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Black Label by James L’Etoile | #Showcase #Interview #Giveaway

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Black Label

by James L’Etoile

July 12 – August 8, 2021 Tour

Synopsis:

Black Label by James L'Etoile

Sanity is something you don’t miss until it’s gone. Hard charging pharmaceutical executive Jillian Cooper fears she’d destined to inherit her mother’s history of mental illness when she finds herself accused of murdering her boss. All the evidence tells her she’s either a murderer, or insane. When Jillian struggles to find the truth, she uncovers a web of black market pharmaceuticals, prison gangs, and greed. She begins to believe she may have killed to cover up the off-the-books drug operation.

Can she discover the truth before she’s condemned to life in prison, or a mental hospital?

Praise

“Tight, terrific, terrifying. BLACK LABEL delves into the murky world of pharmaceuticals where profit is prioritized above all else. L’Etoile creates a strong female lead in Jillian Cooper, a woman who faces obstacle after obstacle, but still charges into the abyss. More unnerving than a fistful of amphetamines. Unputdownable.”
—K.J. Howe, international bestselling author of SKYJACK

“James L’Etoile’s BLACK LABEL is a delightfully complex and twisty thriller with a ripped-from-the-headlines plot that will make you think long and hard before you swallow your next dose of medication. Add in an intrepid heroine willing to do whatever it takes to uncover the truth no matter the cost, and L’Etoile’s newest offering is a winner!”
— Karen Dionne, author of the #1 international bestseller THE MARSH KING’S DAUGHTER and THE WICKED SISTER

“Relentlessly fast-paced and compellingly twisty! The talented James L’Etoile sets up an irresistibly high-stakes situation: a woman is certain to be charged with murder and doesn’t remember a thing. Can she prove her innocence before she’s silenced forever? A dark journey through the world of big Pharma and big money—you will turn the pages as fast as you can.”
— Hank Phillippi Ryan USA Today Bestselling author of THE FIRST TO LIE

“If this book had a tag, it would say ‘proceed with caution’ because nothing is what it seems. Told with a vivid and visceral style, this is le Carré’s Constant Gardener meets The Fugitive. As the title suggests, BLACK LABEL is a top of the line thriller.”
Gabriel Valjan, Agatha & Anthony Award nominated author

Book Details:

Genre: Thriller
Published by: Level Best Books
Publication Date: July 20, 2021
Number of Pages: 300
ISBN: 978-1-953789-14-3
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

Chapter 1

It was bad this time. Jillian shielded her eyes from the sharp edge of morning light and dug her fingers into the pillow clutched over her face. Deep in her temples, her pulse hammered a fast, painful staccato rhythm. She’d gone months since her last migraine, and this one tightened a vice around her skull. Even with her eyes closed, her vision clouded with a kaleidoscope of bright dots. The rustle of bedcovers sounded like the world fell in around her. Jillian Cooper’s world had crumbled down and threatened to suffocate her, only she didn’t know it–yet.

She reached for the phone she kept on her bedside table. There was no way she was going to make it to her Saturday morning spin class. Her hand probed for the phone, her head still tucked under the pillow. First one way, then she groped in another direction, knocking over a small brass table lamp. Jillian recoiled from the clatter as the metal lamp rung as loudly as the bells at Saints’ Peter and Paul Church over in North Beach. She peeled off her protective pillow and reached for the phone. Her phone wasn’t on the bedside table, and neither was the stack of paperback books she habitually kept at hand. Blinding pinpricks of light danced in her vision, making it impossible to focus through the swirling aura.

Fighting against the pounding in her head, Jillian crept to the edge of the bed, dangled her legs off the side, and brushed her toes gently on the polished hardwood floor. Jillian shuddered, a wave of nausea poured over her. The feeling wasn’t from a migraine. It came from the realization she wasn’t in her apartment. Her place didn’t have hardwood floors. Jillian didn’t know where she was, or worse, how she got here.

Instead of her phone, a half-empty Gran Patrón Platinum tequila bottle and a wrinkled condom wrapper lay on the nightstand. She spotted her clothes on the other side of the room, in a heap on a leather chair. Jillian pulled the sheet away from herself and peered downward.

“Shit.”

She was naked under the bed covers. Jillian couldn’t remember the slightest detail leading up to her ending the night disrobed, nor could she feel the lingering warmth of being with someone, in spite of the condom wrapper left on the nightstand. She’d never experienced a blackout from alcohol before. Jillian stayed away from tequila as a rule because of a few bad hangovers back when she attended San Francisco State University. If it weren’t for the half-empty bottle of pricy booze, she’d have sworn she hadn’t touched the stuff in ten years.

Yet, here she was–tequila, nakedness, and all. She hoped a tall, dark, handsome, athletic man was going to burst through the bedroom door with a tray of cappuccinos and warm croissants. At this point, a short, round, gnomish man with instant coffee and a day-old pop tart would be welcome. It wasn’t her habit to “sleep around,” as her mother used to call it. However, Jillian Cooper was a woman who enjoyed the occasional company of men, and this was not the first time she’d greeted the sunrise from a man’s place following a late night hook-up. She always remembered them, until this morning. The migraine and the tequila played games in her head—loud, pulsing, and painful games.

The bedroom, where she did God-only-knows-what, was expensively furnished and decidedly masculine. Dark hues of burnished leather and deep mahogany dominated the space. A set of wooden horizontal blinds kept out some light, and in spite of her headache, curiosity demanded she open them.

The window looked out over Huntington Park in Nob Hill, some of the priciest real estate in San Francisco. From her vantage point, Jillian figured the room sat on the sixth floor, or higher, and commanded a view of the grey slate tile roof of Grace Cathedral and Mt. Sutro off to the South. The condo, or whatever this place was, offered the resident one of those “ten-million-dollar views” everyone wanted, but few could afford. Jillian’s salary as a Vice President of Marketing for Dynalife Pharmaceutical wouldn’t buy the dust in a place like this.
Another wave of nausea buckled Jillian’s knees. She grabbed onto a dresser near the window and braced herself while the queasiness passed. As she opened her eyes, she focused on a silver-plated frame on the top of the dresser. Jillian peered at a photograph of her own image, a picture of her, with her boss, Jonathon Mattson, the CEO of Dynalife Pharmaceutical.

Confusion and panic clawed at Jillian’s mind. Mattson was thirty-five years her senior and married to one of the city’s society matrons. Jillian supposed some women found him attractive, with his swagger and the ease with which he flaunted his wealth. There were lines Jillian did not cross; never, ever, get involved with someone at work, and married men were off limits.

What was she doing here, naked in Mattson’s apartment? Had Jillian broken both rules? The thought of a relationship with Mattson was unthinkable. The photograph meant they’d been together before. The two looked at ease with one another in the photo, and it hinted at a close personal relationship, her hand on his chest. When the hell was that taken? She had no recollection of an evening with Jonathon Mattson, let alone posing for a photo.

“What have I done?”

Jillian staggered to the chair with her wadded-up clothes, slid into her panties, quickly stepped into her dark blue dress, shoved a bra in her purse, and grabbed her shoes from the floor. With an ear to the door, Jillian listened. Filtered by the thrum of her heartbeat, she heard voices deep within the apartment. She felt her face blush thinking about who she’d meet as she snuck out. Her hand trembled on the doorknob as she turned it, a fraction of an inch at a time until the lock slid back with a muted click. The door opened inward a few inches, the voices became more distinct–a television.

Shoes in hand, Jillian crept down the hallway. The hardwood floor felt cold under her bare feet as she made her way to the large open living space. A flat-screen television blared the financial news from CNN to an empty room. Jillian glanced at the kitchen, and she exhaled when she realized she was alone in the apartment. The veil of swirling bright spots in her vision started to clear, and she needed to head home for her migraine medication. She desperately wanted to leave before Jonathon Mattson returned. She couldn’t face him with the cocktail of anger and shame whirling inside her.

Slipping on her shoes, she listened as the CNN anchor, a carefully coifed and airbrushed young blonde reporter, delivered her monologue.

“The market opened with a quick rally this morning,” the anchorwoman said.

“Today’s Saturday and the market isn’t open, bimbo,” Jillian said. “Where do they find these people?” She found her jacket folded over the back of a sofa.

Jillian tucked the jacket under her arm, reached for the apartment door and stopped when she heard the woman’s voice drone on.

“In other financial news, the death of Dynalife Pharmaceutical CEO, Jonathon Mattson sent the mega-pharmaceutical company’s stock prices plummeting in early trading. Authorities are looking into the matter and haven’t disclosed any details about the death.”

Jillian froze when the screen flashed a photo of Mattson, with a banner under the image proclaiming, “Billionaire Pharmaceutical CEO Dead.”

The television news turned the page and droned on about other financial news. Mattson was a mere footnote in the market ledgers. Business goes on.

“That can’t be. Jonathon, dead?”

Another cramp of nausea hit her, and she wrapped her arms around her midsection as if she held her insides together. The apartment space closed in on her, and when the spasms subsided, Jillian darted for the door and flung it open. She ran across the hall to an elevator and stabbed the down button repeatedly, willing the car to appear. The hallway space was foreign; nothing in the décor sparked a memory of how she got here. But here she was, and it wasn’t like she magically appeared in Mattson’s apartment. Jillian didn’t know Jonathon kept an apartment on Knob Hill. It must have been a secret rendezvous pad for Jonathon and his rumored affairs. A wave of nausea swept over Jillian at the though she was now among his conquests.

The whir of the elevator stopped, and a light electronic bleep sounded the arrival of the conveyance. She slid into the empty elevator before the doors fully opened and punched the lobby button. The cool wall of the elevator car soothed the back of her head, the first comforting thing since awakening in this bad dream.

She couldn’t shake the nightmare off. Questions without answers cascaded through her mind. What happened? Where was she? Who was she with?

“Come on–come on,” she urged the doors as they closed at a slow agonizing pace.

“It’s not possible. Today is Saturday, and I saw Jonathon at a board meeting yesterday–Friday. It has to be a huge mistake.” She drew in a deep breath and tried to center herself.

The elevator chimed, and the doors opened into the building’s lobby. Jonathon wasn’t there to expose some elaborate practical joke. Instead, Jillian found the marble-tiled lobby empty, except for a doorman who gave her a smirk and a nod signaling, “I know what you did last night.” The man leered and stroked his short stubble beard as Jillian passed his station.

Jillian stepped outside to the curb and raised her hand for a taxi. She glanced at a newspaper rack on the sidewalk next to her, and the headline caught her breath short.

Billionaire Jonathon Mattson Murdered.

The date jumped off the page. It was the Monday edition.

Mattson was dead; she’d met with him on Friday and woke up in his apartment this morning. Jillian’s knees buckled with the realization that two days passed without a single lingering memory. Two days erased without a trace.

***

Excerpt from Black Label by James L’Etoile. Copyright 2021 by James L’Etoile. Reproduced with permission from James L’Etoile. All rights reserved.

 

 

Author Bio:

James L'Etoile

James L’Etoile uses his twenty-nine years behind bars as an influence in his novels, short stories, and screenplays. He is a former associate warden in a maximum-security prison, a hostage negotiator, facility captain, and director of California’s state parole system. He is a nationally recognized expert witness on prison and jail operations. He has been nominated for the Silver Falchion for Best Procedural Mystery, and The Bill Crider Award for short fiction. His published novels include: At What Cost, Bury the Past, and Little River -The Other Side of Paradise.

 

 

 

Q&A with James L’Etoile

 

 

 

What was the inspiration for this book?

The inspiration for BLACK LABEL came to me a bit differently than the stories, characters, and plots in my other books. Usually, I have a kernel of a plot idea and a vivid grasp of the characters coming from my years of working in prison. You know, the gangs, the murders, and all the secrets wrapped up in a criminal organization. You are going to spend months with these characters and places, so you have to ready to allow your mind space to dwell there for a while. This book, though, came from sitting around with a bunch of fellow authors at the Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference in Marin, California. We got onto the topic of fear and there wasn’t anything more threatening to me than feeling helpless, especially when you’re faced with defending yourself from serious allegations. In this case, Jillian Cooper finds herself as the suspect in a murder—and all the evidence points to her, but Jillian can’t remember a thing.

The plot question of what’s in those prescription drugs we take was developed pre-COVID, long before the anti-vaccine movement started to show its hand. Now, I’m definitely not an anti-vaxxer and I signed up the moment I became eligible. But, it does make you wonder what’s really in those prescription drugs?

What has been the biggest challenge in your writing career?

This is a difficult question to narrow down for me. Each book so far has come with its own set of challenges, from querying that first novel, to getting an agent, to contract terms, and book distribution. But, I’m learning—continuously. I know more now about the craft of writing, my own writing process, and the business of publishing. Establishing my own writing process has probably been the most difficult and rewarding challenge in my writing career. Writing bootcamps, craft seminars, and “experts” tell you that you must write in a certain way, develop a story using a specific method, and use color coded index cards to meticulously outline your book’s plot. And that may be fine—for them. More power to them and if that helped them create a book, good on them.

For the longest time I tried to mirror these “have-to’s” and while I came up with books that sold, I wasn’t enjoying the creative process as much. I’m discovering I’m more of an intuitive writer and following a strict outline inhibits some of the creative options that may pop up as I write. Am I a total “pantser?” Not really. When I sit down to write, I have a good idea how the story begins, who inhabits the pages, and a general idea how the story ends, without the compulsive need for a detailed outline. For example, I wrote an award-recognized screenplay from sparse notes scribbled on a Starbuck’s napkin.

What do you absolutely need while writing?

I’ve found the most important thing is to protect the time you have to write. There will always something that needs to be done, pulling you away from the keyboard. The key is giving yourself permission to sit down and write and let other commitments or distractions slide a bit. Keeping distractions at bay is always a struggle. I can tell when I’m writing a difficult scene, where emotion and tension are at a peak. I’m a guy and I stuff that stuff down as deep as possible. So, dogs are walked, floors vacuumed, and the lawn gets mowed. Finally, I know I have to come back and write that difficult passage, but hey, the house is nice and tidy…

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

The routine helps keep me productive. My daily schedule starts early—with an assist. Apparently, Corgis demand feeding before first-light. After a dog walk (plot lines and twists often fall into place during these walks) and coffee, I try to put in at least four hours at the keyboard when I’m drafting. I find that I’m creatively spent after four to five hours, so I’ll move onto promotion, marketing, or other book business tasks that need attention. But all the while, plot lines, dialogue, and twists are circling in my mind.

Who is your favorite character from your book and why?
Jillian Cooper is the main character in BLACK LABEL and I’m drawn to her because she isn’t the helpless damsel in distress. She’s a tough, smart woman who earned her way to the corporate boardroom. In her focused, driven climb to the top, she’s become isolated and has no one around her to help her deal with the damning accusations she faces. She finds an inner strength and she’ll need it to survive.

Tell us why we should read your book.

There’s a subtle, but swift undercurrent in our work-lives demanding all of our attention. In some respects, the work from home movement and constant Zooming from one meeting to another has made us more disconnected, isolated, and emotionally exhausted. Jillian was so focused on her important job that she didn’t notice what was going on around her. Her lack of work-life balance made her vulnerable. So, in some respects, Jillian serves as a warning to us to about work-life balance.

Give us an interesting fun fact or a few about your book?
The San Francisco Police inspector’s name, DiManno was the result of a Sacramento Library Foundation auction. Mario DiManno was the highest and very generous bidder. The proceeds went to children’s literacy programs in the Sacramento, California area.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
I hope readers take away we can’t do it alone. Go through life, that is. We need the connection and support of others and with that interconnectedness we can accomplish anything. Additionally, I think it’s interesting the counterfeit pharmaceutical industry is a $200 billion business and the safeguards in place between greed and unsuspecting consumers are paper thin. As thin as a Black Label.

Tell us a little about yourself and your background?
I use my twenty-nine years behind bars as an influence in my novels, short stories, and screenplays. As a former associate warden in a maximum-security prison, a hostage negotiator, facility captain, and director of California’s state parole system, I have an insider’s perspective into crime and the impact it has in our communities. I’ve been nominated for the Silver Falchion for Best Procedural Mystery, and The Bill Crider Award for short fiction. My published novels include: At What Cost, Bury the Past, Little River -The Other Side of Paradise, and Black Label. Look for Dead Drop in the summer of 2022 from Level Best Books. You can find out more about me and what goes on in my head at www.jamesletoile.com

What’s next that we can look forward to?
Next up is DEAD DROP (Level Best Books), the first of three books in the series set in the Arizona desert looking at the complicated and dangerous relationship between law enforcement and illegal immigration. Detective Nathan Parker’s finds he must depend on the very people he chased over the border if he is to survive.

Catch Up With James L’Etoile:
www.JamesLEtoile.com
Goodreads
BookBub – @jimletoile
Instagram – @AuthorJamesLEtoile
Twitter – @JamesLEtoile
Facebook – @james.letoile

 

 

Tour Participants:

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

 

 

Giveaway:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for James L’Etoile. There will be Seven (7) winners for this tour. Two (2) winners will each receive a $20 Amazon.com gift card; Three (3) winners will each receive a $10 Amazon.com gift card; and Two (2) winners will each receive 1 signed print edition of At What Cost and Bury the Past by James L’Etoile. The giveaway begins on July 12 and runs through August 10, 2021. Void where prohibited.

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The Queen Of Second Chances by D.M. Barr | #Showcase #GuestPost #Giveaway

The Queen of Second Chances by D.M. Barr Banner

The Queen of Second Chances

by D.M. Barr

July 1-31, 2021 Tour

Synopsis:

The Queen of Second Chances by D.M. Barr
Carra’s memoir-writing class teaches seniors to resolve the regrets of their past. But to win over elder attorney Jay, will she follow her own advice?

Carraway (Carra) Quinn is a free-spirited English major confronting an unreceptive job market. Desperate for cash, she reluctantly agrees to her realtor stepmother’s marketing scheme: infiltrate a local senior center as a recreational aide, ingratiate herself with the members, and convince them to sell their homes.

Jay Prentiss is a straitlaced, overprotective elder attorney whose beloved but mentally fragile Nana attends that center.

More creative than mercenary, Carra convinces Jay to finance innovations to the Center’s antiquated programming. Her ingenuity injects new enthusiasm among the seniors, inspiring them to confront and reverse the regrets of their past. An unlikely romance develops.

But when Carra’s memoir-writing class prompts Jay’s Nana to skip town in search of a lost love, the two take off on a cross-country, soul-searching chase that will either deepen their relationship or tear them apart forever.

Reviews:

Charming, funny, and heartwarming, The Queen of Second Chances is not just a love story where two people discover each other, it is a story of self-discovery. Like all good romances, this one starts with the two main characters loathing each other before slowly realizing that they are perfect together. But before either Jay or Carra can come to that realization, they have to work through their personal shortcomings. Carra feels like a failure and is unable to get past her mother’s desertion of her as a child. Jay, while his helping people who desperately need rescuing demonstrates his fundamental goodness, puts a little too much emphasis on wealth and status. Helping a group of seniors find fulfillment is the catalyst that allows both the main characters to embrace changing their own lives and then ultimately embrace each other. A joy to read, The Queen of Second Chances is the perfect mood lifter in these stressful times.

– S. Lee Manning, author of the critically acclaimed thriller, Trojan Horse
FIVE STARS!

The Queen of Second Chances by D.M. Barr is a beautifully written story of two lost souls brought together by fate. Carra was such a wonderful character, her warmth and kindness towards others were admirable. She also put others’ needs before her own safety and this was highlighted during the car scene outside the Garrison house. She was perfectly matched to Jay. Although he seemed to enjoy a materialistic lifestyle, I feel he had a really good heart and when he met Carra, he found the missing piece in his life. My absolute favorite character was Helen; she was extremely insightful and wise even though she was suffering from the onset of dementia. Her words of wisdom throughout were poignant and powerful, especially her views on looking back in life: “It’s more important to heed the present because that’s what it is, a gift. Nothing lasts long in this life, which is why every moment matters. You can’t take anything or anyone for granted.” I found the relationship between Jay and Carra developed gradually and the dialogue exchanges between them were very realistic. I loved the twist towards the end concerning Jay’s background and the nail-biting ending was brilliant. I feel there are so many underlying messages throughout too. For example, live for the moment, never be afraid to chase your dreams, and forgive yourself for mistakes you have made in your past. I highly recommend this novel.

– Lesley Jones, for Readers’ Favorite
FIVE STARS!

The Queen of Second Chances by D.M. Barr is a lovely, deftly written romantic comedy that fans of the genre will love.

– Edith Wairimu for Readers’ Favorite

Book Details

Genre: Contemporary Sweet Romance, Romcom, Chicklit
Published by: Champagne Book Group
Publication Date: June 7th 2021
Number of Pages: 204
ISBN: 2940165375545 (ASIN B094GFWG3K)
Purchase Links: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

Chapter One

I couldn’t take my eyes off the man. He came barreling into the recreational center at SALAD—Seniors Awaiting Lunch and Dinner, Rock Canyon’s answer to Meals on Wheels—as I sat in the outer office, awaiting my job interview. He was tall, but not too tall. His expensive suit barely concealed an athletic physique that fell just shy of a slavish devotion to muscle mass. Early thirties, I estimated, and monied. Honey-blond curly hair, blue eyes, high cheekbones, chiseled features, gold-rimmed glasses, and of course, dimples. Why did there always have to be dimples? They were my kryptonite, rendering me powerless to resist.

I nicknamed him Adonis, Donny for short, lest anyone accuse me of being pretentious. He was the stuff of every girl’s dreams, especially if that girl was as masochistic as yours truly. Men like that didn’t fall for ordinary girls like me, gals more Cocoa Puff than Coco Chanel, more likely to run their pantyhose than strut the runway. I leaned back on the leather couch, laid down my half-completed application, and prepared to enjoy the view. Then he opened his mouth, and the attraction withered like a popped balloon.

“I want to speak to Judith. Now. Is she here?” The sharpness of his voice put Ginsu knives to shame. It was jagged enough to slash open memories of my mother’s own barely contained temper when refereeing sibling disputes between Nikki and me. Well, at least until she prematurely retired her whistle and skipped town for good.

The attendant working the main desk looked fresh out of nursing school and had obviously missed the lecture on dealing with difficult clients. She sputtered, held up both hands in surrender, and retreated into the administration office, reemerging with an older woman whose guff-be-gone demeanor softened as she got closer. Her name tag read, “Judith Ferester,” the woman scheduled to conduct my interview. She took one look at Donny, sighed as if to say, Here we go again, and plastered on her requisite customer service smile.

“Mr. Prentiss, to what do we owe the honor of this visit?” she asked in a tone sweet enough to make my teeth hurt.

“Judith, I thought we had this discussion before. I trust you to take care of my nana, but day after day, I discover goings-on that are utterly unacceptable. Maybe we shouldn’t have added the senior center, just limited SALAD to meal delivery. Last week you served chips and a roll at lunch? That’s too many carbs. This week, I find someone is duping her out of her pocket change. No one is going to take advantage of her good nature, not under my watch.”

I half-expected him to spit on the ground. Was such venom contagious? I didn’t want my prospective employer in a foul mood when she reviewed my application. I really, really needed this job.

“Mr. Prentiss,” Judith answered, her patronizing smile frozen in place, “I assure you that your championing of our senior center was well founded. The reason your nana isn’t complaining is that she receives the utmost care. She is one of our dearest visitors. Everyone loves her.”

“Tell me then, what is this?” Donny—scratch that, Mr. Prentiss—drew a scrap of paper from his pocket and flung it onto the counter. I leaned forward to make out the object of his disdain. Then, thinking better of it, I relaxed and watched as this melodrama played itself out.

Judith glanced down at the paper. “This? It’s a scoresheet. They play gin for ten cents a hand. We monitor everything that goes on here; your grandmother is not being conned out of her life savings. You have my word.”

Prentiss shook his head so vigorously his gold-rimmed glasses worked their way down to the tip of his perfect nose. He pushed them back with obvious annoyance. Even when he was acting like a jerk, his dimples were captivating. Would they be even more alluring if he smiled? Did he smile…like, ever?

“It’s not the amount that worries me. It’s the act itself. Many seniors here are memory impaired. How can you condone gambling between people who aren’t coherent? Could you please keep a closer eye on things? Otherwise, I’m afraid I’ll have to take my nana—and my support—to the center I’ve heard about across the river.”

Without waiting for Judith’s response, Prentiss departed as brusquely as he’d arrived. Ah, the entitlement of the rich. Walk over everyone, then storm off. He never even noticed my presence. Just as well, considering my purpose for being there. Even if I wasn’t sorry to see the back end of his temper, his rear end was pleasant enough to watch as he exited, I noted with a guilty shudder.

Judith shook her head, rolled her eyes, and let out a huff. Then she noticed me. “I’m so sorry you had to overhear that. I’m the director here. How can I help you?”

“I’m Carraway Quinn. Everyone calls me Carra. I have an appointment for the recreational aide position.”

Judith typed a few keystrokes into the main desk’s computer. “Ah yes, Ms. Quinn. Carraway, like the seed?”

“Something like that,” I said with a smile.

They always guessed, but no one got it right. Some man would, one day. That’s what my mother said a million years ago, when she still lived within earshot. One man would figure it out, and that’s how I’d know he was the one for me. Not that it mattered right now. I had bigger problems than finding a new boyfriend.

“Tell me, would I have to deal with people like that all day?” I tilted my head in the direction of Prentiss’s contrail.

“What can I say? He loves his nana.” Judith shrugged, staring at the door. “Though I’ve never seen him lash out like that before. He’s usually so calm.” She quickly shifted into public relations mode. “Jay Prentiss is one of our biggest contributors. It’s only because of his generosity that we have this senior center and can afford to hire a recreational aide.” She beckoned me into the inner office. “Shall we proceed?”

I followed, but I had my doubts. I belonged in the editorial office of a magazine or on a book tour for my perennially unfinished novel, not at a senior center. This job was my stepmother’s idea, not mine. Calling it an idea was being generous; it was more like a scheme, and the elderly deserved better than someone sent here to deceive them. I was the embodiment of what Jay Prentiss worried about most.

The interview lasted less than ten minutes, as if Judith was going through the formalities but had already decided to hire me. I was to start my orientation the following day. I shook her hand and thanked her, all the while wishing I were anywhere else.

Afterward, I wandered into the recreation area, where I’d be spending most of my time. The room was dingy, teeming with doleful seniors watching television, playing cards, or staring off into space. A few complained among themselves about a jigsaw puzzle they were unable to finish because the last pieces were missing. I wondered how many had lost their spouses and came to the center out of loneliness, their children too busy with their own lives to visit. It was a heartbreaking thought.

Jay Prentiss was complaining about carbs and gambling when he should have been concentrating on ennui. The seniors’ dismal expressions told me they were visiting SALAD more out of desperation than opportunity. It was clear they needed an injection of enthusiasm, not some aide looking to unsettle their lives. It came down to my conscience. Could it triumph against my stepmother’s directives and my plummeting bank account?

Excerpt from The Queen of Second Chances by D.M. Barr. Copyright © 2021 by D.M. Barr. Reproduced with permission from D.M. Barr. All rights reserved.

Guest Post

How do you keep your written world from encroaching on your life?

That is such a great question because I borrow from my life for my books, rarely the other way around.
For my first book, Expired Listings, it’s the story of a town where all the REALTORs are being murdered and no one really cares—the other realtors see it as less competition, the citizens see it as a public service. I was a REALTOR, so I knew exactly what people thought of us, and also where the bodies are buried, so to speak.

In Slashing Mona Lisa, the book is about fat shaming and body positivity and I’ve yoyoed with my weight all my life so writing that book was like slitting my wrists and letting the blood pour over the page. I was also a magazine writer at one point, as is the protagonist in the book, and I managed to give bit parts to all of my dueling piano playing friends.

In Saving Grace, it’s an allegory about a woman of a certain age who doesn’t feel listened to—again, me. And in The Queen of Second Chances, my latest, again, there is someone who works in real estate, and I did, in the past, volunteer at both Glengariff Nursing Home on Long Island, as well as Meals on Wheels.

My next book, Simple Tryst of Fate, the first of the Tryst series, is based on one of my press trips when I was a travel writer—my worst press trip, as a matter of fact, but I turned it into my best because I make an amazing love connection. If only it had been true!

As for the actual question, writing IS my life. When I’m not writing, I’m editing. When I’m not editing, I’m marketing, promoting, and selling my work. When I’m not doing that, I’m volunteering my time as the president of the Hudson Valley Romance Writers of America and also co-vice president of Sisters in Crime, New York/Tri-State. Occasionally, I say hi to my husband and two adult kids as we pass each other in the hall, but they’ve long given up on me. Since COVID, I’ve returned to competitive trivia and bore my teammates with my writing tales as well. My rescue Pitador Harley, half-Pit Bull and half-Lab—she is willing to listen to my endless querying, synopsis-writing, and editing struggles. For her, I am eternally grateful. 😊

Author Bio:

D.M. Barr

By day, a mild-mannered salesperson, wife, mother, rescuer of senior shelter dogs, competitive trivia player and author groupie, happily living just north of New York City. By night, an author of sex, suspense and satire.

My background includes stints in travel marketing, travel journalism, meeting planning, public relations and real estate. I was, for a long and happy time, an award-winning magazine writer and editor. Then kids happened. And I needed to actually make money. Now they’re off doing whatever it is they do (of which I have no idea since they won’t friend me on Facebook) and I can spend my spare time weaving tales of debauchery and whatever else tickles my fancy.

The main thing to remember about my work is that I am NOT one of my characters. For example, as a real estate broker, I’ve never played Bondage Bingo in one of my empty listings or offed anyone at my local diet clinic. And I haven’t run away from home in fear that my husband was planning to off me.

But that’s not to say that I haven’t wanted to…

Find Our Author Online:

DMBarr.com
Goodreads
BookBub – @DMBarr
Twitter – @AuthorDMBarr
Facebook – @AuthorDMBarr
Instagram – @AuthorDMBarr

Tour Host Participants:



Giveaway:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Providence Book Promotions for D.M. Barr. There will be 1 winner of one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card (U.S. ONLY). The giveaway runs July 1, 2021 through August 1, 2021. Void where prohibited.

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Kill Shot by Blair Denholm | #Showcase #GuestPost #Giveaway

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Kill Shot

by Blair Denholm

July 1-31, 2021 Tour

Synopsis:

Kill Shot by Blair Denholm

Violent crimes. Missing people. Dark secrets. Only one driven detective can unearth the truth.

Detective Sergeant Jack Lisbon travelled halfway round the world to escape his troubled past. Mutilated bodies were never part of the plan.

A body found in the mangroves at first appears to be evidence of a frenzied crocodile attack. But it soon becomes obvious this is a horrific murder.

And when a popular MMA fighter disappears, police now face a possible double homicide. The list of suspects grows longer, but no one in the closed fighting community is talking.

Can hard-nosed ex-boxer Detective Sergeant Jack Lisbon solve the mystery before the panicked town of Yorkville goes into total meltdown?

Join DS Lisbon and his partner Detective Claudia Taylor on a heart-thumping ride through the steamy tropics of Northern Australia as they hunt for a killer out of control.

Justice served with a side order of vengeance.

 

What readers are saying about Kill Shot:

“Head spinning twists and gritty crisp dialogue make Kill Shot a must read for the gruff mystery thriller crowd out there!”
– Goodreads reviewer

“I would overwhelmingly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good crime fiction, thriller, who-done-it or the like.”
– Booksprout reviewer

“Denholm is a masterful story teller with realistic facts and hardcore action scenes throughout! Readers looking for a real page-turner have found it here!”
– Goodreads reviewer

“The story is so well written and full of action, that it is impossible to put down.”
– Voracious Readers reviewer

“With the heat, crocodiles, press speculation, and lack of progress, the pressure is on for a fast resolution. A cracking police procedural and a highly enjoyable read. I look forward to the subsequent adventures of the promising crime fighting duo.”
– Booksprout reviewer

“There are some surprising twists and turns along the way, one which I couldn’t even imagine which made this read a sheer delight. I struggled to keep this book down. I look forward to reading more of Denholm’s work.”
– Goodreads reviewer

Book Details:

Genre: Thriller
Published by: Indie
Publication Date: December 9th 2020
Number of Pages: 212
ISBN: 979-8733882802
Series: The Fighting Detective, Book 1
Purchase Links: Amazon | Goodreads

Read an excerpt from Kill Shot:

Chapter 1

The searing heat prickled, nipped and stung. Beads of moisture dribbled from his forehead, infiltrated clenched eyelids and lashes. Fluids in his aching body were heating up. Humidity crushed like a ton of lead. Take shallow breaths; stay still to keep the core temperature down.

Bright tropical sunlight bore through the window, combined with the ambient swelter to turn Detective Sergeant Jack Lisbon’s bedroom into a torture chamber. Remember to close the venetian blinds next time, moron. And get the air conditioner serviced. Lying in bed now unbearable, he stood, wobbled a fraction. In his semi-delirium, he determined to take a cold shower before the Good Lord claimed him.

Lisbon tottered towards the bathroom. He rubbed his eyes softly as he went, wondered how red they’d be after last night’s binge. He’d stayed more or less sober for three years with the odd gentle tumble off the wagon. Last night’s call with his ex-wife had a bigger impact on him than he could have imagined. After he’d hung up the phone on Sarah, he cracked a bottle of Bundaberg Rum, intended as a gift for a colleague. He’d demolished half of it in an under an hour and headed off into the balmy night to continue the party.

At least that’s how he remembered it.

Bathroom reached, he turned the cold tap on full blast, splashed water on his face and neck, over his chest and under the armpits. The shock of the cold water took his breath away. He repeated the process two times. He must have looked like a tired elephant dousing itself.

Thoughts again turned to Sarah.

Why wouldn’t she let me speak to Skye?

His daughter was seven now, she needed contact with her father. Jack loved and missed her achingly. He’d turned his life around full circle. From alcoholic bent cop to paragon of virtue. Kept his ugly busted nose clean and earned rapid promotion, in a foreign country if you please.

What was the point of Sarah’s bloody-minded recalcitrance? She and the kid were a million miles away from him, far from his destructive influence, safely tucked away in their council flat in Peckham, South London. What harm would there have been in chatting with his daughter, for heaven’s sake? He was at his wit’s end with the situation and had no idea how to get Sarah to see reason. Constantly contacting her on the phone or Internet could be deemed stalking if she made a complaint. The last thing he needed was trouble with the job. It took four years to settle into life in Australia, now at last he was starting to feel at home. Don’t jeopardise it, Lisbon.

He pulled aside the mould-flecked plastic shower curtain, stepped over raised tiles into the small cubicle and reached for the cold tap. Relief would be like an orgasm.

Make that a delayed orgasm.

The mobile phone on his bedside table burst into life. The ring tone was The Clash’s driving punk anthem “London Calling”. A reminder of the life he left behind, his beloved job, a copper with the world famous London Metropolitan Police. He retraced his steps to the bedroom, snatched at the mobile. Sweat beaded on his brow like condensation on a bottle. ‘Yeah, wot?’

‘Is that how a senior officer with the Queensland Police answers the phone? How long have you been in Yorkville?’ Constable Ben Wilson’s poorly disguised voice was chirpy as ever. Jack usually appreciated the cheeky geniality, this morning it merely aggravated his hangover.

‘Long enough to know it’s you on the other end, Wilson.’ Jack scratched an armpit, scrabbled in his coat jacket for nicotine lozenges. He popped one into his dry mouth and started sucking like a hungry baby. Headed back to the cool refuge of the bathroom. ‘And watch the familiar tone, sunshine.’

‘Sorry, sir.’

‘Apology accepted. Bear with me one moment, will you?’

Headache worsening, Jack sat the phone down and spat the lozenge into a tissue. He fussed about in the bathroom drawers, flung little cardboard boxes, disposable razors and condoms about to reach their use-by date out of the way until he found what he needed. He picked up the phone, cradled it between neck and chin as he tore aspirin from its foil packaging, dropped two white disks into a glass of water.

‘Go ahead, Wilson. Why the hell are you disturbing me? I’m not rostered on until this afternoon.’

A cough on the other end of the line followed by a gulping sound. ‘Just so you know, sir, you’re on loud speaker. Detective Constable Taylor’s listening.’

‘Understood. Now answer my question. What’s going on?’

‘A car’s been found abandoned.’

‘Where?’

‘Connors Road, edge of the industrial estate near the mangroves. Five clicks heading west, just after the point where it turns into a gravel track.’

‘An abandoned vehicle heading bush is no reason to get excited. Probably joy riders got sick of it and dumped the car when it ran out of fuel.’

‘Not likely. The keys were left dangling from the ignition, engine running, radio on and no one within cooee. Also, what the caller thought might be blood stains on one of the seats. Suspicious as all get out.’

Jack took a deep breath, pinched the bridge of his nose. ‘Right. Anything else?’

‘No, sir. DC Taylor and I are en route to the scene. The tip off came via the hotline.’

‘Has forensics been despatched?’

‘No.’ It was the voice of Detective Constable Claudia Taylor, sultry to match the weather. ‘We haven’t established a crime’s been committed. Could be an innocent explanation for it.’

‘Then why does it take three of us to check it out? Two’s plenty for preliminary work.’

‘I’m bringing Wilson along for the experience. He’s been stuck on desk duty for weeks and things are a bit quiet in the old town. Besides, I think he could become a good detective later in his career.’

‘Should I care?’ A short uncomfortable silence after his sarcastic remark. Make amends, Lisbon. ‘Sorry, I’m not feeling a hundred percent today. It’s great the lad wants to better himself. Most laudable.’

There’d been no baffling crimes in Yorkville for a while. The chance to investigate something unusual could be an interesting diversion. Even with the annoying Constable Wilson tagging along. ‘I’ll get there as soon as I can.’

‘Better hurry,’ said Taylor above the soft crackle of the two-way. ‘There’s a thunderstorm forecast.’

‘If a cool change comes with it, I don’t care if it’s a bloody cyclone.’ The cruel weather in the far north enervated the body like nothing Jack had ever experienced. Three years pounding the pavement as a uniformed cop in sub-tropical Brisbane was bad enough. Then he got the promotion he’d worked like a dog for in the capital: plain clothes detective. Only trade off, it was up here in the sweltering furnace of hell. The humidity was a killer, but he was gradually acclimatising. At least the fishing was good.

‘You know how to get here, sir?’ said Wilson.

‘Ever hear of GPS?’

‘Of course. See you soon.’

The ritual morning home gym work out and run would have to wait. Lifting weights and punching the bag would have been painful anyway, so the early call out was an excuse to skip it, at least until the afternoon.

He guzzled a can of icy diet cola to accelerate the effect of the aspirin. On went a lightweight cotton suit. Locked doors. In the car. Gone.

‘Nice change you joining us in the pub last night, Jack. It was a huge surprise seeing you lumber through the door half an hour from closing.’ Lisbon’s partner DI Claudia Taylor, crossed the road with a carboard tray containing two cups.

It was a surprise to Jack too. He didn’t remember meeting colleagues at the pub. Fuck. ‘Ah, yeah…’

‘Don’t worry. You didn’t do anything you’d regret.’

Thank God. Reputation intact.

‘You don’t look anywhere near as jovial as you did last night.’ She handed Jack a coffee. ‘Get this into you.’

‘Are you kidding? It’s too hot for coffee.’ He grunted and waved it away.

‘Come on. Don’t be ungrateful. It’ll put a spring back in your step.’

Jack took a sip, spat it straight out. ‘Jesus, I understand you have to sweeten service station coffee to make it drinkable, but seriously, how much effing sugar did you put in it?’ He handed her back the cup. ‘I’d be a diabetic by the time I finished that.’ The only spring caffeine induced in Jack was the desire to spark up a match and light a cigarette. The lozenges he consumed and the patches he wore under the suit helped; no tobacco for three weeks. He sucked in his guts, patted firming stomach muscles under his shirt. Don’t go back to your bad habits, son.

‘Whatever.’ She frowned as she tossed the contents of the second cup on the grassy verge, replaced the empty cup in the tray. ‘Here, you can’t refuse these.’ She handed him a pair of sky-blue surgical gloves and donned a pair herself.

‘Who called it in?’ Jack tugged on the gloves, wiped sweat from his forehead with a shirt cuff.

‘A truckie heading north to fetch a load of bananas.’ Constable Ben Wilson appeared from behind the abandoned vehicle. ‘Called the info line.’

‘Did he leave his name?’

‘Yeah. Don Hawthorne. Gave us some basic info. Got his number if you want to follow up.’

Jack nodded, scuffed black leather shoes in the dirt. He looked up. Dark cumulonimbus clouds were gathering in the east, the promised storm was building nicely. They’d have to work the scene fast. ‘Probably won’t be needing him further. Let’s have a closer look at the vehicle. You,’ he pointed at Wilson. ‘Check the immediate area for anything odd.’

‘Such as?’

‘Use your initiative, Constable. You want to be a detective, don’t you?’

Wilson trudged off in a huff.

‘He’s keen,’ said Taylor. ‘Give him a chance.’

‘Whatever. He was rude to me on the phone this morning.’

‘I’m sure he didn’t mean it.’

The statement hung in the air without comment as Jack opened the driver side door of the late model maroon Mazda 6 sedan.

The first thing to catch his eye was a dark stain on the passenger seat. ‘What do you reckon?’ he called over his shoulder. ‘Blood?’

Taylor peered inside the car. ‘Could be. Want me to get forensics down here? The whole scene looks dodgy.’

Jack shook his head. ‘Spidey senses tingling, are they Taylor? No, I’d like to know who the owner is first before we run at this like a bull at a gate. Have you called in the registration and VIN number?’

‘Not yet.’ Jack sensed a trace of annoyance in her reply, but she could suck it up. ‘I was busy getting the coffee you didn’t want.’

‘Do it now.’ Jack had learned to give commands like they were polite requests. If you stick the Australian rising inflection on any statement you can turn it into a kind of question. ‘I’ll have a shoofty through the interior.’

‘Can you pull the lever so I can find the VIN, please?’ Taylor’s tone was now brusque and businesslike.

Jack’s answer was the sound of the bonnet popping.

‘Thanks.’ She said something else Jack didn’t catch. With her head under the hood, Taylor sounded like she was underwater.

The first thing Jack examined was the dashboard, littered with receipts, dockets and assorted papers. He pressed a button to open the glove box, more papers fluttered out like falling leaves. He scanned a few but nothing grabbed his attention. It’d take hours to go through them all thoroughly; he’d leave them to the forensics team if he and Taylor decided it was worth calling them in. What else? On the floor, take-away wrappers, most from a famous fried chicken outlet, grease-stained white paper bags you get hot chips in. Maybe the mark on the seat was old tomato ketchup?

‘Got the number, Jack.’ Taylor dropped the bonnet with a thunk, walked around to the wound-down driver window and peered in over the top of a pair of designer glasses. ‘Just calling in now with the rego and VIN.’

‘It’s a wonder the officer who took the call didn’t ask the truckie for the number plate. We could have had the details before we even got here. Might have even spared us a trip.’ And I’d be lying on the couch watching classic title fights on YouTube.

‘Apparently the truck driver was already back on the road when he rang it in.’ Taylor ran fine fingers through her hair. ‘Didn’t bother to take note of the plates. Said he didn’t have time to hang around ‘cos his boss was riding his arse about deadlines. He’d seen the driver door wide open and no one inside or near the vehicle, so he stopped to check no one was sick or whatever.’

‘Haven’t there been attacks on women in this area lately?’ Jack asked.

‘You’re right. Maybe the truckie knew that too and it spurred him to do his civic duty.’

‘Maybe.’ Jack looked up from the debris. ‘Or he was seeing if there was anything in the car worth stealing.’

‘You’re a bloody cynical bastard.’

‘I grew up in South London, luv. Shaped my outlook somewhat.’

‘I’ve got a little more faith in people. According to the call transcript, the guy discovered keys hanging from the ignition and the engine idling. Had a quick look about, saw nothing else suspicious and thought the driver had headed into the scrub to ah…, how can I put it, evacuate their bowels.’

A laugh escaped Jack’s lips. ‘For God’s sake, Claudia. Can’t you just say take a shit?’

Taylor mumbled something.

‘Pardon?’ A receipt lay among the junk food debris. Jack held it up and squinted to read the faded ink. A generic cash purchase, unknown vendor, not paid for by credit or debit card. Not helpful.

‘I said no need to be crude.’

‘You think that’s crude? You should hear me when I lose money on a boxing match. I lose my fucking rag.’ Jack wrinkled his nose as he came up for air. The floor of the car gave off a mouldy smell to match the rubbish.

She ignored his remark. ‘Anyway, once the truckie was on the road again, he had second thoughts, wondered if the stain on the seat might be blood, and called it in. Hang on, I’m about to get the name of the vehicle’s owner.’

‘I’ll keep digging in this mess.’ Jack knew from long experience nine times out of ten a car left on the side of the road wasn’t a big issue. Usually it’s been nicked and the thieves scarper when the petrol runs out or they get bored. A sticker gets slapped on the windscreen and the owners are notified to come and pick it up. After a specified amount of time if no one collects, it’s towed away, sold at auction if it’s in good condition or crushed at the wreckers if it’s unroadworthy. Something felt wrong about this car, though.

Jack grabbed the lever under the driver seat and tugged, slid the seat back and peered underneath. More rubbish. A rummage in the front and rear passenger seats and floor spaces rendered nothing but more detritus. He stepped out of the car, popped the boot. Inside, a broad blobby stain on a piece of old carpet that looked like a Rorschach test. Could be blood.

‘Got a name.’ Taylor ended the call. ‘Terrence Bartlett.’

‘Say again?’ Jack’s inner voice told him he’d heard that name before.

‘Bartlett. Terrence Brian Bartlett.’

Yes. Jack did remember the name.

***

Excerpt from Kill Shot by Blair Denholm. Copyright 2020 by Blair Denholm. Reproduced with permission from Blair Denholm. All rights reserved.

 

Guest Post

Five things you didn’t know about Jack Lisbon

1. Detective Jack Lisbon was a proficient middle-weight boxer as a teenager, advised by a number of top trainers to turn professional. After he suffered an amateur championship defeat to a much bigger and heavier opponent at the age of 17, Jack decided to hang up his gloves and join the police force, motivated by a desire to clamp down on corruption. He found out there was a lot of money wagered on the fight he lost and people benefitted financially at his expense. Jack bears a scar under his bottom lip from this bout. Jack entered the London Metropolitan Police force with a fierce determination to seek out and punish wrongdoers, especially those preying on weaker victims. Unfortunately, while working as a Detective Inspector in the Met, Jack succumbed to temptation himself, a decision that led him down a dark path.

2. Jack is allergic to onions. As a child he had an anaphylactic response to a meal at a barbecue which nearly killed him. He always has to mention his allergy when eating at restaurants etc. He hates this affliction because he loves the smell of onions cooking.

3. He took a course in Portuguese at night school but gave up when he found it too hard. Jack’s father was a Portuguese mechanic who migrated to Great Britain in the late 1960s (Jack’s surname is the Anglicized version of Lisboa, Portugal’s capital). He regrets this because he wants to understand more about his heritage and reconnect with his roots. His mother only spoke English at home and his father had little input in raising his son. Jack has visited the Algarve region in southern Portugal on summer holidays and has made a promise to himself to keep trying to learn the language.

4. Jack met his ex-wife, Sarah, in Jamaica during a cricket fans’ tour of the West Indies. In his late 20s at the time, he’d never had a serious girlfriend before and fell head over heels for the exotic Jamaican beauty. Sadly, the romance died after Sarah gave birth to their daughter, Skye.

5. He suffers a mild form of dyslexia. He’s embarrassed by it but has figured out ways to cover up. For this reason he often tasks his partner, Claudia Taylor, to do the research required to track down criminals while he conveniently finds something else to do.

Five things you didn’t know about Claudia Taylor

1. Claudia’s parents met at a Bachelor and Spinster Ball (known colloquially as a B&S Ball). These are traditional dances held in rural areas of Australia, infamous for wild drinking and all-night partying. She doesn’t like to talk about it because she was conceived the night her mother and father met.

2. Claudia has a Pastry Chef Diploma. Claudia worked in a number of restaurants in Northern Queensland before realizing she wanted to joint the police force. Her cousin Robyn, a detective in Brisbane, convinced Claudia to abandon her culinary career and become a cop. Claudia still practices her cooking skills at home, surprising her friends with cakes and pies.

3. Claudia has an abject fear of heights. One of her proudest achievements was abseiling down a cliff face near the Mossman Gorge. She screamed from start to finish, but demanded a second go, which she accomplished in silence.

4. She has a brother, Ian, who is a police officer in Auckland, New Zealand. Ian moved there after his wife got a job as an adviser to the Kiwi prime minister and he was able to join the local force. Unlike Claudia, Ian has a cushy desk job in administration and never faces danger.

5. Claudia was married for two years to a man named Rafael Taylor. One day, without warning, Raf announced he was gay and moved in with another man, Derrick. Claudia was grief-stricken for a week before joining an online dating site and relishing the single life. She’s not sure if she’s attracted to Jack Lisbon or not.

Author Bio:

Blair Denholm

BLAIR DENHOLM is an Australian fiction writer and translator who has lived and worked in New York, Moscow, Munich, Abu Dhabi and Australia. He once voted in a foreign election despite having no eligibility to do so, was almost lost at sea on a Russian fishing boat, and was detained by machine-gun toting soldiers in the Middle East. Denholm’s new series, The Fighting Detective, starring ex-boxer Jack Lisbon, is now up and flying with the first two installments, Kill Shot and Shot Clock. The series is set in tropical North Queensland, Australia, and features heavy doses of noir crime with a vigilante justice twist. Expect at least six novels with Detective Lisbon, his fellow cops and a host of intriguing characters.

Denholm’s debut crime novel, SOLD, is the first in a thrilling noir trilogy, featuring the detestable yet lovable one-man wrecking ball Gary Braswell. The second exciting book in the series, SOLD to the Devil, was released in June 2020. The final episode, Sold Dirt Cheap, will see the light of day in 2022.

Finally, Denholm is working on a crime series set in Moscow just prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Captain Viktor Voloshin is a hard-boiled investigator who has to fight the establishment in order for justice to be served, in his own special way. The first in this series, Revolution Day, will be published in October 2021.

Blair currently resides in Hobart, Tasmania with his partner, Sandra, and two crazy canines, Max and Bruno.

Catch Up With Blair Denholm:
BlairDenholm.com
Goodreads
BookBub – @BlairDenholm
Instagram – @blairdenholm
Twitter – @blairdenholm
Facebook – @blairdenholm

 

 

 

 

 

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Giveaway:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for BLAIR DENHOLM. There will be 1 winner of one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card (U.S. ONLY). The giveaway runs July 1, 2021 through August 1, 2021. Void where prohibited.

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Woman In Shadow by Carrie Stuart Parks

Woman in Shadow

by Carrie Stuart Parks

July 12-23, 2021 Tour

Synopsis:

Woman in Shadow by Carrie Stuart Parks

Carrie Stuart Parks combines her expertise as a forensic artist with her ability to craft a gripping story in this page-turning web of light and shadow.

A woman off the grid.

Darby Graham thinks she’s on a much-needed vacation in remote Idaho to relax. But before she even arrives at the ranch, an earthquake strikes—her first clue that something is amiss. Then when a cabin on the edge of town is engulfed in flames and problems at the ranch escalate, Darby finds herself immersed in a chilling mystery.

A town on fire.

A serial arsonist sends taunting letters to the press after each fire. As a forensic linguist, this is Darby’s area of expertise . . . but the scars it’s caused her also the reason she’s trying to escape from her life.

A growing darkness.

As the shadows continue to move in, the pieces of the town around her come into sharper focus. Can she trust the one man who sees her clearly?

Praise for Woman in Shadow:

“Unique, witty, and hilarious, Carrie’s voice shines throughout Woman in Shadow. The perfect mix of intrigue, mystery and danger, this is most definitely a book for my keeper shelf.”
Dani Pettrey, bestselling author of the Coastal Guardians series

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery/Suspense
Published by: Thomas Nelson
Publication Date: July 13th 2021
Number of Pages: 336
ISBN: 0785239847 (ISBN13: 9780785239840)
Series: Woman in Shadow is not a part of a series.
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

Chapter 1

Targhee Falls, Idaho

“Why are those dogs barking?” I pointed across the wooden picnic table toward two obviously upset canines yelping nearby.

A man staring at a clipboard didn’t look up. “They’re dogs. That’s what they do. Are you Darby Graham?”

“Yes.”

The man checked something on his clipboard. “Good. You’re all here.” He had to speak up to be heard over the commotion.

Before I could ask about the dogs again, he turned and strolled toward the nearby general store.

Although the man seemed unmoved by the dogs’ distress, the other people seated around me on Adirondack chairs or at picnic tables had stopped speaking to each other and were staring. The dogs—a black Lab cross with hound-length ears, and a huge Great Dane mix—both had their tails tucked between their legs and were howling.

The picnic table trembled.

I lifted my hands off the rough pine surface but could still feel the movement under my body. A flock of birds burst from the treetops. Pinecones dropped to the ground from the towering ponderosas.

Earthquake.

I was seated near the general store, just below a plate-glass window. The glass rippled, then rattled.

Heart thudding, I dove under the table. The ground rolled under me like ocean waves. A low rumbling was followed by car alarms going off from the parking lot on the other side of the store.

The black Lab flew under the table and landed in my lap. I wrapped my arms around the quivering dog, feeling the prominent bones of her spine and rib cage. “It’s okay there, girl. You’re safe. Your big buddy isn’t so scared—”

The second quaking dog joined us, his large body pressing against my back.

The earthquake ended.

“All over.” I reached around and scratched the Dane’s chest, feeling more bones. Didn’t anyone ever feed these dogs?

Both dogs seemed content to stay put, but the weight of the Lab—even though she was too thin—was still more than my leg was used to and it was rapidly going to sleep. “Come on, sweet girl, time to get up,” I whispered.

Both dogs took the hint.

On the other hand, here under the table seemed a nice place to stay. Tucked into the shadows, I didn’t need to worry about anyone staring at me. I had room to stretch out and could smell the cut grass. I’d be prepared should another earthquake come. And my assignment was to maintain a low profile. Sitting on the ground under a table seemed to be as low profile as I could get.

Two legs appeared next to me. “Miss Graham?”

Flapperdoodle. Mr. Clipboard found me.

I crawled between the bench and table, sliding onto the seat, then glanced around. Several other people had taken similar action. Only Clipboard had noticed my reluctance to leave my hiding place.

One by one, the car alarms stopped. The slight breeze stirred the fragrance of fallen pine needles.

Mr. Clipboard stared at me for a moment, then turned toward the others. He was holding a number of fabric bags imprinted with Mule Shoe Ranch. “Don’t be worried, folks. The town of Targhee Falls is less than fifteen miles from Yellowstone. The national park routinely has between one and three thousand quakes a year—”

“Excuse me, but I’ve heard most of those quakes aren’t noticeable,” a gray-haired woman in a denim shirt said.

“Obviously some are.” The man gave her a rueful half smile and started handing out the bags after checking the attached name tags. “I’m Sam, owner of the general store over there.” He nodded toward the building featuring a two-story false front and wooden sidewalk. The peeling sign said Sam’s Mercantile. “I provide Mule Shoe with transportation, supplies, and assistance during team-building exercises. Inside these bags you’ll find a great deal of information about your stay at the ranch. The owner, Roy Zaring, wanted you to have these while you’re waiting for your transportation—”

“When will that be?” asked a handsome teen with flawless olive skin and a thick lock of black hair. “I’m not getting any cell service here.” He held up his phone. An impeccably dressed man and woman sitting at the same table gave each other sideways glances.

Sam finished handing out the bags, turned, and looked at the youth. “Those your folks?” His gaze flickered to the two people sitting with the young man.

“Yeah.”

“And I’m guessing your mom? Dad? Both? Told you they were here to take a team-building—”

“Watercolor workshop.”

“A five-day art class in the wilds of Idaho, right?”

“Yeeeaah.”

“Son, the Mule Shoe Dude Ranch is a primitive facility. No Wi-Fi. No cell reception. No television, radio . . . no electricity. You’ll have a cabin with a fireplace, a composting toilet, and a lantern at night.”

The color drained from the young man’s face. “What?” he whispered.

“That reminds me,” Sam said. “I’ll collect your cell phones and will keep them here and charged for when you return.”

I reached into my purse, took out my phone, and placed it on the table for Sam to collect. Whose brilliant idea was it to send me on assignment to a primitive facility when they know I need my computer and electricity? And five days with all these strangers? I wouldn’t even need to unpack.

“Don’t worry.” An attractive older woman sitting on a wooden Adirondack chair grinned at the boy. “There’s plenty of hot water for showers, courtesy of the natural geothermal environment. The water’s gravity fed and the food is world-class.” She looked around at all of us. “I’ve had an interest in the Mule Shoe and was here last summer, although I have to admit, I prefer to visit this time of year. Late September is perfect. You all are going to love it.”

The young man’s lips compressed into a thin line, and he seemed loath to let go of his cell. Sam kept tugging the phone until the youth relinquished it. “But what is there to do?” he asked no one in particular.

“Most of us are here for the art lessons.” Denim Shirt reached into her bag, pulled out a piece of paper, and held it up. “Listen.” She read from it. “‘You’ll find trail rides, fishing, canoeing, gold panning, mineral collecting, archery, photography, hiking, campfires, swimming—’”

“That’s what I mean.” The young man ran his hand through his hair. “There’s nothing to do.”

I tugged out the same brochure. Welcome, honored guests. We look forward to serving you during your stay with us. Your experiences here will be unforgettable for all the right reasons! You should bring to Mule Shoe your mindset for success.

Yeah, right. I’d like to set my mind on getting in, getting done, and getting home. “Sam, you mentioned transportation . . .”

“Horse and wagon.”

I was afraid of that. “Do you have a regular timetable?”

This time Sam actually focused on me. “No. The horse and wagon are available on an as-needed basis, mostly to transport new groups and supplies.”

From bad to worse. I was stuck. Now would be a good time to find a bathroom. Riding a bumpy, horse-drawn wagon would be uncomfortable enough without a full bladder. Besides, if I left now, no one would notice my slight limp. I normally wanted to be invisible, to disappear into a crowd. When Scott Thomas, my counselor, told me not to stand out, to blend in, he didn’t have to say it twice. Your final assignment before leaving us here in Clan Firinn is to check out Mule Shoe Ranch. We’ve heard rumblings that something’s not right. You’ll be registered as a guest. I’ll tell you more once you get there.

I was irritated at being sent out like this with no idea of what was expected. I now know why. Had I known I wouldn’t be able to use my computer programs or the internet, I would have put my foot down. I was fortunate to have a good memory for words.

I’d heard through the Clan Firinn grapevine that those getting ready to leave—“graduate” as they called it—would have a project that would test their progress toward wholeness. I figured they’d find out soon enough that I wasn’t ready to leave.

I rose, picked up my purse, and made my way to the general store. A cowbell jangled as I entered. “‘I got a fever,’” I muttered. “‘And the only prescription is more cowbell.’” The line made me smile. Why worry about earthquakes, lack of electricity, and the inability to do my work when the world needed more cowbell?

“What?” A young, freckle-faced woman with a smear of dirt on her nose stopped replacing items on the shelf.

“Iconic Saturday Night Live line—more cowbell?”

“Huh?”

“Never mind.” The interior had old oak floors, a tin ceiling, and a long counter with a glass display case. The sun through the window spotlighted twirling dust motes. Various cans still littered the floor, courtesy of the earthquake.

“Just let me know if ya need something.”

“Powder room?”

“Huh?”

“WC?”

“I think we’re sold out.”

“John? Head? Loo? Restroom?”

“Toilet?” She nodded to her right.

Fortunately, the primitive conditions did not include the store bathroom. Returning to the store, I picked up a can of soup that had rolled near me. “Do you know anything about those two dogs?” I handed her the can.

“Why are ya asking?” The woman placed it on the shelf.

“They just seem thin, that’s all.”

“Yeah, well.” She adjusted the display. “Sam’s been feeding ’em, but that’s gonna stop.”

My neck tingled. “I don’t understand.” I gave her a steady gaze.

She paused her work and looked around. We were alone in the store, but she dropped her voice to just above a whisper. “He’s just waitin’ for all of you to leave to the ranch.”

The tingling grew to an itch. My years of training as a forensic linguist kicked in, even though I was rusty. I grew very still and waited, listening for more clues in her language.

She gave up straightening the cans. “It’s like this: The dogs were owned by an old lady. I bet she was, like, at least forty.”

“Positively ancient. One foot in the grave.” I gave her a slight smile.

“Right. Her name was Shadow Woman. That’s what everyone called her. Well, that’s the nice name anyway. She was, like, a hermit, but a pretty good artist.” She jerked her thumb at a drawing on the wall behind the cash register.

Were owned, was. Past tense. I widened my smile to encourage her. “Why did everyone call her Shadow Woman?”

The clerk gnawed on a hangnail for a moment. “I guess ’cause she was weird, ya know, like she lived in the shadows. Creepy. Always showed up here at the store at dusk or when it was dark. Sam said she could sneak right up next to you in the shadows and you’d never see her. And her face was weird.”

“Weird how?”

“Like, really weird.”

“Ah, that clarifies it. Where did she come from?”

“Sam said she ran away from a group home near Smelterville.”

“I can’t imagine why.”

“Right, you know? No one wanted her. Anyway, she owned Holly—that’s the Lab mix—and Maverick, the Anna-toolian sheepdog.”

“Anatolian? From Anatolia in Asia Minor?”

“Yeah, that’s what I said.”

“Of course. I thought the big dog was half Great Dane, half mastiff.”

“Nope. Sam looked it up. Anna-whatevers are super-expensive livestock guard dogs from Turkey or France, I forget which.”

“They are such similar countries,” I murmured.

“Right. So anyway, Sam was surprised that Shadow Woman had one.”

Sam looked it up. Looking for value? Surprised that Shadow Woman had one. Not just a hermit but poor? Broke? “I see.” I leaned slightly against the shelving unit. “You mentioned Shadow . . .”

“Right. Um . . . so Shadow Woman came to town like once a month with her mule, like I said, always after sunset, and bought stuff, like Spam. She’d usually pay her bill about every other month. The dogs always came with her. Six months ago, you know, she stopped coming.”

“Let me guess. She owed Sam a lot of money.”

“Right. Boy-howdy was he steamed about it. Then he, you know, got a check and note from the old woman to pay her bill, but the check bounced higher than a buckin’ bronco.”

“Did anyone follow up, call the police?”

“Not right away ’cause the dogs moved in, first Holly, then Maverick. So, you know, Sam started to feed them. And . . . I think someone changed his mind on what to do with the dogs.”

Cluster of you knows. Sensitive topic. I kept my gaze on her and nodded again.

She glanced down and plucked a piece of lint from her sleeve. “Sam always said he’d get his pound of flesh from her, whatever that means.”

“I’m sure it originated in Turkey or France.”

“Right. Foreign-like. Um . . . Sam finally got close enough to Maverick to see he’d been spayed.”

“Neutered?”

“What?”

“Never mind.” A neutered dog was of zero value, and Sam stopped feeding them. I made an effort to unclench my hands. “How have the dogs survived?”

“You know, folks around town feel sorry for them . . .”

The cowbell jangled.

The clerk straightened and glanced in that direction. Her cheeks flamed and her tongue flickered out to moisten her lips.

I turned.

A sheriff’s deputy charged to the bathroom, disappeared for a few moments, then reappeared and sauntered toward us, replacing fallen items on the shelves. His ordinary brown hair was the only average thing about him. He was otherwise a walking modern-day Adonis, his face chiseled by a master carver. He finally looked up and smiled at the clerk, exposing more teeth than the Osmond family, and seemed to enjoy her reaction to his arrival.

My hand automatically reached to fluff my hair. I stopped and squared my oversized glasses instead.

He looked at me, his eyes widening. “Hello there. I’m Bram White.”

“I’m—”

“Leaving,” the clerk said. “Goin’ to Mule Shoe. She’s a guest.”

“Darby Graham.” I glanced at his holstered pistol, then out the window at the two dogs lying under a tree. Check bounced. Sam’s been feeding ’em, but that’s gonna stop. Pound of flesh.

Deputy Bram glanced at his watch.

My neck was crawling with reasons to scratch it.

“Can I get you a Coke or somethin’?” she asked me. “It shouldn’t be long.” The clerk moved toward an ancient cooler. “I’d bet the wagon got slowed down by the earthquake.”

The two dogs began barking.

“See? I told ya. Betcha that’s the wagon now.” The clerk moved toward the front of the store, brushing past Bram. “Excuse me,” she said. At the window, she glanced out, then looked at the officer. “Yep. The wagon’s here.” Without taking her eyes from Bram, she said to me, “You can go now.”

Sam stuck his head in the door. “Miss Graham? Time to leave.” He spotted Bram and gave the man a quick nod.

I gave in and scratched my neck. This was none of my business. No need to get involved. No reason to draw attention to myself. Low profile. Right. I straightened. “I think I’ll wait here. Catch the next wagon.” The words came out without my thinking, but they seemed right.

Sam moved into the store. “I’m sorry, Miss Graham, there won’t be a next wagon. It’s quite a distance to the ranch and it’s getting late. You’ll need to leave now.” He wiped his hands on his slacks, glanced at the clerk, then at the deputy.

The itch was now a full-scale conviction. “Your clerk here—”

“Julia?” Sam glared at the clerk.

“Was telling me about Shadow Woman. And her dogs.”

Bram folded his arms.

Sam opened the door behind him and waved for me to exit. “Miss Graham, I really see that as none of your business.”

Go now. Run. You have nothing to offer. Well . . . almost nothing. I slowly walked over to the counter. “I know Shadow Woman’s check bounced. How much money did she owe you? And how much to cover all the dog food?” I opened my purse.

“How many times have I warned you to keep your piehole shut!” Sam said to Julia.

“I didn’t say nothin’!” Julia crossed her arms. “She figured it out on her own.”

Sam closed the door and approached me, both hands held out as if to show goodwill. “I don’t know what it is that you figured out, Miss Graham, but—”

“Please don’t try lying to me, Sam.” I pulled out my checkbook. “You figured the Anatolian dog would pay Shadow Woman’s bill, but when you saw he was neutered, he had no more value to you. The minute I leave, you’re going to have Deputy White here shoot both dogs. Your pound of flesh.” I stared into his eyes. “I intend to stop you.”

***

Excerpt from Woman in Shadow by Carrie Stuart Parks. Copyright 2021 by Carrie Stuart Parks. Reproduced with permission from Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved.

 

 

Author Bio:

Carrie Stuart Parks

Carrie Stuart Parks is a Christy, multiple Carol, and Inspy Award–winning author. She was a 2019 finalist in the Daphne du Maurier Award for excellence in mainstream mystery/suspense and has won numerous awards for her fine art as well. An internationally known forensic artist, she travels with her husband, Rick, across the US and Canada teaching courses in forensic art to law-enforcement professionals. The author/illustrator of numerous books on drawing and painting, Carrie continues to create dramatic watercolors from her studio in the mountains of Idaho.

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The Question Is Murder by Mark Willen | #Showcase #Giveaway

The Question Is Murder

by Mark Willen

July 5-16, 2021 Tour

Synopsis:

The Question Is Murder by Mark Willen

Washington D.C. newspaper columnist Sam Turner, known to his readers as Mr. Ethics, faces his toughest moral dilemma yet: Can murder ever be justified?

That’s the question posed to him by a mysterious young woman who says she is being stalked and harassed by an ex-lover too powerful to be stopped any other way. Sam knows that journalists should never get personally involved in a story, but he finds he is being drawn deeper and deeper into this one whether he wants it or not.

So when Senator Wade Morgan turns up murdered, Sam fears the worst. Worried about his own involvement, the man who normally has all the answers is now the one making questionable decisions.

As his investigation into the Senator’s death begins to spin out of control, Sam finds he can’t let go—even as the case grows more complicated and the threats against his life become more immediate. With the fate of a young woman at stake and his own life in jeopardy, Sam can’t back down until the killer—whoever that may be—is brought to justice.

But this is D.C., and justice can be in short supply.

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery, Suspense, Amateur Sleuth, Psychological Thriller
Published by: Pen-L Publishing
Publication Date: May 14th 2021
Number of Pages: 304
ISBN: 1683132246 (ISBN-13: 978-1683132240)
Series: The Question Is Murder is not included in a series.
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

 

Read an excerpt:

Dear Mr. Ethics

Sam reads the email a second time, then a third, not sure whether to dismiss it as a prank or call the police. He prints it out and then reads it again, looking for some clue to the sender’s frame of mind.

It’s probably a stunt. Sam gets more than his share of cranks and weirdos. There’s something about writing a newspaper column and calling yourself “Mr. Ethics” that attracts them. Some people just take offense at the notion of a guy sitting behind a computer trying to tell them there’s a right way to behave.

He takes a deep breath and reads the email again, a blue felt-tipped pen in his hand. He studies the words, the grammar, even the sentence structure, looking for oddities or inconsistencies. Nothing jumps out.

He doesn’t need this. Not now.

But then maybe he does. Maybe it’s just what he needs. Something to take his mind off of Lisa, not unlike the migraine that makes you forget the sprained ankle, at least for a while.

He looks up from the sheet of paper in his hand and glances at the poster that hangs in front of him. It’s filled with quotations on writing, and although it’s the kind of thing a college kid would hang in a dorm room, he’s always liked having it near. And he didn’t have much else to stick on the wall two years ago when he was awarded his own office, a privilege he didn’t especially want and still hasn’t adjusted to. He loves the column, both for its intellectual challenge and for the feeling that he may be helping people, albeit in small ways, to make the world a better place.

He turns back to the email. He needs another opinion and knows it should come from his boss, but he doesn’t want to lose control. Brenda would be cautious and call in the executive editor or a lawyer, maybe both, and that would mean days of delay. He’s not going to use the email in his column, so whatever he does shouldn’t come back to hurt the newspaper. He wants to help if he can, and he doesn’t want anyone to get in his way. He’s too old for bureaucratic games.

But he does want another opinion.

He gets up, grabs the printout, and walks down the hall to the newsroom. It’s eerily quiet, nothing like the newsrooms he grew up in. Gone is the chaos of constant motion and loud conversations carried on from opposite ends of the room. Gone too are the ugly metal desks shoved together so close you can smell the whisky on your neighbor’s breath, hear him belch or argue with an official or a source on the phone. Some had hated it, but Sam thrived on the synergy it produced, the bonds it created, the shared excitement of doing something he believed—still believes—is important.

Now, in its place he sees what the younger reporters view as high-tech paradise, with desks crowded with laptops and other electronic devices. The reporters and editors are stuck in a maze of mini-cubicles with three-foot high, sound-absorbing barriers to create a sense of privacy. They need to stand up to see another person.

He’s acutely aware of how much journalism has changed in the thirty years he’s been practicing it. Not that it was ever pure and not that all its practitioners had less than selfish motives. But many did. Now it’s nothing more than a business, a fight for internet clicks or a spot appearance on TV, just when facts and truth matter the most because they’re in such short supply. It’s one of the reasons he was ready to give up reporting and editing to take on the ethics column, but that’s not to say he doesn’t miss the thrill of unraveling an important story.

He walks the maze, heading to Molly’s corner. “Hey,” he says as he comes up behind her.

Her right hand rises in a silencing gesture, and he realizes she’s on the phone. One of those ear things hidden by her hair. How was he supposed to know?

While he waits, he glances up at the silent TV monitors on the wall and tries to guess why the weatherman is moving his arms around in a circle. After a minute or so, Molly ends the call and turns to him.

“What?” she asks, not unfriendly but not friendly either. Busy is the vibe he gets.

Sam was once Molly’s editor and mentor as she learned her way around Congress, which was Sam’s beat for twelve years. She still comes to him for advice, though not often, and he will seek her out when his ethics column needs the perspective of someone younger, or a woman.

He hands her the printout without speaking and watches her read it, biting down on her lower lip, a habit he’s grown used to. He averts his eyes when she looks up and catches him staring at her. He glances around her cubicle while she finishes, then turns back to her, focusing now on her hands, which grip the printout on either side, as if she’s worried he’ll have second thoughts and try to take it back. He’s never noticed how graceful her hands look, with long supple fingers, as though she was born to play the piano. Or type. The thought makes him smile.

Molly hands back the email and frowns. “So what’s the question?” she asks.

“Do you think it’s for real?”

She purses her lips and turns her head slightly. Her blue eyes, accented with eye shadow she doesn’t need, seem to settle on a photograph of her and Kyle, her fiancé. They are wearing hiking gear and standing atop a boulder, Molly’s bleached-blond hair blowing lightly in the wind. Their wedding is set for Memorial Day weekend, less than three months away.

“Look, Sam,” she says finally, picking up her water bottle and taking a swallow, making him wait for what’s coming. “Every woman has some rat-bastard in her past she’d love to blow to kingdom come, but they never actually do it.”

“Some do.”

“Not many. And probably only on the spur of the moment. More passion than planning, and never with advance notice.”

“This is different. He didn’t dump her. He’s stalking her and she’s scared. She doesn’t see any other way out.”

Molly tilts her head slightly and he’s not sure what that means. She reaches for the moisturizer she keeps on her desk. He watches her squirt some in her palm and then rub it carefully on the backs of her hands. He feels himself getting annoyed. Since Lisa asked him to move out, he has less patience for everything and everyone. He reminds himself of that and takes a deep breath.

“I can’t ignore it,” he says.

“But what can you do? It’s vague and anonymous. You can’t use it in the column. Are you thinking of turning it over to the police?”

“No. I have to answer her. Reach out in some way.”

“Tell me why. You always told me not to get involved in the stories I cover.”

“I can’t just let it go.”

“What if you find out she’s serious? Or suicidal?” she asks. “Then you’ll have no choice but to go to the authorities.”

The question annoys him. “Of course. But I don’t have enough to work with now.”

“I don’t disagree, and if it’s not a hoax, I feel sorry for her. But all you can do is tell her to go to the police.”

“She says she can’t,” he says. “I want to find out why. This is a cry for help.”

Molly shrugs, making it clear she doesn’t agree. “If I came to you with this, you’d say reporters shouldn’t get involved. I’d get your lecture on how our job is to shine a light on problems while staying above the fray, not try to make everything okay.”

He doesn’t know what to say. He can’t argue with the journalistic principle she’s quoting, but it doesn’t apply here because he’s not a reporter planning to write a story about the email. “I have to follow it up,” he tells her. “I just do.”

“Why’d you ask my advice if you already had your mind made up?”

He walks away without answering. On the one hand, he sees her point, but he’s disappointed she isn’t more concerned, more helpful. It surprises him that Molly isn’t able to put herself in other people’s shoes more often. Seeing the other side of an issue—any issue—is an important skill for a reporter. Call it empathy.

But maybe he’s just annoyed because she doesn’t agree with him.

Back in his office, he forwards the email to the IT department. He deletes the content, but they can analyze the IP address or whatever they look at to try to determine where it came from. He doesn’t have much hope, but it’s worth a try. Then he turns back to the email and rereads it.

***

Dear Mr. Ethics:

Is murder ever ethical? I hope so because I don’t have a choice. An ex-lover is destroying me. I broke up with him and now he’s ruining my life. He got into my laptop, stole all my data and used it to stalk, embarrass, and almost bankrupt me. Now he’s moved on to even worse stuff. He’s killing my hope for any kind of normal life, so killing him is a form of self-defense. Justifiable homicide, right?

I can’t go to the police for reasons I can’t explain here. And I can’t give you any more details because I can’t risk you figuring out my name.

So can I murder him? And no, I’m not kidding.

Sincerely,

Truly Desperate

***

Sam jots down several notes. The tone strikes him as strangely calm and rational. She’s making a logical argument, not what you’d expect from someone stressed and frantic. Or crazy. Is it a hoax? Maybe a college kid bored with her ethics class and looking for term paper ideas. Or an author concocting a crazy plot for a thriller. Or maybe someone pissed off at Mr. Ethics and hoping to draw him into a discussion that will embarrass him if made public.

But maybe not.

It doesn’t matter. He has to answer her. Keep her talking, try to get more clues so he can stop her on the off chance she really is planning a murder.

He turns to his keyboard and after several false starts comes up with his reply.

***

Dear Truly Desperate,

I’m going to assume this is a not a prank because I have no way of knowing, and I want to give you the benefit of the doubt.

From the little you’ve told me, I can assure you that what you propose is not ethical. Justifiable homicide applies only when your life is in imminent danger, and you haven’t convinced me that this is the case. I don’t think you’ve convinced yourself or you wouldn’t be asking me.

You need to go to the police. If you can’t do it yourself, is there someone who can do it for you? If necessary, I might be willing to do that, depending on the details. And with the newspaper behind me, the police will feel obliged to take it seriously.

If you don’t want my help, I suggest you talk to a mental health professional or a social worker or someone experienced in cases involving domestic partner abuse (which this obviously is).

If you’d like to talk about this more (and I will treat any conversations we have confidentially), you may call me at any time (cellphone number below).

Above all, don’t do anything rash.

Regards,

Sam Turner (a.k.a. Mr. Ethics)

***

He sits back and reads the note again. He considers his offer to go to the police on her behalf, mindful of Molly’s warning not to get involved. He wants to help her, but that’s going too far. He eliminates that sentence.

He also cuts the promise of confidentiality. If she asks for it, he’ll agree, but there’s no need to offer it upfront. And it might tie his hands unnecessarily.

He reads his response one last time and hits the send button.

* * *

***

Excerpt from The Question Is Murder by Mark Willen. Copyright 2021 by Mark Willen. Reproduced with permission from Mark Willen. All rights reserved.

 

 

Author Bio:

Mark Willen

Mark Willen was born, raised, and educated in New England, where he developed a special appreciation for the values, humor, and strength of its people, as well as the sense of community that characterizes so many of its small towns. After college, he moved to the Washington, DC area, where he quickly learned how the other half lives.

As a journalist, he has been a reporter, columnist, blogger, producer, and editor at The Voice of America, National Public Radio, Congressional Quarterly, Bloomberg News, and Kiplinger. Though based primarily in Washington, he has reported from datelines as varied as New York, Moscow, Cairo, Beijing, Buenos Aires, and Johannesburg. Having retired from journalism in 2010, Mark now divides his time between writing fiction and volunteer work. As a former graduate-level teacher of journalism ethics, he also tries to help people figure out the right thing to do in difficult situations through his blog, TalkingEthics.com Mark has a Masters of Arts in writing from Johns Hopkins University (2010) and a Bachelor of Arts in government from Dartmouth College.

The Question Is Murder is Mark’s debut mystery, but there is always an element of suspense in his novels. His earlier Jonas Hawke series, three books set in a small but troublesome town in Vermont, were also published by Pen-L. His short stories have appeared in The Rusty Nail, Corner Club Press, and The Boiler Review.

Mark lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, with his wife, Janet.

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The Begonia Killer by Jeff Bond | #Showcase #Interview #Giveaway

The Begonia Killer by Jeff Bond Banner

The Begonia Killer

by Jeff Bond

June 1-30, 2021 Tour

Synopsis:

The Begonia Killer by Jeff Bond

You know Molly McGill from her death-defying escapes in Anarchy of the Mice, book one of the Third Chance Enterprises series. Now ride along for her first standalone caper, The Begonia Killer.

When Martha Dodson hires McGill Investigators to look into an odd neighbor, Molly feels optimistic about the case — right up until Martha reveals her theory that Kent Kirkland, the neighbor, is holding two boys hostage in his papered-over upstairs bedroom.

Martha’s husband thinks she needs a hobby. Detective Art Judd, who Molly visits on her client’s behalf, sees no evidence worthy of devoting police resources.

But Molly feels a kinship with the Yancy Park housewife and bone-deep concern for the missing boys.

She forges ahead with the investigation, navigating her own headstrong kids, an unlikely romance with Detective Judd, and a suspect in Kent Kirkland every bit as terrifying as the supervillains she’s battled before alongside Quaid Rafferty and Durwood Oak Jones.

The Begonia Killer is not your grandparents’ cozy mystery.

 

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery — Cozy/Romance
Published by: Jeff Bond Books
Publication Date: June 1, 2021
Number of Pages: 195
ISBN: 1734622520 (ISBN-13 : 978-1734622522)
Series: Third Chance Enterprises, #3
Purchase Links: Amazon | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

THE BEGONIA KILLER

By Jeff Bond

Chapter One

After twenty minutes on Martha Dodson’s couch, listening to her suspicions about the neighbor, I respected the woman. She was no idle snoop. She’d noticed his compulsive begonia care out the window while making lavender sachets from burlap scraps. She hadn’t even been aware of the papered-over bedroom above his garage until her postal carrier had commented.

I asked, “And the day he removed the begonias, how did you happen to see that?”

Martha set tea before me on a coaster, twisting the cup so its handle faced me. “Ziggy and I were out for a walk—he’d just done his business. I stood up to knot the bag…”

Her kindly face curdled, and I thought she might be remembering the product of Ziggy’s “business” until she finished, “Then we saw him start hacking, and scowling, and thrusting those clippers at his flowers.”

Her eyes, a pleasing hazel shade, darkened at the memory.

She added, “At his own flowers.”

I shifted my skirt, giving her a moment. “The begonias were in a mailbox planter?”

“Right by the street, yes. The whole incident happened just a few feet from passing cars, from the sidewalk where parents push babies in strollers.”

“Did he dispose of the mess afterward?”

“Immediately,” Martha said. “He looked at his clippers for a second—the blades were streaked with green from all those leaves and stems he’d destroyed—then he sort of recovered. He picked everything up and placed it in the yard-waste bin. Every last petal.”

“He sounds meticulous.”

“Extremely.”

I jotted Cleaned up begonia mess in my notebook.

Maybe because of my psychology background—I’m twelve credit-hours shy of a PhD—I like to start these introductory interviews by allowing clients time to just talk, open-ended. I want to know what they feel is important. Often this tells as much about them as it does about whatever they’re asking me to/ investigate.

Martha Dodson had talked about children first. Hers were in college. Did I have little ones? I’d waived my usual practice of withholding personal information and said yes, six and fourteen. She’d clapped and rubbed her hands. Wonderful! Where did they go to school?

Next we’d talked crafting. Martha liked to knit and make felt flowers for centerpieces, for vase arrangements, even to decorate shoes—that type of crafter whose creativity spills beyond the available mediums and fills a house, infusing every shelf and surface.

Only with this groundwork lain had she told me about the case itself, describing the various oddities of her neighbor three doors down, Kent Kirkland.

I was still waiting to hear the crux of her problem, the reason she wanted to hire McGill Investigators. (Full disclosure—although the name is plural, there’s only one investigator: Molly McGill. Me.)

“That sounds like an intense, visceral moment,” I said, squaring myself to Martha on the couch. “So has he done something to your flowers? Are you engaged in a dispute with him?”

Martha shook her head. Then, with perfect composure, she said, “I think he’s keeping a boy in the bedroom over his garage.”

I felt like somebody had blasted jets of freezing air into both my ears. The pen I’d been taking notes with tumbled from my hand to the carpet.

“Wait, keeping a boy?” I said.

“Yes.”

“Against his will? As in, kidnapping?”

Martha nodded.

I was having trouble reconciling this woman in front of me—cardigan sweater, hair in a layered crop—with the accusation she’d just uttered. We were sitting in a nice New Jersey neighborhood. Nicer than mine. We were drinking tea.

She said, “There might be two.”

Now my notebook dropped to the carpet.

“Two?” I said. “You think this man is holding two boys hostage?”

“I don’t know for sure,” she said. “If I knew for sure, I’d be over there breaking down the door myself. But I suspect it.”

She explained that a ten-year-old boy from the next town over had gone missing six months ago. The parents had been quoted as saying they “lost track of” their son. They hadn’t reported his disappearance until the evening after they’d last seen him.

“The mother told reporters he wanted a scooter for Christmas, one of those cute kick scooters.” Martha sniffled at the memory. “Guess what I saw the UPS driver drop off on Kent Kirkland’s porch two weeks ago?”

“A scooter,” I said.

Her eyes flashed. “A very large box from a company that makes scooters.”

Having retrieved my notebook, I jotted, box delivery (scooter?) . We talked a bit about this scooter company—which also made bikes, dehumidifiers, and air fryers.

Scooter or not, there remained about a million dots to be connected from this boy’s case, which I vaguely remembered from news reports, to Kent Kirkland.

I left the dots aside for now. “How do you get to two boys?”

“There was another missing boy, about the same age. During the summer.” Martha’s mouth moved in place like she was counting up how many jars of tomatoes she’d canned yesterday. “He lived close, too. That case was complicated because the parents had just divorced, and the dad—who was a native Venezuelan—had just moved back. People suspected him of taking the boy with him.”

“To Venezuela?”

“Yes. Apparently the State Department couldn’t get any answers.”

I nodded, not because I accepted all that she was telling me, but because there was no other polite response available.

Neither of us spoke. Our eyes drifted together down the street to Kent Kirkland’s two-story saltbox home. Pale yellow vinyl siding. Tall privacy fence. Three separate posted notices to “Please pick up after your pet.” Neighborhood Watch sign at the corner.

Finally, I said, “Look, Mrs. Dodson. Martha. Most of the cases we handle at McGill Investigators are domestic in nature. Straying husbands. Teenagers mixed up with the wrong crowd. I’m a mother myself, and I’ve been a wife. Twice.” I softened this disclosure with a smirk. “I generally take cases where my own life experiences can be brought to bear.”

“But that’s why I chose you.” Martha worried her hands in her lap. “Your website says, ‘Every case will be treated with dignity and discretion.’ That’s all I ask.”

I looked into her eyes and said, “Okay.”

She seemed to sense my reluctance and started, rushing, “Those bedroom windows are papered-over twenty-four hours a day! And the begonias, you didn’t see him destroy those begonias! I saw how he severed their stalks and shredded their root systems. You don’t do that to flowers you’ve tended for an entire season. Not if you’re a person of sound mind.”

“Gardening is more challenging for some than others. I love rhododendrons, but I can’t keep them alive. I over-water, I under-water. I plant them in the wrong spot.”

“Have you ever massacred them in a fit of rage?”

“No.” I smiled. “But I’ve wanted to.”

Martha couldn’t help returning the smile. But her eyes stayed on Kent Kirkland’s house.

I said, “Some men aren’t blessed with impulse control. Maybe he was a lousy gardener, he’d tried fertilizing and everything else, and the plants just refused to—”

“But he wasn’t a lousy gardener. He was excellent. I think he grew those begonias from seed. He wanted them to be perennials, is my theory, but we’re in zone seven—they’re annuals here. He couldn’t accept them dying off.”

Again, I was at a loss. I liked Martha Dodson. She had seemed like a reasonable person, right up until she’d started talking about kidnappings and Venezuela.

She scooted closer on the couch. “You didn’t see the rage, Miss McGill. I saw it. I saw him that day. He walked out of the garage with hand pruners, but he took one look at those begonias—leaves browning at the edges, stems tangled like green worms—and flipped out. He turned right around, put away the hand pruners and came back with clippers.”

She mimed viciously snapping a pair of clippers closed.

“Rage is one thing,” I said. “Kidnapping is another.”

“Of course,” Martha said. “That’s why I’d like to hire you: to figure out what he might be capable of.”

Her pupils seemed to pulse in place.

“I want to help you out, honestly.” I took her hand. “I do.”

“Is it money? I—I could pay you more. A little.”

Saying this, she seemed to linger on my jacket. I’d recently swapped out my boiled wool standby for this slightly flashier one, red leather with zippers. I had no great ambitions about an image upgrade; it’d just felt like time for a change.

“The fee we discussed will be sufficient,” I said. Martha had mentioned she was paying out of her own pocket, not from her and her husband’s joint account. “My concern is more about the substance of the case. It feels a bit outside my expertise.”

She clasped her hands at her waist. “Is it a question of danger? Do you not handle dangerous jobs?”

I balked. In fact, I’d done extremely dangerous jobs before, but only as part of Third Chance Enterprises, the freelance small-force, private arms team led by Quaid Rafferty and Durwood Oak Jones. We’d stopped an art heist in Italy. We’d saved the world from anarchist-hackers. Sometimes I can hardly believe our missions happened. They feel like half dream, half blockbuster movies starring me. Every couple years, just about the time I start thinking they really might be dreams, Quaid shows up again on my front porch.

“I don’t mind facing danger on a client’s behalf,” I said. “But McGill Investigators isn’t meant to replace the proper authorities. If you believe Mr. Kirkland is involved in these disappearances, your first stop should be the police.”

“Mm.” Martha’s face wilted, reminding me of those unlucky begonias. “Actually, it was.”

“You spoke with the police?”

She nodded. “Yes. Well, more of a front desk person. I told him exactly what I’ve been telling you today.”

“How did he respond?”

There was a floor loom beside the couch. Martha threaded her fingers through its empty spindles, seeming to need its feel.

“He said the department would ‘give the tip its due attention.’ Then on my way out, he asked if I’d ever read anything by J.D. Robb.”

“The mystery writer?” I asked.

“Right. He told me J.D. Robb was really Nora Roberts, the romance novelist. He said I should try them. He had a hunch I’d like them.”

My teeth were grinding.

I said, “Some men are idiots.”

Martha’s face eased gratefully. “Oh, my husband thinks the same. I’m a Yancy Park housewife with too much time on her hands. He says Kirkland’s just an odd duck. When I told him about the begonias, he got this confused expression and said, ‘What’s a perennial?’”

I could relate. My first husband had once handed me baking soda when I asked for cornstarch to thicken up an Italian beef sauce. The dish came out tasting like soap. After I traced back the mistake, he grumbled, “Ah, relax. They’re both white powders.”

As much as I probably should have, I couldn’t refuse Martha. Not after this conversation.

“I suppose I can do some poking around,” I said. “See if he, I don’t know, buys suspicious items at the grocery store. Or puts something in his garbage that might have come from a child.”

Martha lurched forward and clutched my hands like I’d just solved the case of Jack the Ripper.

“That would be amazing!” she cried. “Thank you so much! I know this seems far-fetched, but my instincts tell me something’s wrong at that house. If I didn’t follow through, if it turned out I was right and those little boys…”

She didn’t finish. I was glad.

CHAPTER TWO

The state of New Jersey offers private investigator licenses, but I’ve never gotten one. It doesn’t entitle you to much, and you have to put up two hundred and fifty dollars, plus a three-thousand-dollar “surety bond.” Besides the money, you’re supposed to have served five years as an investigator or police officer. Which I haven’t.

For all these reasons, my first stop after taking any case involving possible crimes is the local police station. Sometimes the police are impressed enough by what I tell them to assign their own personnel, usually some rookie detective or beat cop.

Other times, not.

“Begonias, huh?” said Detective Art Judd, lacing his fingers behind a head of bushy brown hair. “The ones with the thick, fluffy flower heads?”

“You’re thinking of chrysanthemums,” I said.

“Nnnno, I feel like it was begonias.”

“Not begonias. Maybe peonies?”

“Don’t think so,” he said. “I’m pretty sure the gal in the garden center said begonias.”

I was annoyed—one, at his stubborn ignorance of flowers, and two, that he’d segued so breezily off the subject of Kent Kirkland.

“The only other possibility with a thick, fluffy flower-head would be roses,” I said. “But if you don’t know what a rose looks like, you’re in trouble.”

Art Judd’s lips curled up below a mustache. “You could be right.”

I waited for him to return to Kirkland, to stand and pace about his sparsely decorated office, to offer some comment on the bizarre behavior I’d been describing for the last twenty minutes.

But he just looked at me.

Oh, I didn’t mind terribly being looked at. He was handsome enough in a best-bowler-on-his-Tuesday-night-league-team way. Broad sloping shoulders, large hand gestures that made the physical distance between our chairs feel shorter than it was.

I’d come for Martha Dodson, though.

“Leaving aside what is or isn’t a begonia,” I said, “how would you feel about checking into Kent Kirkland? Maybe sending an officer over to his house.”

He finally gave up his stare, kicking back from his metal desk with a sigh. “The department barely has enough black-and-whites to service the parking meters downtown.”

“I’m talking about missing boys. Not parking meters.”

“Point taken,” he said. “Why didn’t Mrs. Dodson come herself with this information?”

“She did. Your front desk person brushed her off.”

The detective looked past me into the precinct lobby. “They see a lot of nut jobs. You can’t go calling in the calvary every time someone comes in saying their neighbor hung the wrong curtains.”

“They aren’t curtains,” I said. “The windows are papered-over. Completely opaque.”

He rubbed his jaw. I thought he might be struggling to keep a straight face.

I continued with conviction I wasn’t sure I actually felt, “I saw it. It isn’t normal how he obscures that window. Martha thinks it’s weird, and it is weird.”

“Weird,” he said flatly. “Two votes for weird.”

“You put those Neighborhood Watch signs up, right?” In response to his slouch, I stood. “You encourage citizens to report anything out of the ordinary. When a citizen does so, the proper response would seem to be gratitude—or, at the very least, respect.”

This, either the words or my standing up, finally pierced the detective’s blithe manner.

“Okay, I give. You win.” His barrel chest rose and fell in a concessionary breath. “It’s true, with police work you never know which detail matters until it matters. Please apologize to Mrs. Dodson on behalf of the department. And I’ll be sure to have a word with Jimmie.”

He gestured to the lobby. “Kid’s been getting too big for his britches for a while now.”

I thanked him, and he ducked his head in return.

Then he said, “I suppose she thinks one of those boys being held is Calvin Witt.”

The boy whose parents had lost track of him.

“Yes,” I said. “The timing does fit.”

I considered mentioning the scooter, Calvin’s Christmas wish, but decided not to. We didn’t need to go down the rabbit hole of box shapes and labeling, and whether grown men rode scooters.

Detective Judd looked ponderously at the ceiling. I didn’t expect him to divulge information about a live case, but I thought if he knew something exculpatory—that Calvin Witt had been spotted in Florida, say—he might pass it along and save me some trouble.

“I hate to say this, but I honestly doubt young Calvin is among the living.” Art Judd smeared a hand through his mustache. “The father gambled online. Mom wanted out of the marriage, bad. She told anybody in her old sorority who’d pick up her call. Both of them methheads.”

“That’s disheartening,” I said. “So you think the parents…”

He nodded, reluctance heavy on his brow. “It’ll be a park, under some tree. Downstream on the banks of the Millstone. Pray to God I’m wrong.”

I matched his glum expression, both a genuine reaction and a professional tactic to encourage more disclosure. “Does the department have staff psychologists, people who study these dysfunctional family dynamics? Who’re qualified to unpack the facts?”

“Eh.” Art Judd flung out his arm. “You do this job long enough, you start recognizing patterns.”

This was a common reaction to the field of psychology: that it was just everyday observation masquerading as science, than anyone with a little horse sense could practice it.

I said, “Antipathy between spouses doesn’t predict antipathy toward the offspring, generally.”

The detective’s face glazed over like I’d just recited Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

“Perhaps I could conduct an interview,” I said. “As a private citizen, just to hear more background on Calvin?”

He chuckled out of his stupor. “Good try. You’re free to call as you like, but I don’t think the Witts are real receptive to interview requests now—with the exception of the paying sort.”

I crossed my legs, causing my skirt to shift higher up my knee. “Is there any further background you’d be able to share? You personally?”

His gaze did tick down, and he seemed to lose his first word under his tongue.

“Urb, I—I guess it’s all more or less leaked in the press anyway,” he said, and proceeded to give me the story—as the police understood it—of Calvin Witt.

Calvin had a lot to overcome. His parents, besides their drug and money problems, were morbidly obese, and had passed this along to Calvin. A social worker’s report found inadequate supplies of fresh fruit and lean proteins at the home. They’d basically raised him on McDonald’s and ice cream sandwiches. Calvin had learning and attention disorders. He started fights in school. His parents couldn’t account for huge swaths of his day, of his week even.

“They let him run like the junkyard dog,” Detective Judd said. “All we know about the night he disappeared, we got off the kid’s bus pass. Thankfully it’d been registered. We know he boarded a bus downtown, late.”

I opened my mouth to ask a follow-up.

“Before you get ideas,” he said, “no, the route didn’t pass anywhere near Martha Dodson’s neighborhood. We always crosscheck Yancy Park in these cases. That’s where the Ferguson place is.”

“Ferguson?”

“Yeah. Big rickety house, half falling over? Looks like the city dump. You shoulda passed it on the way.”

I shook my head.

“Well,” he continued, “that’s where the Fergusons live, crusty old married couple. Them and whatever riffraff needs a room. Plenty of crime there. Squalor. The neighbors keep trying to get it condemned.”

I definitely didn’t remember driving past a place like that. “Were there any witnesses who saw Calvin on the bus? Saw who he was with?”

“Nobody who’d talk.”

“Camera footage?”

The detective palmed his meaty elbow. “Have you seen the city’s transportation budget?”

I incorporated the new information, thinking about Kent Kirkland. He was single according to Martha. Mid-thirties. He worked from home—something to do with programming or web design, she thought.

Did he have a car? I’d noticed a two-car garage, but I hadn’t seen inside.

Did he go out socially? To bars? Or trivia nights?

Could he have ridden the bus downtown?

“Martha mentioned another case,” I said. “Last summer, I think it was. Another boy in the same vicinity?”

At first, Detective Judd only squinted.

I prompted, “There was some connection to Venezuela. The father was born there, maybe he—”

“Right, that Ramos kid!” Judd smacked his forehead. “How could I forget? Talk about red tape, my gosh. So he’s boy number two, is that it?”

I couldn’t very well answer “yes” to a question posed like that.

I simply repeated, “Martha mentioned the case.”

“Yep. That was a doozy.” As he remembered, he walked to a file cabinet and pulled open a drawer. “Real exercise in frustration.”

“There was trouble with the Venezuelan government?”

“And how.” He swelled his eyes, thumbing through manila folders, finally lifting out an overstuffed one. “I must’ve filled out fifty forms myself, no joke.”

He tossed the file on his desk. Documents slumped from the folder out across his computer keyboard.

I asked, “You never located the boy?”

“Not definitively. We had a witness put him with the paternal grandparents, the day before Dad put the whole crew on a plane.”

“Did you interview him?”

“Who?”

“The father.”

Detective Judd burbled his lips. “Nope. The Venezuelans stonewalled us—never could get him, not even on the horn. He told some website he had no clue where the kid was, but come on. They took him.”

I’d been following along with his account, understanding the logic and sequence—until this. I thought about Zach, my fourteen-year-old, and what lengths I would’ve gone to if he’d disappeared with his father.

“So you…stopped?” I said.

He stiffened. “We hit a brick wall, like I said.”

“Yes, but a boy had been taken from his mother. What did she say? Was she satisfied with the investigation?”

“No.” Judd’s mouth tightened under his mustache. His tone turned challenging. “Nobody’s satisfied when they don’t like the outcome.”

I tugged my skirt lower, covering my knee.

He continued, “I get fifty-some cases across my desk every week, Miss McGill. I don’t have the luxury of devoting my whole day to chasing crackpot theories just because somebody looks angry snipping their flowers.”

“Of course,” I said. “Which makes me the crackpot.”

He closed his eyes, as though summoning patience. “You seem like a nice lady. And look, I admit I’m a Neanderthal when it comes to matters—”

“‘Nice lady’ puts you dangerously close to pre-Neanderthal territory.”

He smiled. In the pause, two buttons began blinking on his phone.

“Pleasant as it’s been getting acquainted with you,” he said, “I can’t commit resources to this begonia guy. Just can’t. If you can pursue it without stepping over any legal boundaries, more power to you.”

I felt heat rising up my neck. I gathered my purse.

“I will pursue it. Two little boys’ welfare is on the line. Somebody needs to.”

He spread his arms wide, good-naturedly, stretching the collar of his shirt. “Hey, who better than you?”

The contents of the folder labeled Ramos were still strewn over his keyboard. “I don’t suppose I could borrow this file…”

“Official police documents?”

“Just for twenty minutes. Ten—I could flip through in the lobby, jot a few notes.”

He’d walked around his desk to show me out, and now he stopped, hands on hips, peering down at the file. The top paper had letterhead from the Venezuelan consulate.

I stepped closer to look with him, shoulder-to-shoulder. Our shoes bumped.

“Or even just this letter,” I said. “So I have the case number and contact information for the consulate. Surely there’s no harm in that?”

Detective Judd didn’t move his shoe. He smelled like bagels and coffee.

He placed his fingertip on the letter and pushed it my way.

“I can live with that.”

“Thanks,” I said, grinning, snatching the paper before he could reconsider.

CHAPTER THREE

I drove home through Yancy Park, thinking to get a second look at Kent Kirkland’s property. As I pulled into the subdivision, I noticed a dilapidated house up the hill, off to the west. It rose three stories and had bare-wood sides. Ragged blankets flapped over its attic windows.

The Ferguson place.

Somehow I’d missed it driving in from the other direction. Art Judd had been right: the place was an eyesore. Gutters dangled off the roof like spaghetti off a toddler’s abandoned plate. A refrigerator and TV were strewn about the dirt yard, both spilling their electronic guts.

I made a mental note to ask Martha Dodson about the property. I found it curious she suspected Kirkland instead of whoever lived in this rats’ den. Art Judd had mentioned crosschecking Yancy Park. Maybe the police had already been out and investigated to Martha’s satisfaction.

I kept driving to Martha and Kent Kirkland’s street. I slowed at the latter’s yard, peering over a rectangular yew hedge to a house that was the polar opposite of the Ferguson place. The paint job was immaculate. Gutters were not only fully affixed, but contained not a single leaf or twig. Trash bins were pulled around the side into a nook, out of sight.

***

Excerpt from The Begonia Killer by Jeff Bond. Copyright 2021 by Jeff Bond. Reproduced with permission from Jeff Bond. All rights reserved.

 

Author Bio:

Jeff Bond

Jeff Bond is an American author of popular fiction. A Kansas native and Yale graduate, he now lives in Michigan with his wife and two daughters. The Pinebox Vendetta received the gold medal in the 2020 Independent Publisher Book Awards, and the first two entries in the Third Chance Enterprises series — Anarchy of the Mice, Dear Durwood — were named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best 100 Indie Books of 2020.

Q&A with Jeff Bond

What was the inspiration for this book?

Molly McGill is one of three co-protagonists introduced in Anarchy of the Mice, book one of the Third Chance Enterprises series. For the second, third, and fourth books, I wanted to delve deeper into each character. Durwood Oak Jones came first with Dear Durwood, and now it’s Molly’s turn with The Begonia Killer. I set out to craft a story that was unique to her, and best portrayed her values and personality.

What has been the biggest challenge in your writing career?

The question of what to write has always been central to my journey as an author. I enjoy writing in many modes – action, humor, relationships – and deciding which to focus on for upcoming projects has always kept me up at night.

In the end, I’ve decided not to decide, writing broadly and dipping into multiple genres. The Begonia Killer is my first cozy mystery.

What do you absolutely need while writing?

I won’t say “inspiration,” because that sounds like I need gorgeous cliff bluffs or views of the Golden Gate Bridge. (Which I actually did have for a time, writing in the Bay Area.) But I do need to feel optimistic about whatever story I’m telling, to believe that the work has unique qualities and pushes me into new territory as a writer.

Also, coffee.

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

I have eleven and nine-year-old daughters who keep me extremely busy, so my schedule has to be strict: when they’re at school or gymnastics practice, I’m writing.

Who is your favorite character from your book and why?

Many people will say Eunice, Molly’s cantankerous grandmother, but I’ll stick with Molly. Her resilience and fundamental concern for others is what grounds both The Begonia Killer and, before it, Anarchy of the Mice, a Kirkus Reviews Best 100 Indie Book of 2020.

Tell us why we should read your book.

The Begonia Killer offers readers much of what they expect from the cozy mystery genre – neighborhood intrigues, quirky characters, etc. – but with a fresh plot and urgency more like a thriller. Heroes and villains alike are portrayed three-dimensionally; I’ve had early readers rooting for characters I never expected to attract sympathy, which I take for a good sign.

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

A handful of Molly’s domestic challenges are drawn from my own experience. Like Molly, I have a litterbox-challenged cat with a history of peeing on stuffed animals. When fourteen-year-old Zach yells at her for putting two left socks together, that’s an echo of me from middle school – not appreciating my own mother, and imagining I knew a lot more about the world than I actually did.

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

If you’re not usually a reader of cozy mysteries, that’s okay – I’m not usually a writer of them! As discussed above, I write broadly so if you’re looking for a different sort of story, please check out my other titles.

Tell us a little about yourself and your background?

I grew up outside Kansas City, then headed east to study at Yale. I told my friends there I wanted to write a novel. I’d grown up racing through all the Clive Cussler in my grade-school library, and college was introducing me to War and Peace and The Corrections, characters so real I felt the author – from centuries ago, thousands of miles away – plucking thoughts straight from my own head.

These denser books dazzled me, but I missed the rush of the thrillers I’d read as a boy. Could a story do both? I wanted to give it a shot.

I took a regular job out of school and began writing novels on the side. I finished a too-long manuscript about classmates entering the workforce. A basketball story. An adventure of mismatched heroes rescuing the world from anarchy. They weren’t good yet, but each was better than what’d come before.

Meanwhile, life rolled on. I held day jobs as a consultant, business analyst, teacher, and programmer. I lived on both coasts and ended up in the middle. I wrecked an ankle playing too much basketball. I shepherded two daughters into elementary school – a gig that’s made me a soccer coach, gymnastics parent, and winder of ponytails.

Through it all, I wrote. It’s taken a few detours, but I believe I’ve finally arrived at the books I imagined writing in school – stories that balance propulsive plots with characters you’ll care about.

What’s next that we can look forward to?

After writing mostly thrillers the last few years, I’ve begun branching into romance categories, and recently joined the Romance Writers of America. The next two books in my queue have an even more pronounced emphasis on the genre.
At the same time, I continue to expand the Third Chance Enterprises universe. Book four, which is previewed at the end of Begonia, is called Astroplane and features Quaid Rafferty, the series’ final co-protagonist, who’s not thrilled about having to wait so long for his standalone.
You can find more – including short stories and original artwork – about him, Molly, and Durwood at www.thirdchancestories.com.

Catch Up With Jeff Bond:
ThirdChanceStories.com
Goodreads
BookBub – @jeff_bond
Instagram – @jeffabond
Twitter – @jeffABond
Facebook – @jeffabondbooks

 

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Dead Tree Tales

by Rush Leaming

June 7 – July 2, 2021 Tour

Synopsis:

Dead Tree Tales by Rush Leaming

 

Set in Charleston, SC, and the surrounding islands, police are called to investigate the poisoning of a much-loved 1000-year-old tree, only to find evidence of a more brutal crime. From there, the story explodes into a fast-paced, multi-character thriller unlike any you\’ve ever read. Not for the faint of heart…

Dead Tree Tales by Rush Leaming is about a lot more than a dead tree. It’s a mystery. It’s a crime story. It’s a thriller. It’s a powerful comment on today’s society and politics… fast-paced, full of action and intrigue… It’s a real page-turner and just a fantastic read.” – Lorraine Cobcroft, Reader’s Favorite

 

Book Details:

Genre: Crime Thriller
Published by: Bridgewood
Publication Date: June 8th 2021
Number of Pages: 488
ISBN: 0999745654 (ISBN13: 9780999745656)
Purchase Links: Amazon | Goodreads

 

Read an excerpt:

CHAPTER ONE

It was known simply as The Tree; that is what the locals on Johns Island, South Carolina, called it. A Southern live oak born a thousand years ago (some even said fifteen hundred), its gargantuan limbs swirled and stretched as much as two hundred feet in all directions. The lower arms, heavy with age, sometimes sank into the earth only to reemerge. Other branches flailed recklessly in the sky, like some sort of once-screaming kraken turned to wood by an ancient curse.

Generation after generation had protected it. Rising from the center of a former indigo plantation, and now officially known as Addison’s Oak, The Tree had long been a source of pride, even fear, in the surrounding community, as well as James Island, Wadmalaw Island, and the nearby city of Charleston.

But now, The Tree was dying. It was not from natural causes either, not from time, nor gravity, nor the weather.

Someone had killed it.

“Is that a thing?” Detective Charlie Harper asked as he turned his head to look at his partner, Detective Elena Vasquez.

“I think so.” Elena squinted her eyes toward the top of the canopy, the leafy summit shadowed and backlit by the noon sun.

“Arborcide? That’s a thing?” Charlie asked again.

An Asian-American man in his mid-twenties wearing wraparound sunglasses stood next to the two detectives. “Yep. You remember that incident a few years ago in Auburn? Toomer’s Corner. Crazy Alabama fan poisoned the tree there.”

“Yeah,” Charlie said. “But I mean legally. Is it legally a crime to do this?”

“Cops were involved there,” the man said. “The guy went to jail. Has to be something. Why don’t you call them? See what they did.” He pulled a pack of spearmint gum from the front pocket of his jeans and stuffed five pieces in his mouth, noticing Charlie watching him. “Quitting smoking. Nicotine gum makes me dizzy.”

Charlie nodded. “Been there.” Six feet tall, with a closely trimmed beard under bright-blue eyes, he walked around the perimeter of the field.

Salt air swirled around him—they were only a couple of miles from the beach—and Charlie realized it was the first time he had been away from the city and out on the islands in months, maybe even over a year.

Elena Vasquez, an athletic five-ten with shoulder-length black hair bobby-pinned over her ears, stood in front of the young man and opened a new page in the Notes app on her iPhone. “So, you’re the one who called about this?”

“Yes. It took some digging to figure out who to contact. I didn’t know there weren’t any police stations out here.”

“That’s correct.” She typed the date 5/19/2015 at the top of the page. “Closest station is the Island Sheriff’s Patrol on James Island, but they don’t handle things like this. That’s why you got us from the city. And who are you again?”

“Daniel Lee.”

She looked up from her iPhone. “Daniel is a nice name. It’s my son’s name, though we call him Danny. Where are you from, Mr. Lee?”

“I’m originally from Maryland—Chesapeake Bay area—but now I live in Charleston. West Ashley. I’m a Ph.D. candidate at the college.”

“College of Charleston?” Elena asked and continued typing.

“Yes. Environmental science. Teach a couple of undergrad classes as well. And I’m president of the local Sierra Club chapter. Our service project for this year has been public park maintenance and cleanup. I came here a week ago and saw that broken limb—”

“This one?” Charlie pointed at a fat twisted branch about the length of a Greyhound bus lying near the base of the tree.

“Yes.”

“Well . . .” Charlie said. “How do you know it wasn’t lightning or something?”

Daniel went over to Charlie and squatted next to the fallen limb. “There are no burn marks. Lightning would leave those.”

“Maybe it’s just old age. Isn’t this thing like a thousand years old or something?”

“Possibly more. It is rotting,” Daniel said. “But not from old age. See this discoloration? The rust-colored saturation of the stump where it broke?”

Charlie leaned in a little closer. “Yes.”

“That’s from poison, from a lot of poison. And you can see spots like this forming and spreading all around the trunk and on other branches.”

Elena stood beneath The Tree, placing her hand on a dark-orange splotch on the trunk. The gray bark surrounding the stain felt tough and firm, but inside the color spot, it was soft and crumbling. “I see it.”

“It’s like cancer,” Daniel said. “The Tree is not dead yet, but it will be soon. I had the soil tested as well as samples from the broken limb. They came back positive for massive levels of DS190.”

“And that is?” Charlie said.

“A variant of tebuthiuron. A very powerful herbicide. Similar to what was used at Toomer’s Corner. Somebody has been injecting the tree as well as dumping it into the ground. Probably for a few months to reach these levels.”

“Injecting the tree?” Elena said.

Daniel pulled them over to the base of the trunk where a ring of jagged holes stretched just above the ground. “Yes. See these gashes? Somebody has been boring into the trunk, then filling it with DS190.”

Charlie took out a pair of latex gloves and put them on before touching the holes in the trunk. “You’re sure this is intentional?”

“Has to be. This stuff doesn’t just appear on its own. It’s man-made. Someone has been doing this.”

“But why?” Charlie asked.

Daniel held out a hand, palm up. “Thus, the reason the two of you are here.”

Charlie shook his head. “I don’t know about this. We usually work homicide.”

Daniel gestured towards the gashes in the trunk. “You have a murder victim. Or soon will. Right in front of you.”

“But it’s a tree!” Charlie said.

Elena looked up from her phone. “Okay, Mr. Harper. Easy.”

Daniel motioned for them to follow as he walked to the backside of the trunk. “There’s something else.” He came to a stop in a patch of grass ringed with dandelion sprouts and pointed to dark-red streaks spread across the blades. “That’s blood, isn’t it?”

Charlie bent down and touched his gloved hand to one of the blades. “Maybe.” He took out a plastic bag and a Leatherman multitool from his jacket. He pulled apart the hinged scissors, then clipped away about a dozen pieces of grass and dropped them into the bag.

“And another thing,” Daniel said and led Elena to a spot about ten feet away. He pointed to a white card lying in the grass. “I didn’t touch any of this, by the way. I didn’t want to disturb the crime scene . . . I watch a lot of cop shows. I know how that goes.”

“Doesn’t everyone.” Elena squatted down, taking a plastic bag from her jacket. She used tweezers to pick up the card, muddy and frayed at the edges and turned it over to reveal a yellow cat emoji, just the head, whiskers, and a faint smile, printed on the opposite side. There were no words, just the image.

A strong breeze moved through the leaves of the great tree, a sound like rain showers mixed with groaning as the heavy limbs bent in the wind.

Charlie Harper removed his glove and rubbed the edge of his dark-brown beard. Looking at the massive branches, which did seem like the arms of giants, he began to understand why The Tree was such a big deal. “Have to say, it is beautiful here. Can’t believe I’ve been in Charleston four years and never been here. I should bring Amy. She’d love it.”

Daniel looked at Elena for an explanation.

“His daughter,” she said, then turned to Charlie. “You should. My dad brought me here a few times when I was a kid.”

“Well, you better hurry,” Daniel said.

“There’s nothing to stop it?” Elena asked.

“Probably not. I contacted a team of forestry researchers I know from Virginia Tech. They are going to send a team down to look at it, see if anything can be done. I sent a request to the Parks Department to pay for it. If they don’t, Sierra Club will hold a fundraiser.”

Charlie sighed. “Okay. While we decide what to do about this, I’ll call and have some signs and barriers put up to keep the tourists away.”

Elena turned to Daniel. “Thank you for meeting us here. Could you come to our station in the city today or tomorrow to give a formal statement?”

“Sure.”

“Bring copies of the lab work. We gonna find anything when we do a background check on you?”

Daniel shook his head. “No. Just some parking tickets . . . a lot of tickets actually. Parking at the college is a bitch.”

“That it is,” Elena said. “Here is my card if you think of anything else.”

“Thanks,” Daniel said. He stopped a moment as if to say something, then continued toward a white Chevy Volt parked near the road.

Elena looked at Charlie and raised her eyebrows. “So, Mr. Harper, what do you think?”

“Ehh . . . I mean I understand it’s old and rare and special and all that, but it’s a fucking tree. I don’t know anything about trees, do you?”

“No, but . . .”

“But what?”

“I don’t know,” Elena said and looked around the field. “My Spidey-sense tells me there’s more to it than just some weird vandalism.” She took a step forward and winced.

“Back acting up?” Charlie asked.

“A bit,” she said.

“Lunchtime anyway. Let’s take a break. I’m starving. June and I got into it again this morning. Skipped breakfast.”

“Sorry to hear that.” Elena swept a strand of black hair behind her ear. She pointed with her chin down a two-lane road to a crooked sign with a faded image of a pagoda: The Formosa Grill. “Chinese?”

“Sure,” Charlie said.

The two of them began to walk toward their gray Ford Explorer when Charlie saw a flash of white out of the corner of his eye. He stopped and knelt in the grass. He used his Leatherman tool to again pry away several blades.

“What is it?” Elena asked.

Charlie’s head bolted upright, his blue eyes narrowing. “Mr. Lee!” he shouted. He pulled another latex glove from his pocket.

In the parking lot, Daniel climbed out of his car and made his way back to the field. “Yes?”

“Mr. Lee, when was the last time you were here before meeting us today?”

“Yesterday morning,” Daniel said.

Elena knelt next to Charlie, looked into the grass, and let a low whistle escape her lips. She used her phone to take a photo.

Charlie used tweezers to pick up a severed finger. Sliced just below the knuckle, the stump crusted in blood, the flesh covered with red ants, it ended with a sharp green fingernail. He looked at Daniel. “Did you happen to notice this?”

Daniel swallowed hard, turning his face to the side. “No. I did not.”

Charlie put the finger in a plastic bag.

Elena looked at him, her wide brown eyes giving him a knowing shimmer. “You interested in this case now, Mr. Harper?”

Charlie didn’t flinch. He stared at The Tree.

***

Excerpt from Dead Tree Tales by Rush Leaming. Copyright 2021 by Rush Leaming. Reproduced with permission from Rush Leaming. All rights reserved.

 

 

Author Bio:

Rush Leaming

RUSH LEAMING has done many things including spending 15+ years in film/video production working on such projects as The Lord of the Rings films. His first novel, Don’t Go, Ramanya, a political thriller set in Thailand, was self-published in the fall of 2016 and reached number one on Amazon. His equally successful second novel, entitled The Whole of the Moon, a coming-of-age tale set in the Congo at the end of the Cold War, was published in 2018. His short stories have appeared in Notations, 67 Press, Lightwave, Green Apple, 5k Fiction, and The Electric Eclectic. He has lived in New York City, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Zaire, Thailand, Spain, Greece, England, and Kenya. He currently lives in South Carolina.

Q&A with Rush Leaming

What was the inspiration for this book?

The idea first came to me in the mid 1990’s, the idea that the impending destruction of a famous tree would stir up a whirlwind of trouble in a community. I envisioned it as a multi-character, complicated interlocking of storylines. The crime element came later, and actually Part-Two: One-Hit Wonder, the sniper targeting right-wing figures, came from a screenplay idea I had but never wrote.

What has been the biggest challenge in your writing career?

Getting noticed!

What do you absolutely need while writing?

Music. Mornings are classical; afternoons/early evenings are rock and pop; nighttime is old-school jazz

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

I’m a binge writer, not an everyday writer. I sometimes go years or more in between projects. But as in this book, when I’m in the throes of it, I write my first drafts very fast, using my iPhone!
I’ll write everyday about 3-4 hours in the morning, then in the evening spend a couple of hours reviewing, revising and often expanding on what I wrote in the morning.

Who is your favorite character from your book and why?

In this book, definitely Len Rawlings. I had to get in his head to find the logic in his views but also wanted to show the humanity within, that he, like so many people who become radicalized, are really lost souls.

Tell us why we should read your book.

Because it’s about a Tree, but so much more!

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

I wrote it in three months during Covid quarantine.

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

Sunscreen. No, wait…another writer already used that.

Plastics. No, that’s a movie quote.

I’ve got it: Thanks.

Tell us a little about yourself and your background?

I’m the king of odd/weird jobs. Here’s a small sample from my bio:

car wash attendant, bartender, dishwasher, Adjunct Professor, lab rat decapitator, shoe salesman, fish pond builder, a monster in a low-budget horror movie, music video director, refugee camp volunteer, film production manager, ESL teacher, star of a country music video…

What’s next that we can look forward to?

I’m mulling over my next project, but in the end the story chooses the writer, not the other way around. One option is a sequel to this one. I’ve got a few ideas rolling in my head, but nothing cohesive yet. Another idea is a sci-fi/coming of age/romantic-adventure/travel tale. So we’ll see!

Catch Up With Rush:
LeamingRush.wixsite.com/nightfall
Goodreads
BookBub – @RushLeaming
Instagram – @rushleaming
Twitter – @LeamingRush
Facebook

 

 

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The Redemption by C.L. Tolbert | #Showcase #Interview #Giveaway

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The Redemption

by C.L. Tolbert

June 1-30, 2021 Tour

Synopsis:

by C.L. Tolbert

Emma Thornton is back in The Redemption, C.L. Tolbert’s second novel in the Thornton Mystery Series.

When two men are murdered one muggy September night in a New Orleans housing project, an eye witness identifies only one suspect – Louis Bishop- a homeless sixteen-year old. Louis is arrested the next day and thrown into Orleans Parish Prison. Emma Thornton, a law professor and director of the Homeless Law Clinic at St. Stanislaus Law School in the city agrees to represent him.

When they take on the case, Emma and her students discover a tangle of corruption, intrigue, and more violence than they would have thought possible, even in New Orleans. They uncover secrets about the night of the murders, and illegal dealings in the city, and within Louis’s family. As the case progresses, Emma and her family are thrown into a series of life-threating situations. But in the end, Emma gains Louis’s trust, which allows him to reveal his last, and most vital secret.

Book Praise:

“With The Redemption, Cynthia Tolbert delivers another beautifully written and compelling read in her Thornton Mystery series, as law professor Emma Thornton’s fight to save a teen wrongly accused of murder endangers her own life in this gripping tale of corruption and crime in the 1990s Big Easy.”
Ellen Byron, Agatha Award Winning Author of the Cajun Country Mysteries

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery
Published by: Level Best Books
Publication Date: February 9th 2021
Number of Pages: 286
ISBN: 978-1-947915-43-5
Series:Thornton Mysteries, Book 2 || Each is a Stand Alone Mystery
Purchase Links: Amazon | Goodreads

 

Read an excerpt:

CHAPTER ONE

September 9, 1994


8:05 p.m.

Just before dark on the night of his death, Brother Reginald Antoine stepped out of the cottage where he lived. He slammed the door shut to prevent the soggy heat of the late summer evening from invading the front room. Except for occasional river breezes, the New Orleans climate was swamp-like until late October. His exits had become swift and cat-like to avoid escalating power bills and a strain on the house’s only window-unit air conditioner.

He stood on the front porch for a moment, staring at the entrance to the Redemption housing project. All was quiet. No one was in sight.

He was looking forward to the evening. He’d promised to help Alicia Bishop complete forms for a scholarship to Our Lady of Fatima, the top girls’ school in the city. He found himself singing under his breath as he locked the front door.

Most of the kids Brother Antoine worked with never finished school, and he was painfully aware that he’d failed far more than he’d helped. But Alicia’s story would be different. Her graduation would be her family’s first. Clear-headed and determined, much like her Aunt Juanita, the woman who had raised her, she was destined to earn far more than a high school diploma. He believed she was destined for great things.

Brother Antoine surveyed the street familiar to him from childhood. Alicia and her Aunt Juanita lived in an apartment was only a few blocks over, but well within the Redemption housing project. Driving such a short distance would be silly, plus he felt like a little exercise. It was a good evening for a walk, even though no one felt completely safe walking around any neighborhood in the city at night. At least one person had been killed in New Orleans every day that year, so far. Sometimes more. Too many drugs were on the streets. But he didn’t worry about any of that.

He tucked the bundle of papers he’d pulled for the meeting under his arm and headed out. When he was a kid he’d found the Redemption overwhelming – so vast it couldn’t be taken in, visually, from his porch or from any single location. A crowded jumble of russet brick, broken down porches, and peeling army-drab paint, it stretched across the lower garden district from Magazine Street to the Mississippi River. When he was about six he tried to count the buildings, but gave up when he got lost. Everything looked the same to him back then. When he returned to live at the mission house he realized he’d been wrong. Each place was unique. Every apartment, every stoop, every front door was distinct, because everything inside was different. Every place had its own family, its own problems, its own joys. Every place had its own family, its own problems, and joys. He didn’t realize how much he’d missed it until his return.

He passed the community garden planted around the corner from the mission house with its patches of brave sprouts pushing out of the ground. He was proud of that little spot, and equally excited for the people who were involved, especially those few who returned week after week to dig, and prod, and encourage the seedlings to grow. Some of the plants even promised to bear fruit, which was reason enough to celebrate.

As he walked he could smell urine from the street gutters where drunken men or stoned boys had relieved themselves. A recent rain only added a steamy intensity to the mix, creating a cauldron of odors which would vanish only when the next day’s sunlight parched the streets.

The Redemption was teeming with human spirit, poverty, and crime. It was home to many, but with rare exception, no one chose to live there. And everyone who did, even the very young, understood how fragile life could be.

He walked up the steps to Juanita Bishop’s apartment and rapped on the front door.

***

9:00 p.m.

Sam Maureau pulled his car into the Redemption and parked at a curb at the end of Felicity Street. He was alone. Jackson, his partner, couldn’t come. But Sam wasn’t worried. He checked his watch. He was right on time. Things were under control.

He turned off his lights and, except for the murky glow of the half-obscured moon, was surrounded by a blanket of darkness. It took several seconds for his eyes to adjust, but even after he waited, he still strained to see. Most of the streetlights on that block had been shot out, and several apartment windows had been boarded over. He peered in between the last two buildings on the corner for any sign of movement.

Sam kicked aside a beer can as he stepped out of his car. He didn’t expect any trouble that night. Marcus, a dealer who ran the Gangsta B’s, the largest gang in the city, had asked for a meeting to discuss ‘some business’, but they’d never had problems before. Their businesses had always co-existed, side-by-side. Sam had begun selling crack in small quantities ten years earlier, when he was twenty-five, and had remained one of the smaller distributers in the city. He figured that Marcus, who was younger by at least ten years, either wanted to bring him and his territory into the Gangsta B’s, or he wanted to buy him out. He didn’t see the need to change anything right now, unless the price was right. He was making pretty good money. His clients were happy with him. But he didn’t mind talking with Marcus.

Sam patted his jacket pocket. The gun was still there. It never hurt to be careful. He locked his car, checking to make certain nothing was in the back seat. Marcus had asked him to meet around the corner.

Sam made his way across the grassy common area, dodging the few mud puddles he could see reflected in the wan moonlight, to an old iron bench across from Marcus’s grandmother’s apartment where they had met once before. He sat down to wait. The bench hadn’t quite cooled from the daytime heat. The faint breeze from the river ruffled what scant remnants remained of his once luxurious surfer-boy hair and sent greasy paper bags, discarded whiskey bottles, and random debris scurrying across the sidewalk. He absent-mindedly patted his bald spot to make certain it was covered.

He couldn’t see them, but their chatter floated over to his bench. Even though the words were indecipherable, Sam heard three distinct voices. Then he heard Marcus speak.

“Go get Louis.”

Out of habit, Sam felt his jacket pocket again, reassuring himself that his piece was still there. Marcus and one other young man came into view. Sam nodded as they approached.

Marcus was a commanding presence. Tall, and athletic, intricate tattoos of black ink woe across his dark skin, tracing his biceps, and emphasizing his ropy, muscular arms and powerful shoulders. His long hair, pulled back into a pony-tail, flowed down his back. No one questioned his authority.

“We’re gonna wait a minute for Louis,” Marcus pulled out a cigarette from his back pocket and lit it, blowing billowy clouds into the night air.

“Yeah, sure. But what’s this all about?” Marcus ignored Sam’s question and pulled hungrily on his cigarette, blowing smoke rings, refusing to make eye contact with Sam.

Several minutes later a tall young man and a boy who couldn’t have been over sixteen joined them.

“You and your people gotta go. You’re right in the middle of my territory. I’m claiming it, and I’m taking it – now. Ain’t nothing you can do about it.” Marcus threw down his cigarette and stomped it into the grass.

Sam stood up to face Marcus. “Fuck you, Marcus. You don’t need my three blocks. I’ve had it for years, and its outside your territory anyway. You can’t just take it.” Sam clenched the fist of his left hand and shoved his right hand in his jacket pocket where the gun was hidden.

“That’s where you’re wrong, mother fucker.” Marcus grabbed another cigarette and rammed it three times against the pack. “I got business coming to me from uptown all the time now. It’s time for you to give it up.” Marcus nodded to the three boys, who formed a circle around Sam and Marcus.

“No way, bro’!” Sam’s hand instinctively tightened around the gun.

Surrounded by the group of young men, Sam saw an opening, turned, and simultaneously pulled the gun from his jacket. As he stepped toward his escape, he saw something moving along the sidewalk next to the street. It appeared to be a man dressed in dark clothes, but it was impossible to be certain. Sam heard one shot, and felt it whizz by him. The distant figure dropped. Sam twisted around, and aimed his weapon toward the sound of the gun fire. Then he heard another shot.

Feeling something hot in his chest, he crumbled to the ground. The last thing he saw was the young kid, the one they called Louis, running toward the river.

***

Brother Antoine said good night to Alicia on the front porch of her aunt’s apartment and started his walk back home. He was feeling good, lighthearted. He and Alicia had completed her application and she had nearly finished her essay. He was certain she was a shoo-in for the scholarship. He’d only traveled a few feet down the sidewalk when he saw a group of men and a few boys gathered together in the grassy area next to one of the buildings. The cloud-covered moon offered enough reflection to allow him to make out the scant silhouette of the tallest member of the group. There was no doubt. His swagger and perpetual cigarette were unmistakable. Marcus Bishop. They had to be up to no good.

Brother Antoine followed the curve of the sidewalk, which brought him a little closer to the group. He noticed there was movement, perhaps a scuffle. He heard a shot, then felt a searing pain in his chest. He placed his hand on his shirt where he felt dampness, and, struggling to breathe, fell to the ground. He grabbed the scapular around his neck, praying, as he lay there, someone would come administer the last rites.

***

Excerpt from The Redemption by Cynthia Tolbert. Copyright 2021 by Cynthia Tolbert. Reproduced with permission from Cynthia Tolbert. All rights reserved.

 

 

Author Bio:

Cynthia Tolbert

In 2010, Cynthia Tolbert won the Georgia Bar Journal’s fiction contest for the short story version of OUT FROM SILENCE. Cynthia developed that story into the first full-length novel of the Thornton Mystery Series by the same name, which was published by Level Best Books in December of 2019. Her second book in this same series, entitled THE REDEMPTION, was released in February of 2021.

Cynthia has a Master’s in Special Education and taught children with learning disabilities for ten years before moving on to law school. She spent most of her legal career working as defense counsel to large corporations and traveled throughout the country as regional and national counsel. She also had the unique opportunity of teaching third-year law students in a clinical program at a law school in New Orleans where she ran the Homeless Law Clinic and learned, first hand, about poverty in that city. She retired after more than thirty years of practicing law. The experiences and impressions she has collected from the past forty years contribute to the stories she writes today. Cynthia has four children, and three grandchildren, and lives in Atlanta with her husband and schnauzer.

Q&A with C.L. Tolbert

What was the inspiration for this book?

In 1995 I met a fifteen-year-old boy who had been charged with the murder of a man in a housing project in New Orleans. Even though he was a juvenile, he was in the adult prison system because of a statute which required that all juveniles be tried as adults for certain crimes of violence. The DA had already mentioned the death penalty as a possibility for the juvenile, which was permissible then. I was teaching at a law school, and took the case through the law school’s clinic.

I’ll never forget the look in the young man’s eyes when I met him. I wasn’t certain if he fully comprehended the seriousness of his circumstances, but one of his knees shook up and down like a piston. He was terrified, and refused to speak of the night of the murder.

I was haunted by his case, which inspired The Redemption. In the actual case, the young man protected his brother, who was the head of a gang, and went to prison for him. I changed the story to show how the young man could have turned that same loyalty and courage around to help save himself.

What has been the biggest challenge in your writing career?

Without question, the biggest challenge in my writing career has been marketing. I enjoy writing, and would love to spend all of my time engaged in the development of the next move in my plot or a particular nuance of a character. But I read recently that writers should spend fifty percent of their time writing, and the other fifty percent marketing. Self-promotion is not easy for me. Plus, my social media skills aren’t exactly stellar. My goal for the coming year is to at least remember to use hash tags on my posts, and to up my marketing time to the required fifty percent!

What do you absolutely need while writing?

I prefer silence while I’m writing. I also need a computer, my computer glasses, and about five to six hours of sleep.

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

I write every day, unless there is a conflict. Writing very early in the morning works best, until the day kicks in and I need to complete a few chores. Then, after my morning chores, I’ll start again, if the day permits, and write from about 1:00 to 5:00.

Who is your favorite character from your book and why?

Other than Emma Thornton, my favorite character in all of the Thornton Mysteries, my favorite character in The Redemption was Juanita Bishop.

Juanita was the owner of her own business, “A Cut Above” hair salon. She devoted herself to raising her niece, Alicia, helped out other family members, including her nephew Louis, and saved her money for her own home – all with the same fierce love. She wasn’t afraid of anyone, not off duty police officers who harassed her for protection money, or thugs who threatened her family. She was tough, principled, but kind. She never failed to give everything she had to the people she loved. Plus, she looked and dressed like an Egyptian queen.

Tell us why we should read your book.

The Redemption is, as its name implies, a mystery that also offers a story of healing and hope, and a glimpse into the characters’ humanity. The story is told through the eyes of Emma Thornton, a stressed-out, working-mom attorney, whose impulsive tendencies cause trouble. But what makes the book even more unique is the element of social justice which runs through the story line. I wanted to show the reader how easy it is to manipulate a sixteen-year-old. This vulnerability is what caused Louis Bishop’s arrest and incarceration, and eventually, since, in 1996 the death penalty was constitutionally viable for juveniles, it is what made him susceptible to this country’s most extreme punishment. Emma quickly realizes that she must gain Louis’s trust to help him, which proves more difficult than tracking down the actual murderer.

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

I lived in New Orleans during the time period of The Redemption. I enjoyed revisiting the city in my imagination as I wrote. I had planned on flying down to New Orleans to verify street names and locations, but the pandemic shut down travel, and I wasn’t able to do in-person research. I was comfortable with all of my descriptions in the book but one. I had never walked on the wharf at the end of Felicity and Tchoupitoulas Street, and wasn’t certain how and with what materials the dock was constructed.

I decided to try Google Maps Street View to find the streets and the wharf. It was surprisingly easy. I located Felicity Street, which I virtually “walked” down, much as Emma would have. When I found Tchoupitoulas Street, I virtually followed the curve, then found the wharf along the river. I could even see the texture of the wharf, and verified that it was comprised of poured concrete.

I wrote the wharf scene after viewing the virtual wharf. To verify what I’d written, I asked my cousin, a former jack-up ship captain, to review the pages. He and his fellow captains, who are all familiar with the New Orleans docks, approved the description, and even wanted to know more about Emma and her adventures!

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

I’d like my readers to know how much they’re appreciated. It’s so exciting that someone actually reads something I’ve written, and touches me more than I can say. I’d like to thank all of my readers, in the most heartfelt way.

Tell us a little about yourself and your background?

In 2010, I won the Georgia Bar Journal’s fiction contest for the short story version of OUT FROM SILENCE. I developed that story into the first full-length novel of the Thornton Mystery Series by the same name, which was published by Level Best Books in December of 2019. My second book in this same series, entitled THE REDEMPTION, which is set in New Orleans, was released in February of 2021.

I have a Master’s in Special Education and taught children with learning disabilities before moving on to law school. I spent most of my legal career working as defense counsel to large corporations and traveled throughout the country as regional and national counsel. I also had the unique opportunity of teaching third-year law students in a clinical program at a law school in New Orleans where I ran the Homeless Law Clinic. I retired from the practice of law several years ago.
I have four children, and three grandchildren, and lives in Atlanta with her husband and schnauzer.

What’s next that we can look forward to?

I’m working on Sanctuary, the third book in the Thornton Mystery Series. This book is also set in New Orleans, and begins with the death of the leader of a cult.

Catch Up With Cynthia:
CLTolbert.com
Goodreads
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Twitter – @cltolbertwrites
Facebook – @cltolbertwriter

 

 

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ENTER TO WIN:

This is a Rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for C.L. Tolbert. There will be 1 winner of one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card (U.S. ONLY). The giveaway runs from June 1, 2021 through July 4, 2021. Void where prohibited.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

 

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