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

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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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Cliff Diver by Carmen Amato | #CliffDiver @authorcarmenamato #Mystery #PoliceProcedural #Interview #Showcase

Cliff Diver by Carmen Amato Banner

Cliff Diver

by Carmen Amato

November 1-30, 2021 Virtual Book Tour

Synopsis:

Cliff Diver by Carmen Amato

Acapulco’s first female police detective dives into an ocean of secrets, lies, and murder when she investigates her own lieutenant’s death.

In this explosive start to the award-winning Detective Emilia Cruz mystery series set in Acapulco, Emilia beat the odds to become the resort city’s first female police detective. But she’s living in a pressure cooker. Other detectives are scheming to push her out and the police department is riddled with corruption and drug cartel influence.

When the lieutenant is murdered, Emilia is assigned to lead the investigation. Soon the man’s sordid sex life, money laundering, and involvement in a kidnapping double-cross combine to create an ugly mess no one wants exposed. The high profile murder case could wreck Emilia’s career. When another detective–Emilia’s worst enemy in the squadroom–emerges as the prime suspect, keeping her job might be the least of her worries.

Readers who love international mystery series crime fighters including Armand Gamache, Harry Hole, Guido Brunetti, and the Department Q series will also love Detective Emilia Cruz’s complex plots, pulse-pounding suspense, and exotic location. Perfect for lovers of detective fiction by Ian Rankin, Jo Nesbo, and Peter May, as well as Don Winslow’s Mexican cartel and border thrillers.

“Consistently exciting”
Kirkus Reviews

“A wonderful crime mystery”
— MysterySequels.com

Poison Cup award, Outstanding Series 2019 and 2020
— CrimeMasters of America

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery, Police Procedural
Published by: Laurel & Croton
Publication Date: September 2021 (first published January 27, 2013)
Number of Pages: 302
ISBN: 1482308045 (ISBN13: 9781482308044)
Series: Emilia Cruz Mysteries #1
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

 

Read an excerpt:

The two newcomers surveyed the squadroom. One of them looked vaguely familiar, as if he’d been in the newspaper lately. He was in his late thirties, with longish dark hair slicked back from a high forehead and the sort of angular cheekbones that spoke of a strong indio heritage. He wore a black leather blazer over a black tee shirt and cuffed pants. There was a slight bulge under the left arm.

Emilia stopped typing. The man exuded power.

The other man was bigger and blockier, with a square chin and a nose that had been broken too many times. He was also well dressed in expensive casual clothing.

“I’m looking for a Detective Cruz,” the black-clad man announced.

Emilia felt all eyes shift to her. But before she could say anything Silvio crossed the room. “Detective Franco Silvio,” he said to the man in black.

“I know who you are,” the man replied. “I’m here to talk to Cruz.”

Emilia slowly stood up.

“In the office.” The man jerked his chin at Emilia and then he and his cohort pushed past Silvio and headed into el teniente’s office.

Silvio swung over to Emilia. “What the fuck’s this?” he hissed.

“I don’t know,” she flashed back. Rico came to stand next to her and Silvio gave him a what-the-fuck-do-you-think-you’re-doing look but Rico stood his ground.

The three of them went into the office. The man in black sat in el teniente’s chair and jiggled the locked desk drawers. “Shut the door,” he said without looking up.

Silvio complied and the man came out from behind the desk.

“Do you know who I am?” he asked Emilia.

Emilia gave her head a tight shake. With five people in the room it felt crowded and Emilia felt that cold spurt of wariness she always did when she was the only woman in a crowd of unfriendly men. “I’m sorry, señor.”

“I’m Victor Obregon Sosa, the head of the police union for the state of Guerrero,” he announced. “This is my deputy, Miguel Villahermosa.” The other man didn’t acknowledge the introduction but it was clear Obregon had not expected him to do so. “We’re here to make sure that the investigation into Fausto Inocente’s death is handled properly.”

Rico bristled, as if he was offended that the union would butt in. Emilia waited for him to say something stupid but Silvio shot him a murderous glare and Rico kept his mouth shut.

“We’re barely two hours into the investigation,” Silvio said, obviously making an effort to keep his temper. It had been less than 40 minutes since the call to the chief of police. “It came in as a routine dispatch call. Cruz and Portillo were given the assignment, made the discovery, locked down the scene, and notified the next of kin.”

“So let’s hear it,” Obregon said and flapped a hand.

Silvio nodded at Rico.

“We got a report of a drifting boat,” Rico began. “It was off the beach at the Palacio Réal hotel–.”

“No,” Obregon interrupted. He folded his arms. “Cruz.”

Emilia stole a look at Rico. His face was like thunder. She swallowed hard. “As my partner said, the call was to investigate a drifting boat off the beach at the Palacio Réal. The hotel chef and manager saw it from the beach early this morning, thought there were bloodstains on the side. We met Water Patrol at the hotel and they towed in the boat.” She took another breath and tried to sound as professional as possible. “Lt. Inocente was in the bottom of the boat, with his head encased in a plastic bag. It was pulled tight and knotted around his neck. When the crime scene technician opened the bag it appeared that the back of his head was caved in. We’ll know more when the coroner examines the body.”

Obregon nodded. “Any other injuries?” he asked her.

She shook her head. “No bullet holes in the hull of the boat, no evidence of a struggle. Blood on the deck under the body, likely from the head wound. Blood had also soaked through his shirt and there was some on the upper edge of the boat hull. Technicians took samples but they’ll probably all come back as his.”

“Anything else?”

“The boat is his. His wife gave us the registration papers.” Emilia paused, discomfited by Obregon’s stare. The tension in the room was palpable. She glanced at Rico and plowed on. “They live in the same area as the hotel. The wife wasn’t much help regarding his whereabouts last night. The last person who could pinpoint his whereabouts last night was their maid. Said he got a phone call late in the evening and went out. Took the boat keys but nothing else.”

“Wife didn’t see him?”

“She had gone out to a charity event,” Emilia said. “Of course, we’ll be checking to verify her story.”

Obregon tipped the chair back. A thin silver chain showed inside the loose neck of the tee. His skin was smooth and his jaw was tightly defined. He looked like someone who worked out a lot. And liked showing off the results.

“So, Cruz, tell me how you’re going to proceed,” he said, as if Rico and Silvio weren’t even in the crowded office.

“We’ll set up a hotline and get detectives out talking to everyone at his apartment building and the hotel to see if we can piece together his last hour. He was apparently close to his brother. We’ll talk to him as well. Look at his phone records to see if we can find out who the late night caller was. Coroner’s report. Forensics on his laptop. See if we get any prints off the boat.”

Obregon nodded and straightened the chair. Even that simple movement belied grace and power and focused intent. “This is how the investigation is going to go.” He pointed at Emilia. “You’re appointed acting lieutenant. Do whatever you want with these clowns”–he snapped his fingers at Silvio and Rico–“and the other cases you’ve got but I want you to personally head the Inocente investigation.”

Both Silvio and Rico froze as if they couldn’t believe what they’d just heard.

“Chief Salazar has already been notified. You’ll report directly to my office every few days until this thing is over.” Obregon indicated Villahermosa who’d remained by the door during the entire conversation, like a large, menacing statue. Obregon’s deputy was even bigger than Silvio, with legs the size of tree trunks. Another former boxer, no doubt. “Villahermosa will be on call to assist as well.”

The tension in the room was now tinged with menace. Emilia struggled to keep breathing normally.

“Cruz is a junior detective.” Silvio’s voice was tight. “She doesn’t have the experience or the seniority to be acting lieutenant.”

“Cruz has my full support,” Obregon said.

“With respect,” Silvio said. “We understand that. But she’s not the senior detective here.”

“Nobody’s asking for your fucking opinion,” Obregon blazed. His eyes drilled into Silvio. “Cruz is in charge as of now. Thanks for coming.”

Villahermosa pulled open the door and jerked his chin at Silvio and Rico. They both walked out.

Emilia stood rooted to the spot as her mind jumped around. Why had he chosen her? Did the union have the authority to put her in this position?

Obregon motioned to Villahermosa and the man left the office, too. And then it was just Obregon and Emilia. He walked round the desk again and rifled through a few of the papers on the desktop.

“The mayor has a press conference tomorrow and she’ll want to say something about the Inocente investigation,” Obregon said as he looked through the papers. “Be nice if you could have this all wrapped up by then.”

Emilia felt as if she’d been gutted. She forced a single word out around the tightness in her throat and the dryness in her mouth. “Sure.”

She must have sounded sassier than she felt because he looked up and laughed. “At any rate, we’ll meet beforehand to review what you’re going to tell her. Let’s say tomorrow 4:00 pm.”

He glanced at his watch, an expensive-looking silver job with three knobs on the side. “That gives you more than 24 hours to come up with something significant.”

Emilia licked her lips. “I won’t even have the phone records by then.”

“You’ll have something for the press conference,” Obregon said nastily. “Some nice sound bite about the diligence of the Acapulco police and how they’re sad but determined.”

“You want me to say this to the mayor?”

“Inocente was as dirty as they come.” Obregon turned his attention back to the overflowing inbox. “You’re going to turn up a lot of bad things. When you do, you tell me or Villahermosa. Not the other detectives and not the chief of police. You don’t arrest anybody, you don’t get yourself shot, you don’t do anything. I’ll take care of that part.”

Emilia’s heart hammered like a warning bell in her chest. “I think Silvio should be in charge of this investigation. He’s the senior detective.”

“If you find that the wife popped him,” Obregon went on. “And you know it beyond a shadow of a doubt, go ahead and arrest her. Otherwise come to me first. Nobody else.”

“Did you hear what I said?” Emilia said.

“I’m trying to clean up the police in this state,” Obregon said as he plucked a folder out of the box. As he flipped it open his hands knotted with veins, as if he had a lot of practice clenching and unclenching his fists. “I’m sick of the corruption and men like Inocente making deals with the cartels. People like him protect their empires, feed it with drugs and private armies. When you find out who killed Inocente we can probably roll up whatever cartel he was in bed with.”

“Why me?” Emilia asked. She was talking to his bent head as if he couldn’t be bothered to look her in the eye. The warning bell was deafening and Emilia knew she had to get herself out of this situation. Silvio should have this job. Or Loyola. They’d know how to deal with Obregon as well as how to conduct a major murder investigation. “You heard what Silvio said. Almost all the detectives out there are senior to me. There will be a lot of resistance. From all the other detectives. Enough to keep the investigation from going forward.”

“You’ll handle it.” Obregon read something else out of the inbox.

“You don’t understand.” Emilia slammed her hand down on the desktop to get his attention.

“Good,” he said, finally looking up from whatever he’d been reading. “You’ve got a fire in the belly. You get those detectives talking to everybody in that fucking hotel. Everybody who lived near him. Whoever even heard of Fausto Inocente. And if the boys don’t do what you say, shoot one of them. The rest will fall in line.”

He was serious.

“I don’t know who you think I am, señor,” Emilia gulped. “But I’ve only been a detective for two years. Mostly I’ve handled the crap cases. You need a seasoned investigator on this one. Get one of the other detectives to be acting lieutenant.”

“You’ve made quite a mark in two years, whether you know it or not,” Obregon said. “Recovering the Morelos de Gama child was a big deal.”

“The media made it out to be more than it was,” Emilia parried. “The case was handled in Ixtapa, not here.”

“We’ve been watching you.” He tossed the file onto the desk and regarded her. “Our girl detective. You’re a hungry one. You want to get someplace.”

“I’m sorry,” Emilia said. “Not this.”

“You’re the only woman here.” Obregon’s glance was searing.

“This is because I’m a woman?”

“Yes. Everybody knows women are less corrupt.” Obregon came around the side of the desk and Emilia resisted the urge to shrink away from him. “You do this or you won’t even be able to be hired on as the lowliest transito cop in any police force in this state.”

He leaned down and put his face close to hers. “You know he was corrupt. Up to his neck in shit. Well, I’m the person putting an end to it in the state of Guerrero, and you don’t get to choose sides.”

Emilia didn’t move. It was hard to breathe. He smelled like leather and cigarettes and an unexpected whiff of spicy cologne.

“I’ll be calling you on this office phone so you’d better move in today.” Obregon stepped back and ran an appraising eye down Emilia’s body. “And look good tomorrow. You want the mayor to take you seriously.”

“I’m junior around here,” Emilia said stubbornly. “You want a fast result, you get Silvio.”

“Maybe I wasn’t clear enough for you, Cruz.” Obregon’s voice was flat. “If the union puts you and your mother out on the street you won’t work as a whore in this town much less as a transito. So you show up and be nice to the mayor and tell her something clever for her little television press conference. How you’re working night and day to solve this terrible crime and keep Acapulco safe for the tourists.”

They stared at each other for a long moment.

You and your mother struck home for Emilia, as no doubt it was intended to.

“I want doors on the stalls in the detectives’ bathroom,” Emilia heard herself say. “And a copier that works. And paper for it. And ink.”

The corner of Obregon’s mouth twitched. “Anything else?”

“I’ll let you know,” she said tightly.

Obregon handed Emilia a card. There were two cell phone numbers printed on it. “You only use these numbers to get in touch with me,” he said.

Before she could respond he pulled open the door and shouted “Attention.”

Emilia followed Obregon as far as the doorway. The detectives were all there, as was Villahermosa. Obregon strode to the center of the squadroom, commanding everyone’s attention.

“Most of you know me. I am Victor Obregon Sosa, the head of the police union for the state of Guerrero.” He revolved slowly and most of the detectives stood a little straighter as his eye rested on them for a moment, creating the same malice-tinged tension he’d first brought into the squadroom. “As you know, Lt. Inocente was found dead this morning. His death will be investigated as a homicide by this unit until his murderer is found and dealt with.”

There was a low sound of shuffling feet. Somebody coughed.

Obregon jerked his chin in the direction of Lt. Inocente’s office where Emilia leaned awkwardly against the doorjamb. “Detective Emilia Cruz will be acting lieutenant for the duration and in charge of the investigation into Lt. Inocente’s death.”

Eyes swiveled to Emilia. Rico was openly shocked as he sat on the end of his desk. Silvio’s face was like granite. He was the only one who kept his gaze on Obregon.

Emilia didn’t acknowledge the stares. She kept her eyes on the ancient copier.

Several of the detectives shifted uncomfortably in the silence. “One of our own has died,” Obregon said. “And we will conduct a thorough investigation, find whoever did this, and punish them according to the full measure of Mexican law.”

He nodded at Emilia. “See you tomorrow, Cruz. Four o’clock.” His eyes revealed nothing. “Good luck.”

Obregon and Villahermosa walked out. As soon as the door shut behind them the squadroom erupted into a bedlam of shouting.

***

Excerpt from Cliff Diver by Carmen Amato. Copyright 2021 by Carmen Amato. Reproduced with permission from Carmen Amato. All rights reserved.

 

 

Author Bio:

Carmen Amato

Carmen Amato turns lessons from a 30-year career with the Central Intelligence Agency into crime fiction loaded with intrigue and deception.”

Her award-winning Detective Emilia Cruz mystery series pits the first female police detective in Acapulco against Mexico’s drug cartels, government corruption, and social inequality.

Described as “A thrilling series” by National Public Radio, the Detective Emilia Cruz series was awarded the Poison Cup for Outstanding Series from CrimeMasters of America in both 2019 and 2020 and has been optioned for television.

Originally from upstate New York, Carmen was educated there as well as in Virginia and Paris, France, while experiences in Mexico and Central America ignited her writing career.

Her family tree includes a mayor, a Mensa genius, and the first homicide in the state of Connecticut with an automatic weapon. The perpetrator, her great-grandfather, eluded a state-wide manhunt after killing two people–one of whom was his wife. He was never brought to justice. Carmen is a recipient of both the National Intelligence Award and the Career Intelligence Medal.

Grab a free copy of the Detective Emilia Cruz Starter Library at CarmenAmato.net.

You’ll see why Amazon Hall of Fame reviewer Grady Harp wrote: “For pure entertainment and a gripping story likely resulting in nail biting, read Carmen Amato’s addictive prose. She knows this territory like a jaguar!”

Q&A with Carmen Amato

What was the inspiration for this book?

CLIFF DIVER is the first novel in the Detective Emilia Cruz mystery series about the first female police detective in Acapulco.

After living in Mexico and Central America for many years, I wanted to create a female character who faced all the pressures that region of the world brings to bear on women. Making her a police detective meant that she lives in a pressure cooker created by drug cartels, official corruption, and Mexico’s culture of machismo.

Add a relationship with Kurt Rucker, manager of Acapulco’s most luxurious hotel, and it’s a receipt for not only secrets, lies, and murder, but a little romance, too.

What has been the biggest challenge in your writing career?

The biggest challenge has been to loosen up my writing. As an intelligence officer with the Central Intelligence Agency for 30 years, I learned to write intelligence reports focusing on truth, predictions and precision. Those reports use qualifiers like “almost certainly” and “reportedly.”

But in fiction you make things up! I’ve learned to leave those qualifiers behind.

Writing fast-moving fiction dialogue, especially the arguments between Emilia and senior detective Franco Silvio has been terrific fun. They’re constantly pushing each other’s buttons and reveling in the reaction.

What do you absolutely need while writing?

The first is sticky notes, which I use to create outlines and jot reminders.

The second is writing time without interruption. Much harder to find.

For years, my kids dropped in so frequently while I was trying to write that I always had a spot for them. When they were in high school we called it the therapy chair!

Now one of our 3 dogs keeps me company. Dutch is a great sleeper, so he is always welcome to spend the afternoon curled up by my desk.

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

I write 3-4 hours a day. I always have a work-in-progress, plus blog posts or a newsletter to finish.

If I get stuck, I hit the pool or walking trail. A fresh idea or approach always shakes loose.

Who is your favorite character from your book and why?

Emilia Cruz is the main character in the series (CLIFF DIVER, HAT DANCE, DIABLO NIGHTS, KING PESO, PACIFIC REAPER, 43 MISSING, RUSSIAN MOJITO, NARCO NOIR) and she’s the most iconic character I’ve ever created.

Host of NPR’s ALT.Latino radio show Felix Contreras wrote that “Carmen Amato has created a character that deserves to be recognized as an equal alongside well known favorites by created by Hammett, Larson and Padura. I can’t wait to spend more time with Detective Cruz.”

That sort of commentary makes me sure that Emilia and I are on the right track.

She’s a woman in a male-dominated field, in a country where women lag far behind men when it comes to almost every indicator like salary, education, and senior-level jobs. But Emilia is smart, daring, and a little bit dishonest, as she clings to a tough but critical job; even as she deals with family secrets and her own frustrating inability to commit to a close personal relationship.

Tell us why we should read your book.

If you love mystery series with a strong female main character, then CLIFF DIVER and the rest of the Detective Emilia Cruz series is for you!

Readers who enjoy international crime fiction by Jo Nesbo, Peter May, Ann Cleeves, and Louise Penny, as well as Mexico-themed books like AMERICAN DIRT love the Detective Emilia Cruz series.

To give you an idea of reader reaction to the series, CLIFF DIVER has over 400 reviews with an average rating of 4.6 out of 5 stars on Amazon. Kirkus Reviews called it “Consistently exciting.”

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

Some of the action in CLIFF DIVER takes place at the fictional Palacio Real hotel on the east side of Acapulco Bay. The hotel is a combination of my three favorite hotels in Mexico: Hacienda los Laureles in Oaxaca, the Sheraton Maria Isabel in Mexico City, and the Camino Real in Acapulco.

The hotel’s Pasodoble Bar is to the series what Olivier’s Bistro is to the Armand Gamache series by Louise Penny. A gathering place where mysteries are plotted and solved over great food and drinks.

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

You can get a free copy of the Detective Emilia Cruz Starter Library on my website at https://carmenamato.net/starter-library/

You’ll get The Beast, the story that describes how Emilia landed her job as the first female police detective in Acapulco. It was originally published in Huffpost’s Fiction 50 Showcase.

Next, you’ll get The Angler, a story based on a true murder in Mexico City in 2007. The victim was my parish priest.

Finally, you’ll get the exclusive Who’s Who Guide to the series.

Tell us a little about yourself and your background?

I spent 30 years as an intelligence officer with the Central Intelligence Agency, retiring as head of one of the national intelligence tradecraft schools. I write about my career from time to time on my blog at https://carmenamato.net/shop-talk.

Writing the Detective Emilia Cruz series is my second career and I’m loving every minute of it.

What’s next that we can look forward to?
In addition to more books in the Detective Emilia Cruz mystery series set in Acapulco, I’m working on a 3-book Galliano Club thriller series based on my grandfather’s tales of working as a deputy sheriff of Oneida County, New York, during Prohibition. I have his ledgers from his time as City Marshall of Rome, New York, as well.
It’s hard to get a beer in 1926 but there’s plenty of murder, blackmail, and revenge on tap at the Galliano Club!
The Galliano Club thrillers will be released in mid-2022.

Catch Up With Carmen:
CarmenAmato.net
Goodreads
BookBub – @CarmenAmato
Instagram – @authorcarmenamato
Facebook – @authorcarmenamato

 

 

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New York: Give Me Your Best or Your Worst Presented by Elizabeth Crowens| #NewYork #Anthology #CoffeeTableBook #Photography

New York: Give Me Your Best or Your Worst Banner

New York: Give Me Your Best or Your Worst

Presented by: Elizabeth Crowens

October 25 – November 19, 2021 Virtual Book Tour

Synopsis:

New York: Give Me Your Best or Your Worst

An Anthology and Celebration of the Big Apple

I’m an unabashed, unapologetic lover of New York City, my hometown, and New York: Give Me Your Best or Your Worst is right up my dark, deserted alley. New York’s at its best when you sneak up on it, glance at its sideways, or let it glance sideways at you. The pros and photos in this collection all show New York’s best, even when they purport to be showing its worst; in NYC, that’s how we roll. A fine addition to your New York bookshelf, a collection to savor.
~ SJ Rozan, best-selling author of The Art of Violence

Book Details:

Genre: Coffee Table book of Photography with Short Stories
Published by: Atomic Alchemist Productions, LLC
Publication Date: Oct 25, 2021
Number of Pages: 150
ISBN: 1950384136, 9781950384136
Purchase Links: Amazon | BookBaby | The Mysterious Bookshop | Goodeareads

 

Read the Intro:

It is daunting to be asked to say something about New York City that hasn’t already been said with more eloquence than I could muster. As with many of the writing gigs I’ve accepted without carefully considering the consequences, I suppose I would have been better off letting someone else tilt at this windmill. With all due respect to Don Quixote, here goes.

My initial inclination was to do something about how New York City, because of its geography, is fated to be a place of stark contradictions: of churning and yearning, of inclusion and exclusion, of acceptance and denial. Unlike other cities, New York cannot expand outwards, only upwards. While that sounds great and may make for glorious postcards of a majestic, everchanging skyline to send to the folks back home, it leaves out New York City’s most valuable commodity—its people.

I could have written about the unknown or unseen New York, the scores of little islands—some populated, some not—in Jamaica Bay, in the harbor, in the East River, in the Hudson. Places like Ruffle Bar. Ruffle Bar? Google it. Places once home to psychiatric and typhoid quarantine hospitals. Buildings abandoned or demolished. Islands whose only residents are the dead buried there and forgotten. Interesting, certainly, but again it would have left out the thing that makes New York City what it is.

As a crime fiction author who sets much of his work in New York—largely in Brooklyn and Manhattan—I have done countless panels and interviews about the city. My friend and award-winning colleague, Peter Spiegelman, says that setting is the soil in which you grow your characters. He is so right. Ask any author worth his, her, or their salt, and they will tell you that a book that can be set anywhere isn’t much of a book at all. A book must be of its place. So too must a person.

New York City isn’t one place. It is a thousand places, ten thousand places. And because it is all those places, its people are different neighborhood to neighborhood, sometimes street to street. Certainly, house to house, apartment to apartment. Do we shape the place or does the place shape us? Instead of doing an overview, a sort of general discussion of this question, I think it better to talk about one place—Coney Island—and how it shaped one person—me.

I grew up in the shadow of Coney Island Hospital, about a mile or so away from the amusement park. I was right on the border of Brighton Beach, Gravesend, Sheepshead Bay, and Coney Island. I could explain how each of these neighborhoods differ, how, for instance, Sheepshead Bay is, for all intents and purposes, a fishing village. But no, not here, not now. At one point in my life or other, I have claimed to be from all these places. Yet it is Coney Island that resonates.

When I was four, my dad—a bitter, blustery, and angry man—was diagnosed with an aggressive bone sarcoma which he battled to a standstill for thirty plus more years. After his initial round of surgery and treatment, he was instructed to not do any activities that might jar or adversely affect his leg. Yet on summer Sundays, he would tell my mom that he was taking me for a car ride. We took car rides, alright, straight into Coney Island.

He would put me on the kiddy rides, take me to Nathan’s Famous, buy me pistachio soft serve. Then, in one of the few acts of true defiance I ever saw from him, he would get on the carousel and grab for the brass rings. On one of these Sundays, he pointed to the Parachute Jump. The “Jump” rose into the air two hundred and sixty feet. All orange steel, it looked like a cross between the Eiffel Tower and the skeleton of a giant umbrella.

“When that ride opened up,” he said, “my best pal Charlie and me got on it. The parachute dropped a few feet and then … nothing. We were stuck up there for forty-five minutes just hanging in the air. It was great.”

Of course, by then, the Parachute Jump, once part of Steeplechase Park, had been closed for years, its parachutes and rigging long gone. That day, those days, have stayed with me ever since. And when, as a teenager, I would go back to Coney Island with my friends, get high and ride the Cyclone, I would always look up at the Parachute Jump. It came to symbolize my dad to me. Mighty, impressive, but abandoned, and powerless. I loved my dad because I could see past his bluster. He let me see past it. All because of those few Sundays in Coney Island.

As if by osmosis, Coney Island began imposing itself in my work. My series character, Moe Prager, worked in the Six-O precinct in Coney Island. Scene after scene in the nine Moe books take place there. Even twenty-plus books later, in my new series, I cannot escape the gravity of Coney Island. It calls to me in a way I cannot explain other than to say it is romance in the way the Romantic poets understood it.

In my Edgar Award–nominated short story “The Terminal,” I wrote this:

“…He liked how Coney Island displayed its decay as a badge of honor. It didn’t try to hide the scars where pieces of its once-glorious self had been cut off. Stillwell Avenue west was like a showroom of abandonment, the empty buildings wearing their disuse like bankrupted nobility in frayed and fancy suits. He had come to the edge of the sea with the other last dinosaurs: the looming and impotent Parachute Jump, the Wonder Wheel, Nathan’s, the Cyclone.”

I could never have written those words in that way had I grown up in Washington Heights or Rego Park. New York City poets and writers are shaped by their families, yes, but shaped as much by where as by who. That is the magic of New York. This book will shine a light on the rest of that magic. By the way, my children and I have slightly different tattoos of the Parachute Jump: My son and I on our forearms; my daughter on her triceps. In those tats my dad and the Coney Island that was will live on.

***

Introduction from New York: Give Me Your Best or Your Worst by Reed Farrel Coleman. Copyright 2021 by Elizabeth Crowens. Reproduced with permission from Elizabeth Crowens. All rights reserved.

 

 

About New York: Give Me Your Best or Your Worst:

Elizabeth Crowens with Author photo with Reed Farrel Coleman

Writer and photographer, Elizabeth Crowens is one of 500 New York City-based artists to receive funding through the City Artist Corps Grants program, presented by The New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA), with support from the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment (MOME) as well as Queens Theatre.

She was recognized for New York: Give Me Your Best or Your Worst, her photo-illustrated anthology, which brought her published book along with ten other authors to Mysterious Bookshop in Lower Manhattan at 58 Warren Street on Monday, October 25, 2021 at 6:30 p.m. for an in-store event and author signing along with a simultaneous Facebook Live presentation and recording for Jim Freund’s WBAI program Hour of the Wolf.

Author contributors include:

  • Reed Farrel Coleman, New York Times bestselling author of over 31 award-winning mystery and thriller novels, including the Jesse Stone series for the estate of Robert B. Parker. Called a hard-boiled poet by NPR’s Maureen Corrigan.
  • Charles Salzberg, former magazine journalist, crime novelist of the Shamus Award-nominated Henry Swann series, founding member of the New York Writers Workshop.
  • Tom Straw, Emmy and WGA-nominated writer-producer, credits include Nurse Jackie, Night Court, Grace Under Fire, Whoopie, and the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. Crime novelist under the pen name of Richard Castle.
  • Randee Dawn, Entertainment journalist for Today.com, Variety, and the Los Angeles Times. Co-editor of Across the Universe: Tales of Alternative Beatles and The Law & Order: SUV Companion, and speculative fiction writer of the upcoming Tune in Tomorrow.
  • Barbara Krasnoff, Reviews Editor at The Verge, over 45 published short stories, Nebula Award finalist, author of the “mosaic” novel The History of Soul 2065.
  • Steven Van Patten, TV stage manager by day, horror writer by night. Co-host of the Beef, Wine and Shenanigans podcast, winner of several African American Literary Awards.
  • Triss Stein writes mysteries that all take place in Brooklyn.
  • Marco Conelli, former NYPD detective, consultant to Mary Higgins Clark, and Silver Falchion award-winner for young adult mysteries and the police procedural Cry For Help, taking place in The Bronx.
  • R.J. Koreto, historical mystery writer focusing on New York during the Gilded Age.
  • Richie Narvaez, award-winning mystery author of Hipster Death Rattle, Holly Hernandez and the Death of Disco, and Noiryorican.
  • Elizabeth Crowens, over 25 years in the entertainment industry, member of the International Cinematographers Guild as a Still Photographer (Imdb.com credited: Sheri Lane), award-winning writer of novels in the Hollywood mystery and alternate history genres. Recipient of the Leo B. Burstein Scholarship by the NY Chapter of Mystery Writers of America. Editor and photographer for New York: Give Me Your Best or Your Worst based on her Facebook Caption Contests. elizabethcrowens.com, @Ecrowens on Twitter, and Elizabeth Crowens on Facebook!

 

 

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The Last Speaker of Skalwegian by David Garner | #Thriller #Showcase #Interview

The Last Speaker of Skalwegian

by David Gardner

November 1-30, 2021 Virtual Book Tour

Synopsis:

The Last Speaker of Skalwegian by David Gardner

Professor Lenny Thorson lives in a defunct revolving restaurant, obsesses over word derivations, and teaches linguistics at a fourth-rate college with a gerbil for a mascot. Lenny’s thirty-four years have not been easy—he grew up in a junkyard with his widowed father and lives under a cloud of guilt for having killed another boxer as a teenager.

Desperate to save his teaching career, Lenny seizes the opportunity to document the Skalwegian language with its last living speaker, Charlie Fox. Life appears to have finally taken a turn for the better…

Unfortunately for Lenny, it hasn’t. He soon finds himself at war with Charlie, his dean, a ruthless mobster, and his own conscience.

A genial protagonist will keep readers enticed throughout this amusing romp.
~ Kirkus Reviews

Book Details:

Genre: Humorous Thriller, Academic Setting
Published by: Encircle Publications, LLC
Publication Date: September 8th 2021
Number of Pages: 308
ISBN: 164599239X (ISBN13: 9781645992394)
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

 

Book Trailer:

 

Read an excerpt:

“Why document the Skalwegian language?” Charlie Fox asked. “The answer to your question should be obvious: I want to save the language of my Scandinavian ancestors and preserve their culture for future generations. I’m no longer young, and if I don’t act soon, Skalwegian will disappear forever. And give Professor Lenny Thorson a lot of the credit. He’s a linguist—I sure couldn’t do the job without him.”

The Last Speaker of Skalwegian, Newsweek

Chapter 1

Weegan

A word in the Skalwegian language loosely translated as butthead (impolite usage)

Lenny Thorson watched the red pickup roar into the parking lot, a statue propped up in back. It was the Ghurkin College mascot, an eight-foot-tall gerbil.

Charlie nudged Lenny. “You sure you want tenure at a college with a rat for a mascot?”

“It’s a gerbil. And yes, I do. Jobs are scarce.”

Gerry Gerbil stood on his hind legs and stared into the distance, a football clutched in his right front paw, his rat-like tail draped over his left. He looked hot and humiliated.

Lenny too felt hot and humiliated, and he guessed that Gerry hated parades as much as he did. Lenny tugged his sweaty shirt away from his chest. It was a sunny September afternoon, with heat waves shimmering off the blacktop in front of the building where he lived. He badly wanted the day to be over.

The pickup swung around with a screech of tires and backed up to Lenny’s beat-up Chevy. Two college students in matching black muscle shirts stepped out. Brothers, Lenny guessed. They were a wide-shouldered pair with mussy brown hair and long ears.

Lenny reached out his hand. “I’m Lenny Thorson and this is Charlie Fox.”

“Yeah, I know,” the taller one said, glanced at Lenny’s outstretched hand, then climbed onto the back of the pickup and untied the statue.

Lenny and Charlie dragged the wood-and-papier-mâché gerbil from the bed of the pickup, boosted it atop Lenny’s car and stood it upright.

One brother thumbed his phone while the other fed ropes through the open doors and around the mascot’s ankles.

The boy was careless as well as rude, Lenny told himself, and he was tempted to order him to untie the ropes and start over, but Lenny hated confrontation. Once he was around the corner and out of sight, he would stop and retie the knots. He didn’t want anything bad to happen to Gerry Gerbil.

On second thought, did he really give a damn?

Charlie threw his right leg over his motorcycle, gripped the handlebars and bounced once in the saddle. He wore jeans and a T-shirt that read ‘So Are You!’ He nodded toward Gerry. “He looks like a weegan, and so will you when you parade him through the center of town.”

Lenny hadn’t yet learned that word in Skalwegian. “Weegan?”

“‘Butthead.’”

Lenny nodded. He was a weegan.

Charlie looked particularly worn and shrunken today, Lenny thought, especially astraddle his beefy black Harley. His hair was gray, his skin leathery, his chin neatly dimpled from Iraqi shrapnel. He was fifty-one—seventeen years older than Lenny—and eight inches shorter.

At six feet four, Lenny was always embarrassed by his size. He wished he could go through life unnoticed. He wondered if Gerry Gerbil ever felt the same.

The shorter brother slapped the mascot’s foot. “Have fun at the parade, professor.”

Both brothers laughed.

Lenny didn’t expect to have fun. His gut told him that the day would go badly.

* * *

Bob One wasn’t happy about whacking a professor. He specialized in crooked bookies, wise guys who’d flipped, and casino managers caught skimming. But never a civilian. Bob One believed in upholding the ethics of his profession.

He parted the tall tan grass at the side of the road, pinched a mosquito off the tip of his nose and peered westward. No cars yet, but the guy who’d hired him had said his target always took this route on his way into town and would have to slow to a crawl here at the switchback. Bob One figured he’d have plenty of time to pop up, rush forward, blast the guy at close range, then get the hell back to Chicago where he belonged.

* * *

Lenny eyed the brothers, now slouched against his car’s front fender, both lost in their phones. He couldn’t remember ever seeing them on the Ghurkin College campus, the fourth-rate institution an hour west of Boston where he taught French and linguistics. “I didn’t catch your names.”

The taller one glanced up. “You don’t know who we are?”

Lenny shook his head.

The boys exchanged puzzled looks. The taller one said, “I’m Tom Sprocket, and that’s my brother Titus.”

The names sounded familiar, but Lenny didn’t know where he’d heard them. He could memorize entire pages of the dictionary in one sitting, but he was terrible with names.

Tom pocketed his phone and looked Lenny up and down. “Did you play football in college?”

“No,” Lenny said.

Tom snickered. “Afraid of getting hurt?”

“I was afraid of hurting someone else.”

Tom snorted. “Man, that’s all the fun.”

No, it’s wasn’t, Lenny told himself. Hurting someone wasn’t fun at all. Twenty-one years ago, while fighting underage with a fake name, he’d killed an opponent in the boxing ring. Guilt still clung to Lenny, ate into his soul.

Tom gestured with a thick thumb over his shoulder toward the office building behind the parking lot. “You live on top of that thing?”

Lenny nodded.

“You’re weird, man.”

Lenny stiffened. He did feel weird for living in an abandoned rotating restaurant atop a ten-story insurance building, but didn’t particularly enjoy being told so.

But in spite of Tom’s rudeness, Lenny wouldn’t let himself get angry with the boy or even with Dean Sheepslappe who, for some reason, insisted he participate in the Gerry Gerbil Alumni Day Parade, even threatening to block his tenure if he refused. Lenny had grown up angry, had fought with rage in the ring, but after that last fight, he’d promised himself he would never again lose his temper. Some people found this strange, Lenny knew, some sweet. Others used his good nature as a way to take advantage of him. Lenny knew that too.

Titus Sprocket smirked and said, “I heard the place starts up running sometimes all on its own.”

The Moon View Revolving Restaurant had failed financially in just six months, when its motor took to speeding up at random moments, knocking staff off their feet and sending diners sliding sideways off their booths and onto the floor. Lenny moved in shortly afterwards. He was paying minimal rent in the abandoned restaurant in return for serving as its live-in caretaker. He found it oddly comforting to be the world’s only linguist who inhabited a rotating restaurant. “Sometimes it makes a couple of turns in the middle of the night,” Lenny said, “then shuts down. It’s no problem.”

It was in fact a problem. When the deranged motors and gears got it into their head to noctambulate, they did so with a terrific bellow and jolt that made Lenny sit up wide awake, and which frightened Elspeth so badly that she’d stopped staying overnight.

But Lenny wasn’t bothered by the smirking Sprockets. In fact, he felt sorry for the boys, regarding them as underprivileged lads from some sunbaked state where children ran barefoot across red clay all summer and ate corn pone for breakfast.

Lenny wondered what corn pone tasted like and—more importantly—what was the origin of the word pone? A Native American term? Spanish? Skalwegian even?

He turned to Charlie, astride his motorcycle and fiddling with one of its dials. “Is pone a word in Skalwegian?”

“It sure is,” Charlie said without looking up. “It means ‘He who makes a big weegan of himself by driving an eight-foot rat through the center of town.’”

“You’re no help.”

“I’ve heard that before.”

Lenny drifted off to ruminate on pone. The campus newspaper had labeled him the most distracted member of the faculty—misplacing his briefcase, forgetting to show up for class, walking into trees. But he’d also been one of the most popular until he’d flunked a pair of star football players. The school newspaper excoriated him, and fans called him a traitor. A few students considered him a hero, however. Lenny wanted to be neither.

Charlie tightened his helmet and slipped the key into the ignition. “I got to get back to the farm because Sally must have lunch ready by now. Besides, I don’t want to stick around and watch my good buddy make a big weegan of himself.”

“Can you come over tomorrow? We got only halfway through the G verbs this morning.”

“Tomorrow I got to work on the barn roof. Maybe the day after. Or the day after that.”

Charlie started the engine, leaned into the handlebars and roared away in a blast of blue smoke.

Lenny watched him go. There were times when Lenny felt like quitting the project. Charlie used him as resource—“What’s a gerund? Where do hyphens go? What in hell is a predicate complement?”—but had given him no real role in documenting the language itself. Although this was frustrating and puzzling, it was never quite enough to force Lenny to drop out. He took great pride in helping save a language, not to mention that it was a hot topic in linguistic circles and would go a long way toward saving his teaching job.

Tom and Titus simultaneously tucked their muscle shirts into their waistbands. Titus said, “We was football players.”

“Oh?” Lenny said. He paid no attention to team sports but closely attended to subject/verb conflicts.

“Yeah, that’s right,” Titus said. “But we got cheated and ain’t never going to get our whack at the NFL.”

Distracted, Lenny tugged on Gerry’s ropes. Yes, they’d definitely need retying. It pleased him to hear someone say ain’t so naturally and not merely to make an ironic point. He said over his shoulder, “NFL—that would be the National Federation of… uh…?”

“Holy shit on a shingle!” Titus said. “I’m talking about the National Football League—big money, fame and all the poontang a guy could ever want.”

Lenny had read somewhere that poontang descended from New Orleans Creole, from putain, the French word for prostitute, but he wasn’t absolutely sure. He would look into this later, along with pone. He turned to the brothers. “Something went wrong?”

The Sprockets looked at each other in wonder. “Yeah, you could say that,” Titus said. “We got screwed.”

“Yeah, screwed,” Tom repeated.

Lenny said, “That’s a shame.”

“Yeah, well, we’re gonna get payback,” Titus said and patted Gerry’s foot.

Lenny climbed into his car and eased out of the parking lot. Ropes squeaked against the door frames, the statue’s base creaked on the Chevy’s roof, and Lenny was sure he heard Gerry groan in anticipation of the dreadful day ahead.

In his rearview mirror, Lenny watched the diminishing Sprocket brothers waving and laughing. What an odd pair, he thought.

Lenny decided to take his usual route through the arboretum on his way downtown. The beauty and isolation of the place soothed him. He hoped it would today.

* * *

Bob One spotted a car approaching and got to his feet. It was an old black Chevy with a maroon right front fender. Don’t all professors drive Priuses?

But it had to be the guy on account of the statue on top like he’d been told to look for. What was that thing? A squirrel? A rat? Look at how the damn thing wobbles! About ready to tip over.

Bob One slipped closer to the road, crouched behind a bush, pulled his pistol from his belt and slapped a mosquito off his forehead. He examined the bloody splotch on his palm. Shit, stick around much longer, and the damn insects would suck him dead.

* * *

Lenny was scared.

In two days, he had to go on live television with Charlie and discuss their Skalwegian project—not easy for someone wanting to go through life invisible. Would he make a fool of himself? Say dumb things he’d later regret?

Probably.

Lenny’s thoughts turned back to the Sprocket brothers. Strange last name. Scholars could trace sprocket back as far as the mid-sixteenth century as a carpenter’s term but hadn’t yet located an ancestor.

Tom and Titus Sprocket!

Of course!

He’d flunked them in first-year French because they never showed up for class, which cost them their eligibility to play football. The dean had been furious with him but not with the errant guard and tackle. Jocks normally took Spanish with Juan Jorgenson—the other candidate for the language department’s one tenured slot. Juan automatically gave A’s to athletes just for registering.

Lenny reached over and cranked up the radio for the boisterous ending of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, then glanced up to see he was driving much too fast into Jackknife Corner.

Panicked, he jammed on the brakes and twisted the steering wheel hard left.

He felt the car tilt to the right and heard a loud Thunk! just as Beethoven’s Fifth swelled to a crescendo. Puzzled, Lenny drove on, with the Chevy pulling to the right. Probably something to do with tire pressure, Lenny guessed. He’d have that checked later.

* * *

Bob One lay on the side of road. Blood flowed out his left ear and down his cheek. His head buzzed, and his eyes slipped in and out of focus. He pulled himself to his feet, wobbled, then toppled into the ditch. He crawled into the marsh, still gripping his unfired handgun. Puddles soaked his knees and elbows. A possum trotted past. An airplane roared low overhead. Or was that inside his skull?

Bob One’s left temple hurt like a son of a bitch. That damn rat had toppled over and whacked him on the side of the head. Or was it a guinea pig?

Bob One curled up beside a bog. Half-conscious, he watched a fat snapping turtle waddle toward him, stop two feet from his nose, look him up and down, then open its jaw. Shit, Bob One said to himself, the thing’s got a mouth the size of a catcher’s mitt. Bob One didn’t like animals or much of anything else in nature. He tried to crawl away, but things started going dark—warm and dark—not such a bad feeling, actually.

Bob One awoke to see the turtle biting his right forefinger off at the second joint. Bob One felt no pain and noticed that one of his shoes was missing. As Bob One slipped comfortably into his final darkness, he wondered if a missing trigger finger would hinder him professionally.

* * *

Lenny reached the parade route late and swung in behind the school bandsmen in their sky-blue uniforms with “Skammer’s Fine Meats” embroidered in bright yellow across the back.

Spectators to Lenny’s right shouted and pointed. Some ducked, some knelt, some even dropped to their stomachs. Lenny shook his head in disbelief. Had students and townspeople taken to prostrating themselves before the college mascot? Did he really want tenure at a batty place like this?

At the end of the block, a policeman holding a Dunkin’ Donuts cup stepped into the street, raised his palm, and forced Lenny to brake.

As Lenny stepped from his car, he realized that he’d forgotten to retie the ropes.

Gerry Gerbil lay sideways across the car’s roof, projecting five feet to the right, the ankles tied precariously in place. Someone took a photo. Someone fingered the slack ropes and spoke of slip knots. Lenny touched a patch of something red and damp on the mascot’s forehead. Lenny rubbed thumb against forefinger. The stuff looked like blood.

Since when did gerbil statues bleed?

***

Excerpt from The Last Speaker of Skalwegian by David Gardner. Copyright 2021 by David Gardner. Reproduced with permission from David Gardner. All rights reserved.

 

 

Author Bio:

David Gardner

David Gardner grew up on a Wisconsin dairy farm, served in Army Special Forces and earned a Ph.D. in French from the University of Wisconsin. He has taught college and worked as a reporter and in the computer industry. He coauthored three programming books for Prentice Hall, wrote dozens of travel articles as well as too many mind-numbing computer manuals before happily turning to fiction: “The Journalist: A Paranormal Thriller” and “The Last Speaker of Skalwegian” (both with Encircle Publications, LLC). He lives in Massachusetts with his wife, Nancy, also a writer. He hikes, bikes, messes with astrophotography and plays the keyboard with no discernible talent whatsoever.

Q&A with David Garner

What inspired you to write this book?

I was reading an article about dying languages and was astonished to learn that, of the 6,000-to-7,000 languages in the world, they are dying out at the rate of about once every two weeks. That means that at least half the world’s languages will have disappeared by the end of this century, taking with them their songs, traditional stories and communal memory.

What was the biggest challenge in writing this book?

I somehow got it into my head that I needed to make up the Skalwegian language, at least a few hundred words and a simple syntax. This turned into an enormous task.

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

I read about dying languages, but mostly I winged it.

How did you come up with the title?

I thought that “The Last Speaker of Skalwegian” would make people curious. Looking back, I wish I’d have come up with a word that’s easier to pronounce than ‘Skalwegian.’ In my head, it rhymes with ‘Norwegian,’ but I don’t care how others pronounce the word, just as long as they buy the book. Better, a copy and a spare.

Your routine in writing? Any idiosyncrasies?

I either write or outline every day. By noon, I’m exhausted. I worked as a technical writer for a number of years and got used to just sitting down and writing.

Tell us why we should read your book?

I’ll feel really awful if you don’t. Seriously—or not so seriously—I hope you’ll get some laughs and enjoy the plot, setting and quirky characters.

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

I’ve started writing a sequel to “The Last Speaker of Skalwegian” and am taking copious notes for the third of the trilogy.

Your novel will be a movie. You would you cast?
I’d cast Emma Stone as the love interest and Adam Driver as the protagonist, but only if he’d promise to smile. (A movie/tv agency has in fact approached my publisher for the manuscript. Fingers crossed. Very long shot.)

Favorite leisure activities/hobbies?

I bike and hike, fool around with astrophotography and play the keyboard with no discernable talent whatsoever.

Favorite foods?

Blueberry shortcake (much better than strawberry, and blueberries are a super food). Also, anything with cheese in it (I grew up on a Wisconsin dairy farm). As a joke, my wife Nancy once bought me a Green Bay Packers cheese head, which, it turned out, didn’t taste a bit like cheese.

Catch Up With David:
DavidGardnerAuthor.com
Goodreads
Instagram – @davidagardner07
Facebook

 

 

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Deadly Target by Elizabeth Goddard | #DeadlyTarget @ElizabethGoddardAuthor #Mystery #Suspense #Interview #RockyMountainCourage#2

Deadly Target

by Elizabeth Goddard

November 1-30, 2021 Virtual Book Tour

Synopsis:

Deadly Target by Elizabeth Goddard

Criminal psychologist Erin Larson’s dreams of a successful career come to a screeching halt when she nearly loses her own life in a boating accident on Puget Sound and then learns that her mother tried to commit suicide. She leaves her job as a criminal psychologist to care for her mother in Montana. At least she is able to produce her podcast, which focuses on solving missing persons cold cases.

Nathan Campbell’s father was investigating such a case when he was shot, and now Nathan needs to enlist Erin’s help to solve the case. She’s good at what she does. The only problem? She’s his ex.

As the two dig deeper, it becomes clear that they, too, are being targeted–and that the answers to their questions are buried deep within the past Erin struggles to explain and longs to forget.

The race is on for the truth in this gripping and complex tale of suspense, intrigue, and murder from USA Today bestselling author Elizabeth Goddard.

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery, Suspense
Published by: Revell
Publication Date: November 2nd 2021
Number of Pages: 336
ISBN: 0800737997 (ISBN13: 9780800737993)
Series: Rocky Mountain Courage #2 || This is a Stand-Alone Novel
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads | ChristianBook.com | IndieBound.Org

Read an excerpt:

1

Puget Sound

For a few hours every Saturday morning, Erin Larson could forget that evil existed.

And usually, only on the water.

She dipped the double-bladed paddle into the sea, then again on the other side—left, right, left, right, left, right—alternating strokes in a fluid motion to propel her kayak across the blue depths. Her friend Carissa Edwards paddled close behind.

Left, right. Left, right. Left, right.

On the water she was close to nature and far from the chaos and noise of the city even though she and Carissa paddled along the shoreline and could see the cityscape in the distance. The quiet calmed her mind and heart. The rhythmic paddling mesmerized her. The exertion exhilarated her. Cleansed her of the stress and anxiety acquired after a week of forced labor.

Okay, that wasn’t fair. Her suffering certainly wasn’t physical in nature.

Water. Mountains. Sky. She took in the sights and once again . . . forgot.

Beautiful snowcapped Mount Baker—the Great White Watcher—loomed large in the distance to the east.

Left, right. Left, right. Left, right.

The slosh of paddles along with the small waves lapping against her boat soothed her and were the only sounds except for seagulls laughing above her—ha, ha, ha.

To the west, the impressive Olympic Mountains begged for attention. Erin couldn’t wait for Mom to join her out here, when she finally convinced her to move.

A salty ocean breeze wafted over her as peace and beauty surrounded her.

She couldn’t ask for more.

She shouldn’t ask for more.

But God . . . I need answers.

Carissa caught up with Erin and paddled next to her kayak. “Thanks for coming with me today. I needed this.”

“The exercise or the scenery?” Erin had just broken a sweat despite the early morning cool.

“How about a little of both. And the company makes all the difference, I’m not going to lie.”

“Yeah,” Erin answered with reluctance. She and Carissa had an understanding between them. On their kayaking excursions, peace and quiet were supposed to reign.

“By the way, I listened to your podcast last night,” Carissa said.

Maybe she’d forgotten their unspoken pact.

“Oh?”

Erin wanted to know Carissa’s thoughts, but at the same time, she didn’t want to hear the criticism. Nor would she trust any praise.

“Why keep it anonymous?”

“It could get complicated.”

Carissa’s laugh echoed across the water. “In my case, I’d probably want the dean of the college and my students to know. But then again, I wouldn’t be talking about crime or missing people. I’d be talking about history. So, what took you so long to tell me?”

Erin lifted a shoulder, opting for silence. Maybe it would be contagious.

Now she wished she hadn’t told Carissa, but letting her friend in on her secret was a step toward opening up. She kept too much hidden inside. Erin had never been good at letting others in. Although as a psychologist, she was all about learning what made people tick on the inside.

Erin breathed in the fresh air, listened to the mesmerizing ripple of the water, felt the warm sun against her cheeks, and chased away thoughts of crime and work.

“Cold cases. Do they ever get solved?” Carissa asked.

Left, right. Left, right. Left, right.

“Some do.” Few.

“Why do you do it?”

“I need a hobby, I guess.” Erin couldn’t begin to explain the complex events that drove her to talk about missing person cold cases in hopes that answers could still be found.

“I’ve been thinking.” Carissa’s kayak inched ahead.

Erin remained silent.

“We do this every Saturday,” Carissa continued.

Left, right. Left, right. Left, right.

“It’s been a lifesaver,” Erin said. “Thanks for inviting me along.”

After a week working for the State of Washington, the endless hours spent researching and writing reports for forensic evaluations, she needed the break. The job wasn’t what she had dreamed about when she’d become a criminal psychologist. Still, she hoped it was a means to an end. In the meantime, she’d started the cold case crime podcast.

“How about we switch it up? Go hiking. Mountain trails and lush forests all around us.”

“This is close. We don’t have to drive far. Plus, I really love the water.” And have an aversion to dense forests. Carissa didn’t need to know that, as a psychologist, Erin was a walking oxymoron.

“I thought you might enjoy a change.”

“No, I’m good with this.” Erin’s shoulders and biceps started burning. She was relieved they would soon turn around and head back.

“I hope you’ll think about it. I’d love for you to join me next weekend. I’m hiking in Mount Baker National Forest, and I’m inviting you to join the group.”

“What? You’re ditching me to go hiking?”

“Um . . . Is it just me, or is that boat heading directly for us?” Panic edged Carissa’s voice.

Erin glanced over her shoulder in the direction of Carissa’s wide-eyed stare. A thirty-foot cruiser sped toward them. She and Carissa had strayed a bit from the shoreline. Regardless, that boat shouldn’t be approaching them in this area or at that speed.

“Hurry.” Erin quickened her pace. “We can get out of its path.”

“We won’t make it.” Carissa stopped and raised her paddle, waving to get the boater’s attention. “Hey, watch where you’re going! Kayakers on the water!”

Arms straining, Erin paddled faster and propelled the kayak forward. Her friend hadn’t kept up. “Carissa, let’s go! Just angle out of the path.”

Carissa renewed her efforts and joined Erin. Together they paddled toward the shoreline that had seemed so much closer moments before.

Carissa screamed. Heart pounding, Erin glanced over her shoulder. The boat had changed course and was once again headed straight for them.

Fear stole her breath. “Jump! Get out of the boat and dive!”

It was all she could think to do.

“Now, now, now!” She sucked in a breath and leaned forward to flip the kayak until she was upside down in the water for a wet exit. Holding her breath, she found the grab loop and peeled off the skirt. Then she gripped the sides and pushed the kayak away from her body as she slid out. Instead of heading for the surface, she kicked and dove deeper. She was grateful she was wearing a manually inflatable life vest over her wetsuit or it would drag her back to the surface, which was normally a good thing.

But today that could get her killed.

She pushed deeper, deeper, deeper . . . away from the surface.

We’re going to make it.

Erin twisted around to glance upward. The water was murky and visibility was only about ten feet, but she could still see her friend struggling to get free of her kayak. Terror stabbed through her. Erin swam back to Carissa to help her, even as the boat raced toward the kayaks and was almost on them.

Her eyes wide, Carissa pushed forward, freeing herself.

The hull of the speeding boat sped right over the top of the kayaks, breaking Carissa’s in half—the stern of her broken kayak propelled toward Carissa. Her head jerked forward.

All the bubbles of air burst from her lungs, then her form floated—unmoving. Unconscious? Or was she lifeless?

Her pulse thundering in her ears, Erin swam toward Carissa, grabbed her, and inflated their life vests. They rose quickly to the surface. Erin broke the water and gasped for breath as she held Carissa. The water remained disturbed from the speeding boat’s wake and crashed over them.

Erin confirmed what she already feared. Carissa wasn’t breathing. Adrenaline surged through her. She had to keep moving. Holding on to Carissa, Erin started swimming them back to shore.

She spotted the errant boat making a big circle.

Coming back? Had someone lost control? She had to make it to shore to give Carissa CPR. And maybe even to save them both.

Stay calm. Panic wouldn’t help either of them. The water was cold, but not so cold that she needed to worry about hypothermia. At least not yet. The whir of a boat from her left drew her attention, kicking up her already rapid heartbeat. As she took in the slowly approaching trawler—a far different boat from the speeding cruiser—relief eased the tension in her shoulders. Three men and a couple of women waved.

A silver-haired man in a Seahawks cap shouted, “Do you need help?”

“Yes! Hurry!”

The boat edged slowly toward her, and she swam to meet it. The men reached down and pulled Carissa up into the boat.

Erin used the ladder on the side. “She needs CPR. She’s not breathing!”

When she hopped onto the deck, she saw that one of the men had started administering CPR.

A redheaded woman wrapped a blanket around Erin. “Oh, honey, are you okay?”

Hot tears burned down her cold, wet cheeks. “No . . . no, I’m not okay.” She dropped to her knees next to her friend.

Carissa coughed up water and rolled onto her side. When she’d finished expelling seawater, she sat up and looked around.

Erin hugged her and spoke against her short, wet hair. “I thought you were done for.”

Carissa held on to Erin tightly, then released her to cough more. Erin took in the group standing around them, their watchful eyes filled with concern.

“I’m Vince. And this is my wife, Jessie.” The man with the Seahawks cap gestured to the redhead, then made introductions. John, his son, and Terry, John’s friend, and Mavis, John’s girlfriend. A family affair.

“I’m Erin, and this is Carissa.”

Jessie placed a blanket around Carissa. “Why don’t you have a seat? I’ll get you something warm to drink.”

“Thank you.” Erin sat with Carissa on the cushioned bench and took in her friend. She looked shell-shocked, and why shouldn’t she? Was she going to be okay?

Carissa closed her eyes. Was she in pain or thinking back to what happened? Jessie had disappeared below deck to grab warm drinks. Mavis, Terry, and John were trying to recover the kayaks and bring them onto the trawler.

Vince remained standing, his arms crossed as if he were a sentinel sent to protect them. And at this moment, Erin needed that reassurance.

“If you hadn’t come when you did,” she said, “I don’t know what would have happened. I can’t thank you enough.” She searched the waters around them. “Is that boat . . . Is it gone?”

“What boat?” Mavis approached and glanced at Vince.

“You didn’t see that?” Erin got to her feet and pulled Carissa with her. She searched the waters. “A boat came right for us. Ran over our kayaks and almost killed us. They must have lost control. Maybe they were drunk or something.”

“I saw a boat heading west,” Vince said, “but I didn’t connect that to seeing you in the water swimming to shore. Kayaks and canoes are hard to spot sometimes. I’m sorry that happened. But I’ll contact the Seattle Police Harbor Patrol and let them know. In the meantime, is there somewhere we can take you?”

“Back to the marina at Port of Edmonds. We could talk to the police there and tell them what happened,” Erin said.

Vince eyed Carissa. “I’ll let SPHP know we’re on the way and to meet us there. Should we get you to the hospital?”

Erin shared a look with her friend. “She sustained a hit to the head. Maybe an ambulance could be waiting for us when we get to the harbor.”

Carissa nodded but said nothing. Erin ached inside. She’d almost lost Carissa. She was grateful that her friend had survived. They had both survived.

Erin replayed the events in her mind. Had the boat deliberately veered toward them or had she imagined it? These boaters who’d helped them had simply been out enjoying the day when they spotted Erin and Carissa in the water, their kayaks floating, Carissa’s in two pieces.

I can’t believe this happened.

The water had been her place of peace and tranquility.

But no more.

Erin pulled her ringing cell from the plastic bag tucked in a pocket on her suit. She didn’t recognize the number, but it was a Montana prefix. Her heart jackhammered as she answered, “Erin.”

“Dr. Larson . . . Erin.” The familiar male voice hesitated. “This is Detective Nathan Campbell.”

Dread crawled up her spine. Nathan would never call her without a good reason. “Nathan . . . what’s going on?”

“It’s . . . your mom. She’s okay. But she tried to commit suicide. I’m so sorry.”

A few heartbeats passed before she could answer. “Wha . . . What?”

Nathan apologized again and repeated the words.

The air rushed from Erin. She couldn’t breathe and stood. She headed for the rail and hung her head over the water, gasping for breath.

“Erin! Erin, are you there?” Nathan’s concerned voice shouted over the cell loud enough she could hear him despite the boat’s rumbling engine and rushing water.

Carissa joined her at the rail. “Erin, what’s happened?”

The darkness closed in on her all over again, but this was different from before. Why hadn’t she seen the warning signs? She had to fix this.

Squeezing her eyes shut, she lifted the cell to her ear again. “I need details.”

Nathan relayed that her mother was in the hospital and in stable condition.

Ending the call, she stared at the cell. Mom was in trouble. The fact that the awful news had come from the man she’d left behind compounded the pain in her chest. This, after she and Carissa had barely survived a boating accident.

Evil wouldn’t let her forget that it existed, even for a few hours.

***

Excerpt from Deadly Target by Elizabeth Goddard. Copyright 2021 by Elizabeth Goddard. Reproduced with permission from Baker Publishing Group. All rights reserved.

 

 

Author Bio:

Elizabeth Goddard

Elizabeth Goddard is the USA Today bestselling and award-winning author of more than fifty novels, including Present Danger and the Uncommon Justice series. Her books have sold over one million copies. She is a Carol Award winner and a Daphne du Maurier Award finalist. When she’s not writing, she loves spending time with her family, traveling to find inspiration for her next book, and serving with her husband in ministry.

Q&A with Elizabeth Goddard

What was the inspiration for this book?Because my main character, Dr. Erin Larson already shows up in book one, I knew she was a criminal psychologist, My main character, Dr. Erin Larson is a criminal psychologist and once I discovered that she was also a crime podcaster, the plot started coming together in big ways, and this element fueled the story.

What has been the biggest challenge in your writing career?

Juggling life and writing is probably the biggest challenge for most writers. I thought life would get easier as I got older, but it’s actually gotten harder. We live in a world filled with distractions and it’s a constant, daily battle to fight the interruptions and the demands vying for our attention and time. I must make writing my novel my priority and my job as if I were working for someone else and expected to put in the hours. That said, I’m grateful that I work from home and have flexibility in my schedule to meet all the demands.

What do you absolutely need while writing?

I’ve learned to write under all circumstances. There was a time when I had to have peanut M&M’s to power through, but sitting and eating chocolate candies for hours did a number on my weight and health. No surprise there. So I’ve retrained myself to write without the extra calories. I absolutely need my best creative mind along with a big dose of energy.

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

I wish! If only! I try to write in the morning while it’s quiet and before the day gets crazy, but often other demands take me away from my well-planned strict routine.

Who is your favorite character from your book and why?

I love my heroine, Dr. Erin Larson because I find her fascinating and I enjoyed the research I did to create her interesting background and the intrigue of her past.

Tell us why we should read your book.

You should only read my book if you’re looking for unexpected twists and turns.

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

I had to learn about copper mines for this story and read all about how damaging to the environment they can be, how many millions/billions of dollars they generate in copper, and also the supposedly environmentally-friendly copper mines are in process. I over-research every element of a story to make sure I’m not missing anything that could contribute to the story as a whole. Another fact is that I had never listened to a crime podcast until a friend suggested this for my story, then I listened to many in order to know how to write that layer into the story. One podcast I listened to though brought me to tears and it took me days to get over the story of a missing girl.

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

Thank you for reading my books, and for your encouraging communications!

Tell us a little about yourself and your background?

I’ve traveled to almost all the states in the U.S. and lived in six states. I fell in love with the Pacific Northwest and started setting most of my stories there or in the Rockies (which I also love). Now I live in Washington state near where I’ve written quite a few books. I have a computer science degree and for years sold software, but when I had my first child, I decided to stay home with my kids (I have four, now grown) and it was then I pursued a writing career. I’ve been writing for twenty years now.

What’s next that we can look forward to?

Critical Alliance is book 3 in my Rocky Mountain Courage Series, after Deadly Target, and you don’t want to miss Alex Knight’s story! Then we’re off to Alaska in a new series for Revell.

 

Tour Participants:

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

 

 

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Dream Stalker by Nancy Gardner | #DreamStalker @NancyGardnerAuthor #ParanormalMystery #Interview

Dream Stalker by Nancy Gardner Banner

Dream Stalker

by Nancy Gardner

November 1-30, 2021 Virtual Book Tour

Synopsis:

Dream Stalker by Nancy Gardner

Lily Scott had vowed never to dream-walk-again….

Lily is a contemporary Salem witch who descends from a long line of witches born with the power to walk into other people’s dreams to fight crime. But her disastrous first dream-walk almost killed her, and she vowed never to repeat the painful experience.

Now her daughter is falsely accused of murder, and the only way to clear her would be for Lily to enter the dreaming mind of the real killer, risking confrontation with the deadly Dream Stalker.

Can Lily summon the courage?

Book Details:

Genre: Paranormal Mystery
Published by: Bowker
Publication Date: June 1st 2021
Number of Pages: 257
ISBN: 1733919945 (ISBN13: 9781733919944)
Series: Dream Stalker, #1
Purchase Links: Amazon | Reedsy | Goodreads | ​Audible | ​Apple Play

Read an excerpt:

Chapter 1

Salem, Massachusetts—October 1, 2013

I stumbled through the early morning fog blanketing Salem’s Gallows Hill, hurrying to the oak tree that my maternal grandmother, Sadie MacAskill, loved. When I was a child, she’d taught me that witches like ourselves derive energy from working with green, growing plants and trees. I could still feel our arms stretched around the oak’s trunk, listening for the pulsing power within it.

“Feel Mother Earth’s wisdom rising,” she’d said.

I’d never needed wisdom more. The plan I’d cooked up with an old friend had gone terribly wrong. Kitty was supposed to bring my estranged daughter, Sarah, to dinner. Sarah’s favorite dinner, creamy chicken pesto and pasta, was baking in the oven when I got the call.

“Kitty hasn’t come home, and I’m not ready to see you without her. I may never be ready,” Sarah said, her voice cold and unforgiving. She hung up before I could reply.

When I called her back, she refused to answer. If my husband, Sam, had still been alive, he’d have known what to do. But he’d died two years ago.

It was long after midnight when I threw the cold casserole down the disposal and crawled into bed. When sleep proved impossible, I paced the empty rooms of our Chestnut Street home until dawn, then grabbed the nearly empty bottle of homemade dandelion brandy as an offering to Nana’s spirit and rode my Vespa to the park atop Gallows Hill.

Exhausted and headachy, I forgot to watch my step and tripped over a rock. I managed not to fall, but the bottle flew out of my hand. I watched it shatter, watched the last golden dregs seep into the grass. I felt like I was watching my relationship with my daughter ebb with it.

As I dropped shards of glass into the nearby trash can, the wind seemed to whisper that I didn’t deserve to find the wisdom I needed. I’d failed Nana, and I’d failed my daughter.

“Enough self-pity.” I pulled my leather jacket tighter and scurried past the crumbling pavilion and rusting flagpole to the ancient oak. Once again, I pressed my cheek to the rough bark, closed my eyes, and waited. The bark pulsed. A crow landed in the branches above me, cawing and shaking loose a shower of dead leaves. I opened my eyes, and for a moment, Nana’s face wavered before me. Then she was gone, leaving me with my questions unanswered.

My cell vibrated. Who would call me this early? Sarah? Kitty with an explanation? I checked the screen. Neither. Honey Campbell, my landlord and a good friend. She owned the building on Pickering Wharf where we both ran our businesses. Her barbershop took up the first floor. My herbal studio, Healing Thyme, sat above it.

“Hi, Honey. What’s up.”

“Thought you’d want to know your friend, Kitty, came looking for you,” Honey said in her soft Scottish brogue. “And bye-the-bye, she looked like shite. She stumbled off toward Moe’s. You might yet find her there.”

Two months earlier, Kitty had stopped me on the street. I’d taken her for a panhandler and almost turned her away. Then she said, “Lily, don’t you remember me? My parents took us to New York to see West Side Story. We had the best time.”

We’d shared a cup of coffee and Kitty shared her story. She’d been a high school biology teacher until she’d been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. The disease had taken everything from her: her teaching career, her home, her reason for living. She’d ended up lost on the streets.

Things had taken a turn for the better for Kitty when she found a permanent bed at St. Bridget’s Homeless Shelter and, because of the doctor who volunteered his services there, Kitty’s memory was making a remarkable improvement.

“Thanks, Honey. I’m on my way.” I dashed back to the Vespa, strapped on my helmet, and started the engine. Usually, the thrum of the engine beneath me and the slapping rhythm of my braid tapping against my back soothed me. Not this morning. I pressed the throttle and hurried to Pickering Wharf, determined to find out what had gone wrong last night.

***

Excerpt from Dream Stalker by Nancy Gardner. Copyright 2021 by Nancy Gardner. Reproduced with permission from Nancy Gardner. All rights reserved.

 

 

Author Bio:

Nancy Gardner

Nancy Gardner writes cozy mysteries with a paranormal twist. The first novel in her new series, Dream Stalker, tells the story of Lily Scott, a contemporary Salem witch who walks into people’s dreams to fight crime. One reviewer called it a gripping tale of witchcraft, family loyalties, and the cost of seeking justice. Her most recent short story, “Death’s Door,” was selected to be included in the 2021 anthology, Malice Domestic 16: Mystery Most Diabolical. She lives near Boston with her writer husband, David.

Q&A with Nancy Gardner

What was the inspiration for this book?

Dreams have always fascinated me, so much so that I keep a dream journal. Combine that with my love of mysteries and my admiration for Jung’s theories about our shadow selves—the unacknowledged dark side in each of us—and you’ve got my recipe for cooking up a detective who walks into dreams to fight crime.

What has been the biggest challenge in your writing career?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve written non-fictional reports and journal articles focused on my areas of expertise. When I decided to take up fiction, the biggest challenges were to create a story from my imagination and to gain a new set of skills related to the world of fiction—world-building, character development and scene-writing. Along the way, I’ve taken a number of classes, including a very important one based on Lisa Cron’s book, Wired for Story. I’ve also acquired to wonderful critique groups that share feedback on what we’ve written.

What do you absolutely need while writing?

A huge mug of coffee and my favorite mechanical pencil. The pencil lets me erase—a lot.

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

Actually, a mixture of the two works best for me. I stick to a strict routine in the early morning—get up, get coffee, sit at my desk and go deep into the scene I’m working on. Later in the day I’ll transfer the morning’s notes into computer files. I’ll also brainstorm story problems. My two favorite brainstorming methods are taking long walks in nature or talking things through with my novelist husband, David.

Who is your favorite character from your book and why?

Actually, I have two favorite characters who arose with no effort and who remind me of troubled women I loved growing up. Both have lived on the streets for different reasons. Both have skills that society might not recognize. Flo Dembrowski is a big, brash ex-alcoholic who knows how to use her fists and does so for those who are weaker. Rose Hernandez is an ex-nurse who long-ago lost her family in a fire. Rose may be small and shy, but she has the ability to look into people and see who they really are.

Tell us why we should read your book.

Dream Stalker is a paranormal cozy mystery about a modern Salem witch-herbalist who has the power to walk into dreams to fight crime. If you enjoy being entertained by entering an unexpected world to find justice, you will enjoy reading my book.

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

Lily Scott is my fictional witch-herbalist. Recently I interviewed Teri Kalgren, a real Salem witch-herbalist for my blog. It turns out that both Lily and Teri celebrate the ancient pagan holiday called ‘Samhain’ on October 31st. And both rely on chamomile tea to unwind.

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

I’d love readers to visit my website at https://nancygardnerauthor.com and sign up for my twice-a-month email. The emails are short and keep folks up-to-date on blog interviews. If they sign up, they can download a free short story about how Rose Hernandez saves a little boy from danger. It’s called “Smoke and Mirrors.”

Tell us a little about yourself and your background?

In prior lives I’ve been a software product manager and a public-school teacher. My short fiction has appeared in many magazines, e-zines, and anthologies. My most recent short story, “Death’s Door,” appears in the 2021 anthology, Malice Domestic 16: Mystery Most Diabolical, coming out in November. I lives near Boston with my writer husband, David.

What’s next that we can look forward to?

I’m working on book two in the Dream Stalker series. This time, Lily Scott’s family situation becomes stickier when her long-lost niece shows up at her door traumatized by the murder of her adoptive parents. Worse, Lily is forced to confront an explosive situation that has the potential to destroy many lives.

Catch Up With Nancy Gardner:
NancyGardnerAuthor.com
Goodreads
BookBub – @nancygardner5
Instagram – @ngauthor
Twitter – @NGardner_author
Facebook – @NancyGardnerAuthor

 

 

Tour Participants:

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

 

 

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Mercy Creek by M.E. Browning |#MercyCreek @MickiBrowningAuthor #GuestPost #Showcase

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Mercy Creek

by M.E. Browning

October 11 – November 5, 2021 Tour

Synopsis:

Mercy Creek by M.E. Browning

In an idyllic Colorado town, a young girl goes missing—and the trail leads into the heart and mind of a remorseless killer.

The late summer heat in Echo Valley, Colorado turns lush greenery into a tinder dry landscape. When a young girl mysteriously disappears, long buried grudges rekindle. Of the two Flores girls, Marisa was the one people pegged for trouble. Her younger sister, Lena, was the quiet daughter, dutiful and diligent—right until the moment she vanished.

Detective Jo Wyatt is convinced the eleven-year-old girl didn’t run away and that a more sinister reason lurks behind her disappearance. For Jo, the case is personal, reaching far back into her past. But as she mines Lena’s fractured family life, she unearths a cache of secrets and half-lies that paints a darker picture.

As the evidence mounts, so do the suspects, and when a witness steps forward with a shocking new revelation, Jo is forced to confront her doubts, and her worst fears. Now, it’s just a matter of time before the truth is revealed—or the killer makes another deadly move.

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery
Published by: Crooked Lane Books
Publication Date: October 12th 2021
Number of Pages: 288
ISBN: 1643857622 (ISBN13: 9781643857626)
Series: A Jo Wyatt Mystery, Book 2 || Each mystery in the A Jo Wyatt Mystery series is a stand alone novel.
Purchase Links: Penguin Random House | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

Chapter One

Everyone had a story from that night. Some saw a man, others saw a girl, still others saw nothing at all but didn’t want to squander the opportunity to be part of something larger than themselves. To varying degrees, they were all wrong. Only two people knew the full truth.

That Saturday, visitors to the county fair clustered in the dappled shade cast by carnival rides and rested on hay bales scattered like afterthoughts between games of chance and food booths, the soles of their shoes sticky with ice cream drips and spilled sodas.

Detective Jo Wyatt stepped into the shadow of the Hall of Mirrors to watch the crowd. She grabbed the collar of her uniform and pumped it a few times in a futile attempt to push cooler air between her ballistic vest and sweat-sodden T-shirt.

The Echo Valley Fair marked the end of summer, but even now, as the relentless Colorado sun dipped, heat rose in waves around bare ankles and stroller wheels as families retreated toward the parking lots. An older crowd began to creep in, prowling the midway. The beer garden overflowed.

Within minutes the sun dropped behind the valley walls and the fairground lights flickered to life, their wan orange glow a beacon to moths confused by the strobing brightness of rides and games. Calliope music and the midway’s technopop collided in a crazed mishmash of notes so loud they echoed in Jo’s chest. She raised the volume of her radio.

The day shift officers had clocked out having handled nothing more pressing than a man locked out of his car and an allegation of unfair judging flung by the second-place winner of the bake-off.

Jo gauged the teeming crowd of unfamiliar faces. Tonight would be different.

#

Carnival music was creepy, Lena decided. Each ride had its own weird tune and it all seemed to crash against her with equal force, following her no matter where she went.

The guys in the booths were louder than they had been earlier, more aggressive, calling out, trying to get her to part with her tickets. Some of the guys roamed, jumping out at people, flicking cards and making jokes she didn’t understand while smiling at her older sister.

Marisa tossed her hair. Smiled back. Sometimes they let her play for free.

“Let’s go back to the livestock pavilion,” Lena said.

“Quit being such a baby.” Marisa glanced over her shoulder at the guy running the shooting gallery booth and tossed her hair. Again.

Lena rolled her eyes and wondered how long it would be before her sister ditched her.

“Hold up a sec.” Marisa tugged at the hem of her skintight skirt and flopped down on a hay bale.

She’d been wearing pants when they’d left the house. The big purse she always carried probably hid an entire wardrobe Momma knew nothing about. Lena wondered if the missing key to grandma’s car was tucked in there too.

Marisa unzipped one of her boots and pulled up her thin sock.

Lena pointed. “What happened to the bottom of your boot?”

Her sister ran her finger along the arch. “I painted it red.”

“Why?”

“It makes them more valuable.”

“Since when does coloring the bottom of your shoes make them more valuable?”

Marisa’s eyes lit up in a way that happened whenever she spoke about clothes or how she was going to hit it big in Hollywood someday. “In Paris there’s this guy who designs shoes and all of them have red soles. He’s the only one allowed to do that. It’s his thing.”

“But he didn’t make those boots.”

“All the famous women wear his shoes.” She waved to someone in the crowd.

“You’re not famous and you bought them at Payless.”

“What do you know about fashion?”

“I know enough not to paint the bottom of my boots to make them look like someone else made them.”

Marisa shoved her foot into her boot and yanked the zipper closed. “You bought your boots from the co-op.” She handed Lena her cell phone.

“You should have bought yours there, too.” Lena dutifully pointed the lens at her sister.

“Take a couple this time.” Marisa leaned back on her hands and arched her back, her hair nearly brushing the hay bale, and the expression on her face pouty like the girls in the magazines she was always looking at.

Lena snapped several photos and held out the phone. “All those high heels are good for is punching holes in the ground.”

“Oh, Lena.” Marisa’s voice dropped as if she was sharing a secret. “If you ever looked up from your animals long enough, you’d see there’s so much more to the world.” Her thumbs rapidly tapped the tiny keyboard of her phone.

In the center of the midway, a carnival guy held a long-handled mallet and called out to people as they passed by. He was older—somewhere in his twenties—and wore a tank top. Green and blue tattoos covered his arms and his biceps bulged as he pointed the oversized hammer at the tower behind him. It looked like a giant thermometer with numbers running along one edge, and High Striker spelled out on the other.

“Come on, men. There’s no easier way to impress the ladies.” He grabbed the mallet and tapped the plate. “You just have to find the proper motivation if you want to get it up…” He pointed with his chin to the top of the game and paused dramatically. “There.” He craned his neck and leered at Marisa. Lena wondered if he was looking up her sister’s skirt. “What happens later is up to you.”

Never breaking eye contact, he took a mighty swing. The puck raced up the tower, setting off a rainbow of lights and whistles before it smashed into the bell at the top. He winked in their direction. “Score.”

Twenty minutes later, Marisa was gone.

#

Lena gave up looking for her sister and returned to the livestock pavilion. Marisa could keep her music and crowds and stupid friends.

Only a few people still wandered around the dimly lit livestock pavilion. The fireworks would start soon and most people headed for the excitement outside, a world away from the comforting sound of animals snuffling and pawing at their bedding.

Marisa was probably hanging out near the river with her friends, drinking beer. Maybe smoking a cigarette or even a joint. Doing things she didn’t think her baby sister knew about.

Lena walked through an aisle stacked with poultry and rabbit cages. The pens holding goats, swine, and sheep took up the middle. At the back of the pavilion stretched a long row of three-sided cattle stalls. The smells of straw, grain, and animals replaced the gross smell of deep-fried candy bars and churros that had clogged her throat on the midway.

Near the end of the row, Lena stopped.

“Hey there, Bluebell.” Technically, he was number twenty-four, like his ear tag said. Her father didn’t believe in naming livestock, but to her, he’d always be Bluebell—even after she sold him at the auction to be slaughtered. Just because that was his fate didn’t mean he shouldn’t have a name to be remembered by. She remembered them all.

She patted his hip and slid her hand along his spine so he wouldn’t shy as she moved into the stall. She double-checked the halter, pausing to scratch his forehead. A piece of straw swirled in his water bucket and she fished it out. The cold water cooled her hot skin.

“You did good today. Sorry I won’t be spending the night with you, but Papa got called out to Dawson’s ranch to stitch up some mare.”

He swished his tail and it struck the rail with a metallic ring.

“Don’t get yourself all riled. I’ll be back tomorrow before you know it.”

If she hadn’t been showing Bluebell this afternoon, she’d have gone with her father. Her sutures had really improved this summer and were almost as neat as his. No one would guess they’d been made by an eleven-year-old. If nothing else, she could have helped keep the horse calm.

Instead, she’d go home with Marisa and spend the night at Momma’s. She wondered if Marisa would show up before the 4-H leader called lights out in the pavilion or if Lena would have to walk to her mom’s house by herself in the dark.

She reached down and jiggled the feed pan to smooth out the grain that Bluebell had pushed to the edges.

“That’s some cow.”

The male voice startled them both and Bluebell stomped his rear hoof. Lena peered over the Hereford’s withers. At first all she saw were the tattoos. An ugly monster head with a gaping mouth and snake tongue seem to snap at her. It was the carny from the High Striker standing at the edge of the stall.

“It’s a steer,” she stuttered. “And my sister isn’t here.”

“Not your sister I wanted to talk to.” He swayed a bit as he moved into the stall, like when her mother drank too much wine and tried to hide it.

Lena ducked under Bluebell’s throat and came up on the other side. She looked around the pavilion, now empty of people.

“Suspect they’re all out waiting on the fireworks,” he said.

The first boom echoed through the space. Several sheep bleated their disapproval and Bluebell jerked against his halter.

“Shhhh, now.” Lena reached her hand down and scratched his chest. “All that racket’s just some stupid fireworks.”

“Nothing to worry about,” the man added. He had the same look in his eyes that Papa’s border collie got right before he cut off the escape route of a runaway cow.

A bigger boom thundered through the pavilion. Halter clips clanged against the rails as uneasy cattle shuffled in their stalls. Her own legs shook as she sidled toward Bluebell’s rear.

He matched her steps. “What’s a little thing like you doing in here all by yourself?”

“My father will be back any minute.” Her voice shook.

He smiled, baring his teeth. “I’ll be sure to introduce myself when he arrives.”

A series of explosions, sharp as gunfire, erupted outside. Somewhere a cow lowed. Several more joined in, their voices pitiful with fear.

“You’re upsetting my steer. You need to leave.”

“Oh, your cow’s just fine. I think it’s you that’s scared.”

He spoke with the same low voice that Lena used with injured animals. The one she used right before she did something she knew would hurt but had to be done.

“You’re a pretty little thing,” he crooned. “Nice and quiet.”

Her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth. She stood frozen. A warm trickle started down her leg, and the wet spot expanded on her jeans.

He edged closer. “I like them quiet.”

#

Jo ran.

The suspect veered off the sidewalk and slid down the hillside toward the creek.

She plunged off the side of the embankment, sliding through dirt and duff, closing the distance. She keyed her shoulder mic. “Entering the creek, heading west toward the Animas. I need someone on the River Trail.”

Narrow-leaf cottonwood and willows shimmered silver in the moonlight and wove a thicket of branches along the water, herding the suspect toward the cobbled stream bed.

Jo splashed into the ankle-deep water. Close enough now to almost touch.

Her lungs burned. With a final burst of speed, she lunged. Shoved his shoulder while he was mid-stride.

The man sprawled into the creek. Rolled onto his feet with a bellow. A knife in his hand.

Without thinking, she’d drawn her gun. “Drop it!”

Flashlight beams sliced the foliage. Snapping branches and crashing footsteps marked the other officers’ progress as they neared. Estes shouted Jo’s name. Her eyes never left the man standing just feet away.

“Over here!” She focused on the man’s shoulder, watching for the twitch that would telegraph his intentions. “You need to drop the knife. Now.” Her voice rose above the burble of the stream. “Or things are going to get a whole lot worse for you tonight.”

She shifted her weight to her front leg and carefully shuffled her rear foot until she found firmer footing and settled into a more stable shooting stance. “Drop the knife.” She aimed center mass. Drew a deep breath, willed her heart to slow.

The knife splashed into the creek near the bank.

“On your right.” Estes broke through the brush beside her.

“Get down on your knees,” Jo ordered. “Hands behind your head.”

“It’s my friend’s truck,” the man said.

Jo holstered her gun and moved forward while Estes covered her. She gripped his fingers and bowed the suspect backward, keeping him off balance while she searched him for weapons, then cuffed him.

“Not according to the owner.” She double-locked the cuffs while Estes radioed dispatch they had one in custody.

An explosion above the treetops made Jo flinch. Fireworks slashed the darkness and burst into balls of purple and green and dazzling white that sparkled briefly, then disappeared.

***

Excerpt from Mercy Creek by M.E. Browning. Copyright 2021 by M.E. Browning. Reproduced with permission from M.E. Browning. All rights reserved.

 

 

Author Bio:

M.E. Browning

M.E. Browning writes the Colorado Book Award-winning Jo Wyatt Mysteries and the Agatha-nominated and award-winning Mer Cavallo Mysteries (as Micki Browning). Micki also writes short stories and nonfiction. Her work has appeared in dive magazines, anthologies, mystery magazines, and textbooks. An FBI National Academy graduate, Micki worked in municipal law enforcement for more than two decades and retired as a captain before turning to a life of crime… fiction.

Guest Post

7-10 Things the reader doesn’t know about Jo Wyatt

A reader once described Jo as “smart enough to know her limitations, confident enough to trust her gut, and determined enough to unravel the threads in any case.” That’s Jo to a tee. But underneath all that professionalism is a woman who you’d enjoy sharing a drink with. Here’s a list of fun facts about Detective Jo Wyatt that readers don’t know about her (yet)—including her favorite cocktail.

1. Jo was born on New Year’s Eve. Her father was hoping she’d be the first baby of the new year, but she was born too early for any notoriety.

2. The flaming gold that crowns the Aspen trees in autumn is Jo’s favorite color.

3. She eats M&M’s by color—starting with brown and ending with green.

4. Jo earned a scholarship at Western Colorado University in Gunnison. She majored in criminal justice with a minor in literature—which comes in handy whenever Doc Ingersleben, the Echo Valley coroner, shows up on a call. He ritually starts every encounter with a quote and a challenge to name the source.

5. She has an on-and-off relationship with God, but finds enormous comfort in the nave of the All Saints in the Valley Episcopal Church. She routinely walks the outdoor Labyrinth when she’s chewing on a problem.

6. The quickest way to cheer her up is to take her hiking, biking, or bouldering.

7. She was an only child. Although throughout her childhood, she spent so much time with her best friend, Aiden Teague, that his father threatened to claim her as a dependent.

8. The worst injury she’s sustained on duty was the night a drunk driver broke her nose after he decided she wasn’t going to take him to jail. He was wrong. Growing up, the worst injury she sustained growing up was while she and Aiden were racing for an Easter egg and she took a header into a rock that required six stitches above her left eyebrow. She got the egg, but only because he came to help her the moment he realized she’d fallen.

9. Her favorite drink is Dr Pepper. Her favorite cocktail is a DP and Jameson. This does not sit well with Sully, the owner of Finnegan’s Irish Pub, who serves her the ingredients in separate glasses along with a lecture about how Irish whiskey should be consumed. Every. Single. Time.

10. Occasionally she orders it just to mess with him.

Catch Up With M.E. Browning:
MEBrowning.com
Goodreads
BookBub
Instagram – @mickibrowning
Twitter – @MickiBrowning
Facebook – @MickiBrowningAuthor

 

 

Tour Participants:

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

 

 

Get More Great Reads at Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours

 

Beneath the Marigolds by Emily C. Whitson | #EmilyCWhitson #Thriller #Psychological

Beneath the Marigolds by Emily C. Whitson Banner

Beneath the Marigolds

by Emily C. Whitson

October 1-31, 2021 Virtual Book Tour

Synopsis:

Beneath the Marigolds by Emily C. Whitson

Playing on our universal fascination with reality TV, Emily C. Whitson’s Beneath the Marigolds is The Bachelor(ette) gone terribly wrong.

When her best friend, Reese Marigold, goes missing after attending Last Chance, an exclusive singles’ retreat on a remote island off the coast of Hawaii, no-nonsense lawyer Ann Stone infiltrates the retreat.

Ann quickly realizes there’s more to Last Chance than meets the eye. The extravagant clothes, never-ending interviews, and bizarre dates hint that the retreat is a front for a reality dating show. Could Reese be safe, keeping a low profile until the premier, or did something sinister occur after all?

Torn between the need to uncover the truth and her desperate desire to get off the island, Ann partakes in the unusual routines of the “journey to true love” and investigates the other attendees who all have something to hide. In a final attempt to find Reese on the compound, she realizes that she herself may never get off the island alive.

Praise for Beneath the Marigolds:

“Cleverly plotted…Whitson’s debut novel is an intriguing new entry in the women’s suspense genre, driven by dual first-person narrators and tension-filled parallel timelines.”— Carmen Amato, Silver Falchion Award Finalist and author of The Detective Emilia Cruz Mystery Series

“Exhilarating twists and turns…a fast-paced psychological thriller that mashes up the reality series The Bachelor with Gone Girl.” — Helen Power, author of The Ghosts of Thorwald Place

“A fun, propulsive read…this book cleverly combines the archetypes of “reality TV” and the “trapped-on-a-remote-island” mystery that will perpetually keep you guessing.” — Marcy McCreary, author of The Disappearance of Trudy Solomon

Book Details:

Genre: Thriller/Psychological
Published by: CamCat Books
Publication Date: September 21st 2021
Number of Pages: 320
ISBN: 0744304202 (ISBN13: 9780744304206)
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads | CamCat Books

Read an excerpt:

Prologue

I knew too much. On that island, on that godforsaken singles’ retreat. I knew too much.

I ruminated on that thought, chewing it carefully, repeatedly, while Magda, the makeup artist, transformed me into a life-size nightmarish porcelain doll. Ghastly white face, penciled-in eyebrows, blood-red lips. I’d look beautiful from a distance, she had told me, leaving the other part of the sentence unspoken: up close, it’s frightening. She tsked as she dabbed my damp forehead for the fourth time, her Russian accent thickening with frustration.

“Vhy you sveating so much?”

I worried my voice would come out haggard, so I shrugged, a little too forcefully. Magda shook her head, her pink bob sashaying in the grand all-white bathroom as she muttered something foreign under her breath. My gaze danced across the various makeup brushes on the

vanity until it landed on one in particular. I shifted my weight in the silk- cushioned chair, toyed with my watch.

“Magda, what do you want out of this retreat?” No response.

Did she not hear me, or did she choose not to respond? In the silence, I was able to hear Christina’s high-heeled feet outside the bathroom.

Click, clack. Click, click.

When I first met the host of the singles’ retreat, I was in awe of her presence, her unflappable poise. Shoulders back, she walked with a purpose, one foot in front of another, and though she was a couple inches shorter than I was, she seemed larger than life. Her icy eyes, colored only the faintest shade of blue, seemed to hold the secrets of the world—secrets she intended to keep. But I had stumbled upon them just a few short hours before, and I was now afraid her gait represented something more sinister: the march of an executioner.

Click, clack. Click, clack.

Her stride matched the even tick of my watch, and a drop of sweat trickled down my back. Was I being ridiculous? Surely Christina wouldn’t hurt me. She had been reasonable with me earlier, hadn’t she? “One meenute,” Magda shouted at the retreat’s host. She doused

my fire-red curls in hairspray one last time before asking me if I was ready to go.

“I just need to use the bathroom.” I wheezed through shallow breaths. “I’ll be right out.”

Magda exaggerated her sigh before shuffling out of the white-marble immurement, closing the doors behind her with a huff. My last remnants of safety and rational thinking left with her.

I shoved the vanity chair underneath the door handle. I grabbed the makeup brush with the flattest head and hurried to the bathroom. I gingerly closed the lid of the toilet and slipped off my heels before tip-

toeing on top so I could face the window. After removing the beading, I inserted the head of the makeup brush between the frame and glass. The brush’s handle cracked under the pressure, but it was enough to lever the glass out of its mounting. I placed the glass on the floor as gently as I’ve ever handled any object, trying not to make even the slightest sound, before hoisting myself up and through the window. I jumped into the black night, only partially illuminated by the full moon and the artificial lights of the mansion. I allowed my eyes to adjust.

And then I ran.

The loose branches of the island forest whipped at my cheeks, my limbs, my mouth. The soles of my feet split open from fallen twigs and other debris, but the adrenaline kept the pain at bay. I tripped over something unseen, and my hands broke my fall. Just a few cuts, and a little blood. I couldn’t see it, but I could feel it.

I jumped up, forcing myself to keep moving. The near darkness was blinding, so I held my bloody hands up, trying to block my face. The farther I ran, the more similar the trunks of the trees became. How long had I been running? I gauged about a mile. I slowed down to gather my bearings. Behind me, the lights of the mansion brightened the sky, but they were only the size of my palm from that distance.

I heard the hum of a moving car come and go. I must have been near the road. I was about to start moving again when I heard the snap of twigs. Footsteps. I stopped breathing. I swiveled to my left and right, but nothing. I exhaled. It was just my imagination. I continued away from the lights. Away from the retreat.

And then someone stepped toward me: Christina. Her face was partially obscured by darkness, but her pale eyes stood out like fireflies. “It doesn’t have to be like this,” she said. Her expression remained

a mystery in the darkness.

I turned around, but one of her handlers was blocking that path.

Christina took another step forward, and I jerked away, tripping over the gnarled roots of the forest in the process. My head broke the fall this time, and my ears rang from the pain.

Her handler reached for my left hand, and for a moment, I thought he was going to help me stand. Instead, he twisted my ring finger into an unnatural position. As my bone cracked, my screams reverberated through the woods.

It was showtime.

***

Excerpt from Beneath the Marigolds by Emily C. Whitson. Copyright 2021 by Emily C. Whitson. Reproduced with permission from CamCat Books. All rights reserved.

 

 

Author Bio:

Emily C. Whitson

Emily Whitson received a B.A. in journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She worked as a marketing copywriter for six years before pursuing a career in fiction and education. She is currently getting her M.Ed. at Vanderbilt University, where she writes between classes. She is particularly passionate about women’s education and female stories. This interest stems from her time at Harpeth Hall, an all-girls college preparatory school in Nashville, Tennessee. When she isn’t volunteering, writing, or in the classroom, Emily can usually be found with her dog, Hoss, in one of Nashville’s various parks. Beneath the Marigolds is her debut novel.

Catch Up With Emily C. Whitson:
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