Category: Misc

Mailbox Monday

Mailbox Monday

According to Marcia, “Mailbox Monday is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house last week. Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists.

Click on title for synopsis via GoodReads.

Tuesday: (08/02/22)
Bleeding Heart Yard by Elly Griffiths~ eBook from Mariner Books via NetGalley
Wednesday: (08/03/22)
Wrong Place Wrong Time by Gillian McAllister ~ eBook from Harper Collins via NetGalley
The New Neighbor by Karen Cleveland~ eBook from Random House via NetGalley
A Harvest Of Secrets by Roland Merullo ~ eBook from Prime First Reads
Saturday: (08/06/22)
All He Has Left by Chad Zunker ~ eBook from Amazon Pub via NetGalley
Quarter To Midnight by Karen Rose ~ eBook from Berkley Pub via NetGalley

 

#Review | The Secrets We Share by Edwin Hill

The Secrets We Share by Edwin Hill

Genre: Psychological Thriller, Suspense Thriller
My Rating: 4

Publisher: Kensington Books
Publication Date: March 29, 2022
ISBN-10:‎ 1496735412
ISBN-13:
Pages: 304
Review Copy From: Publisher
Edition: HC

Synopsis (via GR)

A mesmerizing, twisty suspense novel perfect for fans of Mary Kubica and Riley Sager from an acclaimed author! Explore the deep bonds—and deadly secrets—between two very different sisters haunted by the crimes of their father murdered nearly twenty years earlier…

At first glance, Natalie Cavanaugh and Glenn Abbott hardly look like sisters. Even off-duty, Natalie dresses like a Boston cop, preferring practical clothes and unfussy, pinned-up hair. Her younger sister, Glenn, seems tailor-made for the spotlight, from her signature red mane to her camera-ready smile. Glenn has spent years cultivating her brand through her baking blog, and with the publication of her new book, that hard work seems about to pay off. But her fans have no idea about the nightmare in Glenn and Natalie’s past.

Twenty years ago, their father’s body was discovered in the woods behind their house. A trauma like that doesn’t fit with Glenn’s public image. Yet, maybe someone reading her blog does know something. There have been anonymous online messages, vague yet ominous, hinting that she’s being watched. And with unsettling coincidences hitting ever closer to home, both Glenn and Natalie soon have more pressing matters to worry about, especially when a dead body is found in an abandoned building . . .

Natalie is starting to wonder how much Glenn really knows about the people closest to her. But are there also secrets Natalie has yet to uncover about those she herself trusts? For two decades, she’s believed their father was murdered by their neighbor, with whom he was having an affair. But if those events are connected to what’s happening now, maybe there’s much more that Natalie doesn’t know. About their father. About their neighbors. About her friends. Maybe even about herself.

But there are no secrets between sisters . . . are there?

My Thoughts

Caveat

I have been in a major reading slump, and I mean MAJOR!! I hadn’t picked up a book since February of this year. It’s not that I didn’t have any books, or the books that I do have were not calling my name, I just didn’t have the desire to read. I’m guessing that the dry patch with my reading was due to months of me having to deal with multiple medical issues.

Then one day I received an email that I subscribe to and this email was definitely “talking” to me. There were a few titles mentioned that would help with reading slumps so I had nothing to lose at that point. I replied, explained my situation, and that The Secrets We Share by Edwin Hill sounded like my kind of book. Did it work? Did it end my reading slump?

Plot

As the synopsis asks, do the 2 Cavanaugh sisters have secrets, that you will need to read this exciting book to find out? But there are many secrets floating around among the characters, which kept this reader turning the pages as quickly as I could. The plot chilling at times and definitely thrilling.

Characters

I could easily picture the characters in my head and feel their emotions. Three-dimensional and relatable.

Setting

The setting took place in Massachusetts, which is the state right next door to me. It was very familiar to me as we have visited often, being only an hour away. While reading the book I felt that I was there. Matter of fact, one day, we had to drive into Boston for a doctor’s appointment and I read all the way there and back. Good thing my husband was driving. I was so engrossed that I had blocked out the loud music that my husband enjoys and that the hour drive flew by.

Negatives

For me, the number of characters being introduced in a short period of time was the only negative.

Before and after I choose a book to read, I will read some reviews of the book, which this time benefitted me. There were many characters, and some of the reviews mentioned this and people found it hard to keep track of them all which made them give up. Having known this from the reviews, I was prepared by making a little flow sheet as to the characters, their relatives, their relationships, etc. so that I could look at it while reading. I suggest future readers definitely do this so that one doesn’t miss out on a terrific read.

For me, the number of characters being introduced in a short period of time was the only negative.

Ending/Conclusion

The ending was definitely shocking. The suspect was on my list as to who it coiuld be, but then, I thought a lot of the characters could be the suspect. What impressed me, was that the “ending/conclusion” was wrapped up with only a few pages left in the story. Not only was it a Wait, What? moment in the end, there were many of those same thoughts several times throughout the book. This reader had to stop and reread what I had just read to make sure I read it correctly and at the same time, picking my jaw up off the floor

Overall opinion

This is the first book I read by this author but I will definitely be putting him on my radar. I enjoyed his writing style, whereas I could picture the story in my mind as if it was a movie.

I highly encourage you to look past other reviews that find the number of characters to be too much and confusing and make notes that I suggested earlier in this review. Don’t let that sway you because you will be missing out on a captivating read that grabs you from the start to the very last word.

An unremitting spine-chilling read!! It definitely ended my major reading slump!!! Thank you Alex!

I received a complimentary copy from Kensington Books in exchange for my honest review.

Purchase Links: Amazon 🔗 | Barnes & Noble 🔗 | Goodreads 🔗

REVIEW DISCLAIMER

  • This blog was founded on the premise to write honest reviews, to the best of my ability, no matter who from, where from and/or how the book was obtained, and will continue to do so, even if it is through PICT or PBP.
  • I received a copy of this book, at no charge to me, in exchange for my honest review. No items that I receive are ever sold…they are kept by me, or given to family and/or friends.
  • I do not have any affiliation with Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble. I am providing link(s) solely for visitors that may be interested in purchasing this Book/EBook.
  •  

    Mailbox Monday

    winter mailbox3

    Mailbox Monday

    According to Marcia, “Mailbox Monday is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house last week. Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists.

    Click on title for synopsis via GoodReads.

    Friday: (02/18/22)

    Please Join Us by Catherine McKenzie~ Kindle from Atria Books via NetGalley

    Tuesday: (02/22/22)
    Speed Reading by Kam Knight ~ TPB personal purchase

     

    #Review | THE MARRIAGE SECRET by Carey Baldwin

    The Marriage Secret by Carey Baldwin
    Genre: Psychological Thriller
    My Rating: 5

    Publisher: Bookouture
    Publication Date: February 11, 2022
    ASIN: B09M79VMSK
    Pages: 306
    Review Copy From: Publisher via NetGalley
    Edition: Kindle

    Synopsis (via GR)

    He married me despite my darkest secret. But am I safe now that I know his?

    From the outside, my marriage to Zach was perfect: dream home, a perfect baby girl and passionate, all-consuming love. When we met, I confessed my darkest secret to him and he never judged me for it. Instead, he vowed to always protect me whatever the cost.

    But as I cradle my gorgeous baby, I have to accept that the husband who used to be my everything, has changed. At first it was little things: expecting me to keep to a strict schedule, picking out my clothes for me. Now, he controls every aspect of my life: from how much money I have, to when I leave the house and who I can see.

    One fateful night, a young woman is found murdered and Zach is a potential suspect. Turning towards me, a look of warmth returning to his eyes, he swears he’s innocent, and I realize there is only one solution. If I agree to be his alibi, he will keep my secret and our daughter can grow up in a loving home. In that moment, I do what any faithful wife would do: I stand by him.

    But I know deep down, only one of us will make it out of this marriage alive.

    My Thoughts

    WOW!!!! What a read!! But then, I’m not surprised.

    I have been a fan of this author since reading Notorious in 2016 and have read every one of her books since.

    According to Holly, she and Zach, an OB-GYN, have the perfect marriage, especially after the birth of their beautiful daughter, Jolene. In spite of the secrets that they know about each other and have promised never to tell. Or she thought.

    Not long after, things changed. Holly started to have strange incidents and hallucinations. Holly denied it all but Zach saw the changes. And because of that, Zach felt he need to be aware and controlling because he was afraid for their daughter.

    Is the obvious always the obvious?

    This was a nail-biting read!!! I thoroughly thought so!!!

    I pictured every single thing in my mind, so for me, this was like a movie in my head and sitting on the edge of my chair.

    The ending! THE ENDING!!!!! Or should I say the endings? It left me breathless!!!!

    No pressure Ms. Baldwin…….BUT…….when will the next book be in my hands?

    I received a complimentary copy from (Bookouture via NetGalley) in exchange for my honest opinion.

    Purchase Links: Amazon 🔗 | Barnes & Noble 🔗 | Goodreads 🔗

    REVIEW DISCLAIMER

  • This blog was founded on the premise to write honest reviews, to the best of my ability, no matter who from, where from and/or how the book was obtained, and will continue to do so, even if it is through PICT or PBP.
  • I received a copy of this book, at no charge to me, in exchange for my honest review. No items that I receive are ever sold…they are kept by me, or given to family and/or friends.
  • I do not have any affiliation with Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble. I am providing link(s) solely for visitors that may be interested in purchasing this Book/EBook.
  •  

    #Review | The Last House On The Street by Diane Chamberlain

    The Last House On The Street by Diane Chamberlain
    Genre: Historical Fiction; Women’s Fiction
    My Rating: 5

    Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
    Publication Date: January 11, 2022
    ASIN:B092T7TFP2
    Pages: 346
    Review Copy From: Publisher via NetGalley
    Edition: Kindle

    Synopsis (via GR)

    From bestselling author Diane Chamberlain comes an irresistible new novel that perfectly interweaves history, mystery, and social justice.

    When Kayla Carter’s husband dies in an accident while building their dream house, she knows she has to stay strong for their four-year-old daughter. But the trophy home in Shadow Ridge Estates, a new development in sleepy Round Hill, North Carolina, will always hold tragic memories. But when she is confronted by an odd, older woman telling her not to move in, she almost agrees. It’s clear this woman has some kind of connection to the area…and a connection to Kayla herself. Kayla’s elderly new neighbor, Ellie Hockley, is more welcoming, but it’s clear she, too, has secrets that stretch back almost fifty years. Is Ellie on a quest to right the wrongs of the past? And does the house at the end of the street hold the key? Told in dual time periods, The Last House on the Street is a novel of shocking prejudice and violence, forbidden love, the search for justice, and the tangled vines of two families.

    My Thoughts

    Phenomenal!!!!

    Plot/Story Premise

    The story alternates between the years of 1965 and 2010.
    In 1965 Ellie, is a young woman who decides to help with the cause for allowing African Americans the right to vote. However, the residents of this small town are against her decision and have started harassing her, her family, and the other volunteers.
    In 2010, Kayla has moved into the new house that she and her husband designed but while building there was a horrific accident in the house that caused the death of her husband. Has she made a mistake moving in since there seems to be someone or a group of people trying to torment her into moving out? Why? What is it that this house is causing such a disturbance including one night when the Ku Klux Klan decided to show up on her property?
    How are these two women connected, besides having only the 2 houses on the street, as construction is moving along for more houses in this development?

    Characters

    I was so engrossed within the story that I felt that I was there in this little town in North Carolina. I felt the emotions and sensibilities of each and every one of the characters.

    Setting

    There were different settings in the story but I could picture every one of them, Ellie’s parent’s house, the Church where the volunteers would come together, the families and shanties that the volunteers would stay with for a few days, the houses that the volunteers knocked on doors to explain why it is so important to vote, etc.

    Ending/Conclusion

    WOW!!!! There were stories within the story and as each page revealed one of those “stories” my jaw dropped. I turned the page and needed to pick up my jaw because it was going to fall again!!!!

    Overall opinion

    Not only was this an amazing story it was also an eye-opening education for the reader about the history of segregation in the south during the 1960s..
    As a long-time reader, as I am sure a lot of you are, if we are honest with ourselves, we have read hundreds+ of books but there are some books read that we probably can’t remember what it is about. But I can promise you, this is a story that will stay with you for years to come.
    The narrative is perfection whereas the reader will be kidnapped and become a part of it. A book that you will find any excuse to take you away from adulting and to pick it up and continue reading. A book that is definitely one where you will be telling yourself, just one more chapter and we all know how that goes!!!!
    Engaging!! Riveting!! Provocative!! Heart pounding!! Intoxicating!!

    I received a complimentary copy from St. Martin’s Press via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

    Purchase Links: Amazon 🔗 | Barnes & Noble 🔗 | Goodreads 🔗

    REVIEW DISCLAIMER

  • This blog was founded on the premise to write honest reviews, to the best of my ability, no matter who from, where from and/or how the book was obtained, and will continue to do so, even if it is through PICT or PBP.
  • I received a copy of this book, at no charge to me, in exchange for my honest review. No items that I receive are ever sold…they are kept by me, or given to family and/or friends.
  • I do not have any affiliation with Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble. I am providing link(s) solely for visitors that may be interested in purchasing this Book/EBook.
  •  

    #Review | Somebody’s Home by Kaira Rouda

    Somebody’s Home by Kaira Rouda
    My Rating: 4
    Genre: Domestic Thriller

    Published by Thomas Mercer
    Publication Date: January 18, 2022
    ASIN: ‎ B08Y8JXZFZ
    Pages: 299
    Review Copy From: Publisher via NetGalley
    Edition: Kindle

    Synopsis (via GR)

    A quiet neighborhood. A lovely home. A promising new beginning. In a heartbeat everything can change in this propulsive novel of suspense by USA Today bestselling author Kaira Rouda.

    Julie Jones has left her suffocating marriage. With her teenage daughter, Jess, she’s starting over. Their new house in Oceanside is the first step toward a new life. Even if it does come with the unexpected. The previous owners, a pastor and his wife, have left something—or rather someone—behind…

    Tom Dean has a bitter hatred for the father who considers him a lost cause, and for the woman who’s moved into their family’s house. The only home he’s ever known. He’s never going to leave. She thinks he’ll be gone in three days, but Tom has the perfect plan.

    For a newly single mother and her daughter, a fresh start is the beginning of a nightmare. Before the weekend is over, somebody is going to get exactly what they deserve.

    My Thoughts

    Ms. Rouda is one of my go-to authors.

    The time frame of this story is one weekend involving 2 families and each chapter is the POV of one of the characters. The characters were 3 dimensional whereas I could vividly picture them in my mind.

    I found that the story was intriguing as it, in my opinion, touched upon issues in today’s climate. The suspense relating to those issues had me turning the pages.

    I did find the book to be an entertaining read.

    I received a complimentary copy from Thomas Mercer via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

    Purchase Links: Amazon 🔗 | Barnes & Noble 🔗 | Goodreads 🔗

    REVIEW DISCLAIMER

  • This blog was founded on the premise to write honest reviews, to the best of my ability, no matter who from, where from and/or how the book was obtained, and will continue to do so, even if it is through PICT or PBP.
  • I received a copy of this book, at no charge to me, in exchange for my honest review. No items that I receive are ever sold…they are kept by me, or given to family and/or friends.
  • I do not have any affiliation with Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble. I am providing link(s) solely for visitors that may be interested in purchasing this Book/EBook.
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    My Darling Husband by Kimberly Belle || #Review

    My Darling Husband by Kimberly Belle
    My Rating: 5
    Genre: Domestic Thriller
    Publisher: Park Row
    Publication Date: December 28, 2021
    ISBN-10: ‎ 0778312119
    ISBN-13: ‎ 978-0778312116
    Pages: 336
    Review Copy From: Publisher/NetGalley
    Edition: TPB/Kindle

    Synopsis (via GR)

    Bestselling author of DEAR WIFE and THE MARRIAGE LIE, Kimberly Belle returns with her most heart-pounding thriller to date, as a masked home invader reveals the cracks in a marriage.

    Everyone is about to know what her husband isn’t telling her…

    Jade and Cam Lasky are by all accounts a happily married couple with two adorable kids, a spacious home and a rapidly growing restaurant business. But their world is tipped upside down when Jade is confronted by a masked home invader. As Cam scrambles to gather the ransom money, Jade starts to wonder if they’re as financially secure as their lifestyle suggests, and what other secrets her husband is keeping from her.

    Cam may be a good father, a celebrity chef and a darling husband, but there’s another side he’s kept hidden from Jade that has put their family in danger. Unbeknownst to Cam and Jade, the home invader has been watching them and is about to turn their family secrets into a public scandal.

    With riveting twists and a breakneck pace, My Darling Husband is an utterly compelling thriller that once again showcases Kimberly Belle’s exceptional talent for domestic suspense.

    My Thoughts

    I’m sure we all have that list of authors that we just have to get our hands on their newest book as soon as we can. And in the meantime, we wait patiently, well, at least try to. But when I see that the author is in the edits phase, the excitement just builds, and waiting patiently doesn’t exist anymore. Kimberly Belle is one of the authors on that list.

    Plot/Story Premise

    I know some people don’t read the Acknowledgments but I tend to and this time I was glad I did. Ms. Belle states that the premise of this story happened to someone that she knows so it made it feel even more real for me.

    Characters

    The characters were so life-like. I could feel my heart pounding as the time was slipping away until the ransom money was delivered. The narrative of each chapter was by different characters’ POVs. The time was also noted as the time clicked down. I was so engrossed that I found that I was clenching my fists due to Jade’s anxiety and fear. I even found myself checking my watch in the middle of a chapter.

    Setting

    I was able to visualize the house, Cam in his truck riding around trying to find someone who could loan him the ransom amount, which was an odd amount in itself, $734,296.00, and neither Jade nor Cam could figure out why.

    Ending/Conclusion

    Whiplash!!! And now I could finally breathe and have my pulse return to normal!!!

    Overall opinion

    Another page-turning thriller by an extraordinary author!!! A bone-chilling read!!

    Negatives

    Just one! Trying to be patient while waiting for her next book. Oh, did I happen to mention, patience is not one of my virtues?

    I received a complimentary copy from Park Row Books (TPB and NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

    Purchase Links: Amazon 🔗 | Barnes & Noble 🔗 | Goodreads 🔗

    REVIEW DISCLAIMER

  • This blog was founded on the premise to write honest reviews, to the best of my ability, no matter who from, where from and/or how the book was obtained, and will continue to do so, even if it is through PICT or PBP.
  • I received a copy of this book, at no charge to me, in exchange for my honest review. No items that I receive are ever sold…they are kept by me, or given to family and/or friends.
  • I do not have any affiliation with Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble. I am providing link(s) solely for visitors that may be interested in purchasing this Book/EBook.
  •  

    Twentymile by C. Matthew Smith | #Twentymile @cmattwrite #Thriller #PoliceProcedural #Interview #Showcase

    Twentymile by C. Matthew Smith Banner

    Twentymile

    by C. Matthew Smith

    November 15 – December 10, 2021 Tour

    Synopsis:

    Twentymile by C. Matthew Smith

    When wildlife biologist Alex Lowe is found dead inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park, it looks on the surface like a suicide. But Tsula Walker, Special Agent with the National Park Service’s Investigative Services Branch and a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, isn’t so sure.

    Tsula’s investigation will lead her deep into the park and face-to-face with a group of lethal men on a mission to reclaim a historic homestead. The encounter will irretrievably alter the lives of all involved and leave Tsula fighting for survival – not only from those who would do her harm, but from a looming winter storm that could prove just as deadly.

    A finely crafted literary thriller, Twentymile delivers a propulsive story of long-held grievances, new hopes, and the contentious history of the land at its heart.

    Praise for Twentymile:

    “[A] striking debut . . . a highly enjoyable read suited best to those who like their thrillers to simmer for awhile before erupting in a blizzard of action and unpredictability . . .” Kashif Hussain, Best Thriller Books.

    “C. Matthew Smith’s original, intelligent novel delivers unforgettable characters and an irresistible, page-turning pace while grappling with deeply fascinating issues of land and heritage and what and who is native…. Twentymile is an accomplished first novel from a talented and fully-formed writer.” James A. McLaughlin, Edgar Award-winning author of Bearskin

    Twentymile is packed with everything I love: A strong, female character; a wilderness setting; gripping storytelling; masterful writing. Smith captures powerfully and deeply the effects of the past and what we do to one another and ourselves for the sake of ownership and possession, for what we wrongfully and rightfully believe is ours. I loved every word. A beautiful and brutal and extraordinary debut.” Diane Les Becquets, bestselling author of Breaking Wild and The Last Woman in the Forest

    Book Details:

    Genre: Procedural, Thriller
    Published by: Latah Books
    Publication Date: November 19, 2021
    Number of Pages: 325
    ISBN: 978-1-7360127-6-5
    Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads | Latah Books

    Read an excerpt:

    HARLAN

    CHAPTER ONE

    May 10

    The same moment the hiker comes upon them, rounding the bend in the trail, Harlan knows the man will die.

    He takes no pleasure in the thought. So far as Harlan is aware, he has never met the man and has no quarrel with him. This stranger is simply an unexpected contingency. A loose thread that, once noticed, requires snipping.

    Harlan knows, too, it’s his own fault. He shouldn’t have stopped. He should have pressed the group forward, off the trail and into the concealing drapery of the forest. That, after all, is the plan they’ve followed each time: Keep moving. Disappear.

    But the first sliver of morning light had crested the ridge and caught Harlan’s eye just so, and without even thinking, he’d paused to watch it filter through the high trees. Giddy with promise, he’d imagined he saw their new future dawning in that distance as well, tethered to the rising sun. Cardinals he couldn’t yet spot were waking to greet the day, and a breeze picked up overhead, soughing through shadowy crowns of birch and oak. He’d turned and watched the silhouettes of his companions taking shape. His sons, Otto and Joseph, standing within arm’s length. The man they all call Junior lingering just behind them.

    The stranger’s headlamp sliced through this reverie, bright and sudden as an oncoming train, freezing Harlan where he stood. In all the times they’ve previously made this journey—always departing this trail at this spot, and always at this early hour—they’ve never encountered another person. Given last night’s thunderstorm and the threat of more to come, Harlan wasn’t planning on company this morning, either.

    He clamps his lips tight and flicks his eyes toward his sons—be still, be quiet. Junior clears his throat softly.

    “Mornin’,” the stranger says when he’s close.

    The accent is local—born, like Harlan’s own, of the surrounding North Carolina mountains—and his tone carries a hint of polite confusion. The beam of his headlamp darts from man to man, as though uncertain of who or what most merits its attention, before settling finally on Junior’s pack.

    The backpack is a hand-stitched canvas behemoth many times the size of those sold by local outfitters and online retailers. Harlan designed the mammoth vessel himself to accommodate the many necessities of life in the wilderness. Dry goods. Seeds for planting. Tools for construction and farming. Long guns and ammunition. It’s functional but unsightly, like the bulbous shell of some strange insect. Harlan and his sons carry similar packs, each man bearing as much weight as he can manage. But it’s likely the rifle barrel peeking out of Junior’s that has now caught the stranger’s interest.

    Harlan can tell he’s an experienced hiker, familiar with the national park where they now stand. Few people know of this trail. Fewer still would attempt it at this hour. Each of his thick-knuckled hands holds a trekking pole, and he moves with a sure and graceful gait even in the relative dark. He will recognize—probably is just now in the process of recognizing—that something is not right with the four of them. Something he may be tempted to report. Something he might recall later if asked.

    Harlan nods at the man but says nothing. He removes his pack and kneels as though to re-tie his laces.

    The hiker, receiving no reply, fills the silence. “How’re y’all do—”

    When Harlan stands again, he works quickly, covering the stranger’s mouth with his free hand and thrusting his blade just below the sternum. A whimper escapes through his clamped fingers but dies quickly. The body arches, then goes limp. One arm reaches out toward him but only brushes his shoulder and falls away. Junior approaches from behind and lowers the man onto his back.

    Even the birds are silent.

    Joseph steps to his father’s side and offers him a cloth. Harlan smiles. His youngest son is a carbon copy of himself at eighteen. The wordless, intent glares. The muscles tensed and explosive, like coiled springs straining at a latch. Joseph eyes the man on the ground as though daring him to rise and fight.

    Harlan removes the stranger’s headlamp and shines the beam in the man’s face. A buzz-cut of silver hair blanches in this wash of light. His pupils, wide as coins, do not react. Blood paints his lips and pools on the mud beneath him, smelling of copper.

    “I’m sorry, friend,” Harlan says, though he doubts the man can hear him. “It’s just, you weren’t supposed to be here.” He yanks the knife free from the man’s distended belly and cleans it with the cloth.

    From behind him comes Otto’s fretful voice. “Jesus, Pop.”

    Harlan’s eldest more resembles the men on his late wife’s side. Long-limbed and dour. Quiet and amenable, but anxious. When Harlan turns, Otto is pacing along a tight stretch of the trail with his hands clamped to the sides of his head. His natural state.

    “Shut up and help me,” Harlan says. “Both of you.”

    He instructs his sons to carry the man two hundred paces into the woods and deposit him behind a wide tree. Far enough away, Harlan hopes, that the body will not be seen or smelled from the trail any time soon. “Wear your gloves,” he tells them, re-sheathing the knife at his hip. “And don’t let him drag.”

    As Otto and Joseph bear the man away, Harlan pockets the lamp and turns to Junior.

    “I know, I know,” he says, shaking his head. “Don’t look at me like that.”

    “Like what?”

    Harlan sweeps his boot back and forth along the muddy trail to smooth over the odd bunching of footprints and to cover the scrim of blood with earth. He’s surprised to find his stomach has gone sour. “No witnesses,” he says. “That’s how it has to be.”

    “People go missing,” Junior says, “and other people come looking.”

    “By the time they do, we’ll be long gone.”

    Junior shrugs and points. “Dibs on his walking sticks.”

    Harlan stops sweeping. “What?”

    “Sometimes my knees hurt.”

    “Fine,” Harlan says. “But let’s get this straight. Dibs is not how we’re going to operate when we get there.”

    Junior blinks and looks at him. “Dibs is how everything operates.”

    Minutes later, Otto and Joseph return from their task, their chests heaving and their faces slick. Otto gives his younger brother a wary look, then approaches Harlan alone. When he speaks, he keeps his voice low.

    “Pop—”

    “Was he still breathing when you left him?”

    Otto trains his eyes on his own feet, a drop of sweat dangling from the tip of his nose.

    “Was he?”

    Otto shakes his head. He hesitates for a moment longer, then asks, “Maybe we should go, Pop? Before someone else comes along?”

    Harlan pats his son’s hunched neck. “You’re right, of course.”

    The four grunt and sway as they re-shoulder their packs. Wooden edges and sharp points dig into Harlan’s back and buttocks through the canvas, and the straps strain against his burning shoulders. But he welcomes this discomfort for what it means. This, at last, is their final trip.

    This time, they’re leaving for good.

    They fan out along the edge of the trail, the ground sopping under their boots. Droplets rain down, shaken free from the canopy by a gust of wind, and Harlan turns his face up to feel the cool prickle on his skin. Then he nods to his companions, wipes the water from his eyes, and steps into the rustling thicket.

    The others follow after him, marching as quickly as their burdens allow.

    Melting into the trees and the undergrowth.

    PART I:

    DRIFT 

    TSULA 

    CHAPTER TWO

    October 26

    By the time the two vehicles she’s expecting appear at the far end of the service road, Tsula is already glazed with a slurry of sweat and south Florida sand so fine it should really be called dust. She hasn’t exerted herself in the slightest—she parked, got out of her vehicle, waited for the others to arrive—but already she longs for a shower. She wipes her brow with an equally damp forearm. It accomplishes little.

    “Christ almighty.”

    Tsula grew up in the Qualla Boundary—the eighty square miles of western North Carolina held by the federal government in trust for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians—and had returned to her childhood home two years ago after a prolonged absence. This time of year in the Qualla, the mornings are chilly and the days temperate, autumn having officially shooed summer out of the mountains. In northern Wyoming, where she’d spent nearly two decades of her adult life, it takes until mid-morning in late October for the frost to fully melt. Tsula understands those rhythms—putting on layers and shedding them, freezing and thawing. The natural balance of it. But only miles from where she stands, in this same ceaseless heat, lies the Miami-Dade County sprawl. It baffles her. Who but reptiles could live in this swelter?

    Tsula raises her binoculars. A generic government-issued SUV, much like her own, leads the way. An Everglades National Park law enforcement cruiser follows close behind.

    She looks down at her watch: 11:45 a.m.

    Tsula flaps the front of her vented fishing shirt to move air against her skin. The material is thin, breathable, and light tan, but islets of brown have formed where the shirt clings to perspiration on her shoulders and chest. She removes her baseball cap, fans her face, and lifts her ponytail off her neck. In this sun, her black hair absorbs the heat like the hood of a car, and she would not at all be surprised to find it has burned her skin. For a moment, she wishes it would go ahead and gray. Surely that would be more comfortable.

    The vehicles pull to a stop next to her, and two men exit. Fish and Wildlife Commission Investigator Matt Healey approaches first. He is fifty-something, with the tanned and craggy face of someone who has spent decades outside. Tsula shakes his hand and smiles.

    “Special Agent,” he says, scratching at his beard with his free hand.

    The other man is younger—in his late twenties, Tsula figures—and dressed in the standard green-and-gray uniform of a law enforcement park ranger. He moves with a bounding and confident carriage and thrusts out his hand. “Special Agent, I’m Ranger Tim Stubbs. Welcome to Everglades. I was asked to join y’all today, but I’m afraid they didn’t give me much other info. Can someone tell me what I’m in for?”

    “Poachers,” Healey answers. “You’re here to help us nab some.”

    “We investigate poaching every year,” Stubbs says, nodding toward Tsula. “Never get the involvement of the FBI.”

    “ISB,” she corrects him. “Investigative Services Branch? I’m with the Park Service.”

    “Never heard of it,” Stubbs says.

    “I get that a lot.”

    Whether he knows it or not, Stubbs has a point. The ISB rarely, if ever, involves itself in poaching cases. Most large parks like Everglades have their own law enforcement rangers capable of looking into those of the garden variety. Federal and state fish and wildlife agencies can augment their efforts where necessary. At just over thirty Special Agents nationwide, and with eighty-five million acres of national park land under their jurisdiction from Hawaii to the U.S. Virgin Islands, this little-known division of the Park Service is too thinly staffed to look into such matters when there are suspicious deaths, missing persons, and sexual assaults to investigate.

    But this case is different.

    “It’s not just what they’re taking,” Healy says. “It’s how much they’re taking. Thousands of green and loggerhead turtle eggs, gone. Whole nests cleaned out at different points along Cape Sable all summer long. Always at night so cameras don’t capture them clearly, always different locations. They’re a moving target.”

    “We’ve been concerned for a while now that they may be getting some assistance spotting the nests from inside the park,” Tsula adds. “So, we’re keeping it pretty close to the vest. That’s why no one filled you in before now. We don’t want to risk any tip-offs.”

    “What would anyone want with that many eggs?”

    “Black market,” Healey says.

    “You’re kidding.”

    Healey shakes his head. “Sea turtle eggs go down to Central America where they’re eaten as an aphrodisiac. Fetch three to five bucks apiece for the guy stateside who collects them. Bear paws and gallbladders go over to Asia. All kinds of other weird shit I won’t mention. And, of course, there are the live exotics coming into the country. Billions of dollars a year in illegal animal trade going all over the world. One of the biggest criminal industries besides drugs, weapons, and human trafficking. This many eggs missing—it’s like bricks of weed or cocaine in a wheel well. This isn’t some guy adding to his reptile collection or teenagers stealing eggs on a dare. This is commerce.”

    Tsula recognizes the speech. It’s how Healey had hooked her, and how she in turn argued her boss into sanctioning her involvement. “Sure, most poaching is small-potatoes,” he told her months ago. He’d invited her for a drink that turned out to be a pitch instead. “Hicks shooting a deer off-season on government land and similar nonsense. This isn’t that. You catch the right guys, and they tell you who they’re selling to, maybe you can follow the trail. Can you imagine taking down an international protected species enterprise? Talk about putting the ISB on the map.”

    “So maybe that’s what’s in it for me,” Tsula said, peeling at the label on her bottle. “Why are you so fired up?”

    He straightened himself on his stool and drew his shoulders back. “These species are having a hard enough time as it is. Throw sustained poaching on top, it’s going to be devastating. I want it stopped. Not just the low-level guys, either. We put a few of them in jail, there will always be more of them to take their place. I want the head lopped off.”

    Tsula had felt a thrill at Healey’s blunt passion and the prospect of an operation with international criminal implications. Certainly, it would be a welcome break from the child molestation and homicide cases that ate up her days and her soul, bit by bit. It took three conversations with the ISB Atlantic Region’s Assistant Special Agent in Charge, but eventually he agreed.

    “This better be worth it,” he told her finally. “Bring some people in, get them to tell us who they’re working for. We may have to let the FBI in after that, but you will have tipped the first domino.”

    Their investigation had consumed hundreds of man-hours across three agencies but yielded little concrete progress for the first several months. Then a couple weeks ago, Healey received a call from the Broward County State Attorney’s office. A pet store owner under arrest for a third cocaine possession charge was offering up information on turtle egg poachers targeting Everglades in a bid for a favorable plea deal. Two men had recently approached the store owner, who went by the nickname Bucky, about purchasing a small cache of eggs they still had on hand. It was toward the end of the season, and the recent yields were much smaller than their mid-summer hauls. Since many of the eggs they’d gathered were approaching time to hatch, the buyers with whom the two men primarily did business were no longer interested. The two men were looking for a legally flexible pet store owner who might want to sell hatchlings out the back door of his shop.

    Tsula decided to use Bucky as bait. At her direction, he would offer to purchase the remaining eggs but refuse to conduct the sale at his store. The strip mall along the highway, he would explain, was too heavily trafficked for questionable transactions. But he knew a quiet place in the pine rocklands near the eastern border of the park where he liked to snort up and make plans for his business. They could meet there.

    “Do I really have to say the part about snorting up?” Bucky had asked her, scratching his fingernails nervously on the interrogation room table. “I really don’t want that on tape. My parents are still alive.”

    “You think they don’t know already?” Tsula said. “You don’t like my plan, good luck with your charges and your public defender here. How much time do you figure a third offense gets you?”

    At his lawyer’s urging, Bucky finally agreed. The plan was set in motion, with the operation to take place today.

    “So how are we looking?” Healey asks.

    “Bucky’s on his way,” Tsula says. “I met with him earlier for a final run-through, got him mic’d up. We’re going to move the vehicles behind the thicket over there and wait. I’ve scouted it out. We’ll be concealed from the road. The purchase will take place about 12:30. As soon as Bucky has the eggs, we make our move.”

    “I’ll secure the eggs,” Healy says. “You guys reel in some assholes.”

    Tsula looks at Stubbs. His jaw is clenched, his eyes suddenly electric. “I’ll ride with you when it’s time, if that’s alright,” she says. “Keep it simple.”

    They move their vehicles behind the wall of climbing fern and ladies’ tresses. Tsula exits her SUV, takes a concealed vantage point behind the brush, and raises her binoculars. To her left, a breeze has picked up and is swaying the distant sawgrass. A golden eagle circles effortlessly on a thermal, its attention trained on something below. Directly beyond the thicket where she stands, a large expanse of grass spreads out for a quarter mile before giving way to a dense stand of pine trees. To her right, that same open field stretches perhaps two miles, bordered by the service road on which Healy and Stubbs had just come in. All is silent but the soft hum of the breeze.

    Bucky’s rust-colored compact bounces up the road around 12:15 and disappears as it passes on the opposite side the thicket. Minutes later, a mud-flecked pickup on oversized tires proceeds the same direction up the road, dragging a dust plume like a thundercloud behind it.

    Tsula turns, nods to Healey, and climbs quietly into Stubbs’s cruiser. She inserts her earpiece and settles into the seat. Stubbs looks over at her expectantly, his hand hovering over the ignition.

    Tsula shakes her head. “Not yet.”

    ***

    Excerpt from Twentymile by C. Matthew Smith. Copyright 2021 by C. Matthew Smith. Reproduced with permission from C. Matthew Smith. All rights reserved.

     

     

    Author Bio:

    C. Matthew Smith

    C. Matthew Smith is an attorney and writer whose short stories have appeared in and are forthcoming from numerous outlets, including Mystery Tribune, Mystery Weekly, Close to the Bone, and Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir Vol. 3 (Down & Out Books). He’s a member of Sisters in Crime and the Atlanta Writers Club.

    Q&A with C. Matthew Smith

    What was the inspiration for this book?

    It was the conjunction of three different narrative sparks. First, I’ve loved the setting of the book, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, for nearly three decades, and I’ve often thought how great a setting it would be for a novel. Second, I’d been toying for a while with the idea featuring a “good guy” character on the run from “bad guys” in difficult terrain, and the conflict between them arising out of being some sort of dispute over land use. (Were the bad guys poaching? Did they manage a hostile takeover of public lands like the Ammon Bundy situation?) Third, I found an article in 2018 in the magazine Outside profiling the National Park Service’s own FBI-type law enforcement organization, the Investigative Services Branch. Based on my research, no prior novel has featured an ISB special agent, and I realized this was an opportunity for a compelling and unique “good guy.”

    What has been the biggest challenge in your writing career?

    Being patient–with myself, with my writing, with the whole process of querying and publication. It takes a long time to write a good book, and when that’s done, you’re still only like halfway there.
    What do you absolutely need while writing?

    Quiet and time. Writing takes all of my attention, so I need a distraction free zone.

    Who is your favorite character from your book and why?

    Tsula Walker is my favorite. She’s a flinty woman doing a tough job and dealing with complications at home. She’s far from perfect, but her heart is in the right place. I almost feel bad for what I put her through in the story.

    Tell us why we should read your book.

    I wrote a book I’d want to read, and I doubt I’m terribly unique in my tastes. I enjoy crime novels and outdoor adventure stories, and Twentymile has a bit of both. In addition, my favorite novels are those whose themes and subtext run deep, give me something to chew on long after the resolution. Twentymile, I hope, raises important questions about the history of its setting, about what “home” means, and about the stories we tell ourselves about our history.

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

    I’ll go with the National Park Service’s Investigative Services Branch, which I had no idea even existed until 2018. It’s a group of about three dozen special agents that investigate the most serious crimes committed in our national parks. They’re like the FBI, except they’re far fewer in number and often work alone in remote locations. It takes a particular kind of person to want to do that.

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

    I genuinely appreciate you taking the time to read Twentymile. I know how little time we all have and how many other books choices you had. I hope you enjoy it!

    Tell us a little about yourself and your background?

    I’ve loved books since I was a child, and when I entered college in 1993, I swore I was going to be a writer. I ended up going to law school instead of graduate school, and I’ve spent twenty years in practice. I still have the day job, but I finally had an idea for a novel that wouldn’t leave me alone, so I started writing three years ago. The result is Twentymile. Outside of work and writing, I’ve been married to my wife, Cindy, for nearly two decades, and we have a fifteen-year-old son, Everett. My hobbies include all manner of outdoor activities, but especially fly-fishing and spending time in the woods.

    What’s next that we can look forward to?

    I’m already at work on another novel, which is quite different from Twentymile. Think “crime in the early gig economy.” I figure it’ll take me a couple of years to finish, but in the meantime, a short story I’m pretty proud of will appear in the anthology Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir Vol. 3 next fall.

    Catch Up With C. Matthew Smith:
    www.cmattsmithwrites.com
    Twitter – @cmattwrite
    Facebook

     

     

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