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Sweet Paradise by Gene Desrochers | #Showcase #Interview #Giveaway

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Sweet Paradise

by Gene Desrochers

April 5 – May 7, 2021 Tour

Synopsis:

Sweet Paradise by Gene Desrochers

In this harrowing Caribbean noir murder mystery, we meet Private Investigator Boise Montague, a man on the brink who is trying to get his life together after his wife died. He has returned to his childhood home and he’s started a private investigator firm of one. Since returning, his drinking has accelerated and he needs clients desperately before the life insurance money dries up.

Enter Junior Bacon, grandson of Francine Bacon of the Bacon sugar and rum empire. Granny’s gone missing and Junior wants Boise to figure out what happened.

As Boise delves into the mystery of the missing matriarch, a reporter associated with her winds up dead in his new office, dramatically raising the stakes. Now Boise must contend with questions from the police, the newspaper president, and the reporter’s widow.

As Boise investigates he uncovers surprising truths about a woman seeking redemption, a family on the brink, and why no matter how hard we try, the past can sometimes never be fixed.

In the end, Boise must not only confront a killer, but the island’s dark history and his own inner demons.

Kudos:

“Boise Montague, intrepid St. Thomas, V.I. private investigator, returns in SWEET PARADISE. Talented author Gene Desrochers delivers a suspense-filled tale overflowing with duplicitous characters and greed-driven agendas in lushly authentic Caribbean environs. A mature generation is determined to hold tight to the empire that provides them with every luxury, while the next generation attempts to fulfill its dreams … Others will compromise all that is decent. And Boise Montague will do what he does best as he separates the winners from the losers and the innocent from the guilty. A 5-star read.”
–Laura Taylor – 6-Time Romantic Times Award Winner

“Boise is back! Gene Desrochers returns his readers to the island paradise of St. Thomas. You’ll feel the warm tropical breeze as Private Investigator Boise Montague must discover [what happened to] the matriarch of a wealthy island rum producer. The deeper he digs, the closer he gets to his own mortality. Wandering and sometimes stumbling through his investigation, Boise learns about family secrets—and they could kill him. Outstanding writing and the vivid setting will keep you transfixed.”
–R. D. Kardon, award-winning author of Flygirl and Angel Flight

Book Details:

Genre: Murder Mystery
Published by: Acorn Publishing
Publication Date: April 6th 2021
Number of Pages: 299
ISBN: 9781952112379
Series: Boise Montague, #2 (Each book in the series is a stand alone mystery)
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

 

Author Bio:

Gene Desrochers

Gene Desrochers hails from a dot in the Caribbean Sea called St. Thomas. He grew up with minimal supervision and free-roaming animals in a guesthouse that also served as a hospital during wartime. If you ask, he will regale you with his Caribbean accent and tennis prowess.

After a lifetime of writing and telling short stories, he ventured into the deep end, publishing his first novel, Dark Paradise in 2018. Sweet Paradise is Gene’s second published novel in the Boise Montague Series.

He lives in Southern California with his wife, step-daughter, and two cats.

 

Q&A with Gene Desrochers

What was the inspiration for this book?

Sweet Paradise drew inspiration from thoughts I had about the consequences of supposed “good deeds” people attempt in an effort to right past wrongs. As I journeyed along I quickly realized that these good deeds are fraught with danger from those left behind, to the inadvertent effect it has on those who benefit, but unprepared to deal with benefits they never thought they would enjoy. In some cases, it’s never good enough. I’ve experienced this in my life, where I do something that was never done before thinking: “Hey, everyone’s gonna be so grateful and I’m making things better, woo-hoo!” A good example of this was when I put score cards on the tennis courts at my club. There had never been any score cards before (in over 40 years) and I thought that everyone would be excited, however, virtually no one said anything, then at one point the cards started to rust and I got all these calls about them being “unsightly” and why didn’t I get them painted and replace the numbers that were looking a little old. I thought, “Wow, I just created more work for myself and an expectation that these score cards be kept up.” Then I decided to remove them, and boy did I catch hell for that. Now, everyone expected to have score cards always and that they would be in perfect condition at all times. Removing them was no longer a viable option because an expectation had been created from their existence and the fact that they had not existed for over forty years didn’t matter a whit. This story explores that expectation human beings have of wealth and justice, even when someone goes above and beyond to make things right. The price for coming up short can be murder.

What has been the biggest challenge in your writing career?

Writing the very first novel to completion, then polishing it. Many other things presented major challenges: finding a publisher, marketing, editing, etc. The first novel to me requires a leap of faith as a writer. Putting yourself out there into the world as an author, getting slammed in reviews for the first time, seeing that your book doesn’t sell well. Without question, seeing the first novel through to a finished work, presentable in book format for the world to criticize and digest, that is the first step, and that first step requires a lot of faith. It’s much easier to keep partially finishing or writing the pages without completing the work enough to put it out there, but not enough to call it ready for the world.

What do you absolutely need while writing?

Not much. I can write by pen & paper or word processor. Typewriters work well too, although I haven’t used one in years, I learned to type on one. I can write with movement around or with music, or without. An idea and fleshed out characters that excite me I suppose would be the top things I need. Some days I’m easily distracted, but mostly I can write anywhere, anytime. No set schedule. I steal minutes even to jot a few words then continue on my day.

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

I write all the time when I’m working on a project. Low expectations are my key. It’s a trick I use where I tell myself each day when I plop down to pound words: One sentence is all I have to do today. One sentence or fifty words, something that can be done in less than five minutes. Some days, that is all I do. Most of the time, the trick works and I keep writing for several pages, but if I don’t, I can still tell myself: you wrote something today and it keeps my head in the game, I’m fresh on the story, whereas, if I don’t write until I feel inspired, I sometimes forget where I was and I have to reacquaint myself before I can even begin writing. That reacquaintance period sometimes kills the inspiration.

Who is your favorite character from your book and why?

Daryl Evans, the private dick from Georgia who appears in the story has a strong presence in my mind. I have a very clear picture of his scruffy face and jowls. He knows who he is and he is that person completely and unapologetically even though he’s far from perfect. Not many of my characters are this comfortable in their own skin, so I find him refreshing.

Tell us why we should read your book.

My book does not bear special mention for reading. You should read for stories and for a glimpse into another mind that is not your own, while at the same time melding your consciousness with that of another as cannot be helped when reading.

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

It is being released on the birthday of the main character, Boise Montague.

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

Keep reading! Keep loving stories! Read all sorts of stories and as Malcolm X said, be open to the possibility that anytime you read a book, it can change your life.

Tell us a little about yourself and your background?

These books about Boise Montague and the Virgin Islands tell about my background. I’m from the Virgin Islands and grew up as a minority. The people who helped raise me treated me kindly, even the drunk men who peppered the island were playfully kind. I had a heavy Caribbean accent that I was entirely unaware of until I attended a school with more kids from the states and they teased me mercilessly. Quickly, my voice metamorphized to the “American” accent I speak with today. That change made me aware that all that we are, our characteristics, our clothes, our appearance, can be altered to create a character anytime if a strong enough impetus presents itself. The teasing and taunting of peers was such an impetus. Part of my character involves a love of education and physical games, especially tennis.

What’s next that we can look forward to?
I’m working on a novel tentatively titled, Oceanfront, that involves a tennis professional and the facility where he works. I’ve completed a rough draft, but it has a long way to go.

Catch Up With Gene Desrochers:
GeneDesrochers.com
Goodreads
BookBub – @problemsolvergene
Instagram – @authorgenedesrochers
Twitter – @problemsolverge
Facebook – @ggdesrochers

 

Read an excerpt:

The first coat was drying. More droplets of sweat rivered between my shoulder blades as I slugged water and Guinness alternately. Two in the afternoon was no time to be painting in the October heat, but I didn’t know what else to do and sitting around worrying about my looming penury seemed pointless.

The used old-timey clock radio I’d picked up at Bob’s Store babbled on about hurricane warnings as reception fizzled in and out. It was the latter part of hurricane season and we’d seen minimal storm damage in the region. We might dodge hurricanes for one or two years running, but it was never long enough to truly get complacent about them the way places like New Orleans had.

The overhead fan whirred. Outside my door sunlight filtered thinly through a cloud, illuminating the traffic circle a faint ocher. As I considered the faded lines denoting parking spaces and the cracked pavement, a young man bobbed into my line of sight. He was one of those people who walked on his toes at all times, like the tendons in his calves were so tight his heels couldn’t touch the ground for more than an instant before popping up again. He squinted at the building, turning his head back and forth, then perusing a sheet of paper clutched in both hands. A green Osprey backpack hung loosely off his shoulders. People in California used them for hiking. He tugged at the built-in sippy straw and sucked. The bubbly slurping of the last drops of water in his pouch filtered up to me. Disappointment clouded his face.

His attention snagged on my door. I grinned and gave myself a mental pat on the back. He shifted one hand to his hip and gave a slight lean. I wasn’t sure whether I should let him see me in my ratty painting outfit, but figured that could be explained by the wet door. A spooge of cantaloupe paint dominated the center of my gray t-shirt. I eased the door open a couple more feet.

“Help you?” I asked. “You look lost.”

“Nice door.” He pointed at his forehead and swirled his finger around. “You got some.”

He was college-aged and his face was sunburned, as were his arms. He wore a Hawaiian shirt and khaki pants, a classic tourist outfit.

He continued to stand in the same spot, squinting and considering the sheet of paper. I returned to my inner office, needing another sip of water and the breeze from the fan. Out my open doorway, I could barely make out the top of his Caesar-style haircut.

“You should get a hat!” I hollered out.

His head rose up from the paper and he pushed up on tip-toes so I could see his eyes. “The sun’s doing a number on you,” I said. “Want a drink of water?”

He stared at me a while with a strange stillness, like he was in no hurry as he weighed every option. This boy was a local and he would pull me into events that would rock one of the largest industries in the Virgin Islands.

“Do you have Perrier?”

***

Excerpt from Sweet Paradise by Gene Desrochers. Copyright 2021 by Gene Desrochers. Reproduced with permission from Gene Desrochers. All rights reserved.

 

 

Tour Participants:

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



 

 

Enter To Win!:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Gene Desrochers. There will be two (2) winners. Each winner will receive an Amazon.com gift card. The giveaway begins on April 5, 2021 and runs through May 9, 2021. Void where prohibited.

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HIT OR MISS by Jeff Markowitz | #Showcase #Interview #Giveaway

Hit Or Miss by Jeff Markowitz Banner

Hit Or Miss

by Jeff Markowitz

April 1-30, 2021 Tour

Synopsis:

Hit Or Miss by Jeff Markowitz

When you’re twenty-one years old, it can be hard, under the best of circumstances, to balance the expectations of your father and the desires of your girlfriend. For Ben Miller and his girlfriend Emily Bayard, circumstances are far from perfect.

Emily’s mother has been murdered. Ben’s father, a detective in Dutch Neck, catches the case. It’s not long before evidence suggests that Emily’s father may be responsible for the death of his wife.

Set against the backdrop of the cultural and political unrest associated with the war in Viet Nam, Emily and Ben find themselves attracted by the politics and lifestyle of the counter-culture.

As Detective Miller conducts the homicide investigation and Dr. Bayard attempts to keep an affair with his secretary secret, everyone else in the town of Dutch Neck that summer of 1970 has the same question.

Who is responsible for the death of Rosalie Bayard?

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery
Published by: WiDo Publishing
Publication Date: December 29, 2020
Number of Pages: 278
ISBN: 9781947966482
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

 

Author Bio:

Jeff Markowitz

Jeff Markowitz is the author of 5 mysteries, including the award-winning dark comedy, Death and White Diamonds. His new book, Hit Or Miss, was released in December 2020. Part detective story, part historical fiction, part coming of age story, Hit Or Miss is an Amazon Hot New Release in political fiction. Jeff spent more than 40 years creating community-based programs and services for children with autism, before retiring in 2018 to devote more time to writing. Jeff is Past President of the NY chapter of Mystery Writers of America.

Q&A with Jeff Markowitz

What was the inspiration for this book?

Write what you know. We’ve heard the advice a thousand times. But what do we know and how do we know it? And equally important, what don’t we know? The stories that I write evolve from a combination of experience, research, and imagination.

When it comes to technology, I am something of a Luddite. There are plenty of authors who write high tech stories and fast paced thrillers. That’s not me and that’s not the kind of story I should be writing. I write character-driven mysteries in which complex relationships, rather than technology, drive the action. That pushed me in the direction of writing an Historical Mystery. Of course, I could have set the story in most any time period other than today.

Once I settled on 1970, I knew I wanted to address what we used to refer to as the “generation gap.” This created an opportunity to view the story not only from the perspective of the detective, but also from the detective’s son, and from the son’s girlfriend as well, who happens to be the daughter of the victim.

A complex set of personal relationships drives the storytelling, but, at its core, Hit or Miss remains a straightforward detective story as Detective Miller pursues the truth about the murder of Rosalie Bayard.

What has been the biggest challenge in your writing career?

I have often said, I may not have the most readers, but I have the best readers. My books don’t always fit neatly into a particular genre or subgenre and that can create a challenge to building readership. According to my publisher, Hit or Miss is classified as a Detective Story/Historical Fiction and I think that’s accurate. According to Amazon, the paperback is a Mystery, but the ebook is not. The ebook is listed as Political Fiction/Coming-of-Age Story. In fact, when it was released, the ebook was an Amazon Hot New Release in Political Fiction.
I believe that readers want a good story, well told, and that is always what I try to write. The challenge, at times, is to connect with “my” readers.

What do you absolutely need while writing?

I need a story that I love and not enough time to write it.

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

I do my best writing early in the morning, on a desktop computer in my family room. It has been my routine now for nearly two decades and it works for me. I spend the rest of the day thinking about what I’m writing and jotting down key words on post-it notes that pile up on the dresser in my bedroom. If I took the time to put the post-it notes in sequential order, it would almost look like I knew what I was doing.

Every writer has to figure out what works best for them and then develop habits to support that process.

Who is your favorite character from your book and why?

I guess I have two favorite characters – Ben Miller and Emily Bayard. The book’s back cover copy tells you why –

When you’re twenty-one years old, it can be hard, under the best of circumstances, to balance the expectations of your father and the desires of your girlfriend. For Ben Miller and his girlfriend Emily Bayard, circumstances are far from perfect. Emily’s mother has been murdered. Ben’s father, a detective in Dutch Neck, catches the case. It’s not long before evidence suggests that Emily’s father may be responsible for the death of his wife.

Tell us why we should read your book.

There are more than 3 million ISBNs registered in the United States and new books are being published every day. The challenge both for writers and for readers is to connect. As a reader, how do you find the right storytellers for you? Reading book blogs is one very good way to find your next favorite author.

If you’ve read this far, thank you. Perhaps I’ve made a connection. If I have, I hope you’ll pick up a copy of Hit or Miss. I think you’ll like it.

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

In May 1970, more than 100,000 protesters converged on the National Mall in Washington DC to protest the wart in Viet Nam and the shooting of student protesters by the National Guard on the campus at Kent State. In my story, Emily Bayard meets President Nixon at the demonstration. Some readers may find it unrealistic to have the President chatting amiably with protesters on the morning of the demonstration, but that is historically accurate. There is, however, no evidence that he invited one of the protesters to join him for breakfast in the White House.

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

Thank you for caring about books.

Tell us a little about yourself and your background?

I spent more than forty years creating community-based programs and services for children and adults with autism, including twenty-five years as President and Executive Director of the Life Skills Resource Center, before retiring in 2018 to devote more time to writing.
I wrote my first four books while I was still working full-time. My first mystery, Who is Killing Doah’s Deer, was published in 2004; it introduced readers to tabloid reporter and amateur sleuth Cassie O’Malley. Cassie returned in 2006 in A Minor Case of Murder and again in 2009 in It’s Beginning to Look a Lot like Murder. In 2015, my standalone black comedy Death and White Diamonds won a Lovey Award and a David Award. Now that I’m retired, I write at a more civilized hour.
When I set out to learn the craft and the business of writing, many mystery writers were generous with their time and their talent. I’m proud to have had the opportunity to pay it forward. In 2018 – 2019, I served as President of the New York Chapter of Mystery Writers of America.

What’s next that we can look forward to?

For now, I’m focusing on short fiction. I have a short story about to be released in Murder Most Diabolical, the Malice Domestic 2021 anthology. I also have a short story in Jewish Noir 2, coming out later this year. I’m currently writing a novella, but I’m not ready to talk about it yet.

Catch Up With Jeff Markowitz:
www.JeffMarkowitz.com
Goodreads
BookBub – @JeffMarkowitz
Twitter – @JeffMarkowitz1
Facebook

 

Read an excerpt:

Thousands of young people were on the mall, and more were streaming in by the minute. Willow, and her hippie friends staked out a spot near the Lincoln Memorial. Emily wandered the length of the National Mall, from the Lincoln Memorial to the Capital Building and back again, determined to take it all in. There was a buzz in the morning air. The President appeared unannounced on the Ellipse at dawn and chatted with a small group of demonstrators. He wished them an enjoyable stay in the nation’s capital. Everyone Emily met on the Mall claimed to have seen him. The day was hot; the Mall was dry and dusty. There were crowds of people everywhere, an uneasy mixture of antiwar protestors, soldiers and police units, newsmen and onlookers. Protestors flashed peace signs and sang the fish cheer. Young Republicans responded with middle-finger salutes.

Emily didn’t know most of the speakers at the demonstration, but she like the message. End the Cambodian incursion. End the war in Vietnam. She located a pay phone and used her spare change to call Ben.

“It’s amazing. You should be here.” She had to yell to be heard. Demonstrators continued to pour into the Mall. “Is anything happening in Dutch Neck?”

“You need to come home.”

“Don’t be like that.”

“That’s not what I mean. It’s your mother.”

“What about my mother?”

Ben didn’t answer right away. The phone line crackled with static.

A scuffle broke out on the Mall. Police moved in quickly, weapons at the ready, cutting the small group of protestors off from the larger crowd. The confrontation pulled Emily’s attention away from the phone call.

“Your mother is dead.”

Later, the news would report that there were more than one hundred thousand demonstrators on the national mall, but at that moment, amidst the pushing and shoving, Emily felt like she was alone in the world. Without more change to feed the phone, the line went dead. She dropped the pay phone and turned, nearly bumping into a cop.

“Stay back,” he ordered, his hand on his weapon.

“She’s dead,” she replied and kept walking.

He pointed the gun at Emily’s head. “Who’s dead?”

She could feel anger in the policeman, but also restraint. Days removed from Kent State, it was as if no one wanted to provoke the next shooting. The policeman holstered his weapon. Shouts of “pig” were replaced by prayers for peace. Emily breathed a sigh of relief and answered the officer’s question.

“My mother.”

“Do you have a way to get home?”

Emily told the officer about Miss Cooper and the apartment on C Street. He offered to give her a ride. If anyone saw her in the patrol car, she would tell them that she had been arrested.

No one answered when she knocked on the apartment door. The apartment manager was polite, but firm. She would have to leave.

“Do you need money for a bus ticket?” The officer reached for his wallet. “I’ll drop you off at the bus station.”

When Emily left Dutch Neck, her mother had been alive. If she got on a bus, she would be admitting that her mother was dead. She wasn’t prepared to deal with that. Not yet. So she decided to spend another night in DC. As long as she remained in DC, she told herself, she could pretend that nothing was wrong at home. And maybe, just maybe, she could help end the war.

With no place else to go, she retraced her steps.

The crowd at the National Mall was smaller. There was a chill in the air, the midday heat a distant memory. It was a tough night, out on the mall, trying not to think about her mother. Instead she thought about the American boys who were spending the night in rice paddies on the other side of the world, probably trying not to think about their mothers too, and she knew that this was a small price to pay to end the war. At four in the morning, an older man approached. He was dressed like an off-duty policeman heading out to play a round of golf.

“Are you here to end the war, miss?”

“Yes, I guess I am,” She took a closer look at the middle-aged man and jumped to her feet, “Mr. President?”

President Nixon chuckled quietly.

“But, what…”

“I couldn’t sleep. I thought some fresh air would do me good.”

“But…”

“You know, sometimes I think you young people actually believe that I like being at war.”

Emily didn’t know how to answer the Commander in Chief. “Begging your pardon sir, but it does sometimes seem that way.”

“Let me tell you something miss… by the way, we haven’t been properly introduced. My name is Richard Nixon and yours is?”

“Emily Bayard.” She started to raise her fist in protest, like Bug, during the demonstration, but couldn’t extend her arm, not while she was standing face-to-face with the President. She looked around, grateful that Willow and her friends weren’t there to see her pitiful attempt at protest.

“Well, Emily, let me tell you something. I think I hate this war more than you do. But sometimes war is the necessary thing to do.”

“But you could end the war, sir. You could end the war today.”

“General Westmoreland tells me we need two more years to achieve our goals. You wouldn’t want us to leave now, without achieving our goals. Give me two more years Emily, and I’ll end the war. You have my word on it.”

“I don’t think I can do that, sir.”

President Nixon shook his head in sadness. “You young people can be so impatient.”

“In a few weeks, I’ll be graduating from college.”

“Congratulations. And then?”

“I don’t know. But I have classmates… friends… They’ve been called up. In two years’ time, they could be dead.”

President Nixon didn’t have an answer at the ready. “I’d best be on my way.” The sun was beginning to peek over the horizon. “Before my Secret Service detail realizes I’ve slipped out.”

President Nixon turned to leave. He took a few steps and then turned back to face Emily. “I’ve just had an idea. Are you hungry? Would you like to have breakfast with me?”

“You mean, like, in the White House?”

The President grinned. “I have the best chef. What would you like? You can have anything, anything at all. After all, I am the President.”

“This isn’t some sort of photo op, is it? You know what I mean, antiwar activist sees the error of her ways after breaking bread with the President.

“I see what you mean. It would sure look good in the papers. Lord knows I could use a good story in the papers.” The President chuckled. “No. No photos. No press release. You have my word.”

And so it came to pass, on Sunday morning, before taking a bus back to Long Island to bury her mother, Emily had breakfast with the President. Mr. Nixon had poached eggs and corned beef hash with a cup of coffee, black. Emily had blueberry blintzes and a cup of chamomile tea. And all the while, they argued about the war.

“Would you like seconds?”

But she had put it off long enough. “I’m needed at home.”

***

Excerpt from Hit Or Miss by Jeff Markowitz. Copyright 2020 by Jeff Markowitz. Reproduced with permission from Jeff Markowitz. All rights reserved.

 

 

Tour Participants:

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



 

 

Enter To Win!:

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

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

 

Get More Great Reads at Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours

 

THE DEADENING by Kerry Peresta | #Showcase #Interview #Giveaway

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The Deadening

by Kerry Peresta

April 1-30, 2021 Tour

Synopsis:

The Deadening by Kerry Peresta

OLIVIA CALLAHAN’S quiet, orderly life is shattered when she regains consciousness in a hospital and discovers she is paralyzed and cannot remember a thing. The fragmented voices she hears around her help her piece together that an apparent assault landed her in the hospital, but nobody knows who attacked her, or why.

Now, in spite of a brain injury that has rewired her personality, Olivia is on a mission to reclaim her life. As clarity surfaces, and she starts to understand who she was, she is shocked.

Could she really have been that person?

And if so, does she want her old life back?

Praise:

“A gripping read populated by likable characters. Peresta draws us into a colorful detailed world and makes us care what happens to the people living in it. We root for Olivia as she struggles to regain her memory, her bearings, and the identity she lost long before her injury. Excellent!”
– Susan Crawford, Internationally bestselling author of The Pocket Wife and The Other Widow.

The Deadening is a captivating psychological suspense novel that will have you holding your breath with each turn of the page. Peresta has created a world chock-full of characters who are dynamic and unforgettable, for better or worse. Hold onto your seat.”
– Clay Stafford, bestselling author and founder of Killer Nashville Writers’ Conference

Book Details:

Genre: Psychological Suspense
Published by: Level Best Books
Publication Date: February 21, 2021
Number of Pages: 353
ISBN: 1953789358 (ISBN13:9781953789358) (ASIN:B08SVKLMZ8)
Series: Olivia Callahan Suspense, 1
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

 

Author Bio:

Kerry L Peresta

Kerry’s publishing credits include a popular newspaper column, “The Lighter Side,” 2009-2011; and magazine articles in Local Life Magazine, The Bluffton Breeze, Lady Lowcountry, and Island Events Magazine. She is the author of two novels, The Hunting, women’s fiction, released by Pen-L Publishing in 2013, and The Deadening, released in February, 2021 by Level Best Books, the first in the Olivia Callahan Suspense series, She spent twenty-five years in advertising as an account manager, creative director, and copywriter. She is past chapter president of the Maryland Writers’ Association and a current member and presenter of Hilton Head Island Writers’ Network, and the Sisters in Crime organization. Recently, she worked as editor and contributor for Island Communications, a local publishing house. Kerry and her husband moved to Hilton Head six years ago. She is the mother of four adult children, and has a bunch of wonderful grandkids who keep life interesting and remind her what life is all about.

Q&A with Kerry Peresta

What was the inspiration for this book?

Six years ago, I walked into yet another library for a book signing, this one to host twelve or so authors besides me. As usual, I set up my table with a cute tablecloth, a video running on my laptop, business cards, pens, a stack of books. After an hour, the stack of books had not diminished one iota. Frowning, I looked around the room, noticed that the other authors were experiencing similar disinterest. All except one.

Irritated, I strode across the room to this author’s table. I cannot remember her name, but a flock of interested book enthusiasts surrounded her, and she held court like the queen bee of fiction. When the crowd parted, I edged in toward the table and asked her, with a smile, why she seemed to be the biggest magnet in the room.

“I guess it’s the car wreck,” she shared. “I almost died a few years ago, and was in a coma for six months. When I woke up, I was just like this!” I asked what she meant. “Before the coma, my personality was passive. Shy. Afterward, well…” she grinned. “Not so much.” She fluttered her small hand at the people waiting for me to get out of the way so they could talk to her. “People seem to like that.” Her eyes twinkled. “And they buy my books!”

Thoughtful, I walked back to my table and sat, my mind not on potential customers, but on the next book. After a thinking session of ‘what ifs’ and ‘maybe this could happen in that scenario’ and throwing in a nasty antagonist, “The Deadening” was born.

What has been the biggest challenge in your writing career?

Writing a query letter that works. I finally hired a writing coach who got me out of my head and had objective, productive insights, and she helped me write a killer query. It was worth the hundred bucks I paid her!

What do you absolutely need while writing?

Sugarless gum. Mainly ‘Mint Bliss’ or Dentyne ‘Fire’. Earbuds. If I’m writing an exciting, dark scene I go for classical music, i.e. Grieg, Rachmaninoff; if it’s domestic, I listen to smooth jazz. I have to shut out other sounds to focus. Sometimes I just listen to rain sounds. A great pen. I love the fine point Zebra ballpoints, which are hard to find now. Space. I broke down and finally bought an L-shaped desk and a great, comfortable desk chair. Usually, all my notes have to be dug out of a drawer somewhere, but now, I can spread out.

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

The morning. Usually 9:30 – whenever. That’s when my brain is firing on all cylinders. I try to wrap up around 3. If I have to write in the evening, I can…but I am grumpy about it! If a great idea comes to me in the afternoon or evening, I jot it down and put it on my desk. I’ll get to it the next day.

Who is your favorite character from your book and why?

You’d think it would be the protagonist, but I really love Detective Hunter Faraday, the all-around good guy; unlucky in love, good at his job and falling for Olivia (the protagonist) but not really a good idea yet because she has a lot of healing to do…he is a hottie with humility and a gun. I will be developing his character further in the second book.

Tell us why we should read your book.

Since I cannot seem to end a chapter on anything other than a cliffhanger, it seems it is ‘riveting’ according to people that have read it. My editor told me it kept her engaged from start to finish. High praise from someone who reads like…a hundred manuscripts a day or something! So that is one reason. Another is Olivia’s journey. She wrestles with secrets and personal discoveries that compel her to dig deeper, and she bravely faces the often heart-wrenching pain in order to reclaim the identity she lost long ago. “The Deadening,” in a word, is about overcoming!

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

My antagonist is based on a compilation of my ex-husbands. Drawing and expanding upon their darker proclivities, which makes me chuckle as I’m typing.

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

Get ready for a bumpy ride.

Tell us a little about yourself and your background?

I was raised in a military family, and we settled down in Little Rock, AR when I was thirteen. After college, I moved to Denver, CO, and have since lived in Pierre, SD, and Baltimore, MD, and now, Hilton Head Island, SC. Hopefully, we are here to stay because it’s wonderful! I raised two boys and two girls, enjoyed a successful career in advertising as account manager, copywriter, and designer. I started writing in 2009, and it’s been quite the undertaking to learn the publishing industry as a complete newbie. Now, I feel like I could teach a class. Maybe several! I’m grateful to be a working author, and look forward to pumping out as many books as readers would like to read. On a side note, and much to my surprise, my husband and I now have fourteen grandkids! (Insert wide-eyed emoji here).

What’s next that we can look forward to?

I’ll be writing Book Two and Book Three in the Olivia Callahan Suspense Series, and also thinking of creating another protagonist with as compelling a story as the one I met at the signing event years ago. Everyone I meet has a story—and one of them will be the catalyst for my next series!

Catch Up With Kerry L Peresta:
KerryPeresta.net
Goodreads
Instagram – @kerryperesta
Twitter – @kerryperesta
Facebook – @klperesta

 

Read an excerpt from The Deadening:

Prologue

The stiff bristles of the brush grew coppery as he scrubbed back and forth, back and forth. Wrinkling his nose at the smell, he groped for the mask he’d bought, looped it over his head, and snugged it into place.

He dipped the brush in the red-tinged solution in a blue, plastic bowl beside him on the floor, and continued scrubbing. Fifteen minutes later, he emptied the bowl down the toilet and shoved everything he’d used into a trash bag. He fought to staunch the bile creeping up his windpipe, but his throat constricted and he gagged. After retching into the sink, he turned on the faucet and splashed water on his face. Paused to take deep breaths. He could do this. He had to do this. He gripped the edge of the counter and stared out the bathroom window.

She’d not told anyone. Thank God for that. No one could know. No one would ever know. He’d make sure.

He walked to his garage, opened his car trunk, tossed in the latest trash bag. His hands felt icy. He rubbed them together, wiggled his fingers, and slammed the trunk shut.

Admittedly, her terror had excited him. Confusion. Dawning realization in her expression. His lips curved upward into a smile, then disintegrated. Reliving it didn’t change anything. He needed to move forward.

He returned and studied the carpet. In spite of his efforts, the stain still needed work. He cursed, dropped to his knees, and pounded the dampness with a fist.

Through a veil of fatigue, he watched in horror as the kidney-shaped stain stood and pointed an accusatory finger at him. He blinked, hard. Was he hallucinating? How long had he been without sleep? He crabbed backwards, leaned against the wall, pulled his knees to his chest and squeezed his eyes shut. When he opened them some moments later, the blood-apparition had disappeared.

He groaned.

He stared at the ceiling until his brain spit out a solution.

The problem lay in the other room. That’s how he looked at her now.

A problem to solve.

He rose from the floor and walked out.

His eyes slid from her pale face, down her form, to her feet. He no longer thought of her as warm, soft, desirable. She had been so scared…eyes wide and unblinking as she fell. He shook his head and pushed the image away.

Nesting her in towels so her blood wouldn’t pool on the couch, her bronze-sandaled feet with their shiny, pink toenails hung over the edge. He looked away. “Get a grip, man. Just do it.”

The towels fell away when he picked her up. He wound them back around her, careful to tuck in the edges. His heartbeat slammed his ribs.

She was fragile, a little bit of a thing, like a bird. He drew his index finger across her lips. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. “If you had just…if you had only…” His voice trailed away. Jaw clenched, he carried her to his car.

Chapter One

Nathan ambled along sidewalks that wound through the manicured hospital grounds, fishing in his pocket for a lighter. He lit the cigarette dangling from his lips and inhaled deeply, his smile saturated with nicotine’s unholy bliss.

“Thank God,” he mumbled around the cigarette, and withdrew it from his lips, stretching. He glanced over his shoulder at the brightly lit ER entrance to Mercy Hospital, rubbing his neck. He rolled his shoulders, inhaled several deep drags from the cigarette, dropped it, and ground it beneath his shoe. “These night shifts are killing me.” He groaned and gazed at the sky. Clouds hid a full moon. He’d been grateful to get the med tech job, but after two months of bodily fluid testing and storage, he was bored. He needed a challenge.

Nathan followed his typical route through the hedged lawn, almost on auto-pilot, so when he stumbled and sprawled onto the grass face-first, he was stunned. What had tripped him? Cursing softly, he explored his cheeks, nose, forehead. No damage done that he could tell. “Klutz,” he berated himself, pushing up to hands and knees.

Something soft and warm lay beneath his palms. His breathing sped up. He looked down, but it was too dark to see. Trembling, his fingers inched their way to lips, nose, eyes, stiff knots of hair. His mouth dropped in horror. The clouds obligingly slid off the moon and revealed a woman’s body, her hair blood-matted, her face ghostly white. The grass around her head was rusty with blood. He edged his head toward her lips to check her breathing. Shallow, but at least she was alive.

He scrambled to his feet, fighting nausea and staring at his palms, sticky with the woman’s blood. Shrieking for help, he raced into the hospital and skidded to a stop in front of the desk. The ER nurses behind the reception desk squinted at him like he was deranged.

“Possible head injury!” He flailed an arm at the entrance. “Someone, anyone, come quick!”

A male nurse and two aides followed him outside, shoes pounding the sidewalk at full gallop. The tech stopped, turned, and signaled them to tread carefully as they parted ways with the sidewalk and navigated the shrubbery in the dark. Single file, panting, they tiptoed through the shadows until the tech raised a palm for them to stop.

“Here,” he hissed at the nurse, and held a point like a bird dog.

The nurse dropped to the ground and clicked a flashlight on. “Ohmigosh,” he whispered. He lifted the woman’s thin, pale wrist and glanced at his watch. Satisfied that she had a pulse, he slapped the flashlight into Nathan’s bloodied palm. “Stay with her!” He rushed inside.

Within minutes, looky-loos poured from the ER and clustered around the limp form.

“Move back!” Nathan stretched out his arms like a cop directing traffic. “She’s barely breathing!” His glanced nervously at the ER entrance.

The crowd didn’t yield an inch. The ER doors whooshed open. A stretcher clattered down the sidewalk and onto the dew-damp grass. Chills shivered up the tech’s spine as the ashen pallor of death climbed from the woman’s neck to her face. He dropped to the ground and picked up her hand. The paramedic team drew closer, their flashlights piercing the darkness with slivers of light. The crowd eased apart to let them through.

Nathan bent closer to the woman, and whispered, “Hang in there. Help is on the way.”

The stretcher slid to a stop beside him. The paramedics dropped to their knees, stabilized the woman’s head with a brace, staunched the bleeding, and wrapped the wound. They eased her onto the stretcher and rumbled away. The aides shared nervous smiles of relief. They looked at Nathan, then followed the paramedic team back inside.

Nathan, his heartbeat finally slowing, called, “Thanks for the assist, guys!” as they walked away.

The crowd dispersed with curious glances at Nathan, who watched until the group disappeared behind the ER’s double glass doors. He heaved a sigh of relief and swiped perspiration off his forehead. He patted his scrubs pocket for a cigarette, reconsidered, and trotted toward the ER entrance.

After the automatic doors parted, he jogged past two closed-door exam rooms and paused at a third, wide open. He looked inside.

The paramedics shared their observations with the ER doctor on call as he deftly explored the woman’s wounds. When he finished, he nodded, barked instructions, and pointed at the bed. In seconds, the woman’s transfer from stretcher to bed was complete. One of the nurses whisked a blood pressure cuff around her arm. Another hooked an IV bag to a chrome stand, pierced the skin on the back of the woman’s hand, slid in a needle, and taped it down.

The tech stepped back from the door to allow the paramedics to exit. Holding his breath, he stole into the room and crept past a floor-to-ceiling supply cabinet. He planted both palms onto the smooth, white walls behind him and inched sideways, melting into the corner next to a shelf holding tongue depressors, a box of plastic gloves, and a sanitizer dispenser.

“Pulse one-fifteen.” The nurse studied the blood pressure cuff. “Blood pressure eight-five over fifty.”

“Need a trach,” the doctor barked. “She’s bleeding out. Get some O neg in here.”

A blur of motion, two nurses and the ER doctor huddled around the woman’s body. When they stepped back, a laryngoscope, an endotracheal tube, and four sticky electric nodes leading to a cardiac monitor had been secured.

The medical team stilled, their eyes riveted to the monitors. The nurses wore sage green scrubs. Both had pink stethoscopes around their necks. The ER doctor had on a crisp, white jacket with his name scripted in black on the pocket. Nathan fidgeted and stuck his head out from the corner a little to focus on the screens.

The readings sputtered, stalled, plummeted.

“Code Blue!” The doctor spun around. A nurse jumped to the wall and slapped a flat, white square on the wall.

“Code Blue!” echoed through the ER’s intercom system. Frantic footsteps in the hall. Shouted instructions. Clanging metal. Squealing wheels. Nathan squeezed farther into the corner as the cart bearing life-saving electronic shock equipment exploded through the door.

“Brain must be swelling,” the doctor mumbled. He grabbed two paddles and swiped them together. “Clear!”

The woman’s body jolted. The doctor’s head jerked to the cardiac monitor. Flat.

“Clear!” He placed the paddles on the woman’s chest.

Her frail torso arced. The machine blipped an erratic cadence, then droned a steady hum.

The doctor cursed. “Clear!”

Another jolt. The monitor surged, sagged, then settled into a reassuring metronome blip. Tense faces relaxed. Applause spattered around the room.

The doctor blew out a long breath. “Okay, people, good job.” He smiled.

Within minutes, more lines snaked from the woman’s form. An orogastric tube drooped from the corner of her mouth, behind the intubation tube. A lead to measure brain waves clung to her forehead. The doctor studied each monitor in turn. Nathan let out the breath he’d been holding, slid down the wall into a crouch, and balanced on the balls of his feet.

“Any additional instructions, Doctor Bradford?” Brows raised, the nurse waited.

He rubbed his head thoughtfully. “Think she’s stable for now. CAT scan already ordered?”

She nodded. “Of course.”

“Tell them to expedite.” He cocked his head at the woman. “May be a long night. Watch her closely.” The doctor strode to the door, paused, and turned. He glanced at the tech huddled in the corner. “Good job, son.”

Nathan grinned and rose from his crouch, his chest puffed out a little. He’d never saved a life before. After a sympathetic glance at Mercy Hospital’s latest Jane Doe, he returned to the lab.

***

Excerpt from The Deadening by Kerry Peresta. Copyright 2021 by Kerry Peresta. Reproduced with permission from Kerry Peresta. All rights reserved.

 

 

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DEATH IN THE GREAT DISMAL by Eleanor Kuhns | #Showcase #Giveaway

Death In The Great Dismal by Eleanor Kuhns

Death In The Great Dismal

by Eleanor Kuhns

March 22 – April 16, 2021 Tour

Synopsis:

Death In The Great Dismal by Eleanor Kuhns

Finding themselves in a slave community hidden within the Great Dismal Swamp, Will Rees and his wife Lydia get caught up in a dangerous murder case where no one trusts them.

September 1800, Maine. Will Rees is beseeched by Tobias, an old friend abducted by slave catchers years before, to travel south to Virginia to help transport his pregnant wife, Ruth, back north. Though he’s reluctant, Will’s wife Lydia convinces him to go . . . on the condition she accompanies them.

Upon arriving in a small community of absconded slaves hiding within the Great Dismal Swamp, Will and Lydia are met with distrust. Tensions are high and a fight breaks out between Tobias and Scipio, a philanderer with a bounty on his head known for conning men out of money. The following day Scipio is found dead – shot in the back.

Stuck within the hostile Great Dismal and with slave catchers on the prowl, Will and Lydia find themselves caught up in their most dangerous case yet.

Kuhns’ vivid portrayal of the community that developed inside the swamp captures a group of naturally cunning and vigilant people who provided a family for one another when most had none. . . the story shines for its historical backbone and atmospheric details.

~ Booklist

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Published by: Severn House Publishers
Publication Date: January 5th 2021
Number of Pages: 224
ISBN: 0727890239 (ISBN13: 9780727890238)
Series: Will Rees Mysteries #8
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

Prologue

‘You want me to do what?’ Rees asked, staring at the man next to him. He had not recognized Tobias at first. When taken by the slave catchers, Tobias had been a young man. He was still a young man in Rees’s opinion, but he no longer looked like it. Now gray threaded his hair, grooves scored his forehead and his eyes were haunted. He looked as though he’d experienced the worst of what man had to offer. Rees felt a burst of sympathy.

‘I want you to accompany me to Virginia,’ Tobias repeated. ‘To the great swamp.’ When Rees sat back in the creaky porch chair without answering, Tobias rushed on, ‘Please. Ruth is pregnant and wouldn’t come north with me. She was afraid. And it was difficult, so difficult, even with the help of the Quakers. I don’t dare go south to fetch her without help.’

‘But you made it back home,’ Rees objected. ‘Won’t the Quakers help you again? I don’t understand why you need me.’

‘I don’t think they run the railroad south,’ Tobias said with a faint smile. ‘Besides . . .‘ His eyes drifted away from Rees to the yard and the barn behind it. It was late September and the hills behind the farm were a mosaic of gold, orange and red interspersed with the dark rich green of the firs.

‘Besides?’ Rees repeated. Tobias was keeping something back; Rees knew it.

‘Besides it is even more dangerous now.’ Tobias’s gaze returned to Rees. ‘A man named Gabriel Prosser led a slave revolt. Planned it anyway. Right around Richmond. Everybody real tense. I need a white man beside me. Ruth trusts you. You’re the only one I know who will travel.’ He swallowed, his expression beseeching.

Rees still said nothing. Several years previously, Tobias and Ruth, both free blacks, had been snatched off the streets of Dugard, Maine and taken south.

‘How did you find me?’ he asked instead of acknowledging Tobias’s question. He was tempted, no denying that. Most of the harvest was in and he’d finished his final weaving commission. After a summer spent working on the farm, he felt restless and was ready to do something different.

‘I went to Dugard first. It was your son that told me where you were. He said you gave him your farm.’

‘Yes. We moved to this farm.’

‘Will you help me?’ Tobias asked, leaning forward. Rees looked at the eagerness on the dark face peering into his. Rees hesitated. He should say no, he knew he should.

‘Maybe,’ he said instead. What would Lydia say? His journey would leave her alone on the farm with the children for several weeks; he couldn’t see her agreeing to that.

‘I think we should go,’ Lydia said, stepping through the front door.

‘Really?’ he asked in surprise.

She nodded. ‘I know the signs; you’re getting restless.’ She paused but Rees did not speak. Since the circus had come to town in the spring and he’d been attracted to the beautiful rope dancer, the relationship between him and his wife had been strained. She was edgy with him. Sometimes he caught her staring at him and lately she’d become prone to crying fits, for no reason he could see. ‘But, if you go,’ she continued, ‘I want to accompany you.’

‘What?’ Rees jumped to his feet and the chair crashed to the floor behind him.

‘I’d like you to join us,’ Tobias said eagerly, turning to face her. ‘Ruth will join us readily if there’s another woman.’ Then, catching sight of Rees’s expression, he added, ‘If possible.’

‘It’s too dangerous,’ Rees said.

‘Predictable,’ Lydia muttered.

‘It’ll be easier to travel through the South if everyone thinks you are just a man and wife with your slaves.’ Tobias’s mouth twisted into a grimace. Rees leaned forward to clap the other man’s shoulder in commiseration but before he touched him Tobias flinched away. The involuntary cringe made Rees himself jerk back. What had happened to Tobias in Virginia?

‘It would be a long trip for my horse,’ Rees said. ‘Especially pulling my wagon.’

‘We could take the cart,’ Lydia suggested.

‘You couldn’t get them through the swamp anyway.’ Tobias said. ‘Unless,’ he paused a moment, thinking.

‘You could leave them at a livery in Norfolk.’

‘Hmm,’ Rees grunted. He didn’t like the thought of leaving his horse and wagon anywhere. ‘We’re finishing up the harvest. Even if I wanted to help you, this isn’t a good time.’ He made that one final objection.

Tobias turned to look at the fields. The corn and wheat were cut to stubble, but pumpkins spotted the fields with orange and buckwheat, the second planting, waved in the breeze. ‘You wouldn’t be gone long,’ he pleaded, his eyes reddening as though he might weep. ‘Plenty of time to finish this.’ He waved his hand at the fields.

Rees, who could not abide tears, especially in another man, held up his hand. ‘All right, I’ll think about it.’ Of course he couldn’t go. It was a long distance and even if they hurried, they might not return until mid-October or later. By then Maine could see snow.

‘Please,’ Tobias repeated, sensing Rees’s longing and pressing his advantage. ‘Most of your crops are in and you got help bringing in the last of them.’

Since that was true, Rees did not argue. The Shakers had made good on their promise to assist him and some Brothers were even now in the fields. Besides the Shakers, Rees had hired a few of the landless men who wandered the roads looking for work. ‘If I were to accompany you,’ he said, ‘and that’s a big if, Lydia Rees must remain here.’

‘If you go, I go,’ she said. Rees shook his head, but she ignored him. Turning to Tobias, she said with a smile, ‘I know Ruth well. Let my husband and I confer. Come back tomorrow for our answer.’

His face lighting up with hope, Tobias rose to his feet. ‘Tomorrow then.’

As Tobias jumped off the wooden deck and began crossing the yard, Rees said to Lydia, ‘You know this isn’t possible.’

‘If you leave without me, I will follow. You know I will,’ she said.

Rees frowned at her. Always watching him, that was his wife. He felt a combination of shame and irritation that she still did not trust him. ‘Lydia,’ he began. But she interrupted him.

‘We need to talk about last spring and what happened,’ she said. ‘Here, at the farm, we are too busy and always distracted.’

‘It will be a long and grueling journey,’ Rees warned, hoping to discourage her.

‘You know some of the Shakers are traveling south to check on their Georgia and Florida communities,’ Lydia said. ‘We can follow them in the cart. And Annie and Jerusha can watch the children.’

Chapter I

Rees felt a trickle of sweat roll down his back. Although it was late September, the heat and humidity here in Virginia slammed down like a hammer. He wasn’t used to this heat, especially at this time of the year. In Maine the weather was already cooling, and the air was as crisp and tart as a fresh apple. Here every breath was thick with the cloying scents of a hundred different plants.

Rees looked back over his shoulder at Lydia. They’d been walking over three hours, but she seemed to be bearing up well. As Tobias had suggested, they’d left horse and cart in Norfolk. The Shakers had brought them the rest of the way, dropping them off within walking distance to the swamp. As soon as they had left the road where they’d said goodbye to the Shakers, Lydia had taken shelter behind a bush and changed into her boy’s clothing. Once belonging to Rees’s eldest son, the shirt, vest and breeches were worn, almost tattered, but thoroughly disguising. She’d put her auburn hair up under a hat as Rees stowed her dress in the satchel he carried over his shoulder. Rees also had changed – from his better breeches, shirt and jacket to old and worn breeches and shirt.

Now Tobias waited for them several paces ahead. Rees hoped the other man knew where he was going. As far as Rees could tell, there was no discernible path through the tall pines and the thick undergrowth below. Although they’d passed fields of tobacco and cotton, Tobias had been careful to stay within the bands of trees.

‘We’re going to cross a road,’ Tobias said now. ‘Be real careful there.’

Rees did not think the drops of perspiration on Tobias’s brow came from the heat; he was nervous. No, he was scared. Rees began looking around, waiting for some large animal to jump out at them. But except for birdsong and the faint whisper of the wind through the trees, within the patch of woods it was silent.

Tobias paused at the edge of the dirt road and peered through the thorny greenbriar vines. Seeing nothing, he cautiously circled the brambles. Pausing within the undergrown, he looked up and down the road once again. Seeing nothing, he burst out of the shelter and started across the road. But a white dust cloud at the top of the hill heralded the arrival of something – or someone. Two riders came over the hill. When they saw Tobias they increased their speed, galloping straight at him. He tried to reach the other side of the road, running for all he was worth, but the horses easily caught up. The riders reached him as he plunged into the underbrush on the other side.

‘Stop runnin’, boy.’

‘Massa,’ Tobias shouted.

Taking the musket off his back and pulling his powder horn and shot bag from his satchel, Rees turned to Lydia. ‘Stay here,’ he said before leaving the shelter of the trees in his turn and racing across the road.

As the white riders dismounted and went after Tobias, Rees followed the sound of voices into the underbrush.

The two white riders had Tobias in their grasp. “What’re you doin’ out here alone,’ the tallest of the men asked in his slow drawl. He wore a buttercup yellow coat despite the heat and a white waistcoat. Tall black boots, now dusty from the road, went almost to the knees of his newly fashionable trousers.

‘Nuthin’.’ Tobias sounded different, his speech losing the crisp Maine consonants. His posture had gone from upright to a kind of servile crouch. The young, shorter man, dressed more casually but wearing a top hat, shook Tobias threateningly.

‘Where’d you get those boots?’

‘Hey,’ Rees said loudly.

‘Go about your business,’ the tall rider told Rees.

‘He’s mine,’ Rees said, trying to mimic the other man’s leisurely dialect.

Both men examined Rees, their gazes fixing on his musket. ‘Out huntin’?’ The speaker turned to look at Tobias. ‘He looks like a strong young buck. I’ll give you $50 dollars for him.’

‘Not for sale,’ Rees said curtly. He thought for a moment that these men would not listen to him but after a brief pause the two men brushed past him and returned to the road. Rees followed them, making sure their horses galloped away. Then he pushed his way back to Tobias.

‘You all right?’ he asked. Tobias nodded although he had collapsed to the ground. Perspiration glistened on his skin and big damp moons darkened his shirt under his armpits.

‘You took a big risk,’ he told Rees in a shaky voice. ‘Just because you’re white doesn’t mean you’re safe.

They could have figured you for an abolitionist and whipped you just as hard as they would me.’

‘I’m going to get Lydia,’ Rees said. He was trembling so hard he wasn’t sure he could hold his musket. Instead of sprinting across this dusty lane, he walked on legs that shook uncontrollably. Lydia came out to meet him, taking his arm.

‘Esther was right,’ Lydia said. Rees nodded.

Sister Esther, an escaped slave who’d made her way north to the Shakers, had scolded them when they left. ‘You’ve no business going south,’ she’d said. ‘You’re totally unprepared. I hope and pray you don’t get Lydia killed on this mad adventure.’

‘We’re committed now,’ Rees said.

Tobias had recovered enough to stand up. ‘It’s not far now,’ he said when Rees and Lydia reached him.

‘What happened?’ Lydia asked.

Tobias and Rees traded glances and wordlessly agreed to say nothing. ‘We don’t have time now,’ Rees said. ‘I’ll tell you later.’ He was still shaky and Tobias was clenching and unclenching his hands, whether from fright or anger Rees couldn’t tell.

Tobias started off, setting such a punishing pace neither Rees nor Lydia could keep up. He began to worry that they would lose their guide; the thickness of the trees, the brambles and other plants meant that Tobias disappeared within a few yards.

The third time that Tobias waited for them he said tersely, ‘We need to get out of sight while its daylight. Hurry.’

‘We’re going as fast as we can,’ Rees said, turning to look at his wife. Both of them were panting and her cheeks were scarlet. ‘We’ve been walking for hours.’ And he was hungry. None of them had eaten since breakfast that morning and it was now several hours past noon. Tobias grunted.

‘We’re not that far from the lane,’ he said, turning and disappearing once again in the greenery.

It wasn’t just that he was fast. He snaked his way through the underbrush without making a sound or breaking any branches. Rees, taller and probably two stone heavier, couldn’t do that. Even his steps were noisy, crunching over the leaf litter on the ground with crackling thumps.

Tobias led them toward a large downed tree. Rees couldn’t understand why – until the other man lifted a board artfully covered with branches and leaves, revealing a hole underneath. ‘This way,’ he said, squirming through the opening. Rees struggled to press his huskier body through, discovering that the small cavity opened up to a much larger hollow. A rough ceiling had been formed above their heads and tree roots poked through the dirt that made up the walls. Stone steps led down into the gloom. Ducking his head against the low ceiling, Tobias descended into the darkness underneath.

Lydia followed him and then Rees, bending almost double.

A cave had been dug deep into the soil. It smelled powerfully of damp and dirt. Dimly lit by several oil lamps, the den was occupied by several people in ragged clothing. A family, Rees thought, since he saw several children. They fled to the comfort of their mother’s skirts when they saw the big white man enter their home. But, to his surprise, they didn’t cry.

The men all rose from their stools, their shoulders tensed. Although weaponless and barefoot, they were ready to fight to protect their friends and families. Rees’s heart began to race and he stood straighter, fists clenched. He was taller and heavier than anyone else here, but he knew he could not battle four or five men at once. There was no room for fighting in this den either.

‘He’s helping me get Ruthie,’ Tobias said as he collapsed to the ground. Both Rees and Lydia looked at him and she went to his side.

‘Are you all right?’ she asked. He nodded, blowing out little puffs of breath. ‘You must love Ruthie very much.’

‘I do,’ he whispered, turning his head aside.

There’s more to this story, Rees thought.

‘What happened?’ One of the men asked Tobias although his eyes never left Rees.

‘Two-.‘ Tobias cut his eyes to Rees. ‘Two white men tried to take me. ‘Lucky for me, my friend Rees here jumped in.’

Some of the tension left the room. Rees relaxed a little. He had never thought of his white skin before. But now, in a room full of black people, with he and Lydia the only whites, he experienced a sharp realization of how it felt to be an object of suspicion and fear because of that skin. He didn’t like it and turned a glance of surprised sympathy upon Tobias.

‘We be eating soon.’ One of the women stepped into the center of the cave. ‘Join us.’

Rees opened his mouth to accept. He was very hungry after his day hiking through the woods. But Lydia spoke first. ‘Are you sure you have enough?’

The woman, who carried herself with an air of authority, looked at Lydia – and her boy’s clothing – with interest. ‘Yes, chile. We do. Swamp food.’ She paused and when she spoke again it was to Tobias. ‘You plannin’ to leave at nightfall?’

‘Yes. We’re heading for the Great Dismal.’

‘Mos’ people head the other way out of that swamp,’ she said with a chuckle.

‘Ruthie’s there,’ Tobias said.

‘Oh honey,’ said the woman, ‘she could’ve been recaptured by now.’ The words ‘or worse’ hung unsaid in the air.

‘I have to try,’ Tobias said stubbornly. The woman offered him a pitying smile but said nothing further.

When night fell, people began to move outside. The women pulled away the branches and other debris disguising the fire pit and set up a cooking fire. The scanty smoke drifted lightly across the ground as they made a corn porridge and roasted game meat over the fire.

‘It’s turtle,’ Tobias told Rees in a low voice.

The steady whine of mosquitoes and the sound of slapping punctuated the quiet conversations. Frogs croaked nearby, filling the air with sound. Lydia reached into the satchel for a small stone crock. ‘What’s that?’ Rees asked.

‘Esther gave it to me. Something to keep the mosquitos away.’ She tugged at the lid but it was so tightly closed she couldn’t budge it. Rees took the crock and with some effort twisted the lid off. A fresh minty scent flooded Rees’s senses. When he inhaled deeply, he caught other fragrances: lemon and something else that was sharp and astringent, and underneath it all the sweetness of honey.

‘What is it?’

‘Herbs. Pennyroyal I think. Lemon. Maybe sage. All pounded into a salve with beeswax and oil.’ Lydia spread some on her face.’ She promised me it would keep away the mosquitoes.’

Rees hesitated. The paste smelled feminine. But he could already feel stings on his hands and neck. After a few seconds, he took the pot from her and liberally smeared the mixture on his skin.

‘Eat up,’ Tobias said, handing first Rees and then Lydia wooden bowls filled with the yellow mash. ‘No hot food tomorrow, or any food most likely.’

Lydia looked at the bowl. ‘Spoons?’ Tobias, smiling, shook his head. So Lydia and Rees imitated the others and dipped their fingers into the hot cereal. Rees decided he had to eat it quickly. Not only was it still quite warm but it was not tasty. He did not think it even included salt.

As soon as they finished eating, the men began to drift away, vanishing into the forest. The family went next, a young man guiding them.

‘Headin’ north,’ Tobias said when Rees wondered aloud where everyone was going. ‘Everyone but Auntie Mama. She lives here. Keeps this space for travelers.’ He put down his wooden bowl. ‘And we got to get going too. We still got a long way.’

Chapter 2

Morning found them at the edge of the Great Dismal Swamp. Rees, who had spent a restless night slapping at mosquitoes – despite the salve that was meant to keep the insects at bay, awoke groggy and irritable. Although Tobias had not pushed them as hard during the night, he had still set a rapid pace. All of them were hungry but far worse than the hunger was the physical discomfort. The insect bites maddened them with their itching and the scratches from the branches and brambles they had pushed through in the dark stung and bled.

As the first light of dawn poked its fingers into the swamp, Rees looked around. They had bedded down in a stand of loblolly and long leaf pine trees. Pine needles carpeted the ground. Not far away, at the end of the piney growth, was an alien landscape. Trees reached to the sky. Rees recognized oak, maple and hickory but what were those trees with the skinny narrow leaves. Underbrush; thick thorny greenbriar vines and a variety of bushes, made a solid green wall underneath. Tobias found an opening in the thicket and gestured to Rees and Lydia.

‘Walk exactly where I walk,’ he said. ‘Mostly we’ll be on dry ground. Mostly. Not always. And watch for snakes. Lots of copperheads and cottonmouths here.’

They stepped inside. Although he expected the swamp to be silent, the air reverberated with the sound of insects; a high- pitched rattling whine. He looked up but could not see the source of the drone. Thick greenery and tall trees occluded the sky. Despite the bright sun and the blue sky above, the light within the swamp was dim. Glittering black water snaked across the ground in every direction. Vast trees with swollen roots like the thighs of some enormous giant sprang from the wet. Now Rees knew why Tobias had advised not taking his horse and wagon; there would be no way to get them through the tangled underbrush and mud.

He wished he had worn stout boots instead of shoes.

‘Is it safe to travel in daylight?’ Lydia asked Tobias, looking around her in concern.’ ‘Safe from slave takers, I mean.’ Like Rees, the blotchy marks of many mosquito bites marred the skin of her face and neck. She’d rolled her long sleeves down to cover her arms and hands and pulled her stockings up to her breeches.

‘Usually.’ Tobias bit his lip. ‘They come here sometimes with their dogs hunting the escaped slaves. We’ll have to be careful. And real quiet. But the swamp is too dangerous after dark. Besides snakes, bobcats and bears hunt here. Alligators too, so I’ve heard.’ As Rees gulped, Tobias nodded. ‘If we’re lucky and don’t meet any of them, we’d be as likely to fall in the water and drown as anything.’

Rees looked around once again, understanding why people called this dark place dismal, and shivered despite the steamy warmth. He wished his desire to help Tobias hadn’t overridden his sense. Most of all he wished they hadn’t come. Lydia slipped her hand into his and he squeezed it comfortingly even though he was scared too.

Tobias handed around the stale bricks of day -old cornbread. Rees took a bite of the hard dry bread. ‘Water?’ he asked.

The other man gestured to the black water. ‘It’s drinkable,’ he said. ‘Don’t worry; it doesn’t taste bad.’ Rees stared at the black pools surrounding him. A faint green scum drifted across the surface and ripples betrayed something moving underneath. He did not think it was fish. He shook his head. ‘Let’s go,’ Tobias said as he turned and started forward. A plop as some animal jumped into the water sounded nearby. Lydia jumped. Rees exchanged a glance with her, and they ran to catch up to Tobias.

The ground below their feet was black and moist and it shuddered a little with each step. It was disconcerting and more than once Rees found himself jerking to one side or the other to keep his balance.

They walked deeper into the Great Dismal until it seemed that this was all the world, and nothing else existed outside its borders. The dense vegetation, the water and the thick peaty earth muffled the sound of their footsteps. Still the insects loud buzz whined overhead.

Rees had put Lydia in the middle; between him and Tobias, and he looked around frequently – just in case a slave taker was behind him. After a few hours of walking he saw she was beginning to flag. ‘We need to rest,’ he said, and then repeated it more loudly. Tobias slowed and then stopped and turned.

‘All right,’ he said. He took a small bag from under his shirt and handed around the remaining chunks of stale corn pone. ‘That’s the last of it,’ he said.

It was, Rees thought, even harder and less edible than it had been before. Lydia sat down on the ground to eat hers. Rees looked around for a tree stump or something and spotted a dead fall a little way away. He had to tiptoe through a pool of black water to get to it. Just before he reached it, his left leg sank into the ground up to his ankle, then to his calf. ‘Help,’ he cried. He could feel his leg sinking even further.

‘I told you not to go off the path,’ Tobias said, hurrying to Rees’s side. Bending over, he grasped Rees’s knee and tugged. With a horrible sucking sound, as though the maw of an animal was only reluctantly surrendering its prey, Rees’s leg came out. Tobias pulled him back to the drier ground.

Thin brown mud coated Rees’s leg from knee to foot. Trembling, he just sat where Tobias had left him, despite the uncomfortable sensation of damp soaking through the seat of his breeches.

But Tobias couldn’t settle. He paced restlessly around and around. “Not far now,’ he said, cracking his knuckles.

‘Why is he so nervous?’ Rees wondered. The swamp? Slave takers? ‘How much longer do you think?’ he asked aloud, glancing around uneasily.

‘I hope to reach the village by nightfall,’ Tobias replied. Rees and Lydia exchanged a glance. They were already tired. When they started walking once again Rees took Lydia’s arm.

Although trees covered the sky and the sun was only occasionally visible, the temperature rose steadily. It was so hot and humid the air felt solid. Both Rees and Lydia began gasping for breath.

‘I’ve never perspired so much in my life,’ Rees muttered.

‘You ever come south before?’ Tobias asked. Rees shook his head.

‘No point. I weave for the farm wives who’ve been spinning all winter. Here, in the South, there are already weavers.’

‘The slaves,’ Tobias said, his tone flattening. ‘Every plantation has at least one weaver. And the owners rent out their slaves to the little farmers so even they don’t need a traveling weaver.’

‘It’s not right to own another person,’ Lydia said. A former Shaker, she was a firm abolitionist. Tobias glanced at her.

‘Better not say that to a white person down here,’ he said. ‘You’ll get whipped or worse.’

Lydia nodded, her lips tightening. Rees heard her mutter, ‘It’s not right.’ Tobias was too far ahead to hear her.

It was late in the afternoon when they reached an even more low -lying area filled with water. Cattails grew thickly around it. ‘Rest,’ Tobias said. He picked one and stripped off the outer covering. He handed pieces to both Rees and Lydia and when they stared at it in bewilderment, he bit off a chunk, chewed and swallowed.

‘It’s edible,’ he said.

Rees took a cautious bite. It tasted bland but was not unpleasant.

‘We’ll make one last push,’ Tobias said, gesturing at the black liquid stretching away from them. Rees peered at it. He couldn’t see through the black tint and that made him nervous. How deep was it? Trees with the swollen bulges grew out of the water, their leaves fluttering against the sky.

‘What is that tree?’ Lydia asked.

‘Cypress,’ Tobias answered.

‘Why is the water so dark?’ Rees put his hand in it and stirred, watching the dark tint fade as the water came up in his palm.

‘Don’t.’ Tobias reached out as if to grab Rees’s arm but hesitated. ‘Let me check for gators first.’ Rees snatched his hand out so fast drops flew everywhere. Tobias picked up a long branch and stretched it into the water. He thrashed it around until the water foamed up. When he pulled the stick from the pond, he stared at the water carefully. ‘All right,’ he said. ‘We go through it.’

‘There’s no other way?’ Lydia asked, her voice rising to a shaky falsetto. Tobias shook his head. ‘How deep is it?’

‘Mmm. Up to your knees maybe.’ He turned and added, staring at both Rees and Lydia intently, ‘Follow me exactly. Understood?’

Rees gulped. When he spoke he tried to sound just as usual. ‘Yes.’ He looked at Lydia and tried to sound reassuring. ‘I’ll walk right behind you.’ He realized he’d failed to appear unafraid when both Lydia and Tobias gazed at him in concern.

‘You’ll be fine,’ Tobias said. ‘Just follow me exactly.’

‘I’ll carry the satchel above the water,’ Rees promised Lydia.

She managed a brief nod but said,’ That’s not what I am worried about.’

Tobias stepped into the water and began walking forward. Rees put his hand on Lydia’s shoulder and squeezed. Lydia swallowed and tentatively put her foot into the pond. Rees followed closely, putting his left hand under Lydia’s armpit to keep her stable. With his right hand, he lifted the satchel to his chest to keep it and its contents dry.

Despite the warmth of the water, it hit with a shock. Clouds of silt spiraled upward and drifted through the black water in a brownish film. The footing was fluid and unstable and so slippery every step had to be taken with care. Rees stumbled, losing his grip on Lydia as he fought for his balance. She stopped and he could hear her sharp exhalation. Regaining his equilibrium, he stepped forward and grasped her shoulder once again.

Tobias was moving quickly. His eagerness to reach the opposite bank – and obvious nervousness about remaining in this water any longer than he had to -filled Rees with dread. He began pushing Lydia forward.

They were halfway across when something slid around Rees’s lower legs. Uttering a scream, he jumped, lost his balance and fell backward. ‘What?’ Lydia cried, turning. ‘What?’

‘I don’t know. Something touched me.’ Rees gasped in a big breath, tasting mud and dirty water.

‘Hurry,’ Tobias shouted from the bank. ‘Hurry.’ He pointed at a brown snake lying coiled upon the water.

Lydia began plowing ahead, using her hands at her sides like scoops to help. Shuddering, Rees hurried after her. Why had he agreed to do this? And with his wife. Guilt stabbed him, sharp as a knife.

Although the journey felt as though it had lasted an hour, it was probably no more than a few minutes. Rees felt as though he’d be trapped in this filthy water forever when, finally, the ground beneath their feet began to rise. The water dropped to Lydia’s knees, to her ankles and finally all three of them stood on the dry ground under a stand of loblolly pines. Rees took off his shoes and shook them. The leather, like his clothing, was soaked through. His linen shirt, his breeches and his vest were stained brown everywhere the water had touched.

He glanced at Lydia, sitting beside him on the muddy ground. Dirt streaked one sunburned cheek. ‘Sorry,’ he whispered.

‘I wanted to come,’ she said, without looking at him. ‘You tried to warn me.’

‘I didn’t know it would be like this.’

When he’d told her it would be dangerous, he’d thought of bad food, bad roads, bad weather. Not the casual threat directed at Tobias that, at best, could have cost him his freedom. Or this alien landscape with its treacherous ground and swarms of insects and the snakes and alligators hiding in its black waters.

Would she have argued so hard to come if she had known what they would experience on this journey? More to the point, would she have wanted to accompany him if she had trusted him? Nothing had happened with the rope dancer, that was the truth. But Rees had desired her, and she had responded with warmth. They’d enjoyed a friendship that might have become something more. Now he was many months removed from that time he could admit Lydia had been right to worry. He did not want to believe he would have left his wife and family behind but had to admit he had been so enthralled it was possible.

His behavior had left Lydia was so frightened for the future of her marriage she’d felt she had to watch over him. To do that she had to leave her children behind. She would never have been willing to abandon them otherwise.

He looked at the snake still floating on the water and shuddered. What would happen to their children if he and his wife died here? They would be orphaned because of his selfishness.

Lydia suddenly leaned over and touched his hand. ‘Don’t feel so guilty,’ she whispered. ‘I insisted on coming. You could not have prevented me.’

But it was his fault she’d insisted.

‘Only a few hours of daylight left,’ Tobias said, breaking into Rees’s thoughts. ‘We’d better hurry.’

Rees glanced at the sky. From what he could see, it was still a clear intense blue. “We’ve got a few hours still,’ he said.

‘It gets dark early under the trees,’ Tobias said. ‘Besides, most of the animals come out as soon as it starts getting dark. Especially snakes.’ He pointed to a ripple in the water. Rees peered at the v- shaped ripple. ‘Cottonmouth,’ Tobias said. ‘They swim under the water.’

‘Snakes,’ Lydia said weakly. ‘Are they poisonous?’

‘ Cottonmouth sure are.’

Rees thought of the thing slithering past his legs in the water and gulped.

‘It might not have been a snake. That touched you, I mean,’ Tobias said, correctly interpreting Rees’s reaction. ’There are other creatures here.’ Rees did not think he wanted to know what they were. When Tobias turned and started up the slight slope Rees helped Lydia to her feet and they scrambled after him as fast as they could.

Chapter 3

The ground continued to dry out as they passed through the pines. Although the soil remained damp it no longer bounced underfoot. But, as Tobias had warned, the light began fading beneath the trees. ‘Not far now,’ he said, puffing a little as he trotted up the slope. Neither Rees nor Lydia replied. The effort to keep up with Tobias left them breathless. Tobias was not moving in a straight line but sliding through the thick vegetation in a serpentine path. Rees, terrified that he would lose sight of the other man, kept pushing Lydia ahead of him.

Tobias’ path straightened out; Rees saw his pale blue shirt at the end of a long fairly straight tunnel, roofed by interlaced branches. The dim light shone upon them with a greenish cast and their feet crunched over the dead leaves on the forest floor. The loud crackling was shocking after the quiet steps on the peaty ground. When they reached Tobias on the other side he said, ‘Now we wait.’

‘Wait for what?’ Rees asked as Lydia pulled the pot of salve from Rees’s satchel. She smeared more of the insect repellent on her face and neck and handed it to Rees. Although he thought he smelled the faint fragrance of burning wood that odor was overpowered by the penetrating minty scent of the salve.

‘I hope we don’t use it all before we leave, and have to travel back through this swamp,’ Lydia murmured.

‘Here they come,’ Tobias said.

‘Who. . .?’ Rees began as three men materialized out of the trees.

Of differing shades, from very dark to white, the men were clad in rags and barefoot. One had almost no shirt at all. And all three were armed. One carried a scythe with a long handle but the other two brandished guns. One was such an old musket Rees doubted it would fire – although he didn’t plan to test his guess. They stared menacingly at Rees and Lydia.

‘What’d you done?’ The darkest of the men shouted at Tobias. His white teeth shone against his dark skin. His top two front teeth were separated by a large gap.

‘I come for Ruthie, Scipio,’ Tobias replied. rolling his shoulders forward. ‘He’s helping me.’ He gestured at Rees. Although the other two men stared at the white intruder, Scipio never removed his gaze from Tobias.

‘Ruth don’t want to go with you,’ he said, laughing mockingly. ‘There’re other men . . .’ Tobias lunged forward, fists up. As Rees grabbed him, the man with the lightest skin clutched Scipio’s arm. He was a handsome fellow with large hazel eyes, light brown hair and fair skin lightly tanned. Rees would have thought him white but for his hair, as curly as a sheep’s.

‘All right, Neptune,’ Scipio said, stepping back. ‘All right.’ Tobias strained forward as though he would follow.

‘Don’t,’ Rees said in a low voice. Tobias breathed hard for a few seconds before he visibly forced himself to relax. Rees cautiously took away his hand.

‘I want to talk to Jackman,’ he said.

‘You risked all of us,’ said the third of the men.’ No white man knows this.’ He gestured behind him. ‘Until now.’ This man was older than the other two and he held his scythe with easy comfort.

‘Let me talk to Jackman,’ Tobias repeated. None of the black men moved. ‘You know me, Neptune, Toney,’ Tobias added pleadingly.

The three guards exchanged a silent message. ‘Take ‘em to Jackman,’ Scipio said. ‘But first –.‘ He gestured to Rees and the gun he carried.

Neptune moved forward and relieved Rees of his musket. He did not resist. He did not think these men were killers, but he didn’t know. Besides, they were protecting their home and families and he could see the fear in their eyes and in the stiffness of their bodies. Maybe not as frightened as he and Lydia were – he could feel her trembling next to his arm – but anxious about what danger they might bring to their home. Sometimes, fear could cause a man to lash out without thinking and be sorry afterwards so Rees did not want to give them any reason to strike.

Besides, he reassured himself, with Tobias as their guide they most certainly would not be harmed.

Lydia reached over and clutched his arm. When he glanced down at her, she looked up with a face as white as milk under the mud and insect bites. Her eyes were huge. But she managed a shaky smile. Together they followed Tobias and the other men through the thick underbrush deeper into the swamp.
#
They reached the village as night was falling. The concluding leg had taken significant time although Rees suspected they hadn’t traveled a great distance. The ground had continued to dry, pine trees became more plentiful. They walked until confronted by a thick wall of thorny greenbriar vines. Everyone stopped for a moment of rest.

‘Just got to get through the canebreak,’ muttered Toney.

‘Follow me,’ Tobias said, turning to Rees. ‘There’s a path.’

There may be, Rees thought, glancing at the expressions on the men. But it would not be an easy one. All of them were steeling themselves for this, the final and ultimate challenge. Huffing out a breath, Toney took the lead through the narrow and spiraling path through the brambles. Even following Tobias as closely as they dared did not spare either Rees nor Lydia from numerous cuts and scratches.

The ground sloped up slightly. They slid through the protective barrier and climbed the short slope, stepping in the circle of buildings that were barely visible in the gloom. A fire burned in the center, the orange flames reflecting from the face of a woman who stood over the fire. Smoke eddied out from the burning logs and Rees could already feel the difference in the number of mosquitoes around him. Lydia dropped heavily upon the ground and put her face into her hands.

Scipio and Neptune grabbed Tobias and urged him toward the fire. ‘You want to see Jackman? Come along.’

Rees, his legs almost too shaky to hold him, collapsed next to Lydia. She leaned against him and closed her eyes in exhaustion. Rees felt like doing the same; he was so tired he no longer felt afraid. But he knew if he relaxed, he too would fall asleep and he did not want to do that until he knew they were safe. Instead, he looked at the young man guarding them.

‘What’s your name?’ Rees asked, his voice rusty with disuse.

‘Cinte,’ he replied, sounding startled. He was very fair and his hair glittered with flashes of gold when he turned his head. Rees guessed he was probably little more than twenty. ‘Here they come.’

A group of people were slowly approaching. Backlit by the fire, they were only silhouettes. Rees stood up and pulled Lydia to her feet. If he were going to be executed, he wanted to be upright.

His leg muscles had stiffened while he sat and he felt the pain of the long walk through the swamp. Just standing made his muscles quiver. At least that was the explanation he gave himself for the trembling that made him almost too weak to stand.

The group of people halted in front of him. Rees had the sense they were inspecting him. Since he faced the fire, he was visible in the flickering firelight but he could see nothing of their faces and could not guess what they thought.

One of the figures, a woman in a head scarf, detached itself from the group and approached Lydia. She opened her eyes and for a moment the two women stared at each other.

“What’s your name?’ One of the men spoke to Rees.

He started and brought his attention back to the band of men. The speaker stood a little forward of the others and Rees could see the gray threading his hair. ‘Are you Jackman?’

‘Yes. Who are you?’

‘My name is Will Rees.’

‘Why’re you here?’

‘Tobias is a friend of mine. I’ve known Ruth since we were kids. I came to help them go north, to the District of Maine.’ As he spoke, Rees felt some of the tension ease.

‘These people know where we are,’ Scipio put in. ‘They’re a danger to us and our kin.’

Jackman turned and made a sound. Scipio slapped his hand on his thigh but did not continue the argument.

Jackman turned to the woman. ‘Feed ‘em, please Aunt Suke, while I think.’

Rees extended a hand to Lydia and together they followed Jackman to the fire. Scipio and Neptune followed, so closely Rees twitched with nerves. He knew Scipio saw him as a danger and feared he would lash out at the slightest provocation.

The fire and a few dish lamps bathed the camp’s center in a dim rusty light. Jackman gestured to a log. Rees and Lydia took their seats.

The woman turned and handed them both bowls of soup, redolent with strange spices. With no spoons on offer, Rees tipped the bowl so that the savory soup could run into his mouth. After a few seconds, Lydia did the same.

‘Thank you, Madame,’ Rees said. ‘It’s good.’ Instead of being energized by the food, he felt even more tired.

‘You can call me Aunt Suke, child,’ she said.

‘You not be thinkin’ of believin’ him,’ Scipio cried. In the fire light Rees could see details about Scipio and the other men that had not been visible earlier. Scipio was missing an ear. Just a few ragged stubs remained. And when he turned to demand an answer from Jackman the firelight picked out the ridges on his back through his ripped shirt.

‘Tobias swears for him,’ Jackman said softly.

‘Tobias!’ Scipio started to say something else, but Jackman shook his head at him. Appearing out of the darkness, Tobias walked with Ruth.

Rees rose clumsily to his feet.

Ruth was clearly pregnant, at least five or six months, Rees guessed. He could clearly see her trim brown ankles under the ragged hem of her dress. But a new ribbon -blue Rees thought although it was hard to see the color – had been sewn around the frayed neckline. She still cared about her appearance. She smiled at Tobias but the space between her brows was pleated with worry. When she saw Rees looking at her, she put her hand on her belly and bowed her head, reluctant it seemed to meet his gaze. She seemed embarrassed. He suddenly wondered if she really wanted to go north with Tobias or not.

‘Ruth?’ he said.

When she met his gaze, her eyes were full of tears. ‘Oh, Mr Rees. He involved you in our business?’ She threw Tobias an angry glance. He lowered his eyes to the ground.

‘Oh damn,’ Rees muttered. Had they made the difficult and dangerous journey for nothing?

‘Come here, you sweet thing,’ Scipio said, opening his arms.

‘You leave her alone,’ Tobias said, stepping in front of Ruth.

‘But Ruthie wants to stay here, with me, don’t ya, Ruthie?’ As Scipio stood up, Ruthie smiled at him. But, before she had an opportunity to speak, Tobias surged up with a roar and flung himself at the other man. As Jackman shouted at them to stop, punches smacked into flesh with a meaty sound. Scipio was taller and heavier but jealousy and anger energized Tobias. Staggering back, his nose streaming blood from a blow that had landed squarely on his face, he picked up a stick and lashed at Scipio with it, striking his arm and cutting it. Glistening in the flickering light, the blood began running down Scipio’s arm. Ducking and weaving, he danced forward and wrenched the stick from Tobias’s hand. Laughing, Scipio tossed it aside.

Tobias hurled himself forward once again and they went down to the dirt. They rolled over and over, punching, kicking and biting. The firelight shone on the arms and backs of the fighters, reflecting in flashes of copper. Scipio shoved Tobias aside, but he came back, pounding at the other man. Scipio shifted away, rolling into the fire. The kettle rocked on its stand as sparks flew into the air. Scipio yelled loudly; his shoulder had gone into the burning embers, and with a heave he pushed Tobias to the side. But the smaller man would not surrender and, throwing himself to his knees, began pounding at Scipio. slapping, punching, kicking and biting.

Jackman limped forward and tried to catch hold of Scipio. Cinte jumped in to help. Rees moved forward to pin Tobias’ arms to his sides and drag him away. For his pains, he suffered a clout to his cheekbone from one of Scipio’s blows. When Neptune joined the fray, helping Jackman and Cinte drag Scipio away, the fight was over. Tobias shrugged out of Rees’ grasp and stood to one side, wiping his bloody nose on his sleeve. Scipio too bore battle scars. Besides the arm that had been scraped and burnt, his good ear now streamed with blood. Tobias had bitten it. Although he had not succeeded in tearing it away, blood ran down Scipio’s cheek and neck and onto his shoulder.

Tobias went to stand by Ruth. She stared at him in embarrassed horror and shifted away.

‘Clean up while I ponder what to do,’ Jackman ordered the two combatants, his voice vibrating with anger.

‘Come here,’ Aunt Suke said. Exasperated, she pointed at a space next to her. ‘You boys don’t have good sense.’

As Tobias sat down on the ground in front of Aunt Suke, Lydia said, ‘Sit by me, Ruth,’ and patted the log next to her.

Scipio said incredulously, ‘‘That boy a woman?’

‘That’s how we know they safe,’ Aunt Suke said, turning a mocking smile upon him. ‘No slave catcher bring his wife.’

As Rees went to sit beside his wife, Aunt Suke put out a hand to stop him.

‘Wait,’ she said. ‘I need your help.’ Such was the strength of her personality that Rees did stop and wait for further instructions.

She looked at Tobias first. The blood had already stopped gushing from his nose but it was swollen and his eye was almost completely shut. Taking his face in her hands, she turned it this way and that to catch the best light. Then she raised his shirt and examined the cuts and bruises marring his torso. ‘You’ll live,’ she said at last. ‘I’ll make a poultice for you.’

Shooing him away, she gestured at Scipio. Although he stood almost six feet and outweighed the woman by at least one hundred pounds, he obeyed her, coming to sit at her feet like a naughty child. She looked first at his ear. “If Tobias bit harder,’ she said, ‘you’d a lost this one too.’

‘You’d match,’ Cinte said, laughing. ‘Two torn ears.’ Scipio joined in, his robust guffaws rolling through camp. Rees, who couldn’t help but smile, wondered at the bond he sensed between these two men.

‘Did you lose the other one in a fight also?’ Rees asked Scipio. He shook his head.

‘No.’

‘Here, hold his arm.’ Aunt Suke told Rees. When she disappeared into a hut, Scipio continued.

‘One of the times I ran away,’ he said, ‘an’ they caught me, they nailed my ear to a post.’ Rees gasped. ‘They do that,’ Scipio continued, ‘to keep the runaways home. But I pulled free. Nothin’ can hold me,’ he added with quiet pride.

Rees could find no words. One heard about the evils of slavery, especially in Maine, a state full of abolitionists. But he’d never really thought about the reality of it. Now, although the reactions of those around him told him Scipio’s story was true, Rees struggled to accept it.

Aunt Suke came out of the hut with a small brown bottle and what looked like mashed leaves in a cup. ‘Hold ‘im tight now,’ she said to Rees. ‘To the light.’ She handed the bottle to Scipio. ‘Take a drink of the laudanum. This’ll sting.’ He took a healthy swig and she removed the bottle from his hands. Then she began dabbing the leaf mixture on the scorched and bloody wound on Scipio’s arm. He groaned and tried to twist away. ’Some turpentine to clean it. And now . . .’ Singing a wordless melody, she smeared a thick paste that smelled strongly of lard over the burn. ‘That’ll feel better and help it heal. You be fine.’

Scipio jumped up with alacrity but he didn’t voice a complaint.

‘I’ve decided,’ Jackman said. ‘You, Scipio, go back to your job at the Canal.’

‘The Canal?’ Rees repeated, whispering to Aunt Suke. He was beginning to feel he had truly left his own world, the one he understood, behind. This was an unknown land.

‘White men be digging a canal. Only the biggest and strongest survive that work.’

‘I make the shingles,’ Scipio said. ‘Fastest shingle maker they got.’

‘Stay there until they finish for the winter,’ Jackman continued. ‘By then we’ll know what Ruth want to do.’

‘Aw,’ Scipio said. ‘That’s two months from now.’ But he didn’t argue. Jackman was older than the others, probably Rees’s age and carried himself with the authority of the head man.

‘First you had to mess with Sandy and now Ruth, another man’s woman. We can’t have it.’ Jackman shook his head. ‘We can’t be fightin’ among ourselves.’

‘Too bad if other men can’t keep their women,’ said Scipio, looking across the fire at Tobias. ‘You like that ribbon I bought you, Ruth?’ Tobias took a step forward to the sound of Scipio’s roaring laughter. Ruth caught Tobias’s sleeve and held on.

‘You know better,’ she said in a low voice.

‘Who’s Sandy?’ Rees asked Aunt Suke.

‘My niece. She run off from the Sechrist plantation all the time so you’ll probably meet her.’ Suke shook her head. ‘Scipio does love his women. But Sandy? No, he’s not interested. She too young. He just messin’ with Cinte.’

Rees glanced at the fair-skinned man. He was laughing too and as Rees watched he slapped Scipio on the uninjured shoulder. So why did Scipio want to mess with him? And why didn’t Cinte seem to mind?

‘I want you gone by sun-up, hmmm,’ Jackman continued.

‘All right.’ Still chuckling, Scipio looked at the other men. ‘How about a game tonight?’ He took some bone dice from his pocket and rolled then in his large palm.

‘I’ll go too,’ Cinte said, rising to his feet. ‘Keep my brother company.’

That answered one of Rees’s questions.

‘How about it, Neptune?’

‘No.’

‘You’ll double that runnin’ away money,’ Scipio coaxed. ‘And you, Peros?’

‘I’m in.’

‘Cinte? You got more money than any of us,’ Scipio said. His brother shook his head and turned away.

‘C’mon Neptune. Don’t be no fun with only two.’ As Scipio did his best to persuade Neptune to join the game, Rees turned to Cinte.

‘Do you work in the Canal too?’ he asked, eyeing the other man’s slender build and fair skin.

‘No. I make banjoes. And I got one to deliver to one of the other shingle makers at the Ditch.’ With that cryptic statement, Cinte ran down the slope to a distant hut.

‘What’s a banjo?’ Rees asked himself.

This was truly a foreign place.

***

Excerpt from Death In The Great Dismal by Eleanor Kuhns. Copyright 2021 by Eleanor Kuhns. Reproduced with permission from Eleanor Kuhns. All rights reserved.

 

 

Author Bio:

Eleanor Kuhns

Eleanor is the 2011 winner of the Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America First Crime novel winner. After working as a librarian, she transitioned to a full time writer. This is number eight in the Will Rees Mystery series.

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HIDE IN PLACE by Emilya Naymark | #Showcase #Interview #Giveaway

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Hide In Place

by Emilya Naymark

March 1-31, 2021 Tour

Synopsis:

Hide In Place by Emilya Naymark

She left the NYPD in the firestorm of a high-profile case gone horribly wrong. Three years later, the ghosts of her past roar back to terrifying life.

When NYPD undercover cop Laney Bird’s cover is blown in a racketeering case against the Russian mob, she flees the city with her troubled son, Alfie. Now, three years later, she’s found the perfect haven in Sylvan, a charming town in upstate New York. But then the unthinkable happens: her boy vanishes.

Local law enforcement dismisses the thirteen-year-old as a runaway, but Laney knows better. Alfie would never abandon his special routines and the sanctuary of their home. Could he have been kidnapped–or worse? As a February snowstorm rips through the region, Laney is forced to launch her own investigation, using every trick she learned in her years undercover.

As she digs deeper into the disappearance, Laney learns that Alfie and a friend had been meeting with an older man who himself vanished, but not before leaving a corpse in his garage. With dawning horror, Laney discovers that the man was a confidential informant from a high-profile case she had handled in the past. Although he had never known her real identity, he knows it now. Which means several other enemies do, too. Time is running out, and as Laney’s search for her son grows more desperate, everything depends on how good a detective she really is–badge or no.

Book Details:

Genre: Thriller
Published by: Crooked Lane Books
Publication Date: February 9, 2020
Number of Pages: 278
ISBN: 1643856375 (ISBN13: 9781643856377)
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

 

Author Bio:

Emilya Naymark

Emilya Naymark’s short stories appear in Secrets in the Water, After Midnight: Tales from the Graveyard Shift, River River Journal, Snowbound: Best New England Crime Stories 2017, 1+30: THE BEST OF MY STORY, and in the upcoming Harper Collins anthology A Stranger Comes to Town.

She has a degree in fine art, and her artworks have been published in numerous magazines and books, earning her a reputation as a creator of dark, psychological pieces.

When not writing, Emilya works as a visual artist and reads massive quantities of thrillers and crime fiction. She lives in the Hudson Valley with her family.

Q&A with Emilya Naymark

What was the inspiration for this book?

The easiest answer would be fifteen years of listening to my NYPD detective husband’s work stories. He worked undercover for four years, buying drugs on the street, and I still remember coming to visit him at work one day and almost not recognizing him. He was walking down the street in flip-flops and a wifebeater, his long hair in a pony. I always wanted to write his adventures, but in the end, I turned him into a female character, made him a single parent, and gave him a hefty moral dilemma. It was fun. And hey, he can always write his memoir on his own.

What has been the biggest challenge in your writing career?

I would say learning how to write has been the biggest challenge. I majored in art in both high school and college, and in my other life I’m a graphic designer and coder. In other words, I never studied writing. However, I’m more than a voracious reader. If I go a day or two without a good book, life feels drab.

Being a reader helped me, but I had to study and workshop my stories. It took seven years, two finished novels and three unfinished ones before I learned to write well enough to land an agent with my third novel.

What do you absolutely need while writing?

Silence! I don’t need to lock myself in a closet or anything, but I have a set of noise blocking headphones (the kind you might use at a shooting range), and they are my dearest friend.

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

Routine in the sense that I almost always write at night. I tried waking up early to write before work, but only succeeded in being cranky the entire day. I don’t wait for inspiration because writing feeds on itself and fans its own flames. Once I start writing, the ideas come knocking.

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

I have a soft spot for all my characters, but I like my protagonist, Laney Bird, the most. She is a good detective, but she is clueless when it comes to her own life. It’s as if everyone she loves is a complete mystery to her, and I find that terribly interesting about her. She is both impulsive and methodical, utterly loyal, but not above bending rules. She’s flawed, but in a way I find relatable.

Tell us why we should read your book.
Readers who enjoy Harlan Coben, Ruth Ware, or Lucy Foley with a hefty dose of police procedural would like Hide in Place.

If you like deeply emotional women’s fiction crossed with a police procedural and crime, you will appreciate my novel. If you have a child who is a little quirky, or who worries you, you will relate. If you enjoy complicated and flawed characters facing terrible danger whilst wrestling with their moral codes, well, this book is for you. Plus, the Russian mob.

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

• I had to learn a lot about fire breathing and playing with fire while writing it.
• I based the central racketeering case on a real case against the Shulaya gang in Brighton Beach in 2017. I didn’t have room to include all the different kinds of crime the indictment listed, but I included the juiciest.

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

Only that I hope this novel entertains you. And I always love hearing from readers, so comments are greatly appreciated.

Tell us a little about yourself and your background?

I immigrated to the USA from the Soviet Union when I was a child and grew up in Queens. I fell in love with America on day one, when I saw my first automatic sliding doors at JFK Airport. Being so close to museums, concert halls, and every kind of art sealed my future as an artist, and later, a writer. Being an immigrant gave me a sideways view of my new country. For example, when I first arrived, the subways were covered all over with graffiti. The city saw that as crime, but to me they were gorgeous.

What’s next that we can look forward to?

Book 2 in the Laney Bird series is on its way to the editor, and is chock full of explosive revelations, love, hate, and yes, Russians behaving badly. I also have a short story in an anthology from Harper Collins, When a Stranger Comes to Town, edited by Michael Koryta, out April 20th.

Catch Up With Emilya Naymark:
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Read an excerpt:

Chapter 1

Laney Bird’s son vanished the night she drove a busload of high school seniors to see Wicked on Broadway. He left home before she did, loping down their driveway toward marching band practice, his saxophone case swinging in his hand.

“Stew in the Crock-Pot!” she yelled at his retreating back. “I’ll be home by eleven!”

He waved without turning around, a shimmy of raised fingers in the raw February wind.

The bus smelled like bologna sandwiches, fruity body sprays, and old soda and sounded like a monkey house. But she was used to it. And she needed the extra money.

Once the students erupted into the glittery Manhattan night, she parked and texted him but heard nothing back. This concerned her, though not overwhelmingly so. She figured he’d stayed late for practice or left his phone in his backpack on vibrate. She tried to nap. Listened to the radio. Played a game on her phone.

As icy rain turned to snow, the students clambered back on the bus, collapsing against green seats and smudged windows, and she carted them homeward through tortuous, storm-soured traffic toward upstate New York and their waiting families.

She wasn’t home by eleven.

Laney walked into her empty, dark house a few minutes past midnight and dumped her keys onto the key dish by the front door. Alfie’s saxophone did not trip her as it usually did, but she barely noticed, the long day hitting her hard.

After wriggling out of her bra (through her sleeves, blessed relief) and toeing off her shoes, she tipped the lid from the Crock-Pot and paused, unease needling her.

The beef and potatoes had gone cold, congealed. Untouched. She dropped her bra to a chair and walked over to Alfie’s room. His door was open and, when she flipped the light switch, his bed neat, empty.

With shaking fingers, she called his phone, then again, and again. Again. The line rang through to voicemail every time. The GPS Phone Tracker showed him a block from school at five pm, then nothing. He had either disabled the app or powered off his phone, both of which she had forbidden him to ever do.
Between the frantic phone calls, she glanced in every room and closet, climbed into the drafty attic, then into the dank basement, calling his name as if he were a toddler playing hide-and-seek and not a mercurial thirteen-year-old.

He was still not home by one am, when Laney rang and woke the few parents whose sons bothered with Alfie. They answered their phones with voices groggy or scared, turning quickly to irritation. He wasn’t with any of them. But she’d known that before she called and made the calls anyway out of some dim, crazed hope. He never visited other kids, never texted, wasn’t, as far as she knew, active on any social media.

At one thirty am she screeched into the Sylvan PD’s parking lot, knocking over a garbage can as she slammed on the brakes. Sylvan, a sedate hamlet in Rockland County, population less than nine thousand, slumbered under a cloud-swept sky, and the station house in the middle of the night on a Tuesday was quiet.

Laney burst into the building, then hesitated as the doors clanged shut behind her. Ed Boswell was the desk officer on duty, and if he was not exactly the last person she wanted to see, he was right up there in the top five candidates.

“Laney,” said Ed, turning his eyes from the screen, where, no doubt, he’d been watching the latest episode of CSI. He’d told Laney once it was his favorite show, and the midnight shift in Sylvan was so slow he usually spent at least half of it bingeing on some TV series or other.

It’s not that she thought he was a bad police officer. He was all right, calm and steady, with a slow way of looking at every problem even when the problem required immediate, ten-alarm action. Laney had been a cop herself before her personal life imploded. In her deplorably short career with the NYPD, Laney had risen to detective and worked three years as an undercover, first in the Bronx, then in Brighton Beach.

As Ed Boswell clicked something on his computer, tsked in irritation, clicked again, then looked at her, she wished, not for the first time, she could call her ex-partner. But he didn’t work in Sylvan. Ed did. Ed, who knew nothing of her past, nothing of the shield she’d earned by doing countless buy-and-busts, of her skills, her extensive knowledge of police procedures. Ed, who saw only what everyone else in Sylvan saw when they looked at her—a bus-driving single mom of an odd boy—and treated her problems with her child accordingly.

“It’s Alfie,” she said, her voice coming shrill and taut from her throat, hurting her. “He’s not home. Hasn’t come home.”

“Again?” asked Ed.

His eyes settled on her (with pity? condescension?), and she realized she’d run out of the house in her slippers, her coat still hanging on its hook in the hall and her bra on a kitchen chair.

Ed glanced at the window, where a wet sleet had started to slap against the glass. The storm had traveled north and was just beginning to hit their town.

“Did you check the high school?” he asked, just as Laney knew he would, because he’d been on desk duty the last time Alfie decided to disappear.

“The school is locked,” Laney said, thinking this should have been obvious, schools were like fortresses nowadays, hermetically sealed after hours. But she was not the cop, she reminded herself. Not anymore.

She said, “He’s not answering phone calls or texts. He’s disabled the phone tracker. I called three families who have sons he’s friends with”—to describe them as friends was a stretch, and she knew Ed knew this and her face colored—“and he’s with none of them. I left a message for his band teacher. Alfie was scheduled for band practice this afternoon. Prior to that he came home from school as usual at two fifteen, had a snack”—she paused, swallowed; that was the last time she’d spoken with him—“a PBJ sandwich, did his homework, then left for practice at four fifty. He was supposed to be home before seven.”

She closed her eyes, running through anything else she might have done, anything else she should say, but all she could envision was Alfie’s back in his maroon parka as he strode down the slippery driveway, saxophone case in hand, blond hair escaping from under his black knit cap. She hadn’t even hugged him, just waved as he stepped past her for the three-block walk to the high school.

Ed sighed and typed something. “I’m sure he’s fine, Laney. He’s done this before. We’ll have a patrol car out to the school.”

But it wasn’t the same, Laney wanted to scream. That last time, a month ago, she and Alfie had had an argument—a real, honest-to-God shouting and crying fest. She had (had she really?) slapped him and ransacked his room for the drugs she was sure he’d hidden there. His blown-out pupils, his clammy skin, his overly cautious movements, as if he didn’t trust his own limbs, terrified her, reminded her of the lost souls she’d had to lock up in the past. He cried, bawled, his face red and swollen, a child, even though he was thirteen and would be fourteen soon, in two more months. He denied everything, and by morning she had to admit she might have overreacted—the years buying drugs on the street as an undercover had skewed her vision, darkened her interpretations of the most normal behaviors. He might have simply been fighting off a cold. Mightn’t he?

By morning it was too late to make amends. Alfie had left and didn’t come home until the next day.

Afterward, after the missing-child reports had been filed and alerts issued to local police, after hours of searching, Alfie simply walked up the driveway and into their living room. He’d spent the night in the school theater’s backstage, among the dress forms and discarded curtains. In the morning he’d washed in the gym locker room, ate in the cafeteria, and walked to the frozen lake a mile away, where he spent a few hours sliding along the thick ice until he grew cold and hungry, at which point he came home.

Laney wanted to ground him, punish him, take away screen privileges for running away, because didn’t he know what he meant to her, didn’t he know he was all the family she had in the world? But the sight of him, tall, pale, thin, worried about her reaction, destroyed any disciplinarian instincts, and she clung to him wordlessly. She then cooked them a big pasta dinner.

And after she put away the dishes and Tupperwared the leftovers, she installed the GPS Phone Tracker on his phone.

“Look,” Ed said, “I’m sending the patrol car out now. We’ll start at the school. How about you go home and get warm. We’ll call you as soon as we find him. What’s the band teacher’s name? Is that Mr. Andersen?”

So placid. So sure. Laney ground the heels of her hands into her eyes. It’s possible she was overreacting again. But what did Ed know of her and Alfie? Certainly she hadn’t told him—or anybody—the reason Alfie skedaddled the last time, of that god-awful argument. Most depressingly, nobody who knew her had asked why he might have disappeared then, not even Ed Boswell, who had taken the report and should have.

Alfie was strange, a loner, prone to both inappropriate outbursts and intense shyness, and never mind his near expulsion following the fall talent show. Consequently, any strange behavior from him was not surprising. Certainly not to Ed, whose son was also a Boy Scout in Alfie’s troop. That’s how Laney and Ed knew each other, through their children, even though Ed’s son ignored Alfie at best and sometimes, when he thought no parents were in hearing distance, ridiculed him with the sharp, callous cleverness of the smart and popular.

“So,” she said, trying to keep her voice neutral, “should I tell you what he was wearing?”

“Oh.” Ed peered at the paperwork in front of him. “Yes, let’s do that. What was he wearing?”

She pictured Alfie, her stomach clenching with fear. Where was he? Things had improved lately. A lot.

He’d been sweet, even-tempered, talkative with her, had even been mentioning a friend.

“Blue-and-gray-striped sweater, horizontal stripes. Dark-blue jeans”—skinny cut, Christmas present and already floods on him two months later—“white socks, black sneakers, maroon parka, black watch cap.

He had his sax with him when he left.”

Ed sat back and sighed. “Got it. He’s fine, Laney, really. It’s Sylvan, not the inner city. Go home. I’ll call you as soon as we find him.”

She nodded, her eyes welling, then gestured to the hallway. “Gonna use the ladies’,” she said, already walking toward the bathroom.

It wasn’t so much that she minded crying in front of people—she really didn’t. Feelings were feelings and everyone had them. But being inside the station brought back her old ways. Cops didn’t blubber, and if you were a female cop, you better keep yourself zipped shut or you’d never hear the end of it. She splashed cold water on her face and dried off with a paper towel, kneading it into a tight, brown ball before shoving it into the metal bin.

A little of Ed’s sureness had penetrated her swooping panic, and she felt a touch easier now. He was right about one thing— Sylvan was not the inner city. The nearly nonexistent crime rate and country setting were why she had moved here in the first place. Alfie was being his difficult self. That was all.

She walked out of the bathroom tired but composed, willing to let the situation take its course, if only until morning.

On her way out, she passed an office and would have kept walking except she heard Alfie’s name. She stopped just behind the doorway, keeping out of sight.

“That kid’s got problems,” said a man’s voice. “Listen, I had to come out five times last fall to the high school because of him. Five times! What’s he even doing in a normal school? Shouldn’t he be up in Pinelane?”

“Apparently not,” another man answered. “I know what you mean, though.” He sighed. “That boy is overtime waiting to happen. And it doesn’t make me happy to say it.”

“What? You not happy about overtime?” the first man said.

“You know what I mean. What if your kid was like that?”

“Nope, not me. That’s why I ain’t having kids. I got snipped.”

Laney looked up to see Ed coming toward her, his lips a line across his face. Without saying anything to her, he marched into the office and said, “I’m happy to hear you won’t be reproducing, Raguzzi. Now get the hell to work and shut the fuck up.”

She turned and ran out into the spewing snow, her slippers instantly soaked and her face burning with shame and guilt and worry.

***

Excerpt from Hide in Place by Emilya Naymark. Copyright 2021 by Emilya Naymark. Reproduced with permission from Emilya Naymark. All rights reserved.

 

 

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This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Emilya Naymark. There will be THREE winners. ONE winner will receive (1) physical copy of Hide In Place by Emilya Naymark (U.S. addresses only). The giveaway begins on March 1, 2021 and runs through April 2, 2021. Void where prohibited

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THE TURNCOAT’S WIDOW by Mally Becker | #Showcase #Interview #Giveaway

The Turncoat's Widow by Mally Becker Banner

The Turncoat’s Widow

by Mally Becker

February 22 – March 19, 2021 Tour

Synopsis:

The Turncoat's Widow by Mally Becker

Recently widowed, Rebecca Parcell is too busy struggling to maintain her farm in Morristown to care who wins the War for Independence. But rumors are spreading in 1780 that she’s a Loyalist sympathizer who betrayed her husband to the British—quite a tidy way to end her disastrous marriage, the village gossips whisper.

Everyone knows that her husband was a Patriot, a hero who died aboard a British prison ship moored in New York Harbor. But “everyone” is wrong. Parcell was a British spy, and General Washington – who spent two winters in Morristown – can prove it. He swears he’ll safeguard Becca’s farm if she unravels her husband’s secrets. With a mob ready to exile her or worse in the winter of 1780, it’s an offer she can’t refuse.

Escaped British prisoner of war Daniel Alloway was the last person to see Becca’s husband alive, and Washington throws this unlikely couple together on an espionage mission to British-occupied New York City. Moving from glittering balls to an underworld of brothels and prisons, Becca and Daniel uncover a plot that threatens the new country’s future. But will they move quickly enough to warn General Washington? And can Becca, who’s lost almost everyone she loves, fight her growing attraction to Daniel, a man who always moves on?

Praise for The Turncoat’s Widow

The Turncoat’s Widow has it all. A sizzling romance, meticulous research, and an exhilarating adventure. Becca Parcell is too independent for both 18th-century Morristown and her feckless English husband. Her individual plight when she is pressed into service as an unwilling spy after her husband’s death reflects the larger situation of colonists during the American Revolution, whose lives were upended by a political fight they cared nothing about. Becker balances the ruthlessness of George Washington and the underhanded charm of Alexander Hamilton with the excesses of the British, as part of a detailed picture of how the colonies were governed during a war that was far from a simple fight between two opposing nations. But historical exactitude is balanced by dashing romance between Becca and Daniel Alloway, the escaped prisoner charged with protecting her, and plot full of bold escapes and twists. A great series debut. I can’t wait for the next installment.
– Erica Obey, author, Dazzle Paint (coming 02/2021), The Curse of the Braddock Brides, and The Horseman’s Word.

An exciting Revolutionary-era thriller with a twisty mystery, great characters, and historical accuracy to boot.
– Eleanor Kuhns,author of the Will Rees mysteries

The Turncoat’s Widow reminds readers that treachery from within and without to our republic were real, and those early days for American independence from the British were fragile, the patriot cause, unpopular. This is a rousing debut novel with insights into the hardships of colonial life, the precarious place of women in society, while giving fans of historical fiction a tale with suspense, surprises, and anoutspoken and admirable heroine in Becca Parcell. Mally Becker is an author to watch.
– Gabriel Valjan, Agatha and Anthony-nominated author of The Naming Game

Book Details:

Genre: Historical Suspense / Mystery
Published by: Level Best Books
Publication Date: February 16, 2021
ISBN: 978-1-953789-27-3
Purchase Links: Amazon || Goodreads

 

Author Bio:

Mally Becker

Mally Becker is a writer whose historical suspense novel, The Turncoat’s Widow, will be published in February 2021 by Level Best Books. She was born in Brooklyn and began her professional career in New York City as a publicist and freelance magazine writer, then moved on, becoming an attorney and, later, an advocate for children in foster care.

As a volunteer, she used her legal background to create a digest of letters from US Supreme Court Justices owned by the Morristown National Park. That’s where she found a copy of an indictment for the Revolutionary War crime of traveling from New Jersey to New York City “without permission or passport.” It led her to the idea for her story.

​A winner of the Leon B. Burstein/MWA-NY Scholarship for Mystery Writing, Mally lives with her husband in the wilds of New Jersey where they hike, kayak, look forward to visits from their son, and poke around the region’s historical sites.

Q&A with Mally Becker

What was the inspiration for this book?

A Revolutionary War-era document I found inspired my story. I thought I’d be clearing trails when I volunteered at the Morristown National Historical Park here in New Jersey. Instead, I found myself sifting through one of the Park’s old collection of letters. That’s where I found a 240-year-old indictment that accused a local man of the crime of traveling from New Jersey to New York City “without permission or passport.”

I’ve lived in New York City or its suburbs for most of my life. The idea that heading into the city was ever a crime stopped me in my tracks. I was almost offended! So I took that allegation of a Revolutionary War-era crime to one of the Park’s historians for an explanation.
I learned that not all colonists supported independence during the War for Independence and that the local government made travel without its permission a crime because of all the spies and smugglers slipping between New Jersey and British-held New York City.
A divided nation? Spies and smuggling? Suddenly, I had a plot.

What has been the biggest challenge in your writing career?

Closing the door on the world and my family for hours at a time to write was my biggest challenge. I still have to remind myself that the story I want to tell is worth the time I need to give it. And that requires faith even when the story is little more than a glimmer in my mind!

What do you absolutely need while writing?

Coffee, a comfortable chair near a window, and paper and a pen next to the computer for notes. Then, more coffee.

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

Neither! I don’t adhere to a strict routine, and I don’t wait for creative lightening to strike. I find that ideas only flow if I’m doing the messy work of writing almost daily. Otherwise, I lose track of who said what to whom and what happens next. But there are days when I start at 7:30 am and others when I begin at 2 pm.

Who is your favorite character from your book and why?

I love this question, although it’s a bit like asking a parent which of their kids is their favorite! I have a crush on Daniel Alloway, I wish I were more like my heroine, Becca Parcell, and I’d love to spend more time with my book’s version of Alexander Hamilton.

But John Mason is my favorite character. He actually led a group of thieves that preyed on British and Americans alike during the American Revolution. Since I didn’t find a lot of detail about his life, I got to create my own version of the thief. Mason is joyous, intelligent and goes after what he wants without artifice, but his motivation in helping Becca and her mother-in-law is unclear, at least for most of the story. Why do I like him the most? Because I based his personality on my husband’s.

Tell us why we should read your book.

The American Revolution can feel so distant, as frozen in time as those formal, lifeless portraits from the era. I hope that my book–a historical mystery, wrapped in a romance, wrapped in a spy story–entertains readers and brings the late 18th century to life.

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

Becca Parcell accepts a cup of hot chocolate from her nemesis in one scene of The Turncoat’s Widow, and the scent of chocolate and cayenne pepper fill the air. Yes, cayenne pepper. Chocolate was common in the colonies, I learned, and hot chocolate was considered an adult drink. It was often spiced with pepper, anise, or cardamom. I first drank it that way on a trip to Williamsburg, Virginia. I enjoyed the spicy hot chocolate, but, to be honest, still prefer mine with marshmallows!

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

There are so many books you could have chosen to read. I’m grateful to you for choosing The Turncoat’s Widow. If you enjoy the book, I hope you’ll leave a review on Amazon, Goodreads or your own social media channels. And please keep in touch about what I’m planning next through Facebook or my website, www.mallybecker.com.

Tell us a little about yourself and your background?
My husband and I met in a boatyard, and we owned a sailboat before we owned a house. A former attorney, volunteer advocate for foster children, and freelance writer, I live with my husband in Warren, New Jersey, where we raised our wonderful son. The Turncoat’s Widow, featuring Becca Parcell, is my first novel.

What’s next that we can look forward to?
I’m working on the next historical mystery in the Becca Parcell series, which will be published next year.

Catch Up With Mally Becker On:
www.MallyBecker.com
Goodreads
Instagram – @mallybeckerwrites
Twitter – @mally_becker
Facebook – Mally Baumel Becker

 

Read an excerpt:

Chapter One

Morristown – January 1780

There was a nervous rustling in the white-washed meeting house, a disturbance of air like the sound of sparrows taking wing.

Becca Parcell peered over the balcony’s rough, wood railing, blinking away the fog of half-sleep. She had been dreaming of the figures in her account book and wondering whether there would be enough money for seed this spring.

“I didn’t hear what ….” she whispered to Philip’s mother.

Lady Augusta Georgiana Stokes Parcell, known simply as Lady Augusta, covered Becca’s hand with her own. “Philip. They’re speaking of Philip.”

Becca couldn’t tell whether it was her hand or Augusta’s that trembled.

“The Bible says, if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee, does it not?” The preacher’s voice was soft, yet it carried to every corner of the congregation. “They’re here. Amongst us. Neighbors who toast the King behind closed doors. Neighbors with no love of liberty.”

Philip was a Patriot. He had died a hero. Everyone knew. Minister Townsend couldn’t be talking about him.

The minister raised his eyes to hers. With his long thin arms and legs and round belly, he reminded her of a spider. She twisted her lips into the semblance of a smile as if to say “you don’t scare me.” But he did.

“Which of your neighbors celebrates each time a Patriot dies?” Townsend’s voice rose like smoke to the rafters, took on strength and caught fire. “Their presence here is an abomination.” He rapped the podium with a flat palm, the sound bruising in the quiet church. “Then cast them out. Now.”

Men pounded the floor with their feet.

Becca flinched. It wouldn’t take much to tip the congregation into violence. Everyone had lost someone or something to this endless war. It had been going on for almost five years.

Townsend’s thin arm rose, pointing to her.

Becca’s breath caught.

“And what of widows like Mrs. Parcell? Left alone, no longer guided by the wise direction of their husbands.”

Guided? Becca pulled her hand from Augusta’s. She rubbed her thumb along the palm of her hand, feeling the rough calluses stamped there. She had learned the rhythm of the scythe at the end of the summer, how to twist and swing low until her hands were so stiff that she’d struggle to free them from the handle. She’d fallen into a dreamless sleep each night during the harvest too exhausted even to dream of Philip. She, Augusta and their servant Annie were doing just fine.

“He hardly slept at home, as I hear it,” a woman behind her sniffed to a neighbor.

Becca’s spine straightened.

“No wonder there were no babes,” the second woman murmured.

Becca twisted and nodded a smile to Mrs. Huber and Mrs. Harrington. Their mouths pursed into surprised tight circles. She’d heard them murmur, their mouths hidden by fluttering fans: About her lack of social graces; her friendship with servants; her awkward silence in company. “What else could you expect from her?” they would say, snapping shut their fans.

Relief washed through Becca, nonetheless. This was merely the old gossip, not the new rumors.

“Some of you thought Mr. Parcell was just another smuggler.” The pastor’s voice boomed.

A few in the congregation chuckled. It was illegal to sell food to the British in New York – the “London Trade” some called it — but most turned a blind eye. Even Patriots need hard currency to live, Becca recalled Philip saying.

“He only married her for the dowry,” Mrs. Huber hissed.

Becca’s hand curved into a fist.

Augusta cleared her throat, and Becca forced herself to relax.

“Perhaps some of you thought Mr. Parcell was still a Tory,” the minister said.

The chuckling died.

“He came to his senses, though. He was, after all, one of us,” Minister Townsend continued.

One of us. Invitations from the finer families had trickled away after Philip’s death.

“We all know his story,” Townsend continued. “He smuggled whiskey into New York City. And what a perfect disguise his aristocratic roots provided.” The minister lifted his nose in the air as if mimicking a dandy.
“The British thought he was one of them, at least until the end.” The minister’s voice swooped as if telling a story around a campfire. “He brought home information about the British troops in the City.”

Becca shifted on the bench. She hadn’t known about her husband’s bravery until after his death. It had baffled her. Philip never spoke of politics.

Townsend lifted one finger to his chin as if he had a new thought. “But who told the British where Mr. Parcell would be on the day he was captured? Who told the Redcoats that Mr. Parcell was a spy for independence?”

Becca forgot to breathe. He wouldn’t dare.

“It must have been someone who knew him well.” The minister’s gaze moved slowly through the congregation and came to rest on Becca. His eyes were the color of creosote, dark and burning. “Very, very well.”
Mrs. Coddington, who sat to Becca’s left, pulled the hem of her black silk gown close to avoid contact. Men in the front pews swiveled and stared.

“I would never. I didn’t.” Becca’s corset gouged her ribcage.

“Speak up, Mrs. Parcell. We can’t hear you,” the minister said in a singsong voice.

Townsend might as well strip her naked before the entire town. Respectable women didn’t speak in public. He means to humiliate me.

“Stand up, Mrs. Parcell.” His voice boomed. “We all want to hear.”

She didn’t remember standing. But there she was, the fingers of her right hand curled as it held the hunting bow she’d used since she was a child. Becca turned back to the minister. “Hogwash.” If they didn’t think she was a lady, she need not act like one. “Your independence is a wickedly unfair thing if it lets you accuse me without proof.”

Gasps cascaded throughout the darkening church.

From the balcony, where slaves and servants sat, she heard two coughs, explosive as gun fire. She twisted. Carl scowled down at her in warning. His white halo of hair, fine as duckling feathers, seemed to stand on end. He had worked for her father and helped to raise her. He had taught her numbers and mathematics. She couldn’t remember life without him.

“Accuse? Accuse you of what, Mrs. Parcell?” The minister opened his arms to the congregation. “What have we accused you of?”

Becca didn’t feel the chill now. “Of killing my husband. If this is what your new nation stands for – neighbors accusing neighbors, dividing us with lies – I’ll have none of it. “Five years into this endless war, is anyone better off for Congress’ Declaration of Independence? Independence won’t pay for food. It won’t bring my husband home.”

It was as if she’d burst into flames. “What has the war brought any of us? Heartache, is all. Curse your independence. Curse you for ….”

Augusta yanked on Becca’s gown with such force that she teetered, then rocked back onto the bench.

The church erupted in shouts, a crashing wave of sound meant to crush her.

Becca’s breath came in short puffs. What had she done?

“Now that’s just grief speaking, gentlemen. Mrs. Parcell is still mourning her husband. No need to get worked up.” The voice rose from the front row. She recognized Thomas Lockwood’s slow, confident drawl.
She craned her neck to watch Thomas, with his wheat-colored hair and wide shoulders. His broad stance reminded her of a captain at the wheel. He was a gentleman, a friend of General Washington. They’ll listen to him, she thought.

“Our minister doesn’t mean to accuse Mrs. Parcell of anything, now do you, sir?”

The two men stared at each other. A minister depended on the good will of gentlemen like Thomas Lockwood.
The pastor blinked first. He shook his head.

Becca’s breathing slowed.

“There now. As I said.” Lockwood’s voice calmed the room.

Then Mr. Baldwin stood slowly. Wrinkles crisscrossed his cheeks. He’d sent his three boys to fight with the Continental Army in ’75. Only one body came home to be buried. The other two were never found. He pointed at Becca with fingers twisted by arthritis. “Mrs. Parcell didn’t help when the women raised money for the soldiers last month.”

A woman at the end of Becca’s pew sobbed quietly. It was Mrs. Baldwin.

“You didn’t invite me.” Becca searched the closed faces for proof that someone believed her.

“Is she on our side or theirs?” another woman called.

The congregation quieted again. But it was the charged silence between two claps of thunder, and the Assembly waited for a fresh explosion in the dim light of the tired winter afternoon.

With that, Augusta’s imperious voice sliced through the silence: “Someone help my daughter-in-law. She’s not well. I believe she’s about to faint.”

Becca might be rash, but she wasn’t stupid, and she knew a command when she heard one. She shut her eyes and fell gracelessly into the aisle. Her head and shoulder thumped against the rough pine floorboards.

Mrs. Coddington gasped. So did Becca, from the sharp pain in her cheek and shoulder.

Women in the surrounding rows scooted back in surprise, their boots shuffling with a shh-shh sound.

“Lady Augusta,” Mrs. Coddington huffed.

Independence be damned. All of Morristown seemed to enjoy using Augusta’s family title, her former title, as often as possible.

“Lady Augusta,” she repeated. “I’ve had my suspicions about that girl since the day she married your son. I don’t know why you haven’t sent her back to her people.”

“She has no ‘people,’ Mrs. Coddington. She has me,” Augusta’s voice was as frosty as the air in the church. “And if I had doubts about Rebecca, do you think I’d live with her?”

Becca imagined Augusta’s raised eyebrows, her delicate lifted chin. She couldn’t have borne it if her mother-in-law believed the minister’s lies.

Augusta’s featherlight touch stroked her forehead. “Well done,” she murmured. “Now rise slowly. And don’t lean on me. I might just topple over.”

“We are eager to hear the rest of the service on this Sabbath day, Minister Townsend. Do continue,” Thomas Lockwood called.

Becca stood, her petite mother-in-law’s arm around her waist. The parishioners at the edges of the aisles averted their eyes as the two women passed.

As they stepped into the stark, brittle daylight, one last question shred the silence they left behind: “Do you think she turned her husband over to the British?”

Someone else answered. “It must be true. Everyone says so.

***

Excerpt from The Turncoat’s Widow by Mally Becker. Copyright 2021 by Mally Becker. Reproduced with permission from Mally Becker. All rights reserved.

 

 

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

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Unwitting Accomplice

by Sid Meltzer

March 1-31, 2021 Tour

Synopsis:

Unwitting Accomplice by Sid Meltzer

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

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

I intend to commit a murder

She doesn’t know who the killer is.

She doesn’t know who his victim will be.

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

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

Kudos for Unwitting Accomplice:

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

Book Details:

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

 

Author Bio:

Sid Meltzer

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

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

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

Unwitting Accomplice is his debut novel.

Q&A with Sid Meltzer

What was the inspiration for this book?

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

What has been the biggest challenge in your writing career?

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

What do you absolutely need while writing?

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

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

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

Who is your favorite character from your book and why?

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

Tell us why we should read your book.

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

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

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

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

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

Tell us a little about yourself and your background?

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

What’s next that we can look forward to?

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

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

 

Read an excerpt:

Chapter One

Friday, March 24
11:15 AM

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

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

I intend to commit a murder.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter Two

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

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

“Come over.”

“Now?”

“Now.”

“Twenty.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What?”

“Patience, young man.”

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

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

“What it says.”

“When?”

“When did I get it?”

“When will he kill?”

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

“Nothing to ID the sender.”

“Could be anybody.”

“From anywhere. Professional, maybe.”

“Educated.”

“Grammar counts for something.”

“One perp, acting alone.”

“One victim, not more. Singular.”

“Mental case?”

“Worker going postal?”

“Computer literate.”

“Uses Word. Sends file to the printer.”

“Home office. Not safe for work.”

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

“Leading back to him. Her.”

“What now? Police?”

“Not yet.”

“Nothing they can do.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter Three

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

 

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SYMPHONY ROAD by Gabriel Valjan || #Showcase

Symphony Road by Gabriel Valjan Banner

Symphony Road

by Gabriel Valjan

February 1-28, 2021 Tour

Synopsis:

Symphony Road by Gabriel Valjan

Trouble comes in threes for Shane Cleary, a former police officer and now, a PI.

Arson. A Missing Person. A cold case.

Two of his clients whom he shouldn’t trust, he does, and the third, whom he should, he can’t.

Shane is up against crooked cops, a notorious slumlord and a mafia boss who want what they want, and then there’s the good guys who may or may not be what they seem.

Praise for Symphony Road:

“The second installment in this noir series takes us on a gritty journey through mid-seventies Boston, warts and all, and presents Shane Cleary with a complex arson case that proves to be much more than our PI expected. Peppered with the right mix of period detail and sharp, spare prose, Valjan proves he’s the real deal.” – Edwin Hill, Edgar finalist and author of Watch Her

“Ostracized former cop turned PI Shane Cleary navigates the mean streets of Boston’s seedy underbelly in Symphony Road. A brilliant follow up to Dirty Old Town, Valjan’s literary flair and dark humor are on full display.” – Bruce Robert Coffin, award-winning author of the Detective Byron Mysteries

“A private eye mystery steeped in atmosphere and attitude.” – Richie Narvaez, author of Noiryorican

Book Details:

Genre: Crime fiction, Procedural, Noir, Historical Fiction
Published by: Level Best Books
Publication Date: January 15, 2021
Number of Pages: 232
ISBN: 978-1-953789-07-5
Series: Shane Cleary Mystery, #2
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

I went to cross the street when the wheels of a black Cadillac sped up and bristled over tempered glass from a recent smash-and-grab. The brake lights pulsed red, and a thick door opened. A big hulk stepped out, and the car wobbled. The man reached into his pocket. I thought this was it. My obituary was in tomorrow’s paper, written in past tense and in the smallest and dullest typeface, Helvetica, because nothing else said boring better.

Click. Click. “I can never get this fucking thing to light.”

It was Tony Two-Times, Mr. B’s no-neck side man. His nickname came from his habit of clicking his lighter twice. “Mr. B wants a word.”

“Allow me.” I grabbed the Bic. The orange flame jumped on my first try and roasted the end of his Marlboro Red. “You really oughta quit.”

“Thanks for the health advice. Get in.”

Tony nudged me into the backseat. I became the meat in the sandwich between him and Mr. B. There was no need for introductions. The chauffeur was nothing more than a back of a head and a pair of hands on the wheel. The car moved and Mr. B contemplated the night life outside the window.

“I heard you’re on your way to the police station to help your friend.”

“News travels fast on Thursday night. Did Bill tell you before or after he called me?”

“I’m here on another matter.”

The cloud of smoke made me cough. Tony Two-Times was halfway to the filter. The chauffeur cracked the window a smidge for ventilation. As I expected, the radio played Sinatra and there were plans for a detour. A string of red and green lights stared back at us through a clean windshield.

“A kid I know is missing,” Mr. B said.

“Kids go missing all the time.”

“This kid is special.”

“Has a Missing Persons Report been filed?”

The look from Mr. B prompted regret. “We do things my way. Understood?”

We stopped at a light. A long-legged working girl with a chinchilla wrap crossed the street. She approached the car to recite the menu and her prices, but one look at us and she kept walking.

“Is this kid one of your own?”

The old man’s hand strummed leather. The missing pinky unnerved me. I’ve seen my share of trauma in Vietnam: shattered bones, intestines hanging out of a man, but missing parts made me queasy. The car moved and Mr. B continued the narrative.

“Kid’s a real pain in my ass, which is what you’d expect from a teenager, but he’s not in the rackets, if that’s what you’re wondering. This should be easy money for you.”

Money never came easy. As soon as it was in my hand, it went to the landlady, or the vet, or the utilities, or inside the refrigerator. I’d allow Mr. B his slow revelation of facts. Mr. B mentioned the kid’s gender when he said “he’s not in the rackets.” This detail had already made the case easier for me. A boy was stupider, easier to find and catch. Finding a teenage girl, that took something special, like pulling the wings off of an angel.

“He’s a good kid. No troubles with the law, good in school, excellent grades and all, but his mother seems to think he needed to work off some of that rebellious energy kids get. You know how it is.”

I didn’t. The last of my teen years were spent in rice paddies, in a hundred-seventeen-degree weather—and that was before summer—trying to distinguish friendlies from enemies in a jungle on the other side of the planet. And then there were the firefights, screams, and all the dead bodies.

“Does this kid have a girlfriend?” I asked.

Mr. B said nothing.

“A boyfriend then?” That question made Mr. B twist his head and Tony Two-Times elbowed me hard. “I’ve got to ask. Kids these days. You know, drugs, sex, and rock’ n roll.”

“The kid isn’t like your friend Bill, Mr. Cleary.”

The mister before Cleary was a first. The ribs ached. I caught a flash of the driver’s eyes in the rearview mirror. Mr. B conveyed specifics such as height and weight, build, the last known place the kid was seen, the usual hangouts and habits. This kid was All-American, too vanilla, and Mr. B had to know it. Still, this kid was vestal purity compared to Mr. B, who had run gin during Prohibition, killed his first man during the Depression, and became a made-man before Leave It to Beaver aired its first episode on television.

The car came to a stop. The driver put an emphasis on the brakes. We sat in silence. The locks shot up. Not quite the sound of a bolt-action rifle, but close. Mr. B extended his hand for a handshake. I took it. No choice there. This was B’s way of saying his word was his bond and whatever I discovered during the course of my investigation stayed between us, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.

“I’ve got to ask,” I said.

“I’ll pay you whatever you want.”

“It’s not that,” I said, feeling Tony Two-Times’ breath on the back of my neck. “Did you hire Jimmy C to do a job lately?”

“I did not.”

“And Bill called me, just like that?” I knew better than to snap my fingers. Tony would grab my hand and crush my knuckles like a bag of peanuts. A massive paw on the shoulder told me it was time to vacate the premises, but then Mr. B did the tailor’s touch, a light hand to my elbow. “Jimmy is queer like your friend, right?”

“What has that got to do with anything?”

“When it comes to friends, you forgive certain habits, like I allow this idiot over here to smoke those stupid cigarettes. Capisci?”

“Yeah, I understand.”

“Good. Now, screw off.”

I climbed over Tony Two-Times to leave the car. Door handle in my grip, I leaned forward to ask one last thing, “You know about Jimmy’s predicament?”

“Ironic, isn’t it?” Mr. B said.

“What is?”

“I know everything in this town, except where my grandnephew is. Now, shut the door.”

The door clapped shut. I heard bolts hammer down and lock. There was a brief sight of silhouettes behind glass before the car left the curb. I had two cases before breakfast, one in front of me, and the other one, behind me in the precinct house. There was no need for me to turn around. No need either, to read the sign overhead.

The limestone building loomed large in my memory. Two lanterns glowed and the entrance, double doors of polished brass, were as tall and heavy as I remembered them. It was late March and I wasn’t Caesar but it sure as hell felt like the Ides of March as I walked up those marble steps.

***

Excerpt from Symphony Road by Gabriel Valjan. Copyright 2021 by Gabriel Valjan. Reproduced with permission from Gabriel Valjan. All rights reserved.

 

 

Author Bio:

Gabriel Valjan

Gabriel Valjan lives in Boston’s South End. He is the author of the Roma Series and Company Files (Winter Goose Publishing) and the Shane Cleary series (Level Best Books). His second Company File novel, The Naming Game, was a finalist for the Agatha Award for Best Historical Mystery and the Anthony Award for Best Paperback Original in 2020. Gabriel is a member of the Historical Novel Society, International Thriller Writer (ITW), and Sisters in Crime.

Catch Up With Gabriel Valjan:
www.GabrielValjan.com
GabrielsWharf.wordpress.com
Goodreads
BookBub – @gvaljan
Instagram – @gabrielvaljan
Twitter – @GValjan
Facebook

 

 

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