Category: Interview

UNWITTING ACCOMPLICE by Sid Meltzer | #Showcase #Interview #Giveaway

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Unwitting Accomplice

by Sid Meltzer

March 1-31, 2021 Tour

Synopsis:

Unwitting Accomplice by Sid Meltzer

How can a homicide be prevented when it’s still only in some stranger’s head?

Kim Barbieri, a tough, street-smart New York City crime reporter unfazed by male egos and mangled bodies, is sent an anonymous note with a sinister message:

I intend to commit a murder

She doesn’t know who the killer is.

She doesn’t know who his victim will be.

She doesn’t know where, when and how he will strike.

But there is one thing she does know: If she doesn’t learn to think like a killer, someone’s going to get away with murder.

Kudos for Unwitting Accomplice:

“The tension builds page after page, chapter after chapter, between the psycho driven to kill and the reporter determined to stop him—ending with a surprise twist I just didn’t see coming. And I’m a thriller writer!” ~ Steven Pressfield, bestselling author of Gates of Fire and A Man at Arms

Book Details:

Genre: Thriller
Published by: Rogue Phoenix Press
Publication Date: December 7, 2020
Number of Pages: 313
ISBN: 978-1-62420-579-8
Series: A Kim Barbieri Thriller
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

 

Author Bio:

Sid Meltzer

Sid Meltzer took a couple of worthwhile detours on his way to becoming a crime fiction writer.

He started out as a NYS Supreme Court Probation Officer, a job that helped him see things from a criminal’s point of view— and let him peer into their minds’ many dark alleys.

Working with ethically-challenged rascals prepared him well for the caliber of people he met in his next career— advertising. That is where he learned how to craft stories that draw readers in and keep them engaged.

Unwitting Accomplice is his debut novel.

Q&A with Sid Meltzer

What was the inspiration for this book?

My inspiration was an idea that crept into my brain and wouldn’t leave, which was: what if a business exec applied all his project management skills to commit the perfect crime? As a copywriter I had worked with many suits, and knew how they managed to wrestle with deadlines, understand their challenges, set goals, acquire resources etc. Once I understood my killer, I then went about creating the person who most stood in his way: The female crime reporter, Kim Barbieri.

What has been the biggest challenge in your writing career?

Learning on the job. My first drafts, involving only the killer, lacked the narrative structure, or story arc, that is the basis for successful fiction. It took me several false starts, and lots of trial and error, to create this structure, and apply it to both the killer and the reporter.

What do you absolutely need while writing?

Quiet-time. I’m easily distracted, and have to work hard at shutting out all the distractions – online, or TV, or text messages, even my dog – that prevent the completion of that day’s chapter, or that day’s editing.

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

A little of both. Writing takes discipline, so I make a point of writing for an hour or so in the morning, uninterrupted. Writing also takes inspiration, and that can come at anytime. While walking, while day-dreaming, while napping even. When it strikes, I jot the idea or thought down immediately so I don’t forget it. I keep a notebook with me at all times for exactly that reason.

Who is your favorite character from your book and why?

The Medical Examiner, Dr. Fletcher. She presented the greatest contrast between her personality, which was bright, colorful and lively, and her job, which was dismal and grim– dissecting corpses hour after hour, day after day. She was fun to create.

Tell us why we should read your book.

You should read it because you’ll be able to escape for a few days into three different worlds that may be foreign to you. The first is the scary, frightening world inside the mind of the killer, and all the turmoil he wrestles with. The second is the world of a NYC crime reporter, who has to wrestle with obstacles to get her story out day after day. The third world is the scene of the crime — Brooklyn, New York. The book gives you a good feel of what it’s like to live and work in that vibrant, ever-changing metropolis.

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

It takes place in brownstone Brooklyn, the neighborhood I lived in and worked in for many years. As a Probation Officer there, I met quite a few interesting characters living not all that far from my home.

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

Simply that given the right circumstances, anyone can be driven to commit a crime. Even the most normal, upstanding member of the community has the potential to snap. An old radio show once asked, “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?” Indeed, we don’t really know… do we?

Tell us a little about yourself and your background?

I started out as a New York City Probation Officer, a job that let me peer into the many dark alleys inside a criminal’s mind. I always thought I had a novel in me..a.nd here we are.

What’s next that we can look forward to?

I’m attempting a sequel set a few years from now, in which Kim Barbieri—a little older, and wiser, and grayer – tackles the Russian mob in New York City.

Catch Up With Sid Meltzer:
Goodreads
Instagram – @sidmeltzer
Twitter – @sid_meltzer

 

Read an excerpt:

Chapter One

Friday, March 24
11:15 AM

One envelope stood out from all the others competing for Kim Barbieri’s attention. All it had was her name and address. The rest was blank. Clearly, it was meant for her eyes only, the note inside demanding to be read.

Wondering who would write her a personal letter, she put down her cup of coffee, opened the envelope and took out the single sheet of paper inside. Savvy as she was, she was completely unprepared for its stark, ominous message.

I intend to commit a murder.

There was no Dear Kim above the line, no Sincerely yours below it. Like the envelope itself, there was nothing to tell her the identity of the writer, or why it was sent specifically to her.

“Hell’s this?” she whispered to herself.

After a long, brutal winter, the sun had chosen that morning to come out and give New Yorkers a hint of the warmer weather to come. It was one of those early spring days, a little too chilly in the shade, yet absolutely glorious in the sun. Barbieri welcomed the retreat of winter, lying out on her patio for the first time since before Thanksgiving, enjoying her ritual first cup of morning coffee while listening to Verdi’s Il Trovatore on her ancient record player.

It was an opera she knew by heart, and as it came to an end, she forced herself to get up off the lounge chair, take the LP off the turntable, and pour a second cup of coffee. Her too-brief escape was over, and it was time to attack the backlog of mail that piled up whenever she was too worn out from chasing cops and robbers all over the city to wade through it. It’s not going to go away by itself.

She first tossed the 90 percent of it that was junk, then put aside the bills she had to pay. She saved for last the once-in-a-blue moon personal correspondence, like the mystery letter.

What am I supposed to do with this? What does it mean? Why did I win this particular lottery?

She put the disturbing note back in the envelope to examine it again with a critical eye, as if opening it for the first time. While she had not been called into work that morning—a slow news day, evidently—she never stopped looking at things from a journalist’s point of view. Sweat the details. Always. They tell a story all by themselves.

It was a standard, plain vanilla business envelope, white or close to it, with no embossing, watermark, or logo that could have given her the thinnest of threads to pull. Probably from Staples or Walmart. No help at all.

Printed on the front were her name, street address, apartment number, and zip code—all correct. The writer knew of her by seeing her byline, she assumed, which meant he also knew what she did for a living. Her stories appeared just about every day in the Daily News, the tabloid whose circulation pretty much ended at the city line. She gave her fellow New Yorker a small nod for accuracy. Whoever sent it had chosen a standard business typeface, and the envelope looked like it came out of a cheap home office printer you could get anywhere. Canon perhaps, or HP. They’re all pretty much the same anyway.
In the upper right corner was a common Forever stamp—Elvis before he became a lounge act—precisely aligned with the envelope’s top and side edges. Its postmark revealed it was mailed two days before, on Wednesday, and meant it was placed in her mailbox by a mail carrier rather than the sender. Had the postmark been completely legible, it could have helped her track down the post office where it originated. Unfortunately, only the last two numbers—0 and 9—were clear. The rest was an unreadable blur. I can’t even tell which city it came from. All in all, the envelope itself is giving me next to nothing to go on.

She took the letter out again as if she had not done so only a minute before, putting the now empty envelope aside. It was standard letter size and appeared to be the same stock as the envelope. It was folded in thirds, business style, by someone who took care to line up the edges perfectly.

One neat and orderly fellow. Or should I say lady? Lord knows men have no monopoly on weirdness. The opportunity to judge people was both an occupational hazard and a perk of the job. After so many years of interviewing cops, witnesses, victims, and assorted dirtbags, she could not help herself.

The sinister warning, I intend to commit a murder, was printed on the top inside third of the letter, flush left, in the same typeface as on the envelope. She noted again how the middle and bottom thirds of the paper were left blank.

As unsettling as the message was, there was something else creeping her out. This is an unwelcome invasion of my privacy. Somebody out there knows my name, what I do, and where I live. What else does he know about me? My account numbers? My passwords? My family?

She put the letter back in the envelope, careful not to leave any more of her own fingerprints or ruin any the writer had left. Tempted as she was to toss it out as a waste of time, she chose instead to hold on to it for now. As a reporter, she knew better than to dismiss a promising lead. Besides, she did enjoy a good mystery, and the killer-in-waiting might decide to give her clues actually meaning something later on.

The mail all taken care of, Barbieri poured herself a fresh cup of coffee, grabbed her copy of the Times, and reclaimed her prime sunbathing location on the lounge chair. She had finished reading the paper earlier in the morning, but was never really done with it until she filled in every last square of the crossword. A few more minutes of warmth provided by Mother Nature herself, rather than the down coat she had worn all winter, sure beat rushing to yet another savage crime scene

Chapter Two

Barbieri grabbed her cell off the kitchen counter. She had put the mystery letter aside the day before, but could not put it out of her mind. For twenty-four hours, she had thought about little else except her new anonymous pen pal. Her best course of action was to hash the message out with the one person she could trust to keep his mouth shut.

“What?” Pete Delaney was not known for idle banter or witty repartee. Social skills were not one of his strengths. Speaking in monosyllables was. With those two, small talk was kept to a minimum by mutual agreement, if not dispensed with altogether.

“Come over.”

“Now?”

“Now.”

“Twenty.”

Kim Barbieri was as good as any male with man-talk. She spoke it fluently and was comfortable distilling conversation into its purest form with her partner. When she and Delaney communicated with each other, they competed in waxing ineloquent, and the duels always induced a small smile she found hard to suppress. Reminds me of the stupid secret codes I used to dream up with my girlfriends after school.

Delaney was a photographer for the same newspaper, a stringer like Barbieri. Stringers were usually assigned to work together at random, based on who was up at the time. Except for homicides. To the metro desk editor, these two were the go-to team where dead bodies were involved. Working stories together sometimes ended with them hanging out together afterwards, which over time morphed into a sort of friendship. Not romance, certainly. There was no chemistry between them, only a high level of mutual comfort, respect, and trust, which was why Barbieri decided to loop him in on the anonymous letter.

Delaney was strictly a news photographer, and he looked the part. On the short side with long brown hair, a scruffy beard that defied grooming, and what seemed like a permanent cameraman’s squint, he went about his work with a brusque, no-nonsense demeanor he had cultivated on the job. Rain or shine, night or day, his camera vest, bulging with lenses and filters, was his security blanket. No shot was impossible as long as he wore it.

Growing up in the suburbs, he had imagined himself leading camera safaris in darkest Kenya, where he could apply his photographic skills and critical eye to capture the brutal symbiosis of big cats and their prey. Life had other plans. Until he made it to the Serengeti, the dark urban streets of New York City would have to do.

While she waited for Delaney, Barbieri checked her mailbox. No second mystery note. Her mind went back to the troubling message. How did the sender, whoever he or she is, know how to pique my interest? Why would the writer send it to me and not some other journalist? New York has plenty to choose from. Hundreds, I bet. She wanted no part of a planned murder. That much she knew. Yet she was not a fan of loose ends. She liked closure. The sinister message left a lingering bad taste she could not get rid of.

In her decade or so of covering crimes, she had seen only a handful of homicides go unsolved. The open cases still kept her up some nights, long after the white shirts in the NYPD decided to stop working on them. Cold cases seemed like a waste of manpower when there was never a shortage of new homicides needing to be solved. No matter how much she tried to block them out of her memory, Barbieri could never stop thinking about what the investigators might have missed. Was it the follow-up call they didn’t make? Maybe the witness who decided he didn’t recognize the perp after all? The DNA sample disappearing off the face of the Earth?

Blue lives mattered a great deal to her. When cops and reporters meet day after day, night after night, over stiffs from the seemingly endless supply the city offers up, a bond forms. Maybe a morbid bond, yet a bond nonetheless. When she was with them, she spoke their language, the slang they used only among themselves, not her own. Where else would I get to slip “badge bunny” or “Duracell shampoo” into a conversation? Her empathy for the stiffs and the cops came with the territory.

“Got something,” Barbieri greeted Delaney at the door. So much for pleasantries. They went right into their shorthand.

“What?”

“Patience, young man.”

Delaney followed his partner to her desk in the study, a literate woman’s version of a tormented writer’s man cave. Books were piled on every shelf not covered by yellow writing pads, each virgin territory after the first few pages, and atop the center of the desk was an old bargain-basement Dell laptop good for word processing and email, and not much else. She and the Dell went way back. Even after she finally succumbed to peer pressure and treated herself to a Macbook, she could not bring herself to toss it. One day I’ll get around to discarding the old apps and files. Then it’ll run faster, won’t it?

She took out the envelope from the drawer, opened it, gingerly removed and unfolded the one-page letter, and placed both next to each other on top of the desk. Delaney’s eyes went from one to the other until he focused on the message. “I intend to commit a murder. ” He waited a nanosecond before asking her, “Fuck does it mean?”

“What it says.”

“When?”

“When did I get it?”

“When will he kill?”

“Could be a she. Not anytime soon. My guess.”

“Nothing to ID the sender.”

“Could be anybody.”

“From anywhere. Professional, maybe.”

“Educated.”

“Grammar counts for something.”

“One perp, acting alone.”

“One victim, not more. Singular.”

“Mental case?”

“Worker going postal?”

“Computer literate.”

“Uses Word. Sends file to the printer.”

“Home office. Not safe for work.”

“Definitely. Probably online. Maybe leaving a trail.”

“Leading back to him. Her.”

“What now? Police?”

“Not yet.”

“Nothing they can do.”

Barbieri folded the letter, put it back in the envelope, and left it on her desk. As she followed Delaney out to his car, she fought the urge to remind him to keep the anonymous threat just between them. There was no need to; she knew he would not say a word to anyone.

The reporter was not impressed with the brilliant deductions they had made based on some generic stationery and a single sentence. It was simple logic at work, and it did not really bring her any closer to identifying the sender. Regardless, by bringing in her loyal sidekick, she now had a better picture of the person threatening to commit a capital crime. The would-be perpetrator morphed from an abstraction, a cipher, into a human being with a name, a family, an address, and perhaps an online history, waiting to be exposed. She felt they had inched the cryptic note closer to becoming a critical piece of evidence in an out-and-out criminal case.

On the other hand, their brilliant deductions could all be bullshit, and she knew it. The whole thing could be a hoax some sicko was playing on her. They had been wrong one or two times before, on matters a lot more trivial than murder. They could have been just reinforcing each other’s sloppy thinking. If not, it could turn out to be Barbieri’s first opportunity to cover the premeditated part of premeditated murder. How many reporters get the chance to put a story like this in their scrapbook?

She was not sure how exactly, but she felt herself being drawn into a game with an element of danger to someone else, not herself or Delaney. This game might or might not have a lethal ending, and she wanted to know how it would turn out if it was just the three of them playing.

Bringing my playmate into this arena is complicating my own involvement. Her mystery guest was now communicating with two outsiders, not just one, and Barbieri was not sure if he would appreciate Delaney becoming her full partner just yet. While she trusted Delaney more than anyone to keep quiet, the writer himself would have no reason to trust him. Her photographer could go to the cops if he ever got spooked.

Telling them about her new pen pal was something her inner control freak would not allow just yet.

Chapter Three

When did I start thinking it would be a good idea to murder a complete stranger in cold blood?

Can’t say for certain, but I do know things really started to get ugly for me when I put in my papers, posed for pictures with my new Rolex, and realized I’d made myself useless. If my plan to stick a knife in someone’s chest had a start date, this was it.

That’s why you drove all the way up here to Almost Canada, isn’t it? To hear my side of the story? Trust me, I’ve wanted to tell it as much as you want to hear it.

I used to be a real big shot, you know? It took a few years to escape the grunt work, but eventually I turned into a pretty important guy in the office. I was a big swinging dick, and I rather enjoyed it.

Me, I was old-school. I started at the bottom, sharing a tiny cube with another peon. I watched how my bosses made money, and eventually their bosses let me into their world. I worked alongside them, shadowing them. Then one day, I found myself making money like them. King of the world, I felt like. I became my own little profit center for the firm and took off from there.

See, as far as the higher-ups were concerned, my job description was very simple—make money. Make sure the company had more in the bank when I clocked out at night than it did when I’d clocked in in the morning. Simple.

I was what the corporate world called a rainmaker. It’s a horseshit word for someone who knows how to drum up business and rake in the bucks. I don’t want to brag, but I made a ton of money for the company. A ton. They let me keep a big chunk of it to make sure I didn’t jump ship; between salary and bonuses, pretty soon I was taking home more than I knew what to do with, frankly.

As long as I made it rain buckets, the gods were never angry. In my world, money definitely equaled love. You bring in money for the company, and the company shows you how much they love you by giving some of it back to you. They got rich, and I got raises that meant a lot and fancy new titles that meant nothing.

Let you in on a secret. All the client wanted from me was to dig him out of the hole he had somehow dug for himself. Help him get home before his kids went to bed once in a while and help him sleep a little more soundly. This was what he was paying me for. You do this for him, you’re golden.

Guys in the office looked to me to make the big decisions. They had the business degrees and connections, while I had the kind of wisdom you only get from hard times. I had the scars and bruises, they didn’t. I could spot opportunities. I came up with ideas, set goals, planned. I budgeted, motivated, negotiated, and I sold. I assembled teams, assigned tasks, and managed resources. I cut costs, anticipated roadblocks, put out fires, and made gut calls. I made plans, then executed them. To the HR guys who have a box to fill in the org chart, this job description would’ve been all I needed to get me in the door for an interview.

The upstart MBA types I was forced to work with spoke a language the Navajo Code Talkers couldn’t break. Say one of them needed you to pitch in on a project. He didn’t ask if you had the time. He asked if you had extra bandwidth. Seriously, bandwidth? Whoever made this a word, they should bring back the death penalty just for him. My colleagues used ten-dollar words like resource allocation and immunization strategy to describe our job, bullshit terms created to make their work seem harder than it was, and impress outsiders who didn’t speak the language. Gave even our junior guys instant authority, as if they knew what they were talking about.

Personally, I never knew what they were fuckin’ talking about half the time, and I was their boss.

Consulting in retail was never hard as cutthroat businesses go. It was always challenging, sure, and I could always come up with gimmicks to help stores keep customers coming back and keep their doors open. Everybody thought I’d eventually make partner, even me. Especially me.

Then Amazon came along, followed close behind by Josh Kelleher. There wasn’t much I could do to make my clients competitive with Amazon. You want to see what that monster’s done, just walk up Broadway. About the only thing missing is the tumbleweed. There wasn’t much I could do to keep my company from making this douchebag a partner, either. Kelleher was the CEO’s son-in-law, and all my earnings suddenly meant squat in comparison.

I worked. Kelleher coasted. He got my partnership. I got a watch. Life’s unfair. I was more than a little pissed, so I walked.

Of course, I had to remind myself my company didn’t put me out to pasture when I reached mandatory retirement age. I’d stopped working on my own—my decision, not theirs. They didn’t fire me; I fired them. Maybe I was too angry at being passed over to think clearly. Maybe I should’ve eaten crow and stayed. But this didn’t make my new carefree existence any easier. To my mind, it was not so much things weren’t working out the way I’d planned. Like everything else, my retirement was a work in progress. You tried one way of doing things, one new set of routines. If it didn’t work out, you went to plan B. No big deal.

All I could do was hope it would all be OK in time. I’m sorry, bandwidth. Being home all the time, I spent many hours thinking about where I’d found myself and imagining taking a whole new direction no one could’ve predicted—least of all me.

***

Excerpt from Unwitting Accomplice by Sid Meltzer. Copyright 2021 by Sid Meltzer. Reproduced with permission from Sid Meltzer. All rights reserved.

 

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UP THE CREEK by Alissa Grosso | #Showcase #Interview #Giveaway

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Up the Creek

by Alissa Grosso

January 11 – March 12, 2021 Tour

Synopsis:

Up the Creek by Alissa Grosso

An unsolved murder. Disturbing dreams. A missing child.

Caitlin Walker hasn’t had a dream in nine years. But now nightmares torture her son Adam and awaken in Caitlin buried memories and a dark secret. Her husband Lance has a secret of his own, one that his son’s nightmares threaten to reveal.

In Culver Creek newly hired detective Sage Dorian works to unravel the small town’s notorious cold case, the grisly murder of a young girl.

How are Caitlin and Lance connected to the horrific crime? And how far will they go to make sure their secrets stay hidden? Find out in this riveting thriller.

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery Thriller
Published by: Glitter Pigeon Press
Publication Date: January 12, 2021
Number of Pages: 356
ISBN: 9781949852080
Series: Culver Creek Series, Book 1
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

 

Author Bio:

Alissa Grosso

Alissa Grosso is the author of several books for adults and teens. Originally from New Jersey, she now resides in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

Q&A with Alissa Grosso

What was the inspiration for this book?

With every book I set out to write a book that I would enjoy reading. Up the Creek began with the character of Caitlin who had some psychic dreams when she was a kid, and then the rest of the story grew around her.

What has been the biggest challenge in your writing career?

I don’t have the luxury to write full time so for me the biggest challenge is balancing writing with all the other things I have to do, and finding the time to work on my books.

What do you absolutely need while writing?

I kind of feel like I can and do write all the time. I think I’ve written whole novels in my head while in the shower. So, other than being in the right headspace, I don’t think I need anything to write. But that being in the right headspace things is a biggie.

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

Strict routines are anathema to me. I admire, but don’t envy people who live by schedules. My preferred method is to write when I feel like it. In truth this is basically the “schedule” I follow for all things in my life.

Who is your favorite character from your book and why?

Well, though Up the Creek started with Caitlin this series follows Sage Dorian. So, I think I would have to say he’s my favorite. He’s a complicated and haunted man, but he’s out there doing what he can to make the world a better place, and he has a good heart.

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

Well, I have one, but I can’t tell you who or why because it would reveal a spoiler for a later book in the series.

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

The book was originally titled Every Parent’s Nightmare. It fits, but as my friend and fellow writer Stephen Parrish rightfully pointed out it sounded too dark and scary. The book isn’t that terrifying, and I didn’t want to scare readers away so I opted for the less frightening title Up the Creek.

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

2021 marks my tenth year as a published author, and I am still so thankful to each and every reader who has taken the time to read one of my books. It truly means the world to me. So, thank you!

Tell us a little about yourself and your background?

I’m from New Jersey though these days live just a stone’s throw away (well, maybe if you’re a major league pitcher and can throw a stone across the Delaware River) in Pennsylvania. I’ve been writing stories almost as long as I’ve been reading them. One of my biggest fans (I know this because mine are the only books he reads) is my boyfriend Ron. My other outlet is creating digital artwork for t-shirts, stickers, cards, and other products.

What’s next that we can look forward to?

Book Two in the Culver Creek series, Factory Girls, comes out on February 9th. The third book follows in March and the fourth and final book in April.

Find out more about Alissa Grosso and her books at:
AlissaGrosso.com
Goodreads
BookBub
Twitter
Facebook

 

Read an excerpt:

Caitlin emerged from a black, dreamless sleep to screams. Adam’s tortured cries sounded almost otherworldly. They turned her blood to ice and made her heart race. She sat straight up, then bolted from bed, blinking sleep from her eyes as she raced toward the door, banging her shin on the dresser as she went. She yanked on the doorknob and almost toppled over when it didn’t yield as she expected. Goddammit. Lance had locked the door again.

She spared a glance toward the bed, but her husband wasn’t there. Instead he was standing, looking out the window. For a moment she thought she was mistaken. Were the screams coming from outside?

“Lance?” she asked.

He turned to her, but his eyes looked past her at some point on the wall.

“What’s going on?” he mumbled, barely awake.

“Adam’s having a nightmare,” she said.

“Again?” he asked. “Maybe we should just let him sleep it off.”

The screams had subsided now, but she could still hear her son’s whimpers from down the hall. Sleep it off? Could Lance really be that clueless? She unlocked the door and flung it open. It bounced almost silently off the rubber doorstopper, which didn’t really give her the dramatic exit she was hoping for.

She still couldn’t quite wrap her head around her husband just standing there looking out the window while Adam cried for them. Usually Lance was the one who woke up first. Maybe he had already gone to comfort Adam and came back to their bedroom by the time she awoke. He seemed so out of it, though. Well, that’s what a lack of sleep could do to a person.

Adam sat on his bed in a nest of tangled sheets. His face was damp with tears and sweat, his dark hair plastered to his forehead. The hippo nightlight cast large, ominous shadows when she stepped into his room. He looked up with a start, then relaxed when he saw it was her.

She sat down beside him and pulled his small body to her, wrapping her arms around him and rocking him gently back and forth. The tears subsided, but he still felt tense.

“Mommy, I’m scared of the bad boy,” he said. “The bad boy’s going to hurt me.”

“Nobody’s going to hurt you,” she assured him. “You’re safe. It was just a dream. Look, you’re safe in your bedroom.”

At this, Adam pulled away from her a little to study the dimly lit bedroom. Maybe they should get a different nightlight. She had never realized how spooky that hippo light made everything look.

“There were trees,” Adam said, “and a river. She was playing in the river.”

Caitlin stiffened. Adam noticed it and looked up at her. She smiled at him.

“It was just a dream,” she said, as much to reassure herself as him. “It wasn’t real.”

There were lots of rivers out there, and wasn’t Adam just watching a cartoon show with cute animals that had to get across a river? That was probably where that detail came from. Plus, she reminded herself, it hadn’t been a river. It had been a creek. She wasn’t sure Adam knew the difference between a river and a creek, though. But a little girl playing in a river? No, wait, was that what he had said? He said only “she.” For all Caitlin knew, this she could have been a girl river otter. Maybe he had been having a cute dream about river creatures.

And a “bad boy,” she reminded herself. She remembered his bloodcurdling screams. There was nothing cute about the dream he had. Still, she clung to the “bad boy” detail. Was he talking about a child? If so, then the river was just a coincidence. She wanted to ask him more about the bad boy, but this was the worst thing she could do. He was already starting to calm down, starting to forget the details of his nightmare. She couldn’t go dredging things back up again.

“Mommy, can I sleep in your room?” Adam asked.

#

Lance was fully awake and in bed when Caitlin returned with Adam in her arms.

“Hey there, champ,” Lance said. “Have a bad dream?”

“Daddy, he hurt her,” Adam said. “He hurt her head. She was bleeding.”

Her son’s tiny body stiffened again in Caitlin’s arms, and she gave Lance an exasperated look as she set Adam down in the middle of the bed.

“We’d already gotten past that,” she said in a whispered hiss.

“Obviously,” Lance said with a roll of his eyes, “which is why he’s sleeping in our bed. Again.”

She slid into the bed beside Adam and adjusted the covers, ignoring her husband. She petted Adam’s head and made soft, soothing noises.

“Remember, that wasn’t real, just make believe, like a movie.” She didn’t want him to get himself worked up again talking about the dream, but it wasn’t just that. She didn’t want to hear any more details from the nightmare because the bit about the bad boy hurting the girl’s head and the blood felt a touch too familiar.

She stroked his face, and his eyelids slowly drooped closed. He looked so calm and peaceful when he slept.

“I thought we said we weren’t going to do this anymore,” Lance said. Even whispering, his voice was too loud. She held her finger to her lips. He continued more quietly, “I’m just saying, I think it would be better for him if he sleeps in his own bed.”

“It’s already after three,” she said. “It’s only for a few hours.”

“That’s not the point,” Lance said. “He’s nearly five years old. We can’t keep babying him.”

It was like the school argument all over again, and Caitlin didn’t want to get into it. Not now. She was still tired and groggy and needed more sleep.

“I want to get him a new nightlight,” she said to change the subject. “The one he has makes these creepy shadows.”

“A new nightlight,” Lance repeated in a skeptical voice. “Sure, that will solve everything.”

“The important thing,” she said, “is that we have to remind him that his dreams are not real. That they’re make believe. We have to be united on this.”

Lance made a dismissive noise and lay back down on his pillow, turning his body away from her and Adam. He muttered something, but his voice was muffled by the pillow.

“Lance, this is important,” she said. “We have to make it clear that his dreams are not real. He has to know they aren’t true.”

He sighed. “What kind of moron do you think I am? Do you really think I’m going to start telling him his dreams about boogeymen are real?” He squirmed around and pulled the covers up in an attempt to get comfortable. She thought he was done, but he stopped shifting around long enough to add, “It’s not exactly like you’re the foremost expert in dreams.”

***

Excerpt from Up the Creek by Alissa Grosso. Copyright 2021 by Alissa Grosso. Reproduced with permission from Alissa Grosso. All rights reserved.

 

 

Tour Participants:

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Visit these other great hosts on this tour for more great reviews, interviews, guest posts, and giveaways!



 

 

Giveaway!:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Alyssa Grosso. There will be two (2) winners each receiving one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card. The giveaway begins on January 11, 2021 and runs through March 14, 2021. Void where prohibited.

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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.

 

 

Tour Participants:

Visit these other great hosts on this tour for more great reviews, interviews, guest posts, and giveaways!



 

 

Enter To Win!!:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Cara Reinard. There will be two (2) winners each receiving one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card. The giveaway begins on January 1, 2021 and runs through February 2, 2021. Void where prohibited.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

 

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Get More Great Reads at Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours

 

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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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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A CHRISTMAS CAROL MURDER by Heather Redmond | #Showcase #Interview #Giveaway

A Christmas Carol Murder by Heather Redmond Banner

 

 

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:
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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.

 

Tour Participants:

Visit these other great hosts on this tour for more great reviews, interviews, guest posts, and giveaways!



 

 

Enter To Win!:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Heather Redmond. There will be 1 winner of one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card (U.S. ONLY). The giveaway begins on November 1, 2020 and runs through January 2, 2021. Void where prohibited.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

 

Get More Great Reads at Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours

 

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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The Madness of Mercury

by Connie di Marco

December 1-31, 2020 Tour

Synopsis:

The Madness of Mercury by Connie di Marco

San Francisco astrologer Julia Bonatti’s life is turned upside down when she becomes a target of the Reverend Roy of the Prophet’s Tabernacle. The Reverend, a recently-arrived cult preacher, is determined to drive sin from the city, but his gospel of love and compassion doesn’t extend to those he considers an “abomination unto the Lord.” Julia’s outspoken advice in her newspaper column, AskZodia, has put her at the top of the Reverend’s list. While the powerful Mercury-ruled preacher woos local dignitaries, his Army of the Prophet will stop at nothing to silence not just Julia, but anyone who stands in his way.

Driven out of her apartment in the midst of a disastrous Mercury retrograde period, she takes shelter with a client who’s caring for two elderly aunts. One aunt appears stricken with dementia and the other has fallen under the spell of the Reverend Roy. To add to the confusion, a young man claiming to be a long-lost nephew arrives. The longer he stays, the more dangerous things become. One aunt slides deeper into psychosis while the other disappears. Is this young man truly a member of the family? Can astrology confirm that? Julia’s not sure, but one thing she does know is that Mercury wasn’t merely the messenger of the gods – he was a trickster and a liar as well.

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery
Published by: Suspense Publishing
Publication Date: October 9, 2020
Number of Pages: 268
ISBN: 0578752654 (ISBN13: 9780578752655)
Series: Zodiac Mystery #1
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

 

Author Bio:

Connie di Marco

Connie di Marco is the author of the Zodiac Mysteries featuring San Francisco astrologer Julia Bonatti. The Madness of Mercury, the first book in the series will be re-released in October 2020.

Writing as Connie Archer, she is also the author of the national bestselling Soup Lover’s Mysteries from Berkley Prime Crime. You can find her excerpts and recipes in The Cozy Cookbook and The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook. Connie is a member of Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers and Sisters in Crime.

Q&A with Connie di Marco

What was the inspiration for this book?

The initial inspiration for this story was the history of Jim Jones and the People’s Temple in San Francisco. I was living in the city at the time of Jones’ fame and was horrified when news of the mass murders in the jungle and the shooting of a California Congressman and others broke.
But it was the mythology of Mercury that made this story come together. Mercury was a messenger of the gods, but he also represented much darker concepts. He ruled over crossroads, he escorted the dead on their final journey, and on top of all that, he was a liar and a trickster. Jones was a silver-tongued preacher, undoubtedly with a powerful Mercury in his chart, powerful enough to convince others to follow him and give up autonomy over their own lives. He used his ‘Mercury gifts’ to control others. My evil preacher, the Reverend Roy of the Prophet’s Tabernacle, is just as evil but perhaps a little less mad.

What has been the biggest challenge in your writing career?

Oddly enough, while writing the Zodiac series and waiting and hoping my agent would be able to sell these books, I was offered a three-book deal from Penguin to write a cozy series. It was about the last thing I ever expected. So there I was, an unpublished writer, faced with completing three books for one of the biggest publishers. Could I produce something acceptable? Hopefully, something much more than acceptable? I didn’t really have a choice in the matter. I had signed a contract. Fear is a great motivator, so convincing myself that I could actually do this was probably my biggest challenge and a great learning experience.

What do you absolutely need while writing?

I need absolute focus, complete quiet, no music and best of all no interruptions. I think that’s why I’ve always written at night. The house is quiet, the phone stops ringing, there’s no place I need to go. Sometimes all of that is impossible, but I do my best to achieve it. I think we write best when we can step into our stories completely and feel like our characters are real people. After all, we live with them for such a long time while we write.

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

With my first series, the Soup Lovers’ Mysteries, I was under a contract that required submitting each finished manuscript every eight months. I had to stick to a routine. I’d write from about 9 PM to 11 or midnight, as long as my brain would work. On weekends, I’d put in anywhere from three to six hours of writing.

Now that I’m not under such a tight schedule, I have a lot more freedom. The truth of the matter is that in the process of writing a book, I’m haunted. The story nags me and takes over my brain until I reach the end of my first draft. Once that first draft is finished, I breathe a little easier. There’s still a lot of work to do, but by then I feel I have something solid to work with.

Who is your favorite character from your book and why?

I think Jack, Lucky’s grandfather in the Soup Lovers’ series, pops into my mind first. Jack’s a loving but eccentric elderly man, a Navy vet, who suffers from episodes of PTSD. Jack tells time by the bells and only Lucky can interpret. He calls the walls the bulkhead and the floors, the deck. Without thinking of it consciously, I created an amalgam of my dear dad and my ex-father-in-law. So, Jack’s still my favorite in that series.

In the Zodiac Mysteries, I’ve had a lot of fun creating unusual characters, like Zora, the cranky psychic, and Nikolai, the Russian past-life regression hypnotist. I love them all, but if I have to pick just one, I’d say Kuan Lee. Kuan is an old friend of Gloria, Julia’s grandmother. He lives in the first floor apartment of Gloria’s house and practices Chinese medicine and acupuncture. Julia considers him family. He’s always there to give her good advice, to help her see problems or crimes from a different perspective and Julia’s grateful for his advice. He’s a Yoda figure who can shift the paradigm of the story.

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

Least favorite character in Madness? Okay, I’ve got it. It’s Gudrun, the companion of the elderly ladies on Telegraph Hill. She’s a larger than life woman, surly, taciturn, who speaks with a German accent and tries to control the household. She’s been hired to look after the elderly aunts, but in reality, she’s committed to the forces of darkness. I can’t say much more about Gudrun, it would be a spoiler.
I love all my characters, especially the bad ones! I think you have to get into the head of villains as much as sleuths. And with certain exceptions, I’ve made the killer or killers sympathetic characters. The exploration of what would cause someone to take a human life is one of the more fascinating things about crime writing – whether a thriller or a culinary cozy. Even the bad guys have reasons for what they do.

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

I like to use locations that I know personally, particularly locations that could be threatening or chilling at the right time of day or night. I try to imagine how they would work in a crime story. Chrissy Field, an old military installation, now updated as a beautiful park with modern facilities, would be a good place to find a body at night in the fog. In the next book in the series, the murderer attempts to use the currents under the Golden Gate Bridge to dispose of bodies. Most physical addresses in the books don’t really exist, but Julia’s apartment does. It’s real. I know because I used to live there.

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

I just hope my readers will be entertained and enjoy the stories. And best of all, want to come back for more.

Tell us a little about yourself and your background?

I was born in Boston. I grew up there and went to school there. I majored in biology in college and worked as a lab technician until I realized I didn’t want to spend my life in a lab, so I changed my major to English lit, the quickest way to escape college. My real love was always acting. As a kid, I worked with Boston Children’s Theatre and then years later, on the west coast, returned to that professionally. I’ve always held a day job, but I’ve spent years working in TV for the most part. One day, I was on a set, chatting with one of the assistant directors about stories and films and I realized I was creatively bored. That’s when I decided to try to write a mystery – just one, that was my goal. And look what happened! Here I am, still writing.

What’s next that we can look forward to?

Next up is Book 2 in the series, All Signs Point to Murder. Because these first three books are being re-released by my new publisher, they’ll be coming out very quickly. All Signs will be released on December 1st. Book 3, Tail of the Dragon should be out about a month after that.

Then a novella, Enter a Wizard, Stage Left, will be released in e-book format. That story is set before the series actually begins and the action of the story takes place at a theater production of an Agatha Christie play and of course, there’s a murder! Then finally, Book 4, Serpent’s Doom, will be out. Book 5 is finished but needs a bit more work and I guess then I’ll start thinking about Book 6.

Catch Up With Connie di Marco:

ConniediMarco.com, Goodreads, BookBub, Twitter, & Facebook!

 

Read an excerpt:

“Thank God you’re there.” Gale sounded very shaky.

“What’s wrong?”

“I’m at the Mystic Eye. Something very strange just happened. I heard a knock at the back door. I thought it might be you.”

“Are you alone?”

“Yes. I closed up and sent Cheryl home. When I opened the door . . . oh God, Julia. Someone left a dead cat on the doorstep.”

I cringed. “I’ll be right there.”

“I’m sorry. You don’t need to come. I wrapped it up and put it in plastic in the dumpster. It looked like its neck had been broken.”

“Don’t argue. I’ll be there in twenty minutes. Less than that.”

I drove the length of California Street as fast as I could, slowing at each red light. Once I was sure no other cars were crossing I ran through several intersections. When I reached the Eye the shop was closed but the display lights were on in the front windows. I pulled down the alleyway and parked next to Gale’s car. I tapped on the door. “Gale, it’s me.” She opened the door immediately. The storeroom was dark. A stack of empty boxes and packing materials stood against the wall. Inside, the only light was a small desk lamp in the office.

Gale is tall and self-assured with a regal bearing. Tonight she was completely shaken. She hugged her arms, more from fright than from cold. “I feel bad now that I’ve called you. I was just so freaked out. I recognized the cat, it was the little gray one that hangs out behind the apartment building next door. I think it’s a stray. Everyone around here feeds it, even the restaurant people, and it’s such a friendly little thing. Some sick bastard probably gave it some food and then snapped its neck. God, I think I’m going to be sick.”

“Shouldn’t you call the cops?”

“And tell them what? I found a dead cat? Please. Like they’d listen. Even if they thought someone had killed it, what could they do?”

“It shows a pattern of harassment. Might be worth making a report.”

She sighed. “Yeah. You’re probably right. I just wasn’t thinking straight. I was so upset.” She collapsed in the chair behind her desk.

I shrugged out of my coat. “Why are you here so late?”

“We just got a huge shipment of books and supplies in. Cheryl’s been working late every night so I sent her home. I had just finished stacking the boxes in the storeroom.” Gale shivered involuntarily. “Look, let’s get out of here. Have you eaten? Why don’t we go up the block and grab some food? Actually a drink sounds even better.”

“Okay.”

“Get your coat. We can leave the cars here and walk. I’ll just get my purse.”

I headed to the front door and checked that the locks were all in place. The drapes separating the display windows from the shop were drawn for privacy. Gale left the desk lamp on in the office and walked out to the front counter. As she reached under the counter for her purse, we heard glass breaking. Then I saw a flash of flame through the doorway to the back storeroom. I screamed. The empty boxes and packing materials had caught fire in an explosive flash. The smoke alarm started to ring, filling the shop with earsplitting sound. Using my coat like a blanket, I dropped it over the center of the flaming pile. It wasn’t going to be enough, but I had to do something before the entire storeroom went up, if not the building.

***

Excerpt from The Madness of Mercury by Connie di Marco. Copyright 2020 by Connie di Marco. Reproduced with permission from Connie di Marco. All rights reserved.

 

 

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