is rhubarb custard.

3) Charlie was run out of a bar in a neighboring town once, depriving him of the cold beer he sought. He filled one of his long woolen socks with rocks and, swinging it like a deadly flail over his head, he went back in the bar, chased out the local bullies, and had his beer.

4) Charlie loves reading Rex Stout mysteries about Montenegrin detective Nero Wolfe.

5) Charlie’s pet cat, Lion, is a trusted confidant to Charlie. He discusses the events of the day with Lion who is sometimes an attentive listener and, at other times, completely aloof.

6) Charlie is one of twins. His younger-by-one-minute brother died in childbirth.

7) Charlie had his tonsils removed when he was eleven years old. He sat on the kitchen table at home and held a slop pan under his chin while the doctor removed his tonsils. They eventually grew back, and he had to have them cut out again.

8) Charlie learned to play the piano from his mother, who was quite gifted. He plays by ear, picking out the popular tunes of the day.

9) Charlie is a crack shot with a rifle and can shoot the eye out of a squirrel from 100 yards.

10) Although Charlie has never been more than 70 miles from Shannon, he has a considerable understanding of human nature.

Catch Up With Bluette Matthey On:
BluetteMatthey.com, Goodreads, Instagram, Twitter, & Facebook!

 

Read an excerpt:

Blanche Gruman sprawled on the park bench in front of the Presbyterian Church Monday enjoying the afternoon sun, her long, tanned legs stretched out on the sidewalk in front of the bench. She looked serene, with her face turned sunward, eyes protected by aviator sunglasses. Her blonde hair was almost white, bleached by the sun, and she wore it long and loose.

“Afternoon, Blanche,” Charlie said as he made his way toward town hall.

Blanche turned her head to see who had spoken. “Well, hey, Charlie!” she replied. She quickly sat up, pulling her bare legs primly under the edge of the bench. It was a lady-like move; just what you would expect from Blanche. A broad smile, showing perfect pearl-white teeth lit up her face.

Blanche Gruman owned and operated a successful hair salon in town. For Shannon, it was an exclusive salon. Blanche was an excellent cutter and stylist, and her flamboyant but tasteful sense of style attracted the cream of Shannon’s women to her salon, as well as some of the more prominent men. She had expanded her business over the course of a decade, hiring additional staff, but she was the queen bee, and closely guarded her select clientele.

Blanche had never married, though she’d had a fairly constant parade of suitors. Rumor had it that when someone had once asked her why she had never married she had flippantly replied, “Why marry one man when I can make so many happy?” Whether or not this was true, it was generally agreed that Blanche had a less traditional approach to relationships with men than her female contemporaries, and it was speculated that many of her female devotees who religiously came to Blanche for hair treatment did so as a means of keeping an eye on her latest paramour, primarily to make sure it wasn’t a wayfaring husband.

“You look mighty pleased with yourself,” Charlie said. He stood in front of her, blocking the sun from her eyes. She removed her sunglasses, hooking one of the templates on the V-neck of a snug knit top that accented her generous curves.

“It’s a great day to celebrate life,” she told him, “and that’s just what I’m doing.” Clearly, she was enjoying herself.

Charlie changed the subject. “You hear about what happened to Otto Hilty the other night?”

His question soured Blanche’s mood noticeably. Her voice took on a hard edge when she responded. “That SOB …” she began. “I don’t truck with what happened to Otto,” she said, “but I’ll not shed any tears for him.” She put her sunglasses on and stood, facing Charlie. “Like I said … it’s a great day to celebrate.” She walked off leaving Charlie standing, literally, with his mouth agape.

***

Excerpt from Two Murders Too Many by Bluette Matthey. Copyright 2020 by Bluette Matthey. Reproduced with permission from Bluette Matthey. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Giveaway!:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Bluette Matthey. There will be five (5) winners for this tour. Each winner will receive an eBook of Two Murders Too Many by Bluette Matthey. The giveaway begins on December 1, 2020 and runs through January 2, 2021. Void where prohibited.

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