Category: Partners In Crime Tours

Guest Author Christopher Meeks

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery
Published by: White Whisker Books
Publication Date: August 15, 2014
Number of Pages: 176
ISBN: 978-0-9836329-9-3
Purchase Links:

Synopsis:

In A Death in Vegas, the president of BenBugs, a company that specializes in beneficial bugs for organic gardening, discovers a young woman dead in his Las Vegas hotel suite. She had worked as a sexy lady bug at his convention booth—and he had nothing to do with her death. While that’s being investigated, the FBI raids his booth on a money-laundering scam that he knows nothing about, either. Soon, the coroner doesn’t have good news. The police and FBI are against him—and his wife cannot be found. He flees to find the answers.

PRAISE FOR A DEATH IN VEGAS:

“With his tongue planted firmly in cheek, Christopher Meeks spins a charming and surprisingly sexy tale of murder, betrayal, and the importance of beneficial insects.”
Mark Haskell Smith, author of Baked and Raw: A Love Story

“I’ve never, ever wanted to go to Vegas. I don’t care if what happens there, stays there. But Christopher Meeks makes me want to go so I can find out who done it. A fun, exciting read, with Chris’s usual wonderful writing and great sense of humor.“
Jessica Barksdale Inclan, author of Her Daughter’s Eyes and How to Bake a Man.

“Christopher Meeks had me at page three. I couldn’t wait to find out how Patton Burch was going to explain the naked body he woke up to in his Las Vegas hotel room – first to the cops and then to his wife.”
Sam Sattler, Book Chase

Writing a Page-Turning Mystery:

I was able to talk to Mr. Meeks and asked him how he’s able to keep writing these page turners. Here’s what he said:
I’d been a short story writer forever when my new agent said, “Write a novel.” At this point, I had enough published short stories to make a whole collection, and I wanted him to send the collection out.

My agent said, “No. Write a novel.”

“Is postage the problem? I’ll pay postage.”

He said, “The problem is fifteen percent of nothing is nothing. Write a novel.”

Even though that collection of short fiction, The Middle-Aged Man and the Sea,” later did well—and it still sells—such was my introduction to novel writing. I was petrified. How does one write a novel? I soon learned there are many challenges to writing any novel, and my first one was to write any novel. I didn’t know how to keep a story going for that long. Do I write an outline first? Many problems hit me. I did nothing until a good friend said, “You know how to write short stories. Make each chapter a short story.” That’s how I structured my first novel, The Brightest Moon of the Century.

While it worked well, and I received great reviews, one thing I later realized: short stories usually end with a final beat, as did my chapters. You wouldn’t have to turn to the next chapter right away because each one ended on its own last note.

When I later read and then taught Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling for my children’s literature class, I was struck by how page-turning it was. When I reached the end of one chapter, I had to start the next. Of course, many mysteries are built similarly, but it took reading a children’s book to remind me of this. Her series was addicting, underscored when perfectly good adults would stand in line for up to a day to be the first to get her next book. If you’re a writer, wouldn’t you want people to stand in line for your book?

Thus, when I started my first crime book, Blood Drama, I wanted it to be page-turning. I’d learned a few things by that point. Here are some:

Write an outline. I never wrote outlines for short stories, but a novel needs it. You don’t want to go off on tangents, which take away from page-turning. The details of Aunt Bessie’s doll collection for ten pages may lose your reader. One thing I came to realize about outlines: I can imagine faster than I can write. When I think about what might go in a chapter, it plays out in my mind, and I can decide, “No, that’s not good enough” or “Yes, that’s great.” The best things become the briefest of notes.

Envision a reader. As you may sense with the above that part of the secret is to envision a reader. What will make him or her want to know what happens next? My friend Ehrich, an author, is great at this. He laughs when he knows he’s going to make his reader turn the page.

Write clearly and simply. I’m from the Ernest Hemingway school of writing. Clear, not flowery sentences tend to make the reading go faster. I’m not saying don’t write lyrically. If you study poetry, you can learn a lot about how to condense and offer imagery and lyricism while increasing clarity.

Pacing. The speed of your reader is hard to judge, and pacing is extremely hard to monitor in a first draft. My mantra is Ann Lamott’s in her fantastic book on writing, Bird by Bird: “Write a sh**y first draft.” In other words, don’t worry about perfection in your first draft. Jot the rudiments of the story down. Some people write long, and I tend to write short. That means you’ll have to expand or delete later on.

If you write five or more drafts as I do, you’ll feel the pacing. When you get bored, cut. If something later confuses you because the plot jumps, then you have to add something.

Emotion. Good books make us feel things. Part of page-turning is to make your reader feel the emotion in your scenes, which means your protagonist has to feel and express things. If I keep worrying about anything, it’s “What’s the next turn?” Turns are about going from one emotion to another, such as happy to surprised, or confused to clear. What action or realization will make that turn happen? Is it motivated?

Chapter endings. When I can, I do not end a chapter at an end point, but I end in the middle of a turn. There might be the sound of a footstep in the dark. Perhaps down the cheese aisle of a grocery store, a female hand snatches away a round of Gouda. Maybe lightning strikes, and there’s a scream. End of chapter.

You can have too many ideas beating around your head as you write. Just feel, know where your next turn is, and imagine what will surprise and delight your reader. Yes, there are many other things to consider, but not in a first draft. Write that first draft. Write a novel. Make it a page-turner.

Read an excerpt:

CHAPTER ONE

Under the hotel’s sheets, hands on his chest the way the dearly departed lay, Patton Burch blinked into the void of the ceiling, staring past it to the night before. He smiled. After drinking too much the previous evening, he had still remained the gentleman—except in his dreams where he’d made love to Chatterley. Should he feel guilty? Probably.

He turned. The other side of the bed was now empty. He’d slept so well, best in months, that he hadn’t heard her get up. The sound of the hotel’s shower, gentle as a rain, swept into the room. Chatterley’s clothes, which she’d slept in, lay as if hastily discarded on the floor. What if she was feeling better, amorous, even? He pictured her showering, comfortable in her body that men craned their necks for. The truth of the situation was that he was now sober, and she was young, vulnerable. The last thing she needed was an older guy taking advantage of her.

Patton lifted the sheets and saw his boxers were on. He didn’t remember getting out of his clothes. He did remember how Chatterley had trouble breathing last night, and between the drinking and another shot from her inhaler—a bronchial dilator, she called it—she’d been feeling sick again. She’d thought that strange. “I sometimes get shaky after using it,” she said. “It’s like having too much coffee, but I’ve never felt nauseous like this.” She wanted to close her eyes for a few minutes, so he’d offered his bed. “Thank you,” she said. “I just need to relax and catch my breath.”

That led to her falling deeply asleep on his bed. He let her be. He’d mixed himself another gin gimlet and watched a Star Trek rerun. Captain Picard was on a planet where he had a wife and family. He wasn’t a starship captain anymore but worked as an iron weaver, and no one believed him that there was a space vessel called the Enterprise. He came to love and accept his new family and let go of his past life.

After that, Patton had been too tired and dizzy to stay up. He remembered checking on Chatterley in the bedroom, hearing her breathe steadily and easily. He’d thought he’d just lie on the bed in his clothes, but here he was under the covers. He wasn’t used to drinking, but it was Vegas. Ah, the fantasy of it all: a woman like her in bed with him. But he had to let her go. He loved his wife—and he wasn’t like his father.

He could still smell grapefruit on the sheets. When he was a kid and even skinnier, for breakfast his mother would painstakingly cut each section of grapefruit halves for her family. Each pulpy chunk, cut from its heart wall, could easily be scooped up carousel fashion, one by one, and the sour sweet juice could be slurped. He loved that smell. In his dreams, there was something so pure and innocent about Chatterley’s small tight frame, naked and fruity, that their lovemaking seemed as fun as the first time he’d floated down a freshly snowed hill on a sled. In dreams, we get what we need.

Chatterley was showering now. Maybe he should step out and let her have some privacy. He sat bolt upright. Was his wife due in this morning? No. Maybe tomorrow. He held his chest, feeling the pounding of his heart. Calm down. Nothing had happened. As he thought about the situation more, it wasn’t as if he told Tess everything he did anyway. He’d snuck out to a few afternoon movies over the years and never mentioned them, and she certainly never asked. People could never be completely transparent to their mates.

The shower was completely steady sounding. He sat up, frowning. When someone’s in a shower, movement makes the sound vary. Wasn’t Chatterley in it? Patton turned his head toward the bathroom door. It was open. That’s why the sound was so loud. “Chatterley?” he said. No answer.

He swung his legs over the side and stood. They hadn’t closed the thick curtains against the daylight, so the western light, filtered by rare cloud cover, gave the beachscapes on the walls color. Outside, the gentle clay-colored hills far to the west looked flat. Considering that nothing green grew naturally in this area, Las Vegas was an unnatural place for a Lawn and Garden show, but this show was the biggest.

On her side of the bed on the floor, Chatterley’s purse was upside down with everything in it spread out, including a few coins, her friend Faith’s keychain, and a few panty shields. It was as if she had been desperate for something. Perhaps she’d merely kicked it accidentally. Then he saw her inhaler was in two parts: a small aerosol can and the blue plastic part that the can fit in. He picked up the can. It was empty. She must’ve been looking for another. Why hadn’t she awakened him to help?

He strode into the steamy bathroom. “Chatterley?”

The room had both a large whirlpool bathtub for two and a separate shower with a glass door. She wasn’t in either, though the shower was still on, pouring out steamy water. How could she leave it on? He turned it off, and the silence made her absence that much more profound. Did she step into the living room for a moment? Perhaps she’d put on a hotel robe and zipped to the pool. But without a suit? She could be topless in her panties, and the guests would love it. It was Vegas. She had beautiful breasts.

He could hear the air conditioner, a wide unit wedged into the wall near floor level in the living room, with its fan on high. As he moved toward the room, he was freezing with only his shorts on.

He stepped into the living room and saw her, near the Stratocaster, crouched naked on her knees before the long wide air conditioner. Her hands outstretched like a swimmer scooping the cool air. It looked erotic. “There you are,” he finally said, wondering about her intentions. He really couldn’t act on them. “Are you really that hot? Are you okay?”

She didn’t move. Was she asleep? Her head, between her arms, rested on the thick carpet. “Chatterley?” he said and kneeled down to her level. He touched her to wake her, and his first thought was she shouldn’t have been in front of the air conditioner so long because her skin felt downright cold. He shook her. “Chatterley.” She splayed onto her side. Her eyes were open. She didn’t appear to breathe. She stared skyward as if frozen in surprise.

Author Bio:

Christopher Meeks has four novels and two collections of short fiction published. His most recent novel before this was the acclaimed thriller, “Blood Drama.” His novel “The Brightest Moon of the Century” made the list of three book critics’ Ten Best Book of 2009. “Love at Absolute Zero” also made three Best Books lists of 2011, as well as earning a ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Finalist award.

He has had stories published in several literary journals, and they have been included in the collections “Months and Seasons” and “The Middle-Aged Man and the Sea.” Mr. Meeks has had three full-length plays mounted in Los Angeles, and one, “Who Lives?” had been nominated for five Ovation Awards, Los Angeles’ top theatre prize.

Mr. Meeks teaches English and fiction writing at Santa Monica College, and Children’s Literature at the Art Center College of Design. To read more of his books visit his website at: www.chrismeeks.com.

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Giveaway:

Let’s Celebrate – It’s The 40th Anniversary of The Jones Men!!

Book Details:

Genre: Crime
Published by: Rosarium Publishing
Publication Date: May 2014
Number of Pages: 264
ISBN: 978-0989141185

Purchase Links:

Synopsis:

DETROIT, 1974

To become the King, you have to take the crown. It won’t be given up lightly. Heroin kingpin, Willis McDaniel, has been wearing that particular piece of jewelry for far too long, and youngblood, Lennie Jack, thinks it would look really good on his head. When a junkie tells Jack about a big delivery, the young Vietnam vet makes his move. Feeling his empire crumble, McDaniel puts the word out to find whoever’s responsible. The hunt is on, the battle is engaged, and the streets of Detroit run red with blood.

In 1974 Vern E. Smith took the crime fiction world by storm with his debut novel, The Jones Men. Heralded as “a large accomplishment in the art of fiction” by the New York Times, The Jones Men went on to be nominated for an Edgar Award and became a New York Times Notable Book. The art of crime fiction has never been the same since.

Read an excerpt:

For Bennie Lee Sims’ wake, Lennie Jack chose the sky-blue Fleetwood with the chromed-up bumpers and the bar-line running from the trunk to the dash, dispensing six different liquors with chaser.

Joe Red brought the car to a halt in front of Fraser’s Funeral Parlor on Madison Boulevard. He backed it in between a red El Dorado with a diamond-shaped rear window and a pink Lincoln with a leopard-skin roof.

Lennie Jack wore a medium-length Afro and had thick wide sideburns that grew neatly into the ends of a bushy moustache drooping over his top lip. He got out of the passenger seat in a manner that favored his left shoulder. He had on a cream-colored suede coat that stopped just below the knee, and a .38 in his waistband.

Joe Red was shorter and thinner and younger than Lennie Jack. He got his nickname for an extremely light complexion and a thick curly bush of reddish brown hair; it spilled from under the wide-brimmed black hat cocked low over his right ear. He had on the black leather midi with the red-stitched cape; he had a .45 automatic in his waistband.

They came briskly down the sidewalk and went up the six concrete steps to the entrance of Fraser’s.

An attendant in a somber gray suit and dark tie greeted them at the door.

“We’re here for Bennie Sims,” Joe Red said.

“Come this way,” the attendant said.

He guided them down a narrow hallway past a knot of elderly black women waiting to file into one of the viewing rooms flanking the hall on either side. The hallway reeked of death; the women wept.

They passed three more doors before the attendant led them left at the end of the hall and down a short flight of stairs. A single 60-watt bulb illuminated the lower level. The attendant went past the row of ebony- and silver-colored caskets stacked near the staircase and stopped at a door in the back of the room.

“They’re in there,” he said. He turned and headed back up the stairs. Lennie Jack rapped softly at the door. They stood a few feet back from the doorway to be recognizable in the dim light.

The door cracked.

“This Bennie Lee?” Lennie Jack said.

“Yeah, this it,” said a voice behind the crack.

A man with wavy black hair in a white mink jacket and red knicker boots let them in. He relocked the door.

The room smelled of cigarette smoke. A row of silver metal chairs had been stacked in a neat line on one side, but most of the people come to pay their respects were scattered in the back in tight little clusters, talking and laughing.

At the front of the long room, near a small table of champagne bottles, Bennie Lee Sims’ tuxedo-dad body lay in a silver-colored coffin with a bright satin lining.

His face was dusty with a fine white powder.

Lennie Jack walked over to the coffin. He dipped his fingers in the silver tray of cocaine on top and sprinkled it over Bennie Lee.

Joe Red stepped up behind him and tried to find a spot that wasn’t covered. He finally decided on the lips and scattered a handful of the fine white crystalline powder around Bennie Lee’s mouth and chin.

They moved through the crowd, shaking hands and greeting people. Almost everybody had come to see Bennie Lee off.

The Ware brothers were there: Willie, the oldest at twenty-four; Simmy, who was twenty; and June, who often swaggered as if he were the elder of the clan but still had the baby-smooth face and look of wide- eyed adolescence. He was seventeen.

Pretty Boy Sam was standing in one corner with his right foot resting on one of the metal chairs. He had smooth brown skin and almost girlish features, topped off by a pointed Van Dyke beard. His good looks masked a violent temper.

Pretty Boy Sam had worn his full-length brown mink and brought his woman to pay his respects to Bennie Lee Sims, who had two neat bullet holes right between the eyes and underneath all the cocaine on his face.

Slim Williams was there with his woman. He was a tall, thin dark-skinned man whose left eye had been destroyed by an errant shotgun blast. He now wore a variety of gaily colored eye patches the way he had heard Sammy Davis did when he lost his eye. He had on a patch of bright green and red plaid and stood conversing on one side of the room with Hooker, Woody Woods, and Mack Lee.

Willis McDaniel was not there, but then, he never came. He had probably never considered it, but it was a source of irritation to the others.

Joe Red said, “Hey Jack, he the man. He don’t hafta come see nobody off if he don’t wanta come. Ain’t none of these people thinkin’ bout makin’ him come. Who gon make him come?”

“Why he can’t come like the rest of the people?” Lennie Jack said. “Has anybody ever thought of that, you reckon? He too big now to bring his ass out here to see a dude off? He probably had him ripped anyway. I don’t understand how these chumps let an old man like that just get in there and rule.”

“Now we both know how he got it,” Joe Red said. “He took it. He say, ‘Look, I’m gon be the man on this side of town cause I got my thing together and I got plenty big shit behind me. Now what you motherfuckers say?’ Everybody say, ‘You the man, Mister McDaniel.’ That’s the way he did it.”

“That is the way to take it from him, too.” Lennie Jack said. “We gon get lucky pretty soon. I think he can be had and I know just the way to do it. I got some people working on it. The first thing they teach you in the war is to fight fire with fire, you know?”

He took the tiny gold spoon on the chain around his neck and scooped a pinch of cocaine off the tray Joe Red handed him. He brought the spoon up to his right nostril and sniffed deeply.

The crowd was beginning to drift to the corner of the room where Slim Williams was holding court. Slim was thirty-seven, and much older than most of his audience. Lennie Jack was twenty-six, and Joe Red had just turned twenty-one three days ago.

Slim Williams had diamond rings on three fingers of his left hand, and he was waving them around in a dazzling display and talking about Joe the Grind.

“Joe used to walk into a bar with his dudes with him–he always carried these two dudes with him everywhere he went. He’d walk into a place fulla people and say, ‘I’m Joe the Grind, set up the bar! All pimps and players step up to the bar and bring your whores with you.’”

Slim Williams chuckled. “Then Joe would talk about ‘em. He used to say, ‘You ain’t no pimp, nigger. What you doin’ up here? I ain’t buying no drinks for you. Sit down!’”

Slim Williams laughed; so did everybody else.

“Joe used to rayfield a chump bag dude too,” Slim Williams said. “He used to tell ‘em ‘Just cause you got eight or nine hundred dollars worth of business don’t mean you somebody.’ Then Joe would throw a roll down that’d choke a Goddamn mule and tell the chump: ‘Looka here boy, I just had my man sell forty-two thousand dollars worth of heh-rawn, and I got twenty more joints to hear from fore midnight. Gon sit down somewhere, you don’t belong up here with no big dope men.”

They laughed again and somebody passed the coke tray.

June Ware took his pinch and squared his toes in the eighty-dollar calfskin boots from Australia, via Perrin’s Men’s Shoppe on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.

“What happened to Joe, Slim?” June Ware said.

“Oh, somebody shot ‘im in the head in an after-hours joint,” Slim Williams said. “And lemme tell you, youall shoulda been there to see Joe’s wake. It put this thing to shame. Compared to Joe’s, this thing ain’t nothing. This light-weight. They say there was coke in the block wrapped in foil and pure heh-rawn set out on silver trays with diamonds in the sides.

“So they partied all night till twelve the next day, then they all went to Joe’s funeral. After the funeral was over, everybody got on the plane with his woman and went to Jamaica for two days.”

“Say what?” June Ware said.

“Yeah, that’s the truth,” Slim Williams said. “And you shoulda seen that funeral too. They say a broad came over from Chicago in a white-on-white El Dorado, and she was dressed in all white with a bad-ass mink round her shoulders. Then when she came out of the hotel the next day for Joe’s funeral, they say she was in all black. She went to the graveyard and threw one hundred roses on Joe. Then she got in her ride and split. Don’t nobody know who she was. When they had Joe’s funeral march, there was one hundred fifty big pieces lined up for blocks down Madison Boulevard. They pulled a brand new Brough-ham behind the hearse, and when the march was over they took the car out to the trash yard and crushed it.”

“Goddamn Slim!” June Ware said.

Mack Lee, who was twenty-two years old and decked out from the top of his big apple hat to the tip of his leather platforms in bright lavender, came their way with his woman on his arm.

The woman looked about nineteen; she wore diamond-studded earrings and a matching bracelet. She carried a tray of glasses and an unopened bottle of champagne.

“We oughta drink a toast to Bennie Lee,” Mack Lee said, “and ask the Lord how come he made him so stupid.”

The laughter rippled through the room; Mack Lee popped the cork in the champagne bottle and poured the rounds.

Trailor:

Author Bio:

A native of Natchez, Miss., Smith is a graduate of San Francisco State University, and the Summer Program for Minority Journalists at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He began his journalism career as a reporter for the Long Beach, Calif. Independent Press-Telegram.

From 1979 until 2002, Smith served as the Atlanta Bureau Chief and as a national correspondent for Newsweek.

Vern Smith’s work as a journalist, author and screenwriter spans four decades.

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Giveaway:

Guest Author Frances Fyfield Showcase & Giveaway

Gold Digger

by Frances Fyfield

on Tour July 1-31, 2014


Genre: Crime Thriller
Published by: Witness Impulse
Publication Date: 7/15/2014
Number of Pages: 320
ISBN: 9780062301604
Purchase Links:

Synopsis:

The warmth of him, the glorious warmth, was fading by the minute.

In a huge old school house by the sea, full of precious paintings, Thomas Porteous is dying. His much younger wife Di holds him and mourns. She knows that soon, despite her being his sole inheritor, Thomas’s relatives will descend on the collection that was the passion of both of their lives.

And descend they do. The two needy daughters, who were poisoned against their father by their defecting mother, are now poison themselves. The family regard Thomas’s wealth as theirs by right, with the exception of young Patrick, who adored his grandfather and is torn between his parents and Di, the interloper.

The family know Di’s weaknesses, and she has to learn theirs. After all, she met Thomas when she came to his house to rob him. With the help of an unlikely collection of loners and eccentrics, she sets a trap to hoist the family members on their own greed. And on the night they are lured to the house, Di will be ready.

Or will she?

Read an excerpt:

‘Come on Thomas, come upstairs and look at the view,’ Di said. ‘Look at the clouds.”

She hugged him closer.

‘I’ll keep you warm,” she said. “Will you come with me? There’s this painting I want you to see. Thomas?”

The warmth of him, the glorious warmth was fading by the minute. She was sitting in his lap with her arms around him, cradling his head with its shock of thick white hair, talking into it, nuzzling it like a cat. She stroked his profile, a beak of a nose, the handsome, furrowed forehead suddenly smoothed and by that token, the very lift of his face, she knew he was dead. She had known the imminence of his death from the moment he came in, gave her the flowers and then sat in the chair and closed his bright blue eyes: she had known it for months of illness, and all the same, when it happened, it was incomprehensible. Because he was still warm, and she was realizing, slowly, slowly, that most of the warmth came from her.

She told herself not to be silly. He would wake up in a minute, give her the smile that lit him like a light from within and then he would start to teach, talk in rhymes or sing. Such a voice he had, such a lovely voice with a light rhythm, as if there was a song already in it.

‘It’ll be alright, she said to him. ‘Won’t it, love?’

There was no answer. She continued to speak, stroking his hair, still thick, but so much thinner than it had been. She straightened it with her fingers and touched his ears. Cold, but then the lobes of his ears were always cold, even when she breathed close.

‘A word in your shell-like, darling,’ she said, softly. ‘Do you know, you look just like a bird? All beak and chin, that’s you, not an ounce to spare. You’ve been on the wing long enough, you’re just tired, you are. You know what? That’s good. You’ve lost your voice, that’s all. But you can still hear, so you’ll know I’ll never say a bad thing about you, ever, because there’s nothing bad to say, and I don’t tell anyone anything ever. Any secret’s good with me. You know me, I’m good for that. Can’t talk, can’t tell secrets, except about what a good man you are. Mustn’t swear, you said, a waste of words, innit? Ok, Thomas? Shall we go upstairs and look at the view?

He lay, sprawled and twisted, his arm holding her because she had curled herself into him, and he made no response.
She began to cry, soaking his jumper. Then she got up and bound his knees with a blanket to keep him warm, backed away from him, got a drink and moved, lurching around her own house like a crippled ghost.

Author Bio:

“I grew up in rural Derbyshire, but my adult life has been spent mostly in London, with long intervals in Norfolk and Deal, all inspiring places. I was educated mostly in convent schools; then studied English and went on to qualify as a solicitor, working for what is now the Crown Prosecution Service, thus learning a bit about murder at second hand. Years later, writing became the real vocation, although the law and its ramifications still haunt me and inform many of my novels.

I’m a novelist, short story writer for magazines and radio, sometime Radio 4 contributor, (Front Row, Quote Unquote, Night Waves,) and presenter of Tales from the Stave. When I’m not working (which is as often as possible), I can be found in the nearest junk/charity shop or auction, looking for the kind of paintings which enhance my life. Otherwise, with a bit of luck, I’m relaxing by the sea with a bottle of wine and a friend or two.”-Frances Fyfield

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Guest Author Lisa de Nikolits

The Witchdoctor’s Bones

by Lisa de Nikolits

on Tour July

Genre: Murder Mystery/Thriller
Published by: Inanna Poetry and Fiction Series
Publication Date: May 21st 2014
Number of Pages: 460
ISBN: 1771331267 (ISBN13: 9781771331265)
Purchase Links:

Synopsis:

In The Witchdoctor’s Bones a group of tourists gather. Some have come to holiday, others to murder. Canadian Kate ditches her two-timing boyfriend and heads to Africa on a whim, hoping for adventure, encountering the unexpected and proving an intrepid adversary to mayhem.

The tour is led by Jono, a Zimbabwean historian and philosopher, and the travelers follow him from Cape Town into the Namib desert, learning ancient secrets of the Bushmen, the power of witchcraft and superstition, and even the origins of Nazi evil.

A ragged bunch ranging from teenagers to retired couples, each member of the group faces their own challenges as third world Africa pits against first world greed, murderous intent and thwarted desire. The battle between goaded vanity and frustrated appetite culminates in a surprising conclusion with shocking twists.

With the bones of consequence easily buried in the shifting sands, a holiday becomes a test of moral character.

Unpredictable, flawed, fun-loving, courageous, bizarre, weak, kind-hearted and loathsome; the individuals in this novel exist beyond the page and into real life.

Seamlessly weaving history and folklore into a plot of loss, passion and intrigue, the reader is kept informed and entertained as this psychological thriller unfolds.

Interview:

Writing and Reading:
Do you draw from personal experiences and/or current events?

Yes, I definitely draw from both, but the personal experience is really only the catalyst, the match to the flame. The story ends up being entirely different from my own personal experience.
For example, the idea for The Witchdoctor’s Bones came from a trip I took to Namibia, a safari.
I have always wanted to write a book about Africa but until I took that trip, I had no idea what that story would be. I finished the trip and I realized that the journey, fashioned in the style of an Agatha Christie novel, would lend itself to a book.
And then yes, I drew on current African practices as well as history. But the characters in my book bear no resemblance to the people who were on the trip with me and while I used the route we travelled, none of the experiences in the book happened in real life.
And, although I use personal experiences to ‘spark’ ideas, I believe that my stories exist ‘out there’ and I welcome them to come in and visit with me and use me to find their way into the world. It’s as if I’m the owner of a Bed & Breakfast for stories — come on in, we’ll sit around a campfire and tell tales! So, yes, I do draw from personal experiences; although sometimes only in the smallest of ways; a bus trip and a poisonous bush in real life ended up being a huge, long novel that was all fiction.

Do you start with the conclusion and plot in reverse or start from the beginning and see where the story line brings you?

I start with the tiniest of ideas and then bounce things around and see where they go. For example, I wrote a short story a while back and it had an open ending. A few people really liked the story and wanted to know what happened and now I think this could be a novel. All I’ve got is a short story that for all intents and purposes has done nothing more than introduce me to a couple of characters who have potential to be interesting and I’m putting feelers out there to see what transpires. I have a feeling they might want to go to Tasmania but I’ve got no idea what they’ll do there. I went to Tasmania some years back and it resonated with me. Not every place I go does that; I went to Peru and there was nothing, not even the tiniest ‘ping’ of ‘write about me’… To this point in my writing, I’ve never known an ending in advance, and the endings have also been known to change even in final edits. I am never married to my endings.

Your routine when writing? Any idiosyncrasies?

No routines, I just write whenever I can. I like to wear a hat, it helps me concentrate. I also need my study to be just so, even if I’m not writing in there. I need things to be in order on my desk and everything needs to be nice and shiny. Oh, and I do love a fragrance! Sometimes it’s Vanilla or White Musk from The Body Shop, sometimes it’s Downtown by Calvin Klein, sometimes, if I am feeling extravagant, it’s Issey Miyake. Fragrances, like hats, help me think better!

Is writing your full time job? If not, may I ask what you do by day?

I’m a magazine art director. I’ve had the honor of working on magazines such as marie Claire, Vogue, Vogue Living. I currently art direct Cosmetics which is a lot of fun. I’m not sure I could be a full time writer, I think I’d find it too stressful! I really enjoy designing, it’s much more fun than writing which can be quite traumatic; you constantly wonder if the story is going anywhere or if you are doing the best you can with it.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Lionel Shriver, Annie Proulx, John Irving, Harry Crews, John Steinbeck, Betty Smith, D.J. McIntosh, Michael Ondaatje, Miriam Toews

What are you reading now?

Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver, Manuscript Found In Accra by Paul Coelho, Big Brother by Lionel Shriver, The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak – I can’t seem to bear to finish it, I read a page a day.

Are you working on your next novel? Can you tell us a little about it?

I’ve got two novels ‘in the bag’; Between The Cracks She Fell (about a girl who loses her job, her boyfriend and her house and she moves into an abandoned old school), and The Nearly Girl (about a girl with an interesting psychosis in that she nearly gets things right but she gets everything just wrong; she gets dates/buses/tasks/recipes slightly right but wrong enough to make her life in the normal world untenable).
The fledling novel I am currently working on is the one based on the short story I mentioned here and it’s in the very earliest of stages; I’ve got a few characters I like, a diamond ring and beyond that, nothing! I keep throwing suggestions out into the ether, to see what will ‘stick’!

Fun questions:
Your novel will be a movie. Who would you cast?

Rydell: Kevin Spacey
Kate: Jennifer Garner
Helen: Claire Danes
Richard: Damian Lewis
André: Chris Hemsworth

Manuscript/Notes: handwritten or keyboard?

Both! I also have three computers, one at work, two at home. I write bits on post-it notes, in journals, on the backs of hydro bills. I also make sure have a notebook when the ideas are initially coming. I write mostly on my computer once I have my idea outlined but when I am letting the idea for the novel take shape, I write longhand.

Favorite leisure activity/hobby?

Playing my guitar. I am learning the classical guitar. I like being at home, puttering around. I like talking to my cat. Isabella Creamy Diva, I like taking photographs, going on roadtrips and watching a good movie. I love travelling to some place I’ve never been. I like doing yoga and going for walks down at the lake. I have lots of leisure activities!

Favorite meal?

Vanilla cake with lemon icing and canned whipped cream! I guess that’s not really a meal but if I died and went to heaven, that would be my daily breakfast!

Kudos:

Beautiful, sexy, exciting, mysterious, dangerous and twisted. Those words can be used to describe not only the alluring locations depicted in Lisa de Nikolits’ thrilling novel The Witchdoctor’s Bones, but also some of the eclectic characters fatefully traveling together on a tour bus through South Africa and Namibia. A suspenseful page-turner that will bewitch you until the end.
Warning: You may get hungry reading this book. Some of the exotic dishes described in this novel sound so enticing you may want to risk being on a bus-load of crazy people to sample them.
– Alexander Galant, author of ‘Depth of Deception (A Titanic Murder Mystery)’

“Imagine you’ve signed up for a low-budget safari in South Africa and find yourself cheek-to-cheek on a battered van with the most bizarre travellers you’ve ever met – except in some ways they do remind you of characters you’ve encountered in a late-night screening of Moulin Rouge.

By planting her characters in the untamed landscape of the South African wilderness, de Nikolits has stripped away the niceties and rigours of polite society. You’re drawn in. Illicit love, rejected love, misfired love, machinations of all sorts, and all involving characters of dubious integrity and (in some cases) of questionable sanity. Such are the players in Lisa de Nikolits’s The Witchdoctor’s Bones, who’ve embarked on a journey that soon seethes with peril (physical and psychological), and not solely because of the wild creatures roaming the bush veld.

Sweet-talking Kate, the Canadian, is the closest thing you get to a heroine in The Witchdoctor’s Bones, proof that the best woman will be left standing.”

– Doug O’Neill, Canadian Living

Fascinating South African lore comes to life in The Witchdoctor’s Bones. De Nikolits gives us more than an intriguing mystery – a look at the dark side of the human soul and the healing power of love.
– D.J. McIntosh, national bestselling author of The Witch of Babylon and The Book of Stolen Tales (Quill + Quire’s top thriller for 2013).

Take sixteen travellers from around the world, gather them on a tour bus bumping its way along the rough roads of South Africa and Namibia, add jealousy, sexual obsession, secrets, violence, magic, poison, mental breakdown and the breathtaking arrogance of tourists treating Africa (and Africans) as their playthings, and you have Lisa de Nikolits’ psychological thriller, The Withdoctor’s Bones. As the travellers and their guides slowly reveal their true (and sometimes twisted) natures, the tension ratchets higher and higher in a narrative that draws deeply on African lore and history, with echoes of Christie’s classic Ten Little Indians, Katherine Anne Porter’s Ship of Fools and Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales.
– Terri Favro, author of The Proxy Bride

Put together an international group of travelers, each with their own secrets, in a bus touring Africa and you have the makings of a very suspenseful tale! Lisa de Nikolits does a masterful job of drawing the reader in and not letting go until the last delicious word! Set against an exotic backdrop of Africa and Namibia, this story is a great read!
– Joan O’Callaghan, editor and contributing author of Thirteen

“A cast of intriguing characters is thrust together for an African adventure. What results is far more perilous than anyone could have imagined. Against the beautiful backdrop of South Africa and Namibia, danger and death lurk around every bend in the road, as the trip of a lifetime becomes the holiday from hell. Within the pages of The Witchdoctor’s Bones multiple mysteries emerge, as Lisa de Nikolits takes the reader on a suspense-filled journey that won’t soon be forgotten.”
—Liz Bugg, author of the Calli Barnow Series

Lisa de Nikolits has done it again. This time she shines her characteristically unflinching but loving and humour-filled gaze on the land of her birth, deftly weaving Africa’s ancient witchcraft practices, superstitions, breathtaking beauty and disturbing struggles into the journey of a group of modern-day tourists — whose motives for coming on the “trip of a lifetime” are in some cases highly suspect. The myriad conflicts between the characters are handled so subtly and the physical terrain of southern Africa painted so vividly, you won’t be able to tear yourself away from your own seat on the bus, even as the body count begins to rise.

– Brenda Missen, author of Tell Anna She’s Safe

What I really enjoy about Lisa de Nikolits is her refusal to be pinned down to a particular genre. Besides the fact that The Witchdoctor’s Bones is so different from all her other novels, it’s also incredibly difficult to classify it in its own right. Part travelogue, part psychological thriller, part sociological and anthropological study, The Witchdoctor’s Bones entertains, educates and fascinates all at the same time. It’s a gripping read that draws you into the heart of darkness, both in the literal and figurative sense; the action takes place in untamed Africa, but it’s the darkness in the human heart that de Nikolits portrays with such chilling precision. It’s a page-turner that will keep you biting your nails right up to the bitter end.
– Bianca Marais, http://biancamarais.com/ Musings of a Wannabe Writer

Read an excerpt:

Kate and Marika made coffee and rejoined the others who were huddled around the fire pit while Stepfan and Charisse moved off to one side and were deep in a private conversation.

“So what’s the big discussion about?” Kate asked, sitting down.

“I’m trying to explain the difference between sangomas versus witchdoctors,” Helen said, sitting back on her heels. “I thought I knew but then once I started explaining it, I realised I’m confused. Jono, maybe you can help us out?”

“I can,” Jono said, accepting a beer from Richard. “Thank you. First, some facts. Eighty-four percent of all South Africans consult a sangoma more than three times a year and there are more than 200,000 sangomas in South Africa alone. A witch and a sangoma are not the same thing whereas a witchdoctor,” he emphasized the last word, “is the same thing as a sangoma but the term witchdoctor is considered to be a perjorative one that came from the European settlers. Sangomas are practitioners of complimentary medicine and they serve a long apprenticeship learning to become intermediaries between the world of spirits and the world of the living. Witches are a whole other thing, they are evil and dangerous and if they cannot be cured, they are stoned to death or buried alive.”

“Yes, they certainly gave Kleine Skok the heebie jeebies,” Richard stretched his feet towards the fire. “Poor fellow, he had this godawful lump of dried up rabbit’s blood and I asked him if that was something a witchdoctor would use and he nearly shot right off the mountain. I felt quite dreadful for asking.”

Jono laughed and took a drink of his beer. “Yes, I can imagine that frightened him in a big way. More than six hundred people have been killed in the last ten years in Gauteng alone, because they were accused of being witches, so even the mention of such a thing is frightening for many people.”

“Can you cure someone of being a witch?” Eva asked.

“Yes, but it’s not easy,” Jono said. “You have to call an isanusi, a professional who can smell out witches and get rid of them.

“There are many kinds of witches,” he continued, “one of which is the night-witch who is invisible during the daytime but then at night, changes into an animal; a crocodile, a hyena, a lion, a wolf maybe. Night-witches devour human bodies, dead or alive during the night and they can been seen flying at night, with fire coming out of their bottoms.”

“They fart fire?” Mia found this hysterically funny and the rest of the group joined in, laughing. “Oh lord, fire-farting witches, knock my bleedin’ socks off.”

“Isn’t it true,” Helen queried when the laughter died down, “that Western doctors found a high correlation between schizophrenia and epilepsy in individuals who have been accused of being witches?”

Jono nodded. “Which would explain the hallucinations they have,” he said. “And some of them have also been found to be manic-depressives and schizophrenics. But if you ask me, this does not mean that Western medicine has any kind of increased knowledge in this area, it’s just that you call your witches by a lot of medical-sounding names and find different ways to treat them.”

“Touché.” Richard exclaimed while Helen nodded enthusiastically.

“So,” Jono said, “we have the isanusi or shaman, or the witch-finder, who sniffs them out, and then you have the witch-doctor, an igqira, who can smell by moral, not physical means, the corrupt presence of the witch or sorcerer. The isanusi is the diviner, and he is called upon to explain the source of your misfortune and to see if you have a witch. The sangoma, which is a Zulu word by the way, is the one who will be invited to cleanse an entire village of witchcraft by giving them emetics, or sneezing powder or making incisions into which medicine is rubbed, or by many other methods.”

“How does the isanusi know what to do?” Kate asked.

“The diviners, or isanusi, receives his knowledge from the spirits and there are more than sixty documented methods to ask the spirits; reading the stars, throwing sticks, studying lines in the sand, observing the blood trickling from a victim, even by looking at how birds are flying or how they are sitting on a tree. A lot of people think that diviners are not good because they are trying to know God’s secrets before God wants us to know them, and we should not be attempting to steal divine secrets.”

“I’m divining that it’s high time for schnapps.” Mia got to her feet, and brushed embedded grass from her legs. “I’m getting the Archers. Go on, you lot.” She waved and walked across the grass. “Don’t wait for me.”

“Yes, carry on Jono,” Richard said, “Mia won’t mind, she’s not into this sort of thing.”

“I find it incredibly amazing,” Helen spoke up quickly, “I wish I’d had time to learn more. Well, better late than never.” She smiled at Richard who cracked open another beer and missed her meaningful glance.

“So the sangoma tries to cure the witch…” Kate reminded Jono where he had left off.

“Yes,” Jono said, “but curing witches is a very small part of what the sangoma does as his life’s work. The main function of the sangoma is to heal and protect people in the community.

“Are sangomas only men?” Eva asked.

“No, both men and women can be sangomas, and they are generally very respected members of the community. Even Nelson Mandela was circumcised by a sangoma when he was sixteen by a famous ingcibi, a circumcision expert. Sangomas conjure up potions, known as muti to make you better and muti is made from all sorts of herbs and things. Then the sangoma dances herself, or himself, into a trance, usually with his drum which also has a spirit, and this is how they contact the spirit. Then they will alter their voice and begin to talk, using two voices, relying on their powers of ventriloquism.”

“I was told you can recognize a sangoma by their dress which is covered in beads, and is very ornamental, in red which is bomvu, black which is mnyama and white, mhlophe,” Helen said, hoping to impress Richard with her knowledge.
Jono nodded. “The medicine the sangoma mixes can be based on colours also. The sangoma mixes opposite colours together, uniting them symbolically and then real life harmony follows. Light colours represent life and masculinity, dark colours are death and femininity.”

“I knew it.” Richard poked Mia who had returned with the bottle of schnapps and a sleeping bag, “you women are the death of men.”

Mia tittered, slapped him on the shoulder and wrapped herself in the sleeping bag. She opened the bottle, took a long swig and passed it to Jasmine.

“Is it true,” Marika asked, “that sangomas study for as long as doctors?”

“Yes. It takes seven years for the sangoma to study, and he, or she, studies a lot of things; techniques of divination, treatment of psychological, mental, physical conditions, animal and plant medicine use, the anatomy of the soul, ritual mastery, prayer and invocation, throwing the bones, trans-body, chant and song, channeling souls, soul ascension, case study, tradition and culture, and finally, techniques of investigation. Sangomas are also very good detectives and great historians and guardians of local culture and learning.”

“Impressive,” Kate said. “But the witches sound horrible.”

“They are. Witches operate on fear, superstition and rumour,” Jono said. “The evils of gossip. Nowadays even some of the churches use witchcraft to bring new worshippers, convincing them their problems are due to supernatural witch curses that only the church can cure. Some churches even preach that diseases like AIDS and leprosy, blindness, deafness, impotence and infertility are muti curses by witches.”

“Before we left,” Richard said, “I read an article about how Tanzanian witchdoctors have been killing albinos and harvesting their body parts because they think it will bring them good luck. What’s with that? Why albinos, why body parts for good luck?”

“What have you been reading, my friend, to hear that?” Jono asked and Richard’s expression became guarded.

“Oh, general research and whatnot. One’s interested in studying up before a trip, and what with the Internet, it’s astounding what one comes across. Some scary stuff actually. But why albinos, Jono?”

“Because they are considered to be very sacred. They are treated with deep respect because they are believed to be spirits born as human beings. And the whole muti body parts thing, well, that’s a whole other area, my friend, that is a dark thing for sure.”

“I’d be super keen to hear the whole bangshoot,” Richard said.

“Maybe you are, my friend but it’s not a discussion for the faint-hearted,” Jono warned. “And yes, Richard, I know the events of which you speak. At this time, nineteen albinos have been murdered in less than a year. But one last word on witches; they are also accused of inciting adultery, alcohol abuse and theft. Witches also have immense power to turn innocent people into witches and therefore it’s possible to become a witch without even being aware of it, simply by eating contaminated food or picking up an ‘impure’ object.”

“Oh, do not, for the love of God, tell Harrison any of this,” Richard said, “we’re all sworn to secrecy. Can you image what he’d be like if he heard these sorts of things? He’ll be rubbing everything, including us, in antiseptic.”

“All for one and one for all, we say nothing,” Helen assured him. “Jono, what about tokoloshes? I’ve tried to find out about them but no one would really tell me anything.”

“Ah,” Jono said, “the infamous tokoloshe. Helen, here is the secret to creating one – you remove the eyes and tongue from a full size corpse, then you blow a secret powder into its mouth and it is comes to life and will obey your every wish. But there is a high price for creating a tokoloshe, including the death of a relative within a year, because the spirits do not give life freely. If you are prepared to create an unnatural life, then you must be prepared to destroy a natural one.”

“An unnatural life,” Kate echoed and even the fire seemed to flicker and dim. Mia offered her the bottle of schnapps but she shook her head. Mia shrugged and passed the bottle to Jasmine.

“The tokoloshe,” Jono continued, “is a spirit in the households of witches and warlocks and they speak with a lisp…”
“Sofie’s a tokoloshi.” Mia sat up, giggling “I suspected it all along.”

“She’s not small and brown,” Richard objected.

“Nor does she have a penis so long it has to be slung over her shoulder,” Jono said. “Sorry Mia, but she falls short of many of the physical characteristics needed.”

Mia found this so hilarious she nearly fell into the fire.

“Easy there, cupcake,” Richard said, kicking a burning log further away from her.

“I’m fine.” Mia protested, “perfectly composed. It’s the thought of Sofie with a giant penis slung over her shoulder, lisping…” She and Jasmine hung onto each other, hooting with laughter.

“The tokoloshe,” Jono said, “is very unusual in that he has a single buttock. Apparently Satan was unable to replicate this uniquely human feature, of our lovely, well rounded bottoms. So if you wish to scare away the devil, you must bare your buttocks at him and he will be frightened by that which he cannot have.”

“Ah that’s why mooning is such a handy tool,” Mia yelled. “Never mind crosses for vampires, just pull down your pants to the devil. Go on Richard luv, show us your moon.”

“Yes,” Helen chimed in, “show us.”

“I respectfully decline the invitation,” Richard said, “go on Jono.”

“I am too worried to continue,” Jono said. “I am afraid this discussion is being a health hazard to Mia.”

“No, I’m fine,” Mia gasped, “but my stomach hurts from laughing. Oh bleedin’ hell, this is hilarious. Go on Jono.”

“Part of the tokoloshi’s duties,” Jono said, “is to make love to its witch mistress, which is why he was created so well-endowed. As a reward for fulfilling these sexual duties, the tokoloshi is rewarded with milk and food.”

“Milk?” Kate was perplexed. “Why milk?”

“Milk is considered a sacred drink in many parts of Africa,” Jono explained, “it has many healing powers.”

“Likes to suck on a bit of tit, does he?” Richard was thoughtful. “Sign of a good man if you ask me.”

Jono ignored this comment and continued. “If you do see a tokoloshe, do not annoy it by talking to it and most certainly do not point at it because it will vanish immediately.”

“How on earth can I not look,” Mia shook with laughter, “when its hung like a bleedin’ donkey?”

Despite having downed half the bottle of schnapps, Mia was surprisingly coherent, unlike Jasmine, who had abruptly fallen fast asleep and was snoring slightly.

Jono finished the last of his beer and looked regretful. “Well, everyone, I must go to sleep or I will be a bad driver in the morning. Thank you very much for listening.”

He looked at Kate who grinned at him.

“No, thank you,” Richard said. “You’re incredibly knowledgeable, Jono, and I look forward to more stories about muti and witchdoctor’s and the like. Anyone else like one for the ditch? Last call, people, last call.”

“I’m going to bed,” Eva said. “Thanks Jono, thanks everyone.”

“Yeah, we’re calling it a night too,” Kate and Marika said, getting up.

“Me too,” Helen said. “That was fascinating, thanks Jono.”

“I’ll have one more,” Mia said, “lay it on baby.”

Jasmine was still fast asleep and Mia patted her head.

-.-

Author Bio:

Originally from South Africa, Lisa de Nikolits has been a Canadian citizen since 2003. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and Philosophy and has lived in the U.S.A., Australia and Britain.

Her first novel, The Hungry Mirror, won the 2011 IPPY Awards Gold Medal for Women’s Issues Fiction and was long-listed for a ReLit Award.

Her second novel, West of Wawa won the 2012 IPPY Silver Medal Winner for Popular Fiction and was one of Chatelaine’s four Editor’s Picks.

Her third novel, A Glittering Chaos, launched in Spring 2013 to much acclaim and is about murder, madness, illicit love and poetry. It received the IPPY 2014 Silver Medal for Popular Fiction!

All books published by Inanna Publications.

Catch Up With Lisa de Nikolits:

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Guest Author Larry Thompson

The Insanity Plea

by Larry Thompson

on Tour May 19 – July 20, 2014

Book Details:

Genre: Legal Thriller
Published by: Story Merchant Books
Publication Date: May 13, 2014
Number of Pages: 412
ISBN: 9780989715478
Purchase Links:

Synopsis:

A young nurse is savagely killed during a pre-dawn run on Galveston’s seawall. The murderer slices her running shorts from her body as his trophy and tosses the body over the wall to the rocks below. As dawn breaks, a bedraggled street person, wearing four layers of old, tattered clothes, emerges from the end of the jetty, waving his arms and talking to people only he hears. He trips over the body, checks for a pulse and, instead, finds a diamond bracelet which he puts in his pocket. He hurries across the street, heading for breakfast at the Salvation Army two blocks away, leaving his footprints in blood as he goes.

Wayne Little, former Galveston prosecutor and now Houston trial lawyer, learns that his older brother has been charged with capital murder for the killing. At first he refuses to be dragged back into his brother’s life. Once a brilliant lawyer, Dan’s paranoid schizophrenia had captured his mind, estranging everyone including Wayne. Finally giving in to pleas from his mother, Wayne enlists the help of his best friend, Duke Romack, former NBA star turned criminal lawyer. When Wayne and Duke review the evidence, they conclude that Dan’s chances are slim. They either find the killer or win a plea of insanity since the prosecution’s case is air tight. The former may be a mission impossible since the killer is the most brilliant, devious and cruel fictional murderer since Hannibal Lecter. The chances of winning an insanity plea are equally grim.

It will take the combined skills of the two lawyers along with those of Duke’s girlfriend, Claudia, a brilliant appellate lawyer, and Rita Contreras, Wayne’s next door neighbor and computer hacker extraordinaire, to attempt to unravel the mystery of the serial killer before the clock clicks down to a guilty verdict for Dan.

The Insanity Plea is a spell-binding tale of four amateur sleuths who must find, track and trap a serial killer as they prepare for and defend Wayne brother who is trapped in a mind like that of John Nash, Russell Crowe’s character in A Beautiful Mind.

Combining legal thriller with tracking a serial killer, Thompson once again takes the reader on a helluva ride, right up to the last page and sentence.

Interview:

Writing and Reading:
Do you draw from personal experiences and/or current events?

I draw on both. I find current events to be great sources for story ideas. For example, Dead Peasants, my last novel, came from a short news story in the Houston Chronicle. Then, all of my books, so far, have been legal thrillers. Since I’ve spent most of my life as a trial lawyer, I have a memory bank chock full of characters, scenes, events, etc. that end up in my novels. I have yet to take one of my own trials as a basis for a thriller, but that might come one of these days.

Do you start with the conclusion and plot in reverse or start from the beginning and see where the story line brings you?

I start from the beginning. I’m a plotter; so, I like to have a fifteen or twenty page outline of the major plot points, characters and climax before I begin writing.

Your routine when writing? Any idiosyncrasies?

I’m a morning writer, partly because I am most creative at that time and also because I am still a full time trial lawyer. So, if nothing is overheating at the office, I write for a couple of hours weekday mornings and four of five hours on weekends.

Is writing your full time job? If not, may I ask what you do by day?

I have been a civil trial lawyer for thirty-five years and have tried hundreds of cases. I only started writing about ten years ago when my youngest son graduated from college. I that time I figured I would try to write something. Fortunately, I enjoyed the creative process and, more importantly, readers enjoyed what I wrote.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Ken Follett, David Morrell, John Lescroart, David Baldacci

What are you reading now?

Split Second, David Baldacci

Are you working on your next novel? Can you tell us a little about it?

I’m always working on a novel. My last before The Insanity Plea was Dead Peasants whose protagonist is Jack Bryant, a pro bono lawyer who works out of his RV on the north side of Fort Worth. Readers have asked for more stories about him. So, I am obliging.

Fun questions:
Your novel will be a movie. Who would you cast?

Matt Damon and Angelina Jolie

Manuscript/Notes: hand written or keyboard?

Always computer. I know there are still some writers who sit down with a pen and legal pad. I could never do that, particularly when it comes to revision.

Favorite leisure activity/hobby?

Spending the summers in Vail where my wife and I get out of the Texas heat. We hang hang out with my son who lives there, climb mountains, hike trails, go to concerts, play golf and dine at fantastic restaurants.

Favorite meal?

Spaghetti, a great salad and a fine glass of red wine.

Read an excerpt:

PROLOGUE

The alarm jolted the young blond woman out of a dream where she was surfing toward a pristine beach on Maui, which had mystically transformed itself into jagged rocks. She moaned, turned off the radio, tried to rub the sleep out of her eyes and forced herself out of bed. It was five a. m. Debbie Robinson had two hours before she reported to work as a surgical nurse in the operating room at John Sealy Hospital in Galveston. Nude, she shuffled to the bathroom and then to the kitchen where she made a cup of instant coffee before slipping into a jogging bra, sweatshirt, shorts and New Balance running shoes. A five mile run along the seawall was her usual routine to prepare for her day

She stopped at the front door to take her key from the entry table and glanced in the mirror. Even with no make-up, the mirror reflected a wholesomely attractive face with a sharply defined chin, full lips, light blue eyes and a nose that had been touched up only slightly by a friendly plastic surgeon at the hospital. After she pulled her hair back into a pony tail, she left her apartment, glanced toward the hospital two blocks over and started a slow trot down 8th Street toward the Gulf of Mexico and Seawall Boulevard. Reaching the seawall, she paused momentarily and gazed out across the Gulf. At this hour of the morning, the stars were still visible in the eastern sky.

Resuming her run, in a matter of a few blocks Debbie had settled into an eight minute pace, fast enough to get her back to her apartment in about forty-five minutes. As she approached the old Galvez Hotel at 21st Street, she heard footsteps coming up behind her. Early morning joggers were common along the seawall; so she moved over to allow the other runner to pass.

Suddenly, Debbie felt a strong arm circling her waist and a hand covering her mouth. She had trained in the martial arts for years and refused to surrender to her panic. Instead, she twisted and brought her knee up into the groin of her attacker who groaned but still succeeded in forcing her to the ground. Before he could pin her arms, she reached into her shorts and found her apartment key. Using it as her only weapon, she raked the key as hard as she could down her attacker’s left cheek.

The killer let a low moan escape his lips. “Damn it, you bitch, you shouldn’t have done that.”

The killer held her with his left hand while he retrieved a knife from its holster on his waist. He flipped open the blade and pulled it from right to left against the soft flesh of her throat. Blood spurted from both carotid arteries and spilled from her neck. She was breathing more and more slowly when she slipped to the concrete. Her fluttering eyes became fixed as life drained from her body. The killer smiled with satisfaction as he bent over and used his knife to slice the running shorts from her lifeless body. Being careful not to get her blood on himself, he picked up her body and tossed it over the seawall to the rocks below. When he started his slow jog back to the hotel, he felt a few drops of blood, trickling from his cheek. He used her shorts to stem the flow. I’ll probably have to explain a Band-Aid on my cheek to my audience this morning as a shaving cut, he thought. As he continued his jog, he smiled. She was number three. Forty-seven to go.

***

A boulder covered jetty extended out about a hundred yards in front of the Galvez. As the sun rose, it illuminated the silhouette of a man sitting cross-legged at the end of the jetty, watching silently as the orange hued ball broke through the fog overhanging the Gulf. Satisfied that he brought forth another day as the voices commanded, he rose and picked his way through the rocks back to the seawall.

He certainly was not a jogger. His gray hair was a tangled, matted mess that hung below his shoulders, and he scratched at a long, scraggly beard as if searching for fleas or mites. He wore four layers of clothes, all that he possessed, and a tattered brown raincoat found in a dumpster. When people passed him, they recoiled from the stench of urine, feces and filth that surrounded him. As he made his way back to
the seawall, he was waving his hands and shaking his head as if to reject someone’s direction. All the while he was muttering to an unseen being, something about wanting to be left alone.

He didn’t notice the jogger’s body until he tripped and almost fell on her. Even then he continued to talk. He bent over and peered into her face, expecting to find one of his fellow street people passed out below the wall. When he saw her neck and the pool of blood that had oozed from the gaping wound, he jumped back, horror framing his face. Looking around and seeing no one else, he stepped forward again, not realizing that his left foot was now in the blood. A second time he bent over the lifeless form and touched her left wrist, searching for a pulse. There was none. Instead, he found a diamond bracelet, paused as he glanced up at the seawall once more and took the bracelet from her wrist. Holding it close to his face, he studied the bracelet and found an inscription, To Debbie with love, Dad.

Now he became frightened that someone would find him with the woman. Glancing in all directions to make sure he was not seen, he stuck the bracelet in the pocket of his second layer of pants where it would be safe and started for the seawall. Abruptly, he stopped, listened briefly, nodded and returned to the body where he removed one of his coats and covered the woman’s head and shoulders. Then he climbed the steps to the top of the seawall where he saw an older couple out for a morning stroll. He turned his head to hide his face as he hurried toward 21st and the Salvation Army where he would join a line of other homeless ones awaiting breakfast. The couple heard him continuing his monologue.

“I know, I know, I shouldn’t have taken her bracelet,” he said,

gesturing as if trying to push someone away. “Look, she’s dead. She

didn’t have a pulse. It’s mine now. How many times do I have to tell

you to leave me alone?”

When the light changed to green, he picked up his pace and

crossed Seawall Boulevard, shaking his head. “I’m getting out of here

as quick as I can. You don’t have to tell me how to do everything.”

CHAPTER 1

Wayne Little loved every aspect of a trial except this

one…waiting for the jury to return a verdict. Until the jury retired to

deliberate, he could exert significant control and often take charge as he

maneuvered through voir dire, examination of witnesses, arguing points

of law to the judge and final summation. Once the summation was

concluded, all he could do was wait, often for agonizing hours, even days.

Of course he would win like he nearly always did.

Nonetheless, nagging doubts always crept into his mind as he paced the

halls of the Harris County courthouse. Often, he walked up and down

the stairway just to burn off nervous energy before he would return to

the courtroom, reassure his client and wander off again.

The questions were nearly always the same. Did he make the

right points on closing? Was he too easy on the expert witnesses?

Should he have struck that one juror who glared at him throughout the

trial and stared at the ceiling when he made his closing argument? And

inevitably the longer the jury deliberated, the more questions surfaced.

It had been three hours when Claudia Jackson, a new partner

in the firm and his second chair in the trial, found him at a table in the

basement cafeteria, cold black coffee in his hand.

“Wayne, I’ve been looking all over this damn courthouse for

you,” Claudia said, not trying to hide the exasperation in her voice.

Wayne looked up expectantly. “We get a verdict?”

“No, but I got a call from Grace. She said your cell must be off.

Wayne searched through his pockets for his phone, looked at it

and agreed. “Yeah, I turned it off this morning when we began closing

arguments and forgot about it.”

“Grace says the District Attorney in Galveston called. Said it

was a courtesy call since you worked for him before you joined Tod. I

didn’t know you had been a prosecutor.”

“Guess I never told you. I did three years there before Tod

talked me into leaving my hometown and moving to Houston. That was

about ten years ago.”

“He told Grace to tell you that your brother is in the

hoosegow.”

A cloud crossed Wayne’s face as he stared down at the floor.

“I don’t have a brother, Claudia. I haven’t had one since I’ve been in

Houston.”

Puzzled, Claudia continued, “Wayne, the D. A. said this guy’s

name was Dan Little. He’s apparently in pretty bad shape but mumbled

something about you being his brother. And he had a faded, dirty

business card with your name on it in one of his pockets.

“One more thing. The D. A. said to tell you he is charged with

capital murder.”

After the jury returned a verdict for his client, Wayne told

Claudia he would see her in the office the next day. He walked to the

parking lot where he dropped his briefcase in a blue Nissan Armada

and crossed the street to Tex’s Bar, a place he knew would be

practically deserted in the middle of the afternoon. Wayne was enough

of a regular that Tex, the owner and bartender, knew him by name and

knew his brand of Scotch.

“Gimmie a double, Tex.”

“Starting a little early with the hard stuff today, aren’t you,

Wayne? You just lose a case?”

“No. Actually, I just won one, but this isn’t a celebration. I’ve

got some personal issues to sort through.”

Tex had been a bartender long enough to know when a

customer wanted to be left alone; so, he poured a double Scotch on the

rocks, set it in front of Wayne and walked to the other end of the bar

where he continued to wash drink glasses.

Tex occasionally glanced toward Wayne, wondering what

problems were troubling him. Wayne seemed to have the world by the

tail. He carried a lean and muscular two hundred and ten pounds on a

six foot, four inch frame. His hair was black as the ace of spades and

his gray eyes sparkled when he told a joke or described his last win.

Yet, his easy-going smile hid an intense personality, a young type-A if

there ever was one.

In an hour or so, other lawyers began drifting into the bar.

Seeing Wayne, some tried to strike up a conversation. Wayne was

polite but his manner soon discouraged them; so they wandered off to

other parts of the bar to tell war stories and bitch about judicial rulings.

After enough drinks that Tex was concerned about his driving,

Wayne paid his tab, assuring Tex that he was fine.

Leaving the bar, he considered taking the Metro train which

stopped in Midtown only two blocks from his townhouse. Then he

remembered his Nissan would be too tempting if he left it overnight.

Once he crossed the street he was confronted by a homeless man.

“You got any spare change, mister? I haven’t eaten today and

sure could use a hamburger.”

Wayne usually brushed such requests aside. This time,

wishing it was Dan just asking for a buck, he reached in his back

pocket and pulled a five dollar bill out of his wallet. Then, he continued

to his car, climbed in and left the parking lot on the Fannin Street side.

Carefully observing speed limits and red lights, he drove south on

Fannin to his home. Wayne tried to push Claudia’s news out of his

mind, only the more he tried the quicker the thoughts returned. In less

than ten minutes he punched in the code at the complex gate, entered

the driveway and turned down into his garage.

Author Bio:

Larry D. Thompson is a veteran trial lawyer and has drawn on decades of experience in the courtroom to produce riveting legal thrillers. After graduating from the University of Texas School of Law, Thompson founded the Houston trial firm where he still serves as managing partner. The proud father of three grown children, he lives and works in Texas but spends his summers in Colorado, where he crafts his novels and hikes the mountains surrounding Vail. His greatest inspiration came from Thomas Thompson, his brother, who wrote many best-selling true-crime books and novels.

Catch Up With Larry Thompson:

Tour Participants:



Guest Author Merry Jones

Elective Procedures

by Merry Jones

on Tour July 2014

Book Details:

Genre: Suspense

Published by: Oceanview

Publication Date: July 1, 2014

Number of Pages: 288

ISBN: 978-1-60809-116-4

Purchase Links:

Synopsis:

Elle Harrison has taken a leave of absence to mourn the death of her husband Charlie.

Her friend Becky takes her out to dinner to cheer her up and, on impulse, drags her into a fortune teller’s shop. The fortune teller predicts that Elle will travel and meet a new man. She also says that Elle is surrounded by a dark aura that draws the dead to her.

Elle dismissed the predictions as hogwash. But then her friend Jen takes her, Becky and another friend, Susan, to Mexico where she is getting lost cost cosmetic surgery. Elle is attracted to and asked out by Jen’s surgeon, Alain DuBois. And Elle finds a woman hanging onto the balcony next to hers by her fingertips. Elle tries to save her and fails, almost dying in the process.

All of the fortune teller’s predictions have come true. And, as the week progresses, more of Alain DuBois’ patients are gruesomely killed, Jen is attacked, Elle is nearly murdered, and the spirit of her dead husband Charlie keeps appearing to her.

Who is trying to kill Dr. DuBois’ patients–And why? Who is trying to murder Elle? Why does she keep seeing Charlie–Is she nuts? Or is his spirit really trying to protect her?

ELECTIVE PROCEDURES makes a week in Mexico into a chilling page turner, full of twists and unexpected developments, as well as a face lift or two.

Interview:

Do you draw from personal experiences and/or current events?

I think that writing brings together conscious, subconscious, unconscious thoughts. In that way, every experience I’ve had influences my work. My books don’t directly reflect my life, but they certainly reflect lessons/emotions/events/relationships. For example, in ELECTIVE PROCEDURES, the dread and fear I felt when my husband was sick are the dread and fear I try to conjure up when Elle Harrison faces unknown dangers. And the location is based on a place I visited in Mexico. All my work is based on a combination of reality snippets, emotional truths and imagined plots and characters.

Do you start with the conclusion and plot in reverse or start from the beginning and see where the story line brings you?

Neither. I begin neither at the beginning nor the end. I usually start with a character and put her into a situation of conflict and tension. Her reactions to that situation begin to create a storyline. But often the actual book will start before or after the “situation” that I started with. For example, in ELECTIVE PROCEDURES, the situation was that Elle would be out of the country, surrounded by surgery patients who were dying or being killed. But the book begins before she travels, before she even imagines being among surgery patients.
As to seeing where the story line goes, I never leave it to chance. I outline each book before I start writing, so I know generally where I’m going. If better ideas arise during the writing process, I deviate from the outline. But I always have a plan so I won’t go off in a direction that leads nowhere.

Your routine when writing? Any idiosyncrasies?

I need to work for 3-4 hours uninterrupted. I can’t sit down to write if I know I’ll have to stop in an hour or two. But I rarely work for more than 3 or 4 hours. Also, here’s an idiosyncracy: While I’m working on a book, I do very little reading of other people’s novels. I find that the voices of other writers interfere with my own and affect my rhythm. I tend to isolate myself while I’m working on a book, socializing only rarely.

Is writing your full time job? If not, may I ask what you do by day?

Full time writer. But I teach writing classes from time to time.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Too many to list. Often, my favorite is the one I’m reading at the moment, because I feel like I’m hanging out with that person. But my preferences are fickle and dependent on my moods. Can be classic authors like Twain or Dostoevsky, or current genre writers like Joy Fielding or Faye Kellerman.

What are you reading now?

Empress of the Night, by Eva Stachniak. It’s about Catherine the Great.

Are you working on your next novel? Can you tell us a little about it?

I am working on a novel now, yes. I feel that it’s bad luck to talk about works in progress. So all I’ll say is that it’s about a woman who’s recovering from years of captivity and the detective who finds her.

Fun questions:

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

Elle Harrison would be Natalie Portman. Alain DuBois would be Jude Law. His wife would be Helena Bonham Carter. Charlie would be Chris Noth.

Manuscript/Notes: hand written or keyboard?

Keyboard.

Favorite leisure activity/hobby?

Skulling. I row over a thousand miles each year out of Vesper Boat Club on the Schuylkill River.

Favorite meal?

Again, too many to name and my preferences depend on my moods. But pastas and chocolate appear often on my dinner table.

Read an excerpt:

Don’t look down. Don’t look down.

I kept repeating those three syllables, a singsong mantra to steady myself and get through time, pushing through seconds and minutes until it would be afterwards and this nightmare would be over.

Don’t look down.

But I didn’t have to look. I knew what was beneath me. I could picture what was lying six stories down on the concrete beside the kidney shaped swimming pool, near the mouth of the alligator water slide. Under the glowing light of sunrise, I imagined a widening crimson puddle. A clump of arms and legs. A shattered bone protruding through flesh. Tangled hair matted into a cracked skull.

Don’t look down, I said again, and I didn’t. Instead, I aimed my eyes straight ahead focusing not on the brick wall in front of me, but on the air surrounding my head. I stared into it, straining to see my aura, looking for stains, for splotches of darkness. Was it possible to see your own aura? Was there even such a thing? If there was, I couldn’t see it, saw only inches of emptiness between me and the bricks, and, at the periphery of my vision, the railing. For the briefest moment, I had a lapse; I almost turned my head, almost looked down at my hand. Don’t look, I chanted. Don’t look. Looking would mean moving my head. And if I moved it–if I moved anything at all, I’d disrupt my balance and slip, and then, with a thud, there would be two blobs of bones planted beside the pool.

A pelican dive-bombed past me, the rush of air nearly knocking me over. I held my breath, holding steady. I called out again, hoping someone would wake up, but no one came. So I told myself to stay steady and thing of other things. Other times. I stared at the wall and repeated: Don’t look down don’t look down don’t look down.

Author Bio:

Merry Jones has written the Elle Harrison suspense novels (THE TROUBLE WITH CHARLIE, ELECTIVE PROCEDURES), the Harper Jennings thrillers (SUMMER SESSION, BEHIND THE WALLS, WINTER BREAK, OUTSIDE EDEN, and this fall, IN THE WOODS), the Zoe Hays mysteries (THE NANNY MURDERS, THE RIVER KILLINGS, DEADLY NEIGHBORS, THE BORROWED AND BLUE MURDERS). She has also written humor (including I LOVE HIM, BUT…) and non-fiction (including BIRTHMOTHERS: Women who relinquished babies for adoption tell their stories). Jones taught college creative writing for fifteen years. Her work has been translated into seven languages, and appeared in many magazines, including GLAMOUR. She is a member of Mystery Writers of America, The Authors Guild, International Thriller Writers, and The Philadelphia Liars Club. The mother of two grown daughters, she lives outside Philadelphia with her husband.

Catch Up With Merry:

Tour Participants:



Guest Author | Kristi Belcamino

Book Details:

Genre: Suspense
Published by: Witness
Publication Date: June 10, 2014
Number of Pages: 100 (Goodreads)
ISBN: 13: 9780062338907
Series: Gabriella Giovanni Mysteries, 1
Purchase Links:

BLESSED ARE THE DEAD offers chilling, authentic glimpses into the mind of a psychopath while also mining the psyche of a likeable protagonist. The novel sets up a new series featuring Gabriella Giovanni, an Italian-American Bay Area crime reporter. BLESSED ARE THE MEEK, the second book in the series will be published in July.

BLESSED ARE THE DEAD pits Gabriella Giovanni against a serial killer who preys on children. When they were little girls, Gabriella Giovanni’s sister was kidnapped and killed. Twenty years later, Gabriella spends her days on the crime beat flitting in and out of other people’s nightmares and then walking away unscathed. That changes when a little girl disappears and Gabriella’s quest for justice and a front-page story leads her to a convicted kidnapper who reels her in with tales of his exploits as a longtime serial killer and promises to reveal his secrets to her alone. Meanwhile, Gabriella’s passion for her job quickly spirals into obsession when she begins to suspect the kidnapper also killed her sister. Gabriella won’t hesitate to risk her life to garner justice for the dead.

Synopsis:

To catch a killer, one reporter must risk it all …

San Francisco Bay Area newspaper reporter Gabriella Giovanni spends her days on the crime beat, flitting in and out of other people’s nightmares, yet walking away unscathed. When a little girl disappears on the way to the school bus stop, her quest for justice and a front-page story leads her to a convicted kidnapper, Jack Dean Johnson, who reels her in with promises to reveal his exploits as a serial killer. But Gabriella’s passion for her job quickly spirals into obsession when she begins to suspect the kidnapper may have ties to her own dark past: her sister’s murder.

Risking her life, her job, and everything she holds dear, Gabriella embarks on a quest to find answers and stop a deranged murderer before he strikes again.

Interview with Kristi Belcamino:

-Do you draw from personal experiences and/or current events?
I draw from both personal experiences and current events. In my debut mystery, BLESSED ARE
THE DEAD, I was inspired by all the stories of missing children I had written as a newspaper reporter covering crime. The antagonist in that novel is based on a real serial killer who preyed on little girls. In fact, some of the exact conversations I had with him made it into the book.

-Do you start with the conclusion and plot in reverse or start from the beginning and see where the story line brings you?
Both. I usually know how the book will begin and how it will end right off the bat. It is the middle, or how my character gets from the beginning to end that is usually a mystery to me at first. I like to start off with a general, vague outline but am open to letting the story line take me someplace else completely in that middle part.

-Your routine when writing? Any idiosyncrasies?
I do have a routine. I am a member of what Brad Parks calls the Church of One Thousand Words. Every day I park myself in front of my computer at 9 a.m. with a large cup of coffee and write until I get those thousand words down. Now that I’ve been doing this for a while, it is often two thousands words, but my bare minimum, five days a week, is to get those thousand words down.

-Is writing your full time job? If not, may I ask what you do by day?
Writing is my full-time job, but I have a part-time job covering the police beat for the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Covering the cop beat in the San Francisco Bay Area was what I did full-time before I had kids.

-Who are some of your favorite authors?
Lisa Unger, Sara Gran, S.E. Hinton, Stephen King, Edna Buchanan, and so many, many more.

-What are you reading now?
Jon McGoran just sent me his new novel, DRIFT. I just started last night and already am halfway through it. Good stuff.

-Are you working on your next novel? Can you tell us a little about it?
I’m really excited to start BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO MOURN, the third book in my Gabriella Giovanni Mystery Series. The first book, BLESSED ARE THE DEAD was just released. The second book, BLESSED ARE THE MEEK, comes out July 8th.

Fun questions:
-Your novel will be a movie. Who would you cast?
Oooh, I love this question. So fun! I’m such a fangirl about things like this.
Gabriella Giovanni is my main character, an Italian-American crime reporter. I think Elizabetta Canalis would kill it in that role.
Colin Farrell would be her hot love interest, Detective Sean Donovan.
That’s as far as I got with casting my characters!

-Manuscript/Notes: hand written or keyboard?
Computer! I would probably lose my mind if I had to write my novels longhand. Dio mio!

-Favorite leisure activity/hobby?
Throwing small, intimate dinner parties for family and friends with good food, wine, and stimulating conversation, preferably dining al fresco!

-Favorite meal?
I’ll just have a double helping of the cheese course, please, with a glass of wine.

Read an excerpt:

CHAPTER 1

Another boyfriend pissed off at me over a dead body. Or in this case, two dead bodies. The silence on the other end of the line confirms it.

Snapping my cell phone shut, I swipe my key card and hurry in the back door of the newspaper. The smell of fresh pizza makes my stomach grumble as I pass the cafeteria, but there’s no time to eat. Deadline is looming. I forget about my limping love life — the clock is ticking. The paper goes to bed in three hours, so I’ve got to hustle.

Entering the newsroom, a jolt of excitement surges through me. It’s that special friction, that palpable energy in the air that is always present close to deadline. Giant windows, black with night, reflect the bustling activity around me. A big screen TV with its volume muted dominates one wall and smaller TVs hang from the ceiling throughout the room blaring local and national news. The room smells like burned broccoli and musty books, but still manages to always feel like home. It’s where I’m meant to be.

“Giovanni, you got 17 inches,” my editor, Matt Kellogg, hollers. Nobody at the Bay Herald ever calls me Gabriella. In the news business, you are your last name. Luckily, I like mine.

I want more space, but there’s no use arguing. He’s right. It’s sad, but it’s the same old story we’ve all seen before — big-living San Francisco businessman up to his Gucci eyeglasses in debt kills his wife and then turns the gun on himself.

The momentum of the newsroom engulfs me, sending adrenaline soaring through my limbs. The space hums like a beehive. Deadline is the one time you can find nearly every metro reporter at a desk. Most are pounding the keyboard, flipping through notebooks, or talking on the phone, getting last-minute quotes for their stories. Our desks are in gray cubbies with low walls so we can see each other and the rest of the newsroom.

I catch snippets of different conversations floating in the air. Our political reporter is losing patience with someone on the other end of the phone line.

“Now come on. You know that’s a bunch of bullshit,” she says. “We’ve known each other for ten years, Jeff. You never once said it was off the record. You know the game. You know the rules. This isn’t amateur night here.”

Across the room, the sports department erupts in cheers as an Oakland A’s batter hits a homerun on the big screen. One of the investigative reporters slams down his phone, stands up, pumps his fists into the air, and yells to no one in particular, “Fuck yeah. Fuck yeah, you motherfucker. I knew I’d catch you in a lie. Now it’s going in the paper, you douchebag.”

Nobody except the reporter right beside him even looks up. He only does so to scratch his chin. I keep walking. A veteran reporter lifts his head. “Thought you had a hot date.” We both like to cook and I had tantalized him earlier with descriptions of the birthday dinner I was going to make for my boyfriend.

“Murder-suicide,” I say. He nods and turns back to his computer.

My teeth clench when I see May DuPont, the night police reporter, at the cop reporter’s station, two desks with a stack of police scanners between them.

I try to straighten my skirt and smooth my hair before I get to my desk. It’s useless. It’s been a long day. I’ve already filed two stories for tomorrow’s paper – a car crash and a brush fire – and the traces of hiking after firefighters cling to me. My hair smells like smoke, and small bits of grass have adhered to my sandals.

Each morning, I dress nice in an effort to create la bella figura like my Italian mother taught me. But by the end of the day, this is what I’ve become – smelly, rumpled, and bedraggled.

May, a waiflike twenty-four-year-old is — as usual — dressed in a Brooks Brothers shirt and crisp slacks. A get-up she was probably born wearing. She’s an upper-crust heroin chic girl — pretty much the opposite of me. My boyfriend, Brad, says Sophia Loren’s got nothing on my curves. It sounds great in theory, but the truth is even at my fighting weight, all that extra padding makes me feel like an elephant next to girls like May.

I give her a cursory hello before I log onto my computer.

“I’m writing a story you missed about a bank robbery,” she says without looking away from her computer screen. “The editors might put it on the front page. It was a take-on style.”

“It’s called take-over,” I say.

May’s fresh from her master’s program in journalism at Berkeley. The gossip in the newsroom is that her dad is sleeping with the executive editor, Susan Evans. I stare at the huge pearl studs in her ears.

Every night, May manages to dig up some crime that slipped by me during my day shift and she makes damn sure the editors know I missed it. She’s only been at the paper seven weeks, but I already get the feeling she thinks my job is the next rung on her ladder to success.

Her job — the night cop reporter — is the lowest beat at any paper. I’ve been there. But I also put in the time to get where I am today — the day cops reporter. And it involved working long hours for near poverty wages at several rinky-dink newspapers. I didn’t have the luxury of attending grad school and then being snatched up by a big daily paper because my dad’s screwing the editor.

May’s mother is dead and I’m sorry for that, but it doesn’t mean I’m going to hand over my job. She’s not the only one who’s had to deal with tragedy around here.

“You have black stuff on your forehead,” she says, getting up and heading to the copy desk.

Must be soot from the fire. I’m about to grab my compact mirror when something on the police scanner makes me pause. The crackle of the scanners switching from channel to channel is a comforting sound, like white noise, that usually fades into the background if it’s just routine radio traffic.

This time, the officer’s high-pitched and out-of-breath-voice calling in a felony traffic stop alerts me. The scanner frequency shows its Berkeley PD. Within a moment, the officer is calling Code 4 — all clear — so I turn back to my computer. But then I hear something that makes my fingers freeze on the keyboard.

“Rosarito PD says the girl’s nine years old. Mom says she never came home — ” More routine traffic about the felony stop interrupts the dispatcher’s voice.

My stomach is doing loop de loops as I lean over and try to see which department was talking about the girl. I punch in the frequency for Rosarito PD on the other scanner, but the channel is quiet.

I dial the Rosarito Police Department watch commander – the sergeant on duty overnight while the main office is closed. No answer. He must be out on the streets patrolling, so I leave a message, saying I heard something about a girl who didn’t come home today.

In my five years as a Bay Area reporter, every instance of a possible missing child has ended up being a misunderstanding. Most times the kid lost track of time or didn’t tell someone he wasn’t coming straight home.

In the silver-framed photo hidden in my desk drawer, Caterina’s pink lips and dark eyes are surrounded by a halo of black hair. My sister looks solemn, wise, and beautiful, even though she’s only seven. I remember thinking she looked like a bride when I pulled myself up to look into her casket and saw her lying there in the lacy white first communion dress and veil she never had a chance to wear.

What I heard on the scanner made my face flush and my insides somersault, but I know it’s rare that a child is kidnapped and killed by a stranger. Every once in a while, I hear something like this on the scanner and it ends up being nothing. I hope this little girl just forgot to call home. I make the sign of the cross and May, sitting back down, gives me a snarky look.

The clock shows it’s 9 p.m. I’m running out of time. I got the basic details about the murder-suicide at the press conference earlier except for the identities of the dead. A source at the morgue slipped me the names, but I’m going to have to get one more off-the-record confirmation before Kellogg will let me run with them. I dial homicide detective Lt. Michael Moretti and speak fast before he can protest, reeling off the two names I have.

“If I print them will I be wrong?”

“You were at the press conference. You heard me. We’re not releasing the names. Sorry, kiddo.”

At twenty-eight, I’m too old to be his daughter, but he always calls me that. Moretti and I bonded a long time ago on the Italian-American thing, but his blood pumps blue. He’s been a cop longer than he hasn’t. It took years for him to believe me when I said I’d go to jail rather than give him up as a source.

“I don’t need you to tell me the names.” I try to sound as logical as possible. “I just need to verify them. Besides, you know the Trib is going to run the names.”

I cringed earlier when I saw a reporter from The San Francisco Tribune at the crime scene. When the bigger paper swoops into our territory and scoops us, my editors don’t like it. I hate it.

Moretti makes a guttural sound. “Did you see those gray hairs on my head tonight? About ten are from you. Don’t you have anyone else you can pester?”

I do. I have some crack sources — cops who call me and say, “Hey, there’s a dead body in Civic Park, try not to beat the homicide detectives there.”

But this is Moretti’s case.

“Another cop already gave it up,” I say to convince him. “I just need confirmation. How about this? If I have the names right, don’t say anything.”

Silence. I wait a few beats, twirling the phone cord around my fingers.

“Okay, I’m going with it,” I say, bright and cheery. “Thanks. Anything else going on tonight? Heard something about Rosarito.”

He takes a minute to answer. “You didn’t hear this from me.”

“I know, I know.” I roll my eyes even though he can’t see me.

“A nine-year-old Rosarito girl didn’t make it to school today —”

“What?” My stomach gurgles and churns. Sweet Jesus, if Moretti knows about it, this might be the real thing.

“She hasn’t even been gone twenty-four hours. Too early to say if it’s legit or not. Rosarito PD hasn’t issued an AMBER Alert. They’re waiting to find out if she turns up at grandma’s or a classmate’s house.”

He’s right. It’s probably nothing. But dark memories overwhelm me. I do some deep breathing to try to relax, but my heart is racing. I’ve avoided a story like this so far. I don’t know if I’m ready. I don’t know if I will ever be ready.

“Listen, gotta go,” Moretti says. “Remember, you and I didn’t talk tonight. Omerta.”

“Very funny,” I say, but he’s already disconnected. Omerta, an Italian word, refers to the Mafia’s code of silence.

I hang up and dial Kellogg. “Rosarito cops might have a missing kid.”

“Yeah?” He sounds interested. “You got this confirmed?”

“Not yet. Working on it.”

“Get it nailed down.”

I have no sources in the Rosarito Police Department. Because the city lies on the periphery of our paper’s coverage area, we only report unusual or high profile crimes that occur there. The watch commander hasn’t called me back, so I punch in the number of the department’s public information officer. She works banker’s hours, but if a child is missing, she might be there. No answer.

I dig up an old file of Rosarito cop numbers and find a main number for investigations. Nothing. Only voicemail. Then I try an old reporter’s trick and start dialing numbers, each time changing the last digit of the main number. It works. Although no one picks up, I leave messages for six detectives.

I try the watch commander’s line one more time, then call 911 dispatchers in Rosarito to ask if they can track him down. The dispatcher is in a good mood. “Sure, I’ll send the sergeant a message for you,” he says.

With an eye on the clock, which is nearing ten, I dial Kellogg. “I can’t get anyone from Rosarito to confirm a missing kid. Can’t we go with it anyway, citing an anonymous source? My source is solid.”

“No can do. Evans would kick up a shitstorm.”

Kellogg used to be ballsy. He never cared what senior editors would think or say. That is, until Susan Evans was hired as executive editor two years ago. I heard he was up for the job but they hired her instead. Ever since, he’s been walking around mopey and fearful like a puppy that was kicked. I miss the old Kellogg.

“It’s late,” he says. “I needed your story half an hour ago. Get cracking, Giovanni. You can track down the missing kid — if there is one — tomorrow.”

He’s right about one thing — it’s past deadline. I stare at the blank screen and try to figure out a lead. If you don’t draw a reader in with that first sentence, you’ve lost him. Editors have drummed this into my head for years. I’ve trained myself to come up with a lead driving back to the office on deadline, but tonight my mind kept wandering to Brad eating his birthday dinner alone. And now, in the back of my mind, much farther back than I’m willing to go right now, a little girl’s familiar face peers out at me. I shake the image off and try to concentrate. May’s voice beside me makes it even harder.

“Oh, stop it,” she says. She laughs and fiddles with her silky scarf. “I do not. I’m usually in bed by then. Let me know if you make an arrest tonight. I would love to put it in the paper with your name as the arresting officer. Talk to you soon.”

I close my eyes and tune out her girlish giggle, thinking about the man who killed himself and his wife tonight. And even though it would kick my story to the front page, I leave out the most salient detail about the slaying — the man was wearing nothing but lipstick and high heels when he offed his wife. My morgue source slipped me this sensational little morsel. Although, I know I’ll get in trouble with the editors if I leave it out and the Trib has it, I can’t do it. As soon as I found out the couple had small children, I knew I wouldn’t print it. Those kids are going to have enough to deal with as it is.

I try to imagine the wife’s last moments of terror. The details of her frantic 911 call revealed she was hiding from her husband in a closet. I’m sure she prayed the police would show up and save her, like in the movies. One thing I’ve learned is that the world is rarely like what you see on the silver screen. The most outlandish and nightmarish stories are the ones that happen in real life.

I file the story in the editing queue and hope I’ve scooped the Tribune on the murder-suicide story, especially by getting the names confirmed. Tomorrow, I’ll try to find out more about the couple for a follow-up story.

When I became a police reporter, I decided that every single person I wrote about deserved more than just their name in the paper when they died. Every time I sit down with a family who has lost a loved one, I give a shit. And they can tell. The shitty part is that I feel like a fraud. Maybe because I’m forging a relationship that is not real. Maybe it’s something else. Even though I really do care – it still boils down to me trying to get a scoop and a front-page story.

Sometimes I wonder why anyone grieving would ever talk to someone like me. Maybe they sense the darkness I keep hidden deep inside. Maybe there is something in my eyes that shows I’ve already been to hell and back. I sit on their couches and take notes as they cry into tissues and flip through photo albums of the loved one they lost, sharing intimate memories with me – a stranger.

Before packing up, I make one last call to the Rosarito watch commander. He doesn’t answer. I grab my sweater and bag. Before I leave I force myself to turn to May who looks at me with a little smirk.

Seeing her smarmy look makes me hesitate. Although the thought of writing about a missing child sends waves of panic through me, I also don’t want May to get a scoop based on a tip from my sources.

Unfortunately, I know I need to cover my ass with the editors by giving her a heads up.

“Keep an ear out for a missing kid in Rosarito.”

“Another story you missed?”

I stop and narrow my eyes at her. “It’s a tip. From a source. Do you know what those are? They’re what you get when you prove yourself. They take years to develop, so maybe someday you’ll get your own source. Or maybe not. Cops don’t trust just anybody.”
And I don’t trust May as far as I can toss her little waiflike body. The first week she was here, she “forgot” to give me a press release I’d been waiting for all day about a big drug bust by the DEA. It was the final piece I needed to top a story I’d been working on all week. After I left, she wrote up the information from the press release and put her byline on the story instead of mine. When I confronted her, she lied about when the press release had come over the fax. My source later told me he’d sent it earlier in the day and the time stamp on the release backed him up. When I complained to Kellogg, he simply shrugged and changed the subject.

Tonight, I stare at May for a few seconds and then walk away before I completely lose it. I hover nearby as Kellogg reads my story.

Kellogg’s 6-foot-tall body is scrunched into his cubicle, like a giant brown teddy bear among the dolls at a child’s tea party. I stand beside his desk staring at the pictures taped to the fabric wall of his cubicle: school photos of his two sons who live with their mother. They go to some fancy private school in Marin County. His ex manages to squeeze every penny she can out of Kellogg claiming she needs it for the kids. He sleeps on the couch in his one-bedroom apartment to make sure his boys feel like they have their own bedroom at his place.

I wait, shifting from foot to foot. Finally, he’s done.

“Looks fine. No questions.”

I turn to leave but he stops me.

“You couldn’t get the missing kid confirmed?”

I shake my head no. When I see the concerned look in his eyes, I wait, wondering if he has something else to say. But he immediately turns to his black and green screen. He’s onto editing another story.

An odd mixture of frustration and relief flutters through me as I walk to my car. Although I want to avoid writing about a missing kid, my failure tonight amounts to me missing a scoop on what could potentially be a huge story on my beat. And underneath all of those emotions, there is also a tiny flicker of worry gnawing at me when I remember the look in Kellogg’s eyes.

CHAPTER 2

Halfway across the Bay Bridge, I catch glimpses of the city as the hazy fog begins to dissipate and reveal a crisp night sky. Twinkling lights dot skyscraper windows. The sky behind them is not black but a deep blue like a Van Gogh nightscape. With the city spread out before me, a sense of buoyancy spreads through my chest as if I could fly. Even on the darkest nights of my life, I’ve always found comfort looking at the San Francisco skyline. Rolling down my window, inhaling the salty air, I punch the radio dial until I find something that will lift my spirits.

I sing along to UB40s “Red, Red Wine” and reassure myself that I have nothing to worry about — that little Rosarito girl will turn up before morning. The Trib probably won’t get tipped off about the story. Brad is not answering the phone because he fell asleep.

My phone rings, sending my heart skipping into my throat, but it’s not Brad. It’s my mother. Again. I ignored three calls from her back at the office. I know if it were urgent, she would have left a message. I’m not in the mood to hear her complain about how I never have time for the family anymore. I missed my niece Sofia’s first communion last weekend covering a high-speed car crash that killed two local teens. I’ve been a reporter for five years, so you think my mother would be used to it by now, but in my family, missing a get together is practically grounds for a vendetta.

I dial Brad again. The phone rings and rings. I debate letting it ring all the way home, but decide that’s a bit childish. Maybe he’s angry I bailed on his birthday dinner. I get it. I understand he’s upset, but it’s not my fault. It’s the nature of my beat — I never know when a story is going to break.

I shove my phone back in my bag and exit on Fremont Street. The city streets downtown are quiet on the way to North Beach. Once I hit China Town, the city bursts into color and sound like a fireworks finale. The crowds of people on the sidewalks of Columbus Avenue thicken right where China Town and North Beach meet. Men stand in groups ogling the women walking by, their faces lit up with the flashing neon lights of the strip club marquees. Restaurants have flung open their French doors and café tables spill out onto the sidewalks with late-night diners. Music pours across the streets like smoke.

I’m almost home. I’m looking forward to having a glass of wine and spending some time with Brad. My street is off the main drag and three blocks up the hill. I circle the block a few times until finally I spot a group of women heading up my street and slowly cruise behind them. I yawn and wait for them to maneuver out of their tight parking spot. It takes me about five minutes to cram my old Volvo sedan between two other cars. My apartment’s about a block away, so the parking spot is lucky. I’ve had to park up Russian Hill before, about six blocks straight up. Living in the city automatically means I’ll never have to join a gym. I get enough exercise hiking to and from my car each day.

From the front my apartment building is a concrete block lacking any of the charm you might expect in the old Italian section of the city. However, the back of the building reminds me of a secret garden, dotted with balconies overlooking North Beach. I’m almost to my front door when he steps out of the shadows in front of me. I nearly scream.

“Brad? You scared me half to death.”

He looks guilty. Then I realize why. He’s holding a small gym bag.

“I was going to wait … ” he says, his words trailing off. He won’t meet my eyes. “Here are your keys. I got my things.”

I blink. At first, not comprehending. Then I decide to pretend that he’s not telling me it’s over.

“Listen, I’m really sorry I missed your birthday dinner. I promise to make it up to you. You know what my job is like.”

I look away. I truly am sorry, but I’m also tired of defending my job to every man I date. For once, I want to have a boyfriend who gets it. They like how passionate I am about my career until it interferes with their plans.

If it wasn’t for my job, I’d be married with three kids by now. Since my wedding was called off, I’ve racked up four failed relationships in as many years. Sadly, this is a familiar conversation and it always ends the same way.

I stare at Brad, willing him to be the guy who gets it. He’s already turning toward the street when he says, “It’s not the first time this has happened and you know it.”

He’s right. Six months into the relationship and I’ve already stood him up a few times. He spent New Year’s Eve alone while I rode along with the cops. I ran off before Easter dinner because a small plane crash-landed on the freeway. A few weeks ago, I canceled a getaway weekend to wine country when cops busted a meth lab in an expensive gated community. There’s nothing I can say to defend myself.

Silence. The only sound is the faint strains of opera music coming from one of the Columbus Avenue restaurants. It’s from La Traviata. For some reason, an image of Violetta, alone and unloved on her deathbed makes me sad. But I don’t cry. I never cry. I haven’t cried since the day they lowered my sister’s casket into the ground.

“I know my job is crazy —” I begin.

“It’s not just that,” Brad says, interrupting. “It’s not only your job … I’m tired of trying to break through the walls you’ve built up.”

“What?” What the hell is he talking about? In the dim glow cast by the streetlight, it’s hard to discern his expression. I peer at him, but his baseball cap casts a shadow over his face, obscuring the look in his eyes.

He shrugs his coat collar tighter against the cool breeze swirling down my street, bringing with it the salty scent of the ocean. How odd that I’m in the middle of getting dumped by my boyfriend and all I can think about is how much I love the smell of the ocean.

“Listen,” Brad says, hoisting the duffle bag over his shoulder. “I don’t want to date around anymore. I don’t want to be an older father. I want to start a family.”

I’m quiet for a moment, thinking about this. “I want all that one day, too.” It’s all I can come up with. I don’t say anything else. Something deep inside me won’t let me say more. He’s going to walk away now. I know it. I fight back tears. Die before cry. It’s my private mantra. It always works.

“So, that’s it?” he asks. I know I should say something to stop him, but I can’t. “Okay. See you around,” he says and starts to walk away, but then he pauses. “By the way, you’ve got black shit smeared all over your forehead.”

I stand and watch until he rounds a corner. He never glances back.

#

I awaken in the morning with dark smudges under my eyes from my smeared makeup and a tangled mess of smoky smelling hair. It just adds to the Halloween-like appeal of the black gunk that won’t come off my forehead. I can almost hear my mother’s voice chiding me for going to bed without washing my face. I’m a bit dismayed myself after having it drummed into me from childhood that not taking off your makeup at night adds an extra five years to your face. At this point, it doesn’t even matter if it’s true because I experience major Catholic guilt every time I fall asleep without a thorough face cleansing.

No wonder Brad beat it out of here last night, I think, as I peer in the mirror. I look like a freak show. Thinking of Brad, weariness overcomes my body. I wonder if there was something I could have said to make things right with him. What did he want me to say? That I worry deep down inside that I’m incapable of having a real relationship and possibly unlovable anyway, but that he should still stay with me? Obviously, that wouldn’t have worked. Maybe I’m meant to be alone. As much as I dream of having my own family someday, it may never happen. And part of me, the dark part, can’t help but wonder what’s the point in loving someone anyway? They just leave. One way or the other they always leave.

I angrily wipe away a few salty tears that are trying to slip out. Die before cry. I can already hear the sigh my mother is going to give when she hears that Brad is out of the picture and there’s not a chance for any new grandbaby bambinos for her in the foreseeable future.

In the shower, I contemplate taking a break from dating. Or better yet, to just stop caring. Maybe I’ll be like a guy and date and sleep around and not get hurt because I won’t care. I won’t be disappointed if I don’t expect anything

Dressed, I pad across my wood floor into my kitchen, tucked into a corner near the big sliding glass door leading to the balcony. The bulk of my studio apartment is filled with overflowing bookshelves, a beat-up red velvet couch, a small dining table, and my bed shoved up against one wall. My place is tiny, but it’s in North Beach and I get a great deal on the rent because the landlady went to Catholic school with my grandfather.

I grind some espresso beans into a fine powder and stick some sourdough bread in the toaster. As the coffee begins to percolate, I stand over the chessboard on the end table and chew on my lower lip examining the pieces.

It’s my move. Tomas sent me his latest move two days ago. Then, right when the toast pops up, startling me, I see it. Knight takes bishop’s pawn. I grab a postcard from a stack already addressed and stamped with international postage. I scribble my move. As an afterthought, I add a small smiley face to soften the blow. He might be able to escape it, but if he does what I want him to, my next move will be checkmate.

Juggling my toast, coffee, and a stack of newspapers, I step onto my balcony. The sun is streaming over the Oakland Hills to the east as I settle everything on my cafe table. I pull a wooly sweater around me and warm my hands on my big bowl of coffee. The fog is already receding this morning, revealing the shops below. My perch overlooks the rest of North Beach, the Italian section of San Francisco where my great grandparents settled after coming to America.

My full name is Gabriella Maria-Grazia Giovanni. Both sides of my family are Italian-American, living in the Bay Area suburbs southeast of here. As a child, during the summer on Saturdays, my mother would take us to North Beach, where she grew up. We would join the throngs of people on Columbus Avenue doing early shopping for Sunday dinner or drinking espressos at sidewalk tables. Our afternoons included eating pistachio gelatos in stainless steel bowls and picking up tins of amaretto cookies to bring home. It was always a day of treats and laughter with my joy-filled mother.

That was before. Those were the happiest days of my life, before a dark shadow fell upon our family, blotting out our light, smudging it into a gray smear.

After graduating from college in San Diego, I searched hard to find a place in North Beach I could afford, maybe in an attempt to hold tight to those happy childhood memories.

Sitting on my balcony this morning, I scan the morning paper, sip my coffee, and munch on my toast. I still get a thrill out of seeing my name in print, just as I did the first time I saw it in the college newspaper.

I’m reading my story about the murder-suicide when I do a double take. The part about the father being in drag is now in my story. What the hell? How did the copy desk know about this detail and why would they insert it without checking with me first? Then my eyes fall to the bottom of the story and the answer is clear: “May DuPont contributed to this story.” She somehow found out, threw it in my story, and gave herself a tagline.

I can feel my face flush with heat. I can’t even complain to the editors because they will scold me for leaving that detail out, especially if the competing paper has it.

Then I scan the Trib. Damn. They do have it. Andy Black, my nemesis, has the drag part and the names confirmed. As I continue scanning the Trib, my day gets worse — Black managed to nab the story about the missing Rosarito girl. Shit.

Time to face my fears. My legs are suddenly heavy as I stand.

Praise:

“Kristi Belcamino uses her newsroom background to grand effect in this crackling, savvy debut. Insider know-how and deft detail make every page come alive — and those pages fly by as the story reaches out and grabs you by the heart. Blessed are the Dead is a great read, Gabriella Giovanni is a one-of-a-kind character, and Kristi Belcamino is a writer to watch.”—David Corbett, award-winning author of DO THEY KNOW I’M RUNNING?

“A fast-paced and remarkably assured debut, featuring an immensely likeable protagonist and a reporter’s eye for detail. Belcamino puts her experience on the crime beat to good use, creating the kind of villain who’ll lurk in your nightmares long after the book ends. Double-check your locks before you crack this one open!”— Owen Laukkanen, author of THE PROFESSIONALS

Author Bio:

Kristi Belcamino is a writer, photographer, and artist who also bakes a tasty biscotti. In her former life, as an award-winning crime reporter at newspapers in California, she flew over Big Sur in an FA-18 jet with the Blue Angels, raced a Dodge Viper at Laguna Seca, watched autopsies, and conversed with serial killers. During her decade covering crime, Belcamino wrote and reported about many high-profile cases including the Laci Peterson murder and Chandra Levy disappearance. She has appeared on Inside Edition and local television shows. She now writes fiction and works part-time as a reporter covering the police beat for the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Her work has appeared in such prominent publications as Salon, the Miami Herald, San Jose Mercury News, and Chicago Tribune.

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Guest Author | Stephen Booth

Book Details:

Genre: Fiction / Crime
Published by: Witness Impulse
Publication Date: June 3, 2014
Number of Pages: 356
ISBN: 006230206X
Series: Ben Cooper & Diane Fry #9

Purchase Links:

Synopsis:

On a rain-swept hillside, hounds from the local foxhunt discover the body of a well-dressed man. At that exact moment, an anonymous caller reports the same body . . . lying half a mile away.

It’s only the first in a series of baffling clues as Ben Cooper and Diane Fry-partners and rivals on the detective force -plunge into a case involving horses, spectacular wealth, and a mysterious “plague village” where a centuries-old outbreak of Black Death has been transformed into a modern tourist attraction.

As the spring rain falls and the body count rises, Cooper and Fry’s investigation twists back to the recent past. A killer lurks in the shadows there-a killer now hiding in plain sight . . .

Atmospheric and ingenious, packed with suspense and secrets, The Kill Call is an unforgettable thriller from an unforgettable writer.

Read an excerpt:

THE KILL CALL

The 9th novel in the Ben Cooper and Diane Fry series

This excerpt was taken from http://www.stephen-booth.com and as such may not be the newest available version.

CHAPTER ONE

Journal of 1968

In those days, there were always just the three of us. Three bodies close together, down there in the cold, with the water seeping through the concrete floor, and a chill striking deep into flesh and bone. The three of us, crouching in the gloom, waiting for a signal that would never come.

And what a place to wait and watch in. Seven feet high and seven feet wide – it might as well have been a giant coffin. But slam down the lid and blot out the sun, and we’d survive. Oh, yes. For fourteen days, we’d survive. Thinking about all the things we’d hoped for, and the way our lives could be snuffed out, just like that.

One night, Jimmy looked up from his bunk at me and Les, and he said we were like the three little pigs, or the three billy goats gruff. Well, I don’t know about that. Three blind mice, maybe – it would be more fitting. If it all kicked off, the three of us would be as good as blind. Blinded by a million suns. Blind to the people dying.

A few of the details are a bit dim now. Age does that to you. But other things are as bright and stark in my mind as if they’d been burnt there by a lightning flash. Faces and eyes are what I remember most. Faces in the dark. Eyes turned up towards the light. That look in the eyes a second before death.

Yet all we had down there was a miserable six-watt bulb. I don’t think they even make bulbs that small any more, do they? No wonder your sight could get damaged. Then, every ninety minutes, the switch would pop and it went totally dark. Black as a cat in a coal hole. I always hated that. Even now, complete darkness is what frightens me most. You never know what might be coming up right next to you in the dark.

But it’s amazing how you can adapt to it, for a while. With that one little bulb, we could see pretty well in the murk, well enough to read and do what was necessary.

The place was shocking damp, too. I don’t know what they’d done wrong when they built it, but Les said it hadn’t been tanked. Les was our number one, and he might have been right, for once. The water seemed to soak right through the walls from the soil. It was particularly bad in the winter, or after a heavy rain, which happens a mite too often in Derbyshire. Some nights, if it were siling down, it would be all hands to the pump.

And that was the three of us. Me, Les, and poor old Jimmy. Always three, except for the time that we didn’t ever talk about.

A lot of things seem to come in threes, don’t they? The Holy Trinity, the Three Wise Men, the Third World War. There must be something magic about the number. Perhaps it’s to do with the Earth being the third planet from the Sun. Or the fact that we see the world in three dimensions – even if your world happens to be only seven feet wide and seven feet high.

Well, times change so much. The years pass and the world turns, and suddenly no one cares, and no one wants you any more. They take away your friends, your pride, your reason for living. But they can’t ever wipe out your memories. Sometimes, I wish they would. If only they could take away the nightmares, free me from the memory of those damp concrete walls and the icy darkness, and the memory of a face, staring up at the light.

And that’s another funny thing. They say bad luck comes in threes, don’t they? I think I always knew that.

But here’s something I didn’t know. It turns out that people die in threes, too.

CHAPTER TWO

March 2009, Tuesday

Old buildings drew Sean Crabbe like a bee to honey. The more neglected they were, the better he liked them. He couldn’t really explain the appeal. It might have been something to do with the history that clung to the walls, the lives of long-dead people written in the dust, their stories forever trapped in cobwebs hanging from broken ceilings.

That was why the old Nissen huts above Birchlow were one of his favourite places. He made his way there whenever he got the chance, bunking off from college or just disappearing on a weekend, when no one cared what he was up to. No one else ever went up to the huts any more – not since the homeless man had died there, wrapped up in a roll of plastic sheeting with empty cans scattered around him, a cold morning light glinting on the last drops of his beer as they dribbled across the floor.

Sean had been there on that morning, had found the old derelict lying in his pool of Special Brew, and had walked away to try somewhere else. Next day, he’d watched from the hillside as the police and paramedics made their way to the site. He wondered why they’d sent an ambulance when any fool could see that the man was long since dead.

Some folk said that the place was cursed now, haunted by the ghost of the drunken vagrant. So that was why Sean was always on his own at the old huts. And it was just the way he liked it.

There was one big building that was almost intact, with damp brick walls and corrugated-iron sheets banging in the wind. Its purpose was a mystery to him, but he didn’t really care. There were a few small rooms that might have been offices, a kitchen that still had a filthy sink in it, and a bigger space with a concrete floor and shelves along the walls, like a workshop. He liked the narrow corridors best, the floorboards that had warped from the damp and seemed to move with him as he crossed from room to room, and the peeling paint of the doorways where he could imagine anything waiting behind them to be found.

In a way, whenever he pushed open one of those doors, he was entering a different world, stepping through into the past. He wondered if the past had been a better world than the one he was in right now.

This morning, Sean’s need to escape had been urgent. His BTEC course at the further education college was turning out to be a waste of time, useless for his chances of finding the media career he’d dreamed of. The money he’d saved doing holiday jobs had long since run out. All those hours washing caravans and picking up rubbish hadn’t kept him in course fees for long, and now he owed his parents for a loan to see him through. His girlfriend had dumped him weeks ago, because she said he was mean. If he could call her a girlfriend. Most of the girls thought he was geeky. But, if he was a geek, why wasn’t he cleverer at passing exams and doing assignments?

And, to cap it all, a bunch of kids had mugged him last night outside the pub and nicked his phone. Lucky he didn’t have his iPod with him at the time, but losing the Nokia was a real pain. His parents had shelled out for it, and he couldn’t face telling them that he’d lost it.

It was pity there was no sun, though. A patch of thin, lattice-like wood had been exposed up there in the roof space, and when the sunlight shone through, it cast shadows across the floor. Then Sean could pretend he was a child, avoiding the cracks on the pavement. Here, he could step from light to light, avoiding the dark shadows as if they were traps, holes where evil lurked. Step from light to light, and avoid the shadows. If only life was so easy.

But there was no sun today. Just the rain clattering on the corrugated iron, blowing through the splintered windows, streaming down the walls. He was already wet when he arrived at the huts, and the chill made him shiver inside his parka.

Mouldy, fusty, stale and mildewed. Those were the familiar smells of the hut. If the weather was warm, he could scent an underlying odour of oil or grease, saturated into the concrete from whatever had gone on in here. That smell must have lasted decades. Fifty, sixty years? The buildings must be from about that time. They were so old-fashioned, so last century. It was hard for him to imagine what anyone might have done up here, stuck on an empty hillside in Derbyshire.

Now and then, he smoked a spliff up here at the huts, but he couldn’t afford that now. Instead, he plugged in the earphones of his iPod and selected some Coldplay. A feeling of peace settled over him as he listened to Chris Martin’s plaintive vocals coming in on ‘A Rush of Blood to the Head’. He could forget everything else for a while once the music was playing.

Today, though, Sean knew something was different. He tugged out the earphones and stayed completely still, his eyes tightly closed, his ears straining for a sound. The scurrying of a mouse under the floorboards, maybe, or a bird scratching a nest in the roof. But there was no sound.

He squinted at the dust swirling slowly around him, disturbed only by the current of his own breath. The room looked the same as always. Nothing had been moved or disturbed since his last visit. It was always a worry that someone else would find the derelict buildings – another vagrant sleeping rough, a couple of kids finding a place to have sex or take drugs. Or, worst of all, the owner coming to check on his property, or a builder with a plan to demolish it.

Sean closed his eyes, trying to recapture the moment that had been lost. But he finally had to acknowledge that something really was different today. It wasn’t a sound, or anything that looked out of place. It was in the very quality of the mustiness, an underlying odour that was too sweet to be oil or grease. He couldn’t deny the message that was hitting his nostrils.

The difference was in the smell.

——————————————————————————————————————————

It had been raining for six hours by the time they found the body. Since the early hours of the morning, sheets of water had been swirling into the valley, soaking the corpse and the ground around it. Pools of water had gathered in the hollows of the fields below Longstone Moor, and a new stream had formed between two hawthorns, washing their roots bare of earth.

Detective Sergeant Diane Fry wiped the rain from her face and cursed under her breath as she watched the medical examiner and an assistant turn the body on to its side. Rivulets of blood-soaked water streamed off the sleeves of a green coat the victim was wearing. A crime-scene photographer crouched under the edge of the body tent to capture the moment. Big, fat drops bounced off his paper suit, ricocheting like bullets.

Shivering, Fry made a mental note to find out the manufacturer of the victim’s coat. Her own jacket was barely shower proof, and it would never have withstood the amount of rain that had fallen during the night. Her shoulders already felt damp, though she’d been standing in the field no more than ten minutes. If she didn’t get back to her car soon, her clothes would be sticking to her all day, with no chance of a hot shower for hours yet. She’d be unpopular back at the office, too. No one liked sharing their nice, warm working space with a drowned rat.

‘Haven’t we got any cover up here yet?’ she said. ‘Where’s the mobile control unit?’

‘On its way, Sarge. It’s a difficult spot to get to.’

‘Tell me about it.’

She’d left her Peugeot way back somewhere in a muddy gateway, two fields off at least. Her trek to reach the scene had been across hundreds of yards of damp, scrubby grass, dodging sheep droppings, hoping not to twist an ankle in the treacherous holes that opened up everywhere in this kind of area. The remains of old lead mines, she’d been told. The legacy of thousands of years of men burrowing into the hills like rabbits.

And then, when she arrived, she’d discovered a delay by the first officers attending the call to get a body tent up. The FOAs’ vehicle had been short of the required equipment. What a surprise.

An officer standing nearby in a yellow jacket looked at the sky to the west and said something about the rain easing off a bit. He said it with that tone of voice that a countryman used, pretending to be so wise about the ways of the weather. But that was one thing Fry had learned about the Peak District during her time in Derbyshire – there was nothing predictable about the weather.

‘Could you find something more useful to do than pretending to be Michael Fish?’ said Fry.

‘Yes, Sarge. I expect so.’

Fry watched him walk back towards the gateway to direct an arriving vehicle. Even if the officer was right, it was already too late. She felt sure about that. There was a limit to how much water even a limestone landscape could absorb, and this crime scene wouldn’t take much more of a soaking.

Continuous heavy rain did an effective job of destroying physical evidence at an exposed crime scene like this one. And exposed was the right word. She was standing in the middle of a field of rough, short-cropped grass, with no real shelter in sight except a distant dry-stone wall. Right now, she would be glad to huddle behind that wall, even if it meant sharing with the sheep she could see standing hunched and miserable at the far end of the field.

Crime-scene examiners put their faith in the theory that anyone present at a crime scene took traces away from it, and left traces behind. It was called Locard’s Principle. But, in this case, one half of Locard had been rendered practically worthless by the weather. During the past few hours, blood had been washed away, fingerprints soaked off, shoe marks obliterated. Whatever traces an attacker might have left behind were dissolving into the soil, his unique DNA absorbed into the landscape.

Fry took a step back and felt something soft and squishy slide under her heel. Damn it. If only traces of these bloody sheep disappeared from the landscape so quickly.

For a moment, she gazed across the valley towards Longstone Moor. According to the map, the nearest villages of any size were Birchlow and Eyam. But if they were ever visible from here, she’d chosen the wrong day to enjoy the view. Grey clouds hung so low over the hills that they seemed to be resting on the trees. A dense mist of rain swept across the part of the valley where Eyam was supposed to be.

Fry already hated the sound of Eyam. That was because she’d been corrected about its pronunciation. It was supposed to be said ‘Eem’, they told her – not ‘I-am’, which was the way only tourists pronounced it. Well, sod that. She felt inclined to say it the wrong way for the rest of the day, just to show that she was a tourist, at heart. Yes – deep down, she was just a visitor passing through, taking a break from civilization to study the ways of primitive hill folk.

A gust of wind blew a spatter of rain in her eyes. That was one thing you could say for a city. Any city, anywhere. There was always a building within reach where you could get out of the rain. In the Peak District, the weather would always catch you exposed and vulnerable. It could bake you one minute, and drown you the next. It was like some big conspiracy, nature combining with the remains of ancient lead mines that lurked under your feet to trip you up.

When Fry turned away from the view, she found the crime-scene manager, Wayne Abbott, standing in front of her, as if he’d materialized out of the rain. He was a damp ghost, glistening in his white scene suit as if he was formed of ectoplasm.

‘There doesn’t seem to be much physical evidence in the immediate area around the body,’ he said, when he’d got her attention.

‘I’m not surprised.’

‘And I can’t even see where the approach route might have been. We’ll probably have to do a fingertip search over the whole field.’

‘How many people on the ground would we need for that?’

‘I don’t know. It’s big field.’

‘Thanks a lot.’

Fry could imagine the arguments about overtime payments and the hours spent frowning over the duty rota. Luckily, she could pass that problem up to her DI, Paul Hitchens.

The information so far was too scanty for her liking. A sighting of the body had been called in by the air support unit at nine forty-five a.m., a sharp-eyed observer on board Oscar Hotel 88 spotting the motionless figure as the helicopter passed overhead en route to a surveillance task. The zoom facility on his video camera had confirmed the worst. Paramedics had attended, along with uniforms from Bakewell, the observer keeping up a running commentary to guide units to the location. With death confirmed, the duty DC had been called out, and gradually the incident had begun to move up the chain. Her DI, Paul Hitchens, would be on scene shortly, and he would become the officer in charge.

But Fry could see that this was already looking like a difficult one. According to the control room, there were no overnight mispers, not so much as a stressed teenager who’d stayed out all night to wind up Mum and Dad. Neighbouring forces weren’t any help, either. She’d held out hopes of Sheffield , who usually had a bunch of drunks gone AWOL, even on a wet Monday night in March. But no such luck.

So there was going to be a lot of work to do getting a story on the victim, even with a quick ID. If this did turn out to be a murder enquiry, the first forty-eight hours were absolutely crucial.

Fry shivered again as a trickle of water ran down her neck. And it didn’t help much when Mother Nature decided to spend the first six of those forty-eight hours re-enacting the Great Flood.

A miserable figure was making his way across the field, slithering on the grass and dodging strips of wet crime-scene tape flapping around him in the wind. Detective Constable Gavin Murfin wasn’t cut out for country treks, either. But, in his case, it was for a different reason. No matter how many memos did the rounds from management about the fitness of officers, Murfin had been unable to lose any weight. Recently, Fry had noticed that he’d compromised by taking his belt in a notch, which had succeeded only in producing an unsightly roll of spare flesh that hung over his waistband.

Murfin had a comfort-eating problem, and Fry could relate to that. If only he didn’t leave so many crumbs in her car.

‘Gavin. How are things back at the office?’

‘In chaos. Have you seen that Branagh woman? She’s empire-building already.’

Fry shrugged. ‘That’s the name of the game at senior management level.’

‘God save me from promotion, then.’

‘I don’t think you need God’s help, Gavin.’

Murfin shrugged. ‘I notice you’ve been doing your best to keep out of her way. So I don’t suppose you’re exactly her number one fan, either.’

Fry didn’t answer. She still had some instinct for diplomatic silence.

Murfin pulled a face as he took in the fields and the distant stone walls.

‘Witnesses are going to be a bit thin on the ground, Diane.’

‘Yes.’ Fry eyed the sheep suspiciously. ‘There are plenty of those things, though.’

Murfin nodded. ‘Sheep see a lot of things. You’d be surprised. One day, some clever bugger at Ripley will come up with a scheme for surveillance sheep. Imagine them wandering about with miniature video cameras strapped to their heads, like hundreds of little woolly PCSOs.’

She tried to picture some of E Division’s community support officers with the faces of sheep. But her imagination failed her.

‘The mind boggles,’ she said.

‘A bit of boggling now and then never did anyone any harm, in my opinion.’

Fry sighed. ‘Where is everyone, Gavin?’

‘Oh, am I not enough for you?’

‘What about Hurst , and Irvine ? Where are they?’

‘Processing.’

‘Still?’

‘It’s the price of success.’

Fry didn’t need to ask any more. Sunday had been E Division’s strike day. Not a total withdrawal of labour in protest at their latest pay deal, as some officers would have liked, but a pre-planned operation targeting known criminals. Search warrants had been executed in various parts of the division. Arrests were made for assault, theft, burglary, going equipped, supplying Class-A drugs, and money laundering. Officers had recovered drugs, cigarettes, and a large amount of cash. Not a bad haul for the day, and the chiefs were happy. Intelligence-led, proactive policing at its best. But the consequent mountain of paperwork was horrendous. There were so many stages that followed from an arrest – prisoner handling, interviews, witness statements, case-file preparation …

‘And Ben Cooper –’ said Murfin.

‘Yes, I know. He’s got himself a cushy job.’

Murfin nodded casually at the body tent. Apart from the coat, about all that could be seen of the victim was a pair of muddy brown brogues that almost protruded from the tent into the rain.

‘We’ve got cars out trying to locate a vehicle,’ he said. ‘Reckon he must have got himself out here somehow, mustn’t he? He isn’t a hiker, not in those shoes.’

‘No luck so far?’

‘No, sorry.’

‘It’ll be parked up in a lay-by somewhere. Unless he was brought out here by someone else, of course.’

‘By his killer. Right.’

Fry didn’t answer. One of the other downsides of policing a rural area was the lack of CCTV cameras. One of the many downsides. If she’d still been working back in Birmingham, or any other city, they’d have caught the victim’s car on half a dozen cameras as it passed from A to B, registered his number plate at a car-park entry barrier, and probably got a nice, clear shot of him walking along the pavement to wherever he’d been going. And then they could have scanned the CCTV footage for possible suspects, grabbed images of a face from the screen for identification.

But out here? Unless their victim had been idiot enough to go more than ten miles an hour over the limit on a stretch of the A6 where the speed cameras were actually operating, his movements might as well have been invisible.

‘If someone else took his car,’ said Murfin, ‘they might have dumped it and torched it by now.’

‘If they have, it’ll turn up somewhere.’

Murfin was wrestling with a decrepit Ordnance Survey map. Normally, he swore by his sat-nav, and never took driving instructions from anyone but TomTom, or his wife. That wasn’t much use when you’d left your car two fields away, though Fry knew that Wayne Abbott had a GPS device to map the location of a crime scene precisely.

‘We’re somewhere about here,’ said Murfin, stabbing a finger at a square of damp plastic. ‘Longstone Moor that way, the nearest village is Birchlow, over there. A few more villages across the valley. And a load of quarries all around us, some of them still in use. There’s a big mill down in that dip. Not textiles, it processes stone from the quarries.’

‘A tricky area, then?’

Murfin shrugged. ‘The lads are checking any pull-ins on the A623 or this back road over here between the villages. But, as you can see, there are quite a few unmade lanes and farm tracks in this area. So it could take a while, unless some helpful punter phones in.’

‘The victim’s shoes are muddy, so he could have walked some distance, at least.’

‘Eyam at the furthest, I’d say,’ suggested Murfin, pronouncing the ‘Eem’ correctly. ‘There’s a car park that tourists use, near the museum. I’ve asked for a check on any that have outstayed their parking tickets. He’s been dead for an hour or two, right?’

‘Three hours, according to the ME.’

‘He might be due for a fine, then. Poor bugger. That’s the last thing he needs.’

‘That’s not really funny, Gavin.’

‘Oh, I thought those were tears of unrestrained hilarity running down your face. Maybe it’s just the rain, after all.’

The officer nearby was listening to a call on his radio, and became suddenly alert. Fry looked at him expectantly.

‘What’s the news?’

‘Not good, Sergeant. The control room says a 999 call was received about twenty minutes ago.’ The officer pointed towards a distant stone building. ‘A unit has been despatched to the old agricultural research centre, about half a mile away in that direction. They thought we’d like to know. There’s been a report of another corpse.’

Fry cursed quietly, squinting against the downpour.

‘I’ve heard about showers of frogs,’ she said. ‘But I’ve never heard of it raining bodies.’

Author Bio:

Stephen Booth is an award winning British crime writer, the creator of two young Derbyshire police detectives, DC Ben Cooper and DS Diane Fry, who have appeared in twelve novels set in England’s beautiful and atmospheric Peak District.

Stephen has been a Gold Dagger finalist, an Anthony Award nominee, twice winner of a Barry Award for Best British Crime Novel, and twice shortlisted for the Theakston’s Crime Novel of the Year. Ben Cooper was a finalist for the Sherlock Award for the best detective created by a British author, and in 2003 the Crime Writers’ Association presented Stephen with the Dagger in the Library Award for “the author whose books have given readers the most pleasure”.

The Cooper & Fry series is published all around the world, and has been translated into 15 languages. The latest title is DEAD AND BURIED, with a new book, ALREADY DEAD, published in June 2013.

Catch Up With the Author:

Tour Participants:



Interview:

Do you draw from personal experiences and/or current events? I think characters can only be created from personal experience. Current events do give me ideas for background subjects – since I try to make my characters as real as possible, I want them to be reacting to events in the real world. For ‘The Kill Call’, one of these subjects was the illegal trade in horses. But I’ve never based a novel on a real-life crime. I don’t think that’s fair to the people involved.

Do you start with the conclusion and plot in reverse or start from the beginning and see where the story line brings you? I never know how a novel is going to end. I start at the beginning – with a place, a set of characters, and a situation that puts them under pressure (which usually involves a dead body,
f course). Then I let the characters create the story. So it’s a discovery process for me. This is a much more exciting way of writing than knowing what’s going to happen all the time. For it to work, I think I have to take a step back and not try to control my characters too much, but allow them the freedom to do whatever they want. I rely very much on Ben Cooper and Diane Fry and their colleagues to do their part of the work. They’re the detectives, after all – it’s their job to discover what happened!

Is writing your full time job? If not, may I ask what you do by day? I’ve never done anything else for a living but writing and editing. There’s probably nothing else I could do anyway! I worked as a newspaper journalist for 27 years, and the first two Cooper & Fry novels were written while I still had the day job. But I gave up my newspaper career just before the second book was published. I was very lucky to be earning a living from my books right from the start. Writing novels was always what I really wanted to do, but journalism taught me a lot and was great experience.

Your routine when writing? Any idiosyncrasies? I write mostly during the evening, often right into the early hours of the morning. I developed this habit when I still had the day job, since it was the only time I had available to work on my novels. Although I’ve been full-time for about 13 years now, I find there are too many distractions during the day. And perhaps the evening is just my creative time anyway? I listen to music sometimes, but also to dramas and documentaries on the radio (the BBC is wonderful for this). Although it might just seem to be on in the background, it’s amazing how often a sentence or phrase I hear will register in my thoughts and give me an idea for the story I’m writing. It’s a way of leaving my sub-conscious open to ideas, even while I’m concentrating on something else.

Who are some of your favorite authors? There are so many great crime novelists whose books I’ve been reading for years – and lots of new ones coming along the time too. Some of my old favourites include Peter Robinson, John Harvey, Reginald Hill and Ruth Rendell. Among the Americans, I particularly admire Michael Connelly. In fact, anyone who writes a series with a really strong central character and an interesting background.

What are you reading now? I’m re-reading several of Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache series, as I’ve been asked to write an appreciation of her for a special collector’s edition of her latest book.

Are you working on your next novel? Can you tell us a little about it? The summer is publication time for me in the UK, with the latest paperback out in May, and new Cooper & Fry novel published in June. So I’m in promotion mode at the moment, with lots of events to do. But this is also the time when ideas for the next novel go through a sort of gestation period, when something will grip me and I know what I want to write about next.
Although I have some themes in mind, I still have to find the right location to set the book in. The Peak District settings have become very important for readers over the years. Other than that, I have no idea where the story will go!

If your novel were a movie, who would you cast? I’m asked this kind of question often, since Cooper & Fry are currently in development for a TV series. But I really have no idea! My characters are very clear in my mind, and there are no actors just like them. Fortunately, the casting will be someone else’s job!

Manuscript/Notes: hand written or keyboard? I work almost entirely on a keyboard – and I have done for 30 years, since we were computerised very early in the newspaper business. The only exception is when I’m out and about in the Peak District doing location research, when a small notebook is essential.

Favorite leisure activity/hobby? Walking has always been a favourite leisure activity, and that’s how I discovered the wonderful Peak District. Anything to do with animals and nature I find very relaxing – I live in the country, and I enjoy pottering in the garden or watching the birds from my office window. I also have three cats, who are a very important part of my life.

Favorite meal? I love Chinese food, so probably a nice Dim sum.

Thanks so much for visiting us today, Mr. Booth! We look forward to seeing your televised creation as well as your next book!