Friday | Friendly Fill-Ins


Hosted by Four-Legged Furballs and 15 and Meowing

This week’s Fill-Ins:

1. My favorite Christmas ( or Hanukkah) ______________ is _________________.
2. This holiday season I will miss __________________.
3. I would like Santa to bring _________.
4. You might find _________ under my Christmas tree this year.

My answers:

  1. My favorite Christmas ( or Hanukkah) tradition is the one that I hosted for over 25 years, is la vigilia (sit down dinner of 7 fishes for immediate family and friends then had an open house

  2. This holiday season I will miss my immediate family

  3. I would like Santa to bring the solution to eratdicate COVID-19

  4. You might find not much (because I had everything shipped) under my Christmas tree this year.

THE RAGE ROOM by Lisa de Nikolits | #Showcase #Giveaway

The Rage Room by Lisa de Nikolits Banner

 

 

The Rage Room

by Lisa de Nikolits

December 1-18, 2020 Tour

Synopsis:

The Rage Room by Lisa de Nikolits

What if you made the worst mistake of your life and got the chance to fix it? Only you made it so much worse? From the incomparable crafter of nine cross-genre works of fiction, Lisa de Nikolits expands her horizons to pen a grab- you-by-the-throat, feminist speculative-fiction thriller in the style of Groundhog Day meets The Matrix.

The perfect father kills his family on Christmas Eve, and tries to undo his actions by jumping back in time. The result is murder and mayhem in dystopia. Set in 2055, the world is run by robots and virtual data, while the weather is controlled by satellite dishes. Arts and culture are no more than distant memories. People are angry, placated by prescribed visits to rage rooms to vent their boredom, fury, and discontent. Beneath the sunny skies and behind the garbage-free suburban McMansions live deeply disturbed, materialistic families.

During his time travels and increasingly desperate attempts to reserve his colossal mistake, Sharps Barkley meets the leader of the Eden Collective, a feminist army determined to save the Earth by removing all artificial intelligence and letting the Earth restore itself—if necessary, at the expense of mankind. The Eden Collective uses data gathered from the rage rooms to analyze and predict the potential and actions needed for the Earth to reset and they need to prove that time travel is an effective tool. If Sharps can go back and save his children, then there is hope for the future. Sharps is the 49th experiment and his success is pivotal. Can love prevail over anger?

The Rage Room has a multi-layered plot that is fueled by a feminist-driven courage to take charge and save the world as it exposes the effects of an increasingly digital age on our lives and, ultimately, our humanity.

What Readers Are Saying:

“In her latest captivating book, Lisa de Nikolits proffers not only a roller coaster of entertainment, but also, sharp political commentary in complicated times. The Rage Room is an intricately woven dystopian world, rich in strong female characters who easily whisk readers to a world of futuristic follies. Move over George Orwell—De Nikolits shows us how the future can be scary, exciting, and above all, female.” —Kelly S. Thompson, national bestselling author of Girls Need Not Apply: Field Notes from the Forces

“Wow, what a ride! Lisa de Nikolits has written a pulse-pounding thriller set in a troubled future that might just be ours. We see the seeds of The Rage Room in our own digital landscape. Mind-bending yet all too believable in the hands of a masterful storyteller.” —Terry Fallis, two-time winner of the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour

“If dystopian speculative fiction is your thing, with the enticement of time travel, you won’t go wrong with The Rage Room. The world de Nikolits has built is utterly fascinating, and quite horrific, yet believable. I sympathized with the main character, even though he is flawed, but that makes the story even more interesting. What a ride! The plot ratchets up like a train speeding down the tracks out of control. Gripping tension, and at the same time, highly complex, with multiple time travel redos and memories overlapping. I found that fascinating. I was absolutely riveted, and pleased to see that it ends with the hint of more books to come.” —Melodie Campbell, award-winning author of The Goddaughter series

“In turns unsettling and very funny, The Rage Room is a berserk science-fiction satire of toxic masculinity, narrated by your guide, Sharps, the neurotic, rage-filled Jason Bateman of the future. There are lines and descriptions that will stop you dead in your tracks and make you take notes.” — Evan Munday, author of The Dead Kid Detective Agency series

“We’ve all wanted to go back to the past to fix the future – but Sharps has messed things up so much in his own high- tech future-world that he has to do it. Lisa de Nikolits takes us – and him – on a wild, high-octane ride into other times and places so bizarre, blighted, funny and wise that they just might seem chillingly familiar. She turns time travel on its proverbial ear and you won’t want to get out of the passenger seat until the last page.” —Catherine Dunphy, author of Morgentaler, A Difficult Hero

“Why would one go back in time? To make things right, of course. But every time Sharps visits his past, things change in ways he can’t control, and he keeps changing from a worrier to a warrior. I loved all the witty characters, and original, daring twists in this genuine reality fiction beyond imagination!” —Suzana Tratnik, author of Games with Greta

“Dark, fun, weird, imaginative, The Rage Room is a dystopic ride perfect for the anxieties and conditions of the present day. The paranoia of Sharps Barkley seeps into you, propelling this thriller that will keep you guessing to the very end.” —David Albertyn, author of Undercard

“With The Rage Room, Lisa de Nikolits takes a deep dive into dystopia. Prepare to be alternately chilled and thrilled as the hapless hero journeys backwards and forwards in time in his increasingly desperate attempts to right his terrible wrongs, and to find some sense in his rapidly disintegrating world.” —Lorna Poplak, author of Drop Dead: A Horrible History of Hanging in Canada

“Leave it to the wild imagination of Lisa De Nikolits to bring us the dystopian future of The Rage Room, an extraordinarily inventive speculative fiction thriller with a decidedly feminist bent. Fast-paced, funny, bold, and completely engrossing, The Rage Room is an allegory, a cautionary tale, and a rollicking good read that will stay with you long after the last page has been turned.” —Amy Jones, author of We’re All in This Together and Every Little Piece of Me

The Rage Room is a hugely intriguing, intense and provocative exploration … an untangling of sorts … a measuring of societal coded messages … a scouring type of scrutiny …beckoning us… calling for curious changes of perception.” —Shirley McDaniels, Artist

Book Details:

Genre: Science Fiction
Published by: Inanna Publications
Publication Date: October 30th 2020
Number of Pages: 312
ISBN: 177133777X (ISBN13: 9781771337779)
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

BOOK ONE: TO THE MELTDOWN

1. The Rage Room

I don’t know what year it is. We aren’t allowed to know and really, I couldn’t care less. I’m in my safe place, the rage room, focussed on doing what I do best, breaking things.

Thwack. I bring the baseball bat down on what’s left of a kiddies wagon. The room is full of wagons, broken toys, junk furniture and discarded office equipment, garbage, all of it. The auto voice made her usual announcement as I entered the room: Screen-based materials are forbidden in the rage room. Glass cannot be utilized or destroyed in the rage room. We always consider your safety first! Because we care about you! All in accordance with Docket102.V, Health and Safety Code 0009: By Order of The Sacred Board, Gloria In Excelsis Deo. Yeah man, I know all the rules. And here’s what I think of your rules.

I attack the wagon again and the cheerful pink plastic replies with a slight ‘ugh’ as if asking me if that was the best I could do but it doesn’t give. I come down harder and score a crack that mocks my feeble efforts. Story of my life.

My soundtrack is on maxed. O Fortuna, Carmina Burana on repeat, volume pumped. Sometimes it’s War, by The Cult or You Lied by Tool or, incongruously, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons with a disco twist and added bass for power. Rage Against The Machine is a good one too. Thud, thud, thud, yeah. I choose my soundtrack and I like vintage, none of that auto-robo music for me.

Thinking about music choices makes me think about life choices or the lack thereof, and my wife’s beauty badge, previously known as her profile pic, flashes unbidden across my crystal path. Celeste. She looks angelic, like Farrah Fawcett in the days of Charlie’s Angels, only hundred pounds heavier, with two chipmunk teeth perching on the lower lip of her overbite. Celeste had ordered those teeth, paid premium to get her primaries longer than anyone else’s. She thought it made her sexy.

I raise the bat higher and split the wretched wagon in two. Sweetie, honey, baby, sugar. Thwack. Was it possible for the woman to utter anything without coating it with saccharine, glucose and fructose and then deep-frying it like an Oreo at fun fair? Celeste had fried my brain alright. So why did I marry her? Thwack. Because she offered me everything I wanted, the sum of which boiled down to one thing. I wanted to be normal. I wanted to be The King of Normal. And Celeste’s marrying me was the act of a desperate addict trying to set her life straight, topped up with a deep-seated desire to please her father, Daddy.

I thrash at an impervious lime green keyboard, finally picking it up and slamming it against a workbench. I’m grunting as if I’m up against heavyweight champion of the world and my thin white protective plastic suit rips off like old wallpaper. But it’s not all my fault, the suit was torn when I got into it. That’s the government for you, step into this used piece of shit, so what if it’s slick with the sweat of some other angry dude who came before you, the rules say you have to wear it, Docket809.V, Health and Safety Code 0009.12: By Order of The Sacred Board, Gloria In Excelsis Deo. The rules should say you each get a fresh new suit but that would cost too much money.

We look like giant Easter bunnies, hopping insanely behind one-way mirrors, covered from head to toe in white disposable Tyvek coverall suits with elastic wrists, booties and hoodie. All we need are big floppy ears and little bobbing white pompom tails. Hop, hop, hop in a plastic room and break plastic shit to make yourself feel better for a tiny piece of your stupid, meaningless life.

I’m a clean freak and I like my life to be scrubbed and tidy which makes the rage rooms an anomaly to be my safe place but I’m an anger addict, giving into chaos at the drop of a hammer. And the hammer drops a lot in my life which I’ve come to accept but what I can’t accept is that the white suits still disgust me. They’re damp when you pull them on and it’s like trying to wriggle into someone else’s just-discarded swimsuit. I also hate the smeared and greasy goggles with scratches like some kid used them for skateboarding, which is still a thing.

I’ve offered more than once to buy my own equipment but it’s against regulations. It’s also against the rules to self-harm in a rage room but more than one person has tried to commit suicide. I imagined them rushing in, falling to their knees and hacking their veins open, wanting to die in a thick red sea of gushing blood while their fave hate song drums out the dying pulse of their lives. Trust me, I’ve thought about trying too. It’d be a fitting place for me to meet my end but the person behind the window watches just enough to not let that happen.

Sometimes I yell profanities at the blacked-out glass window but I’m sure whoever’s watching is so used to witnessing the pointless destruction that they don’t even bother to look or listen most of the time.

I smash on, chasing release and finding none. Then the music stops, just like that and a cop-car siren sounds. Whoop, whoop, whoop! Red lights flash across the room. Green lights signal go, red for when your time is up.

I’m out of time but release was denied. Shit. I pulled my face gear off, hearing only my frustrated breath. My face is dented from the goggles and I run my fingers along the ridges and bumps. A guy opened the door and dragged in a trash can. He ignored me and I just stood there. I wasn’t ready to leave but my time was up. The siren sounded again, whoop, whoop, whoop, and still, I stood there, goggles in hand, looking the useless crap I had broken.

Another guy came, in a big fella. “Buddy,” he said, “you know the rules. You gotta go. Come on now.”

I turned to him and I couldn’t help myself, tears spilled down my face and I heard myself sobbing and he said “oh crapola, we got ourselves a wet one,” and he left. The guy behind me carried on cleaning. I had nowhere to go so I just stood there, crying.

The big guy came back and handed me a roll of paper towel. I tore off three sheets, blew my nose and handed the roll back to him.

“A bunch of us are going for a drink,” he said. “You wanna come? You need a drink. Come on.”

I thought about Celeste, waiting at home and I thought about my baby boy, Baxter. I thought about the carpet that needed vacuuming because the robovacs never got into the corners and how Bax wasn’t eating properly and how Celeste wouldn’t listen to me when I panicked about his nutrients. I needed my boy to eat properly and no one cared but me.

“But honey,” Celeste smiled, “we’ve got science, you know that. Science takes care of us. Minnie’s got everything under control. It’s not like the old days. We don’t have to worry anymore.” She was right. It wasn’t like back in the early 21st century when the news was filled with illness, devastation, human loss and natural disaster. It was, however, thanks to the pervasive fears of that time, of illness, aging and dying, that politicians had secretly funnelled billions from the taxpayer’s pockets into the science labs, and the results, once uncovered, were astounding. The powers-that-be knew they were killing the world by denying the existence of global warming and they’d collectively and secretly developed labs to create food and fuel, motivated not by altruism but because none of them wanted starve or die in a flood or drought or fire or get taken out by the newest raging disease, caused by alpacas or bearded dragons or, in the most deadly of cases, the family cat. Scientists had developed surgeries and scientific solutions for any manner of ailment or disease and Minnie, the Supreme World Leader, and her Sacred Board of Directors, shared this wealth of knowledge with the world.

So Celeste was right. Bax would be fine.

I was exhausted. All I wanted to do was lie down on the floor and carry on crying. Yes, the carpet at home needed cleaning and yes, I was worried about Bax not getting enough protein but, weighing on me more heavily than anything, was the fact that my paternity leave was over.

I was due back at work the next day, the thought of which ripped through my gut like a tumbling drum of sharp nails and broken glass, all sloshing around in an icy pit of poisoned, oily water.

So I mopped up my face and figured it would be best to follow this guy to a bar and pull myself together before I went home. I couldn’t let Celeste see me like this. She thought I was Mr. Strong and Steadfast, solid as a rock and I couldn’t let her know any different.

But I realized I needed help, so I flashed a comm to my best friend, Jazza. Need to see ya, buddy. Follow my cp. I wondered if Jazza would even respond, given that I’d sorely neglected him since I ran out the building into the waiting arms of my pat leave.

My cp. My Crystal Path. By logging in, Jazza could access my bio-hard drive, the neural implant microchip embedded in my brain. We all had them. Every interaction from my, and everyone else’s Crystal Path, moved across The Crystal Lattice which was like a large invisible digital spider’s web around the Earth, connecting all the satellites and all of us. Even the weather was satellite controlled and every strand of the information was part of the Crystal Lattice.

We were studded with implants shortly after Minnie came into power. Of course, she said it was optional but after she assumed control of the Internet, how else were we to communicate? She dominated the service providers and instated regulations that didn’t let anyone else provide access. So really, what choice did we have? In my opinion, Bax was far too young for implants, he was only a year old which didn’t stop some parents hooking their newborns up, to monitor them in their cribs, watch them at childcare, at preschool and in the playgrounds. It was important to keep an eye on the nannies, don’t you know, and make sure that the robo-carers and humans were doing a good job and not subjecting their beloved offspring to any horrifying abuse or disturbing discipline. More expensive software developments allowed parents to access the kiddies bio-stats to make sure heart rates, blood sugars and serotonin levels where all where they should be. The Crystal Path wasn’t exactly pure, it had its own form of the Dark Web just like the old days and, despite my body being riddled with every manner of software that I could get my hands on, I wasn’t sure I wanted Bax to have access to any of it. And yet, the creation of those implants were the very thing that gave me, and thousands of others, jobs.

The Crystal Path was like a map of screens that could viewed at any time, all jam-packed with data and information that we could switch on or off, supposedly curated by ourselves, we were supposedly the editors of our own content. What a joke that was. We were pawns while big business moved the pieces of our lives around the playing field.

When I went on pat leave, I shut Jazza out of my cp. You could do that, control who had access to what. Previously, Jazza had permissions to my path that Celeste didn’t even know existed. I just hoped Jazza would head my cry for help. God knew the guy owed me nothing considering how I’d dumped him when Bax was born.

I nodded at the rage room attendant.

“Yeah. I’ll come for a drink.” I ripped my suit off, a petty act of childish fury that felt so good at the time but later, felt shameful. That was me to a T – equal parts fear, guilt, shame and anger. The guy didn’t say anything as I followed him. He had a man bun. Talk about retro. Why was I even following a guy with hair like that? But I went out to the parking lot and got behind the wheel of my solar-powered station bubble, an Integratron company car, courtesy of Celeste’s father. The inside was full of yielding soft curves and cushions that molded to my body. The round rolling ball of the car’s exterior looked like just glass but it was it was plastic, shatterproof polymethyl methacrylate to be exact, with a sunshiny yellow interior. Our car interiors came in a variety of colours – sky blue, fire engine red or bubblegum Juicy Fruit pink. Pink was the most popular. The cars were cheerful, happy creatures, with scads more room than one might think, and they rolled along like soap-bubble spheres. My cp connected me to the car’s displays and controls and I could choose to drive the car or not. I always chose to drive. The cars were utterly silent and they were soundproof and it felt odd, rolling along a busy suburban street or highway, and seeing other bubbles filled with reclining people who looked like they were talking to themselves, leaning back in their colourful chairs and controlling the cars with their thoughts. There were no steering wheels or dashboards, just the flashview that connected the driver to the car via their cps.

I sniffed my pits. I was annoyed with myself for skipping the post-session cleansing shower booth and my clothes had a rank, sweaty plastic smell. I’d have to do a washdown with wipes so Bax wouldn’t smell me like this. I couldn’t let my little guy smell the fear on me. I had to get a grip.

3. Glory Days

A pay-to-play lottery. Our first project. Targetted Shoppers, or TC’s, had to rack up WinCreds by joining a points program which would score them a golden ticket to try out for the next golden ticket. If they won the round, they were promoted to a higher grade. There was a thirteen-level maze of lottery wins and points acquisitions and TC’s had to shop their way through all of them. Finally, with the odds at one in three million, they got to be one of a dozen Contestants on 123BlikiWin, the hottest reality

TV program out there. Jazz and I created it. Correction, Jazz did. He invented the whole thing and it was gold.

“We were a great team. We are a great team,” I insisted. “And even more genius was us sitting on for years, milking it. Did you score more vintage games while I was gone?” He shook his head. “Nah. Minnie’s cracked down even harder.”

Great. Going back to work wasn’t only going to be super stressful, we didn’t even have games to pass the time.

“Hey,” I said, “maybe we can do a rerun of ClothesKissezThugs?”

ClothesKissezThugs was Jazza’s follow-up idea to the Lottery 123BlikiWin. He said it was inspired by the religious baptismal trucks that rolled out after Minnie the Great’s Supreme World Leader inauguration but instead mimicking her Come-to-Jesus marathon, we marketed Come-to-Style. We paced our pitches, riding the 123BlikiWin as long as we could before offering up the couture trucks of ClothesKissezThugs.

I loved Jazza’s way of thinking and at first we had fun, hanging out at work, gaming and eating crap and feeling like we owned the world but then Mother kicked me out. She said I had to get my own apartment. She said it was time for her to do something meaningful for her life and that she was cutting the umbilical cord. I asked her what that meaningful thing was because perhaps I could do it with her

but she just looked cagey and said I wouldn’t understand.

And I got tired of cleaning up Jazza’s mess at work. It was like the guy couldn’t be in a room for ten seconds without making it look like Hoarders met The Trashman from Outer Space. About two days into our partnership, he looked over at me.

“Clean the shit up,” he said. “If you need to. But don’t expect me to do any of it and don’t expect me to change.”

Relieved that he understood me, I bagged his crap, wiped his sticky fingerprints off the surfaces and Lysoled the world endlessly. Cleaning brought me peace. Jazza said I was OCD and that there was a pill for that and I said who cared, there was Windex and bleach, I didn’t need pills or his psychoanalysis, thank you very much.

But, after career success, what was next? I began to feel empty. Bored. Lonely. I hit the rage rooms even harder.

The rage rooms were Minnie’s idea. Three years after her ascent, an outbreak of violence spread throughout the world and people smashed up cities, rampaging with baseball bats, hammers and wrenches. Minnie had outlawed firearms so at least no one got shot but the damage was nonetheless widespread and extensive. Rioters tore down parks and buildings, smashed cars and looted malls.

Minnie called in an alarmingly large secret AI army. She teargased the unruly and got things back under control. Who knew she had an army? We fell in line pronto. We thought Minnie would be furious and punitive in the aftermath but instead, she was sorrowful.

“I get it,” she said with that chocolately voice, direct to our flashviews via our cps. “Life is tough. Even when it’s good, it’s tough. Everyone has anger issues. You just need a place to express your true emotions. I didn’t realize, when I banned the Internet, that it was a drug you were hooked to. It was a place you could vent your opinions and feel like you had been heard.” She didn’t say that we were all idiots, addicted to expressing idiotic opinions but it was clear enough from her tone

“But,” she said, and her voice turned stern. “You misused the tools. I mean, my goodness, exchanging pictures of your genitals and having sexual relations willy nilly! Encrypting messages so child pornography could thrive? You lost your way. And, by God and through God, it is my Divine Destiny to help guide you back to the path of Light. God handpicked me for this job, me, with Mama at my side and we will help you!

“I thusly decree that rage rooms shall be constructed, places where you can express your most basic hatred and fears. Because I realize now that much of life is fueled by hatred, rage and fear. That’s is just the way man is. You are fundamentally flawed. But, flawed though you are, you were created in God’s image, and it is my Divine Task to help you shed the wages of sin and find your way back to that image, back to the perfect human beings that you were before you ate the apple and were lured by the snake.”

And, by Minnie’s side, her mother, Mama, leaned in and whispered something into Minnie’s ear and Minnie nodded.

“Before the Advent of Minnie, the world was depressed, obese and morbid. You spent your lives staring at screens and arguing with strangers with your ignorant opinions or pretending to love each other with likes or haha or sad faces. Emoticons! Banning emoticons was one of my greatest triumphs. Learn to talk to each other, don’t gesticulate like uneducated children flashing reader cards with a stupid face.”

A wild look had come into Minnie’s eyes and Mama laid a reassuring hand on her shoulder. Mama whispered something else and Minnie nodded again.

“But all is not lost. Every step is a step forward. So we are going to give you fun! We are going to make you happy! I thought sunshine every day would make you happy but no! I gave you solid Vitamin D, not a cloud in the sky! Then you complained, why are there no clouds you asked? You people are so hard to please! Why are you so hard to please? So I got you clouds.”

She shut her eyes and Mama patted her again. “Right. There shall be rage rooms where you can express yourselves to your heart’s content.”

In addition to the rage rooms, Minnie poured money into streaming new shows. Robots invented new dances and we became preoccupied, adult and child alike, trying to learn new moves and share clips of ourselves thus engaged. Once again, we found ourselves staring at screens, our viewing monitored by Minnie the Belle.

Minnie also gave us comfort centres. I tried them out but I’ve got restless leg syndrome and can’t lie still for any amount of time without feeling like I’m going to go nuts, the ants under my skin want to eat me alive.

“Nope, we ran ClothesKissezThugs dry.” Jazza grinned, bringing me back into the moment. “Ha but we did good with CrystalMeBooty. Knocked it out the park, yeah? Think about the good times, buddy. That was you as much as me.”

I laughed. Despite the circumstances, it was good to be talking to Jazza again, reliving our glory days.

The follow-up to ClothesKissezThugs was CrystalMeBooty. Towering crystal-sided transport trucks rolled out with strobe lights and disco mirror balls and the music became urgent, angry and hateful which only increased its appeal. Not everyone could place a purchase, TC’s had to earn points to be a Big Spender, accruing a certain level of debt before being given access to the arenas of superior consumerism. And oh, the shame if you weren’t that level. For some reason, the Big Spender and CrystalMeBooty made even more money than 123BlikiWin. Pretty soon, the whole world was in hock, just to be on the so-called right playing field.

Meanwhile, my life became increasingly, utterly meaningless. I don’t know what I would have done if Celeste hadn’t come along. She and Bax changed everything. I finally knew my purpose. Family. My family was the only thing that mattered, the only thing that gave any kind of meaning to this sham plastic world. All I wanted was to be a stand-up guy. I wanted my boy to be able to say that’s my Dad! with a mixture of choked-up pride and overwhelming love. I wanted Celeste to look over at me, there’s my man, he’s the guy, don’t you know!

But the minute I had Bax, my worries increased a thousandfold. How would I keep up in this fiercely competitive world? And, increasingly, I couldn’t afford Celeste. Of course, Celeste was a great fan of CrystalMeBooty and Daddy’s money was, as he himself often reminded me, limited when it came to keeping Celeste in the style to which the world had told her she needed to remain accustomed.

And what about when Bax grew up? How could I make sure he had what he needed, to be part of the respected world of The Haves? How could I make sure he didn’t get into drugs? There were rumours of strange sex clubs popping up like fungi in a forest, which was a bit rich coming from me, given my predilictions but I didn’t want Bax to end up an anxiety-ridden, anger-driven worrier like me.

***

Excerpt from The Rage Room by Lisa de Nikolits. Copyright 2020 by Lisa de NikI followed Man Bun to a diveolits. Reproduced with permission from Lisa de Nikolits. All rights reserved.

 

 

Author Bio:

Lisa de Nikolits

Originally from South Africa, Lisa de Nikolits is an award-winning author whose work has appeared on recommended reading lists for both Open Book Toronto and the 49th Shelf, as well as being chosen as a Chatelaine Editor’s Pick and a Canadian Living Magazine Must Read. She has published nine novels that most recently include: No Fury Like That (published in Italian under the title Una furia dell’altro mondo); Rotten Peaches and The Occult Persuasion and the Anarchist’s Solution. Lisa lives and writes in Toronto and is a member of the Sisters in Crime, Toronto Chapter; Sisters in Crime; Mesdames of Mayhem; and The International Thriller Writers.

Catch Up With Lisa de Nikolits:
LisadeNikolitsWriter.com, Goodreads, BookBub, Instagram, Twitter, & Facebook!!

 

 

Tour Participants:

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Giveaway:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Lisa de Nikolits. There will be 1 winner of one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card. The giveaway begins on December 1, 2020 and runs through December 20, 2020. Void where prohibited.

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A CHRISTMAS CAROL MURDER by Heather Redmond | #Showcase #Interview #Giveaway

A Christmas Carol Murder by Heather Redmond Banner

 

 

A Christmas Carol Murder

by Heather Redmond

on Tour November 1 – December 31, 2020

Synopsis:

A Christmas Carol Murder by Heather Redmond

The latest novel from Heather Redmond’s acclaimed mystery series finds young Charles Dickens suspecting a miser of pushing his partner out a window, but his fiancée Kate Hogarth takes a more charitable view of the old man’s innocence . . .

London, December 1835: Charles and Kate are out with friends and family for a chilly night of caroling and good cheer. But their blood truly runs cold when their singing is interrupted by a body plummeting from an upper window of a house. They soon learn the dead man at their feet, his neck strangely wrapped in chains, is Jacob Harley, the business partner of the resident of the house, an unpleasant codger who owns a counting house, one Emmanuel Screws.

Ever the journalist, Charles dedicates himself to discovering who’s behind the diabolical defenestration. But before he can investigate further, Harley’s corpse is stolen. Following that, Charles is visited in his quarters by what appears to be Harley’s ghost—or is it merely Charles’s overwrought imagination? He continues to suspect Emmanuel, the same penurious penny pincher who denied his father a loan years ago, but Kate insists the old man is too weak to heave a body out a window. Their mutual affection and admiration can accommodate a difference of opinion, but matters are complicated by the unexpected arrival of an infant orphan. Charles must find the child a home while solving a murder, to ensure that the next one in chains is the guilty party . . .

Book Details:

Genre: Historical Mystery
Published by: Kensington Publishing
Publication Date: September 29th 2020
Number of Pages: 320
ISBN: 1496717171 (ISBN13: 9781496717177)
Series: A Dickens of a Crime #3 || A Stand Alone Mystery
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | Goodreads

 

Author Bio:

Heather Redmond

Heather Redmond is an author of commercial fiction and also writes as Heather Hiestand. First published in mystery, she took a long detour through romance before returning. Though her last British-born ancestor departed London in the 1920s, she is a committed anglophile, Dickens devotee, and lover of all things nineteenth century.

She has lived in Illinois, California, and Texas, and now resides in a small town in Washington State with her husband and son. The author of many novels, novellas, and short stories, she has achieved best-seller status at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Her 2018 Heather Redmond debut, A Tale of Two Murders, was a multi-week Barnes & Noble Hardcover Mystery Bestseller.

Her two current mystery series are “A Dickens of a Crime” and “the Journaling mysteries.” She writes for Kensington and Severn House.

She is the 2020-21 President of the Columbia River Chapter of Sisters in Crime (SinC).

Q&A with Heather Redmond

What inspired you to write this book?

The inspiration for A Christmas Carol Murder is A Christmas Carol, a novella by Charles Dickens, who is also the amateur sleuth in my series. I take inspiration from his life overall, his nonfiction writing for the period of the book, and his later novels and stories.

What was the biggest challenge in writing this book?

I can’t reveal that because it would give away the plot! I’ll give you a hint – it was a certain sort of complex character that I’d never written before. I also wanted to remain true to the comedy, horror, and pathos that are a part of the original Dickens novella. It’s just an amazing piece of creative work.

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

As I became interested in my family genealogy, my heritage started to show up in the books. In A Christmas Carol Murder, my Mayflower/Jamestown ancient planter heritage is reflected in one of the characters and I bring a bit of America into England. I try to bring a couple of real historical figures to life. This time I picked a couple of American politician/diplomats to make a cameo. I do as much research I can at the street-level, trying to get London as accurate as I can. I’m also a future stalker of Charles Dickens, trying to find out where he was and what he was doing in real life on any given day.

How did you come up with the title?

This one was really obvious. In fact, the first three books had easy titles. Book four in the series, The Pickwick Murders (out next fall), was more of a negotiation as we tried to sort out the key imagery of the title.

Your routine in writing? Any idiosyncrasies?

I prefer to write when the house is quiet, and I’m best in the mornings. If I am interrupted too much, I just sort of shut down. The pandemic has been brutal. My kid has been home 24 7 since March and my husband was home for four months. A familiar story for a lot of us right now.

Tell us why we should read your book?

Specifically, A Christmas Carol Murder is chock-full of the holiday feels. I want people to close the book with a smile as much as if they’d just watched “The Muppet’s Christmas Carol” (my favorite movie version of Dickens’s novella.) My series is an unusual historical/cozy hybrid. The stories are full of family, food, and that Scooby gang-type quality. If someone likes historical mystery but wants to avoid the full-on gore that is present in many (though certainly not all) of the genre, my books are a great choice. I think teens could safely read this series as well, especially since the main characters are in their early twenties and some key supporting characters are in their mid teens.

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

I’ve come up with the plot for the fifth Dickens book and I’m refining it. It involves a treasure hunt (yay!), and it’s mostly set just outside London for the first time. Kate is playing a much larger role in books four and five, which I think will make readers happy.

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

I would cast Daniel Radcliffe as Charles Dickens and Elle Fanning as Kate Hogarth. Julie Aga would be served well by one of those super-dramatic Disney Channel redhead actresses. William could be played by Robert Pattinson.

Favorite leisure activities/hobbies?

I’m a keen watercolorist at the moment. I’ve been painting since summer 2018. I tend to have one chief hobby at a time due to limited hours, but if I had time, I’d work on family genealogy more. I read a lot as well.

Favorite foods?

I’m a popcorn-addict. That’s my go to snack. I try to eat healthy, but often fail. I’m a vegetarian and I like to cook, though maybe not more than every other day. It’s a good thing I like leftovers! I just made a dauntingly large shepherd’s pie which is taking us a while to get through.

Catch Up With Heather Redmond:
HeatherRedmond.com, Goodreads, BookBub, Instagram, Twitter, & Facebook!

 

Read an excerpt:

Chapter One

Hatfield, Hertfordshire, England, December 1, 1835

They hadn’t found the body yet. Old Sal was surely dead. Feathers had caught on candles, igniting the blaze. Maybe a yipping dog had some part in the fiery disaster. The marchioness’s advanced age had surely contributed to the fatal misadventure. The marquess, her son, had nearly killed himself in a futile attempt to rescue her.

Charles Dickens’s cough forced him to set down his pen. Ink dribbled from it, obscuring his last few words. He found it hard to stay seated, so he pushed his hands through his unruly dark hair, as if pressing on his sooty scalp would keep him on the pub bench. Only three hours of sleep before being dragged from his bed to make the twenty-three-mile journey from his rooms at Furnival’s Inn in London that morning. Nervous energy alone kept his pen moving.

He rubbed his eyes, gritty with grime and fumes from the fire, both the massive one that had destroyed the still-smoking ruins of Hatfield House’s west wing, and the much smaller one here in the taproom at Eight Bells Pub. Some light came in from out of doors, courtesy of a quarter-full moon, but the windows were small.

He called for a candle and kept working.

Putting the messy slip of paper aside, he dipped his pen in his inkwell. Starting again, he recalled the devastation of the scene, the remains of once noble apartments now reduced to rubble and ash. He filled one slip after another, describing the scene, the architecture, the theories.

When he ran out of words, he let his memories of massive oaken Tudor beams, half-burned; heaps of bricks; lumps of metal; buckets of water; black-faced people; and unending, catch-in- your-throat soot—all that remained of forty-five rooms of storied, aristocratic things—fade away.

The ringing of St. Ethelreda’s venerable church bells returned him to the moment. Had it gone eight p.m. already? Hooves and the wheels of a cart sounded in the narrow street outside. A couple of men passed by, discussing the fire. The door of the pub opened and closed,allowing the flash from a lantern to illuminate the dark room.

Charles noted the attempts to make the room festive. Greenery had been tacked to the blackened beams and draped around the mantelpiece. He thought he saw mistletoe mischievously strung up in that recess to the left of the great fireplace.

Next to it, a man slumped in a chair. He wore a tired, stained old surtout and plaid trousers with a mended tear in the knee. Next to him waited an empty stool, ready for an adoring wife or small child to sit there.

Charles stacked his completed slips of paper on the weathered table and took a fresh one from his pile, the pathos of that empty seat tugging at him. He began to write something new, imagining that last year at this time, a sweet little girl sat on the stool, looking up at the old, beaten man. How different his demeanor would have been then!

Charles drew a line between his musings and the lower blank part of the page. His pen flew again, as he made the note. Add a bit of melancholy to my Christmas festivities sketch.

Unbidden, the serving maid delivered another glass of hot rum and water. The maid, maybe fourteen, with wide, apple- colored cheeks and a weak chin, gave him a sideways glance full of suspicion.

He grinned at her and pointed to his face. “Soot from the fire. I’m sending a report back to London.” His hand brushed against his shoulder, puffing soot from his black tailcoat into his eyes.

She pressed her lips together and marched away, her little body taut with indignation. Well, she didn’t understand he had to send his report by the next mail coach. Not much time for sentiment or bathing just yet.

By the time he finished his notes, the drinks hadn’t done their job of settling his cough. He knew it would worsen if he lay down so he opened his writing desk to pull out a piece of notepaper.

Dearest Fanny, he wrote to his sister. Where to begin? I wrote to my betrothed this morning so I thought I should send my news to someone else. Was ever a man so busy? I am editing my upcoming book. Did I tell you it will be called Sketches by Boz? I have to turn in the revisions for volumes one and two by the end of the year, in advance of the first volume releasing February eighth. I am also working on an operetta, thanks to that conversation with your friend John Hullah, in my head, at least. I hope to actually commence writing it as soon as my revisions are done.

I remember all the happy Christmas memories of our earliest childhood, the games and songs and ghost stories when we lived in Portsmouth, and hope to re-create them in my own sweet home next year. How merry it will be to share Christmas with the Hogarths! To think that you, Leticia, and I will all be settled soon with our life’s companions. Soon we will know the sounds of happy children at our hearths and celebrate all the joys that the season should contain in our private chambers.

He set down his pen without signing the letter. It might be that he would have more to add before returning to London. He had no idea how long it would be before they recovered the Marchioness of Salisbury’s body, if indeed, anything was left. Restacking his papers, he considered the question of her jewels. Had they burned? At least the priceless volumes in the library all had survived, despite the walls being damaged.

His brain kept churning, so he pulled out his copy of Sketches by Boz. He would edit for a while before retiring to his room at the Salisbury Arms. No time for sleep when work had to be done.

Pounding on the chamber door woke him. Daylight scarcely streamed around the tattered edges of the inn’s curtain. Charles coughed. He still tasted acrid soot at the back of his throat. Indeed, it coated his tongue.

The pounding came again as he scratched his unshaven chin. Had the Morning Chronicle sent someone after him? He’d put his first dispatch from the fire on the mail coach. Pulling his frock coat over his stained shirt, he hopped across the floor while he tugged on his dirty trousers. Soot puffed into the air with each bounce.

“Coming, coming,” he called.

The hinges squeaked horribly when he opened the door. On the other side stood a white-capped maid. She wore a dark cloak over her dress. A bundle nestled between her joined arms. Had she been kicking the door?

“Can I help you?” Charles asked, politely enough for the hour. To his right, his boots were gone. He had left them to be polished.

The girl lifted her bundle. The lump of clothes moved.

He frowned, then leaned over the lump. A plump face topped by a thatch of black hair stared back. A baby. Was she hoping for alms? “What’s your name, girl?”

“Madge, sir. Madge Porter.”

“Well, Madge Porter, I can spare you a few coins for the babe if you’ll wait for a moment. Having hard times?”

She stared hard at him. He realized the cloaked figure was the tiny serving maid from the Eight Bells. “He’s my sister’s child.”

“I see. Is she at work?” He laugh-choked. “She’s not in here with me, if that’s what you’re thinking.”

Her mouth hung open for a moment. “No, sir, I don’t think that.”

“What, then?” He glanced around for his overcoat, which had a few coins in a pocket. “What is the babe’s name?”

“Timothy, sir.” She tightened her weak chin until her pale skin folded in on itself. “Timothy Dickens?” she warbled.

“Dickens?” He took another glance at the babe. Cherry red, pursed lips, and a squashed button of a nose. He didn’t see any resemblance to his relatives. His voice sharpened. “Goodness, Madge, what a coincidence.”

Her voice strengthened. “I don’t think so, sir.”

He frowned. The serving maid did not seem to understand his sarcasm. “I’ve never been to Hatfield before. My family is from Portsmouth. I don’t know if your Timothy Dickens is a distant relative of mine or not. Who is his father?”

“She died in the fire.”

He tilted his head at the non sequitur. “Who?”

“My sister. She died in the fire. She was in service to old Sarey.” Charles coughed, holding the doorjamb to keep himself upright. This was fresh news. “How tragic. I didn’t hear that a maid died.”

“They haven’t found the bodies.”

“That I know. I’m reporting on the fire, but then, I told you that. Thank you for the information. I’ll pay you for it if you wait a moment for me to find my purse.”

She thrust the bundle toward him. “Timothy is yer son, sir. You need to take him.”

Charles took a step back, waving his hands. “No he isn’t.”

“He’s four months old. It would have been last year, around All Hallow’s Eve. Do you remember the bonfire? She’s prettier than me, my Lizzie. Her hair is lighter, not like yers or mine.”

“Truly, I’ve never been in Hatfield before now,” he said gently. “I work mostly in London.”

She huffed out a little sob. He sensed she was coming to a crescendo, rather like a dramatic piece of music that seemed pastoral at first, then exploded. “I know yer his daddy, sir. I can’t take him. My parents are dead.”

He coughed again. Blasted soot. “I’m sorry. It’s a terrible tragedy. You’re young to be all alone with a baby.”

Her entire being seemed to shudder, then, like the strike of a cobra, she shoved the wriggling bundle into his arms and dashed down the passage.

His arms fluttered like jelly for a moment, as if his bones had fled with the horror of the orphaned child’s appearance, until the baby opened its tiny maw and Charles found his strength.

Then he realized the blankets were damp. Little fatherless, motherless Timothy whoever-he-was had soiled himself. The baby wailed indignantly but his aunt did not return.

Charles completed his reporting duties with one hand while cradling the infant, now dressed in Charles’s cleanest handkerchief and spare shirt, in the other arm. Infant swaddling dried in front of the fire. When Charles had had his body and soul together well enough to chase after little Madge Porter, the proprietor of the Eight Bells had told him she wasn’t due there until the evening.

He’d begged the man for names of any Porter relatives, but the proprietor had been unhelpful. Charles had tripped over to St. Ethelreda’s, still smelling smoke through a nose dripping from the cold. The canon had been of no use and in fact smelled of Hollands, rather than incense. He went to a barbershop, holding the baby while he was shaved, but the attendant refused to offer information.

When the babe began to cry again, he took him to a stable yard and inquired if they had a cow. A stoic stableman took pity on him and sent him to his quiet wife, a new mother herself. She agreed to nurse the child while Charles went to Hatfield House to see if the marchioness had been found yet.

He attempted to gain access to the marquess, still directing the recovery efforts. While waiting, he offered the opinion that they should pull down the remaining walls, which looked likely to kill the intended rescuers more assuredly than anything else in the vast acreage of destruction. Everyone coughed, exhausted, working by rote rather than by intelligence.

After a while, he gave up on the marquess. He interviewed those working in the ruins to get an update for the Chronicle, then went to the still-standing east wing of the house to see the housekeeper. She allowed him into her parlor for half a crown. The room’s walls were freshly painted, showing evidence of care taken even with the servant’s quarters. A large plain cross decorated the free space on the wall, in between storage cupboards.

The housekeeper had a tall tower of graying hair, stiffened by some sort of grease into a peak over her forehead. Her black gown and white apron looked untouched by the fire. When she spoke, however, he sensed the fatigue and the sadness.

“I have served this family for thirty-seven years,” she moaned. “Such a tragedy.”

He took some time with her recital of the many treasures of the house, storing up a collection of things he could report on, then let her share some of her favorite history of the house. But he knew he needed to return to gather the baby from the stableman’s wife soon.

“Do you have a Lizzie Porter employed here?”

“Yes, sir.” The housekeeper gave a little sob and covered her mouth. “In the west wing, sir. I haven’t seen her since the fire.”

His fingers tingled. “Do you think she died?”

“I don’t know, sir. Not a flighty girl. I doubt she’d have run off if she lived.”

“Not a flighty girl?” He frowned. “But she has a babe.” He was surprised to know she had kept her employment.

The housekeeper shook her head. “She’s an eater, sir, but there never was a babe in her belly.”

The story became steadily more curious. “Did she take any leave, about four months ago? In July or August?”

The housekeeper picked up her teacup and stared at the leaves remaining at the bottom. “An ague went around the staff in the summer. Some kind of sweating sickness. She had it like all the rest. Went to recuperate with her sister.”

“Madge?”

She nodded absently. “Yes, that Madge. Just a slip of a girl. Hasn’t come to work here but stayed in the village.”

“I’ve met her. How long was Lizzie with her?”

“Oh, for weeks. She came back pale and thin, but so did a couple of other girls. It killed one of the cook’s helpers. Terrible.” The housekeeper fingered a thin chain around her neck.

It didn’t sound like a group of girls made up the illness to help Lizzie hide her expectations, but the ague had been timed perfectly for her to hide wee Timothy’s birth. Who had been the babe’s wet nurse?

“Do you know where Madge lives?”

“Above the Eight Bells, sir. Servants’ quarters.” The housekeeper set down her cup and rose, indicating the interview had ended.

Charles checked around the pub again when he returned to town, just a short walk from the grand, if sadly diminished, house. The quarters for servants were empty. Madge seemed to have gone into hiding. How she could abandon her nephew so carelessly, he did not know, but perhaps she was too devastated by her sister’s death to think clearly.

A day later, Charles and the baby were both sunk into exhaustion by the long journey to London. Charles’s carriage, the final step of the trip, pulled up in front of a stone building. Across from Mary-le-Bow Church in Cheapside, it had shop space, three floors of apartments, and a half attic on top. He’d had to hire a carriage from the posting inn where the coach had left them on the outskirts of town. While he had no trouble walking many miles, carrying both a valise and an infant was more than he could manage. At least they’d kept each other warm.

He made his awkward way out of the vehicle, coughing as the smoky city air hit his tortured lungs. In his arms, the babe slept peacefully, though he had cried with hunger for part of the long coach journey.

Charles’s friends, William and Julie Aga, had taken rooms here, above a chophouse. The building exuded the scent of roasting meats. His stomach grumbled as he went up the stairs to his friends’ chambers. William was a reporter, like Charles, though more focused on crime than government.

Charles doubled over, coughing, as he reached the top of the steps. He suspected if he’d had a hand free to apply his handkerchief, it would come away black again.

The door to the Agas’ rooms opened before he had the chance to knock.

“Charles!” William exploded. “Good God, man, what a sound to torture my ears.”

Charles unbent himself and managed a nod at his friend. William had the air of a successful, fashionable man-about-town, even at his rooms on a Thursday evening. He wore a paisley waistcoat under an old black tailcoat, which fit him like it had been sewn directly on his broad-shouldered body. They both prided themselves on dressing well. His summer-golden hair had darkened due to the lack of sun. He had the look of a great horseman, though Charles knew that William, like he, spent most of his time hunched over a paper and quill.

“I like that fabric,” Charles said. “Did Julie make you that waistcoat?”

“Charles.” William waved his arms. “Whatever are you carrying in your arms?”

Charles dropped his valise to the ground. It grazed his foot. He let out a yelp and hopped. “Blast it! My toe.”

William leaned forward and snatched the bundle from Charles’s arm. The cloth over little Timothy’s face slid away, exposing the sleeping child. “No room in the inn?”

“Very funny,” Charles snarled. He rubbed his foot against the back of his calf. “That smarted.”

“Whose baby?”

“A dead serving maid’s. I remember you said that a woman across the hall from you had a screaming infant. Do you think she might be persuaded to feed this one? He’s about four months old.”

William rubbed his tongue over his gums as he glanced from Timothy to Charles, then back again.

“He needs to eat. I don’t want to starve him. Also, I think he’s a little too warm.” Charles gave Timothy an anxious glance.

“Let’s hope he isn’t coming down with something.” William stepped into the passage and gave a long-suffering sigh. Then, he crossed to the other side and used his elbow to bang on the door across from his. “Mrs. Herring?”

Charles heard a loud cry in the room beyond, a muttered imprecation, and a child’s piping voice, then the door opened. A girl about the age of his youngest brother, Boz, opened the door.

“Wot?” she said indistinctly, as she was missing several teeth.

“I need your mother,” William said, smiling at the girl.

The girl turned her head partway and shrieked for her mother. A couple of minutes later the lady of the house arrived, a fat babe burping on her shoulder. She appeared as well fed as the infant, with rounded wrists tapering into fat fingers peering out from her cotton dress sleeves.

“Mr. Aga!” she said with a smile.

Charles instantly trusted Mrs. Herring’s sweet smile. Her hand had gone to the top of her daughter’s head for a caress, the sort of woman who genuinely enjoyed her children.

“Good lady,” Charles began. “I’ve been given the custody of this orphaned child due to a rather dramatic situation. Might you be able to take him in to nurse?”

Mrs. Herring stepped toward William. She took one look at the sleeping Timothy and exclaimed, “Lor bless me!” She handed her larger infant over to her daughter, then reached out her hands to William. He promptly placed the bundle into the mother’s arms.

Charles saw Timothy stir. He began to root around. “Hungry. Hasn’t been nourished since this morning.”

“Poor mite,” Mrs. Herring cooed. “How could you have let this happen? They must be fed regularly.”

“I don’t know how to care for a baby,” Charles admitted.

“But I remembered my friends had you as a neighbor. Can you help him?”

“We’ve no room for the tiny lad,” Mrs. Herring said sternly. She coaxed her daughter back inside.

“I can pay for his board,” Charles responded.

Mrs. Herring didn’t speak but her eyebrows lifted.

“Just for tonight at first,” William suggested with an easy smile. “You can see the situation is desperate.”

Charles reached into his pocket and pulled out a shilling. “I’m good for it. Truly. This would pay for days of his care if I hire a wet nurse. He has an aunt but she disappeared. I couldn’t find her before I had to return to London.”

“We’ll talk to you again in the morning,” William said. “I won’t leave the building until we’ve spoken.”

“Where am I to put him?” she asked, staring rather fixedly at the shilling. “The bed is full and we don’t have a cradle.”

William nodded wisely, as if he’d thought of this already. “Mr. Dickens and I will consult with my wife and bring something suitable. If you can feed him while we wait?”

Mrs. Herring reached out her free hand. Charles noted she had clean nails. She seemed a good choice for wet nurse. He placed the shilling in her palm and prayed they could make longer-term arrangements for a reasonable price.

Timothy let out a thin wail.

“He sounds weak,” Charles said, guilt coloring his words.

“I’ll do what I can.” Mrs. Herring glanced at the babe in her arms, then shut the door.

***

Excerpt from A Christmas Carol Murder by Heather Redmond. Copyright 2020 by Heather Redmond. Reproduced with permission from Heather Redmond. All rights reserved.

 

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A MURDER IS FOREVER by Rob Bates | #Showcase #Interview #Giveaway

A Murder is Forever

by Rob Bates

December 1, 2020 – January 31, 2021 Tour

Synopsis:

A Murder is Forever by Rob Bates

Max Rosen always said the diamond business isn’t about sorting the gems, it’s about sorting the people. His daughter Mimi is about to learn that some people, like some diamonds, can be seriously flawed.

After Mimi’s diamond-dealer cousin Yosef is murdered–seemingly for his $4 million pink diamond–Mimi finds herself in the middle of a massive conspiracy, where she doesn’t know who to trust, or what to believe. Now she must find out the truth about both the diamond and her cousin, before whoever killed Yosef, gets her.

“[A] sprightly debut …. Bates, who has more than 25 years as a journalist covering the diamond business, easily slips in loads of fascinating information on diamonds and Jewish culture without losing sight of the mystery plot. Readers will look forward to Mimi’s further adventures.” – Publishers Weekly

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery
Published by: Camel Press
Publication Date: October 13th 2020
Number of Pages: 281
ISBN: 1603812229 (ISBN13: 9781603812221)
Series: The Diamond District Mystery Series
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

 

Author Bio:

Rob Bates

Rob Bates has written about the diamond industry for over 25 years. He is currently the news director of JCK, the leading publication in the jewelry industry, which just celebrated its 150th anniversary. He has won 12 editorial awards, and been quoted as an industry authority in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and on National Public Radio. He is also a comedy writer and performer, whose work has appeared on Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update segment, comedycentral.com, and McSweeneys He has also written for Time Out New York, New York Newsday, and Fastcompany.com. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and son.

Q&A with Rob Bates

What was the inspiration for this book?

I have written about the diamond and jewelry industry for nearly 30 years for different trade publications. I always thought there would be some great stories to tell about the industry. It’s so exotic, and different than most other industries. (For instance, most diamond deals are sealed with the word Mazal. That’s it. No contracts, no lawyers. And that’s binding.)

There are also many misconceptions about it. I wanted my book to be a true insider’s view. Many people who have walked through New York’s Diamond District have no idea what exactly what happens there. So this lifts the veil a bit.

What has been the biggest challenge in your writing career?

It’s all pretty challenging, but I consider myself lucky to get a book published in this environment.

I’ve engaged in many creative pursuits over the years, including performing sketch comedy and stand-up. They all involve a lot of rejection. When I first started looking for agents, and I experienced some turndowns, and thought, “Why am I putting myself through this again?” It worked out okay in the end. You just have to look at rejection as part of the process. One day, I’ll figure out how to do that.

The main character of my book is a laid-off journalist who also deals with rejection. I’m happy that’s in there. It’s something you don’t always see portrayed in books and media, but it’s part of life.
My day job involves writing for a trade publication. And while it’s 150 years old, and an institution, it’s faced a lot of changes and challenges, like the rest of the publishing business has. But that’s a long long story.

What do you absolutely need while writing?

I usually listen to music, just because music calms me and lifts my spirits. I probably shouldn’t, as it can distracting, but it’s a habit by now.

A deadline helps, too.

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

I try to set myself a goal for the month, so if I screw up one day (which happens), I can make it up later. But my work habits vary, put it that way. I wish I had a magic formula, except for making myself feel guilty. That works. Sometimes.

Who is your favorite character from your book and why?

Everyone likes the character of Max, the heroine’s father, so I guess I would say him. I can’t dispute the wisdom of the crowd.

There’s a Rabbi in the book, and he was fun to write. One character is a composite of a different jargon-spouting executives I’ve spoken with over the years. But I like all the characters. Otherwise, I wouldn’t include them.

Most of the people in the book—even the flawed ones—are fundamentally good. Maybe I’m naïve, but I think that’s true of people in general.

Getting back to the diamond business, a lot of the portrayals you have seen in films, like Uncut Gems, have been unduly harsh. The bad side of the business certainly exists; there’s problems in the industry, and the book is sometimes frank about them. But I also wanted to portray the industry like I’ve experienced it: it’s not perfect, by any means, but it’s full of good and bad people, like any other business. Some of the nicest, most decent, as well as smartest, people I’ve met work in the diamond industry. It’s full of people trying to make a living, like any business.

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

Some of the characters in the book do things that are unconscionable (like kill people). But I try to make them all have some good or interesting qualities. If I didn’t like them, or didn’t find them worth writing about, I’d cut them from the book.

I also tried to make even the minor characters, like a security guard who plays a bit role in a few chapters, be unique or different.

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

The main character (Mimi) is named after my late mother, and her father is named after my grandfather, who was a diamond dealer on 47th Street. That’s in tribute to them. The characters are not based on the actual people.

Many of the quotes in this book are actual things I’ve heard in the diamond business. I’ll let people decide which ones those are.

When I started writing this, I didn’t really know what a “cozy” mystery was. But it turned out that my book fit most of its requirements: it is light-hearted, has lots of humor, features little violence, and is built around an amateur detective. It’s not set in a small community—like most cozies are—but in New York City. But the Diamond District is definitely its own community. It’s an urban cozy. Perhaps I’ve invented a new genre.

When I first started writing this, an editor suggested I make the main character female, which was not something I would have considered on my own. Obviously, that was a little challenging at times, but I had my wife look it over to make sure I was on the right track. Every now and then, she’d write “hmmm…” on something I wrote. I got rid of everything that had “hmmmm…” on it.

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

Thank you! I appreciate anyone who takes the time to read my book. It means so much to me.

I’m also interested in hearing readers’ feedback. If we weren’t living in COVID, I’d be happy to meet readers in person and autograph the books, not that my signature is particularly valuable.

The news is so depressing these days. If this proves a pleasant distraction for people, I’d be happy

Tell us a little about yourself and your background?

I’m just a bald guy from suburban New Jersey. When I graduated from college, I was looking for a writing job, and there was an ad for a writer for a diamond industry publication. As I mentioned, my grandfather had been a diamond dealer, and even though he died long before all this happened, I told the interviewer that I grew up in the business, and knew all about it. That was mostly B.S., but he bought it, or maybe he just pitied me. Regardless, I’m still at it 30 years later.

What’s next that we can look forward to?

The second book in this series is coming out next year. In fact, I turned in the manuscript one day before I did this interview. The second book, “Murder’s Not a Girl’s Best Friend,” focuses on some of the social issues the industry has had to deal with, so its subject matter is a little more serious than this one. But I tried to make it also fun and enjoyable.

(By the way, I’m really happy with my first two titles: “A Murder is Forever” and “Murder’s Not a Girl’s Best Friend,” as they play on the best-known slogans in the diamond business. I’m still figuring out what the third title will be. Suggestions welcome!)

There are so many stories in the diamond business. It’s an industry that touches so many different aspects of life—marketing, politics, economics, etc. I find it fascinating, and I hope that anyone reading these books will find it fascinating, too. And I hope to keep writing these books as long as the publishing gods let me.

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Read an excerpt:

A MURDER IS FOREVER

By Rob Bates

CHAPTER ONE

As Mimi Rosen exited the subway and looked out on the Diamond District, she remembered the words of her therapist: “This won’t last forever.”

She sure hoped so. She had been working on Forty-Seventh Street for two months and was already pretty tired of it.

To outsiders, “The Diamond District” sounded glamorous, like a street awash in glitter. To Mimi, who had spent her life around New York, Forty-Seventh Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues was a crowded, dirty eyesore of a block. The sidewalk was covered not with glitz, but with newspaper boxes, cigarettes, stacks of garbage bags, and, of course, lots of people.

Dozens of jewelry stores lined the street, all vying for attention, with red neon signs proclaiming “we buy gold” or “50 percent off.” Their windows boasted the requisite rows of glittery rings, and Mimi would sometimes see tourists ogling them, their eyes wide. She hated how the stores crammed so many gems in each display, until they all ran together like a mess of kids’ toys. For all its feints toward elegance, Forty-Seventh Street came off as the world’s sparkliest flea market.

Mimi knew the real action in the Diamond District was hidden from pedestrians, because it took place upstairs. There, in the nondescript grey and brown buildings that stood over the stores, billions in gems were bought, sold, traded, stored, cut, appraised, lost, found, and argued over. The upstairs wholesalers comprised the heart of the U.S. gem business; if someone bought a diamond anywhere in America, it had likely passed through Forty-Seventh Street.

Mimi’s father Max had spent his entire life as part of the small tight-knit diamond dealer community. It was a business based on who you knew—and even more, who you trusted. “This business isn’t about sorting the diamonds,” Max always said. “It’s about sorting the people.” Mimi would marvel how traders would seal million-dollar deals on handshakes, without a contract or lawyer in sight.

It helped that Forty-Seventh Street was comprised mostly of family businesses, owned by people from a narrow range of ethnic groups. Most—like Mimi’s father—were Orthodox, or religious, Jews. (“We’re the only people crazy enough to be in this industry,” as Max put it.) The Street was also home to a considerable contingent of Hasidic Jews, who were even more religious and identifiable by their black top hats and long flowing overcoats. Mimi once joked that Forty-Seventh Street was so diverse, it ran the gamut from Orthodox to ultra-Orthodox.

Now Mimi, while decidedly secular, was part of it all. Working for her father’s diamond company was not something she wanted to do, not something she ever dreamed she would do. Yet, here she was.

She had little choice. She had not worked full-time since being laid off from her editing job a year ago. She was already in debt from her divorce, which had cost more than her wedding, and netted little alimony. “That’s what happens when you divorce a lawyer,” said her shrink.

Six months after she lost her job, Mimi first asked her father for money. He happily leant it to her, though he added he wasn’t exactly Rockefeller. It was after her third request—accompanied, like the others, by heartfelt vows to pay him back—that he asked her to be the bookkeeper at his company. “I know you hate borrowing from me,” he told her. “This way, it isn’t charity. Besides, it’ll be nice having you around.”

Mimi protested she could barely keep track of her own finances. Her father reminded her that she got an A in accounting in high school. Which apparently qualified her to do the books at Max Rosen Diamond Company.

“We have new software, it makes it easy,” Max said. “Your mother, may she rest in peace, did it for years.”

Mimi put him off. She had a profession, and it wasn’t her mother’s.

Mimi was a journalist. She had worked at a newspaper for nine years, and a website for five. She was addicted to the thrill of the chase, the pump of adrenaline when she uncovered a hot story or piece of previously hidden info. There is no better sound to a reporter’s ears than someone sputtering, “How did you find that out?”

“It’s the perfect job for you,” her father once said. “You’re a professional nosy person.”

She loved journalism for a deeper reason, which she rarely admitted to her cynical reporter friends: She wanted to make a difference. As a girl, she was haunted by the stories they told in religious school, how Jews were killed in concentration camps while the world turned its head. Growing up, she devoured All the President’s Men and idolized pioneering female muckrakers like Nellie Bly.

Being a journalist was the only thing Mimi ever wanted to do, the only thing she knew how to do. She longed to do it again.

Which is why, she told her therapist, she would tell her father no.

Dr. Asner said she understood, in that soft melancholy coo common to all therapists. Then she crept forward on her chair.

“Maybe you should take your father up on this. He’s really throwing you a lifeline. You keep telling me how bad the editorial job market is.” She squinted and her glasses inched up her nose. “Sometimes people adjust their dreams. Put them on hold.”

Mimi felt the blood drain from her face. In her darker moments—and she had quite a few after her layoff—she had considered leaving journalism and doing something else, though she had no idea what that would be. Mimi always believed that giving up her lifelong passion would be tantamount to surrender.

Dr. Asner must have sensed her reaction, because she quickly backtracked.

“You can continue to look for a journalism job,” she said. “Who knows? Maybe working in the Diamond District will give you something to write about. Besides,”— here, her voice gained an edge—“you need the money.” That was driven home at the end of the forty-five minutes, when Dr. Asner announced that she couldn’t see Mimi for any more sessions, since Mimi hadn’t paid her for the last three.

By that point, Mimi didn’t know whether to argue, burst into tears, or wave a white flag and admit the world had won.

It was a cold February morning as Mimi walked down Forty-Seventh Street to her father’s office, following an hour-plus commute from New Jersey that included a car, a bus, and a subway. With her piercing hazel eyes, glossy brown hair, and closely set features, Mimi was frequently told she was pretty, though she never quite believed it. She had just gotten her hair cut short to commemorate her thirty-eighth birthday, hoping for a more “mature” look. She had always been self-conscious about her height; she was five foot four and tried to walk taller. She was wearing a navy dress that she’d snagged for a good price on eBay; it was professional enough to please her father, who wanted everyone to look nice in the office, without being so nice that she was wasting one of her few good outfits. She was bundled up with multiple layers and a heavy coat—to protect against the winter chill, as well as the madness around her.

Even though it was before 9 AM, Forty-Seventh Street was, as usual, packed, and Mimi gritted her teeth as she bobbed and weaved through the endless crowd. She sidestepped the store workers grabbing a smoke, covering her mouth so she wouldn’t get cancer. She swerved around the stern-looking guard unloading the armored car, with the gun conspicuously dangling from his belt. And she dodged the “hawker” trying to lure her into a jewelry store, who every day asked if she had gold to sell, even though every day she told him no.

Finally, Mimi reached her father’s building, 460 Fifth, the most popular address on “The Street.” After a few minutes standing and tapping her foot on the security line, she handed her driver’s license to the security guard and called out, “Rosen Diamonds.”

“Miss,” growled the guard with the oversized forehead who’d seen her three days a week for the past two months, “you should get a building ID. It’ll save you time in the morning.”

“It’s okay. I won’t be working here for long,” she chirped, though she wasn’t quite sure of that.

Next stop, the elevator bank. Mimi had an irrational fear of elevators; she was always worried she would die in one. She particularly hated these elevators, which were extremely narrow and perpetually packed. She envied those for whom a subway was their sole exposure to a cramped unpleasant space.

As the car rose, one occupant asked a Hasidic dealer how he was finding things.

“All you can do is put on your shoes. The rest is up to the man upstairs.”

Only in the diamond business. Mimi’s last job was thirty blocks away, yet in a different universe.

At each floor, dealers pushed and rushed like they were escaping a fire. When the elevator reached her floor, Mimi too elbowed her way to freedom.

As she walked to her father’s office, she marveled how the building, so fancy and impressive when she was a kid, had sunk into disrepair. The carpets were frayed, the paint was peeling, and the bathroom rarely contained more than one functioning toilet. If management properly maintained the building, they’d charge Midtown Manhattan rents, which small dealers like her father couldn’t afford. The neglect suited everyone.

She spied a new handwritten sign, “No large minyans, by order of the fire department.” Mimi produced a deep sigh. She had long ago left her religious background behind. Somehow, she was now working in a building where they warn against praying in the halls. She was going backward.

Perhaps the dealer in the elevator was right. You could only put on your shoes and do your best. She grabbed her pocketbook strap, threw her head back, and was just about at her father’s office when she heard the yelling.

“I’m so tired of waiting, Yosef! It’s not fair!”

Max’s receptionist, Channah, was arguing with her boyfriend, Yosef, a small-time, perpetually unsuccessfully diamond dealer. Making it more awkward: Yosef was Mimi’s cousin.

Channah and Yosef had dated for nearly eighteen months without getting married—an eternity in Channah’s community. Still, whenever Channah complained, Mimi remembered how her ex-husband only popped the question after three years and two ultimatums.

“Give me more time,” Yosef stuttered, as he tended to do when nervous. “I want to be successful in the business.”

“When’s that going to happen? The year three thousand?”

The argument shifted to Yiddish, which Mimi didn’t understand, though they were yelling so fiercely she didn’t need to. Finally, tall, skinny Yosef stormed out of the office, his black hat and suit set off by his red face. He was walking so fast he didn’t notice his cousin Mimi standing against the wall. Given the circumstances, she didn’t stop him to say hello. She watched his back grow smaller as he stomped and grunted down the hall.

Mimi gave Channah time to cool down. After a minute checking in vain for responses to her latest freelance pitch—editors weren’t even bothering to reject her anymore—she rang the doorbell. She flashed a half-smile at the security camera stationed over the door, and Channah buzzed her in. Mimi hopped into the “man trap,” the small square space between security doors that was a standard feature of diamond offices. She let the first door slam behind her, heard the second buzz, pulled the metal handle on the inner door, and said hello to Channah, perched at her standard spot at the reception desk.

Channah had long dark curly hair, which she constantly twirled; a round, expressive face, dotted with black freckles; and a voluptuous figure that even her modest religious clothing couldn’t hide.

“Did you hear us argue?” she asked Mimi.

“No,” she sputtered. “I mean—”

Channah smiled and pointed to the video monitor on her desk. “I could see you on the camera.” Her shoulders slouched. “It was the same stupid argument we always have. Even I’m bored by it.”

“Hang in there. We’ll talk at lunch.” Mimi and Channah shared a quick hug, and Mimi walked back to the office.

She was greeted by her father’s smile and a peck on the cheek. If anything made this job worthwhile, it was that grin. Plus the money.

“How are things this morning?”

“Baruch Hashem,” Max replied. Max said “thank God” all the time, even during his wife’s sickness, when he really didn’t seem all that thankful.

Sure enough, he added, “We’re having a crisis.”

Mimi almost rolled her eyes. It was always a crisis in the office. When Mimi was young, the family joke was that business was either “terrible” or “worse than terrible.”

Lately, her dad seemed more agitated than normal. As he spoke, he puttered in a circle and his hands clutched a pack of Tums. That usually didn’t come out until noon.

“I can’t find the two-carat pear shape.” He threw his arms up and his forehead exploded into a sea of worry lines. “It’s not here, it’s not there. It’s nowhere.”

Max Rosen was dressed, as usual, in a white button-down shirt and brown wool slacks, with a jeweler’s loupe dangling on a rope from his neck. His glasses sat off-kilter on his nose, and two shocks of white hair jutted from his skull like wings. When he was excited about something, like this missing diamond, the veins in his neck popped and the bobby-pinned yarmulke seemed to flap on his head.

Mimi stifled a laugh. That was the crisis? Diamonds always got lost in the office. As kids, Mimi and her two sisters used to come in on weekends and be paid one dollar for every stone they found on the floor. “They travel,” Max would say.

It was no surprise that things went missing in that vortex of an office. Every desk was submerged under a huge stack of books, magazines, and papers. The most pressing were placed on the seat near her father’s desk, what he called his “in-chair.”

When Mimi’s mother worked there, she kept a lid on the chaos. After her death, Max hired a few bookkeepers, none of whom lasted; two years later, the job had somehow fallen to Mimi.

Eventually, Channah found the two-carat pear shape, snug in its parcel papers, right next to the bathroom keys. The only logical explanation was that Max was examining it while on the toilet.

Max sheepishly returned to his desk. Mimi loved watching her father at work. She was fascinated by how he joked with friends, took grief from clients, and kept track of five things at once. It felt exotic and forbidden, like observing an animal in its natural habitat.

For the most part, they got along, which was no small thing. Over the years, there had been tense moments as he struggled to accept that she was no longer religious. Lately, he rarely brought the topic up, and she didn’t want him to. Her split from her non-Jewish ex probably helped.

On occasion, the old strains resurfaced, in subtle ways. Max’s desk was covered with photos—mostly of Mimi’s mom and her religious sisters and their religious broods. One time when Max was at lunch, Mimi tiptoed over to glance at them, and—not incidentally—check how many were of her. It made her feel silly, yet she couldn’t help herself. She was a professional nosy person.

She got her answer: out of about twenty photos, Mimi was in three, an old family photo and two pics from her sisters’ weddings. That was less than expected. She tried not to take it personally. She had no kids and her marriage was a bust. What was there to show off?

Mimi spent most of the morning deciphering her father’s books—a task made more difficult by his aging computer system, which regularly stalled and crashed. Her father’s “new” software was actually fifteen years old.

Sometimes she wished he gave her more substantial tasks to do. While her father would never say it, he didn’t consider the diamond industry a place for women, as it had always been male-dominated—even though, ironically, it catered mostly to females. That was fine with Mimi. She didn’t want to devote her life to a rock.

At 1 PM, Channah and Mimi headed for Kosher Gourmet, their usual lunch spot. Mimi always joked, “I don’t know if it’s kosher, but it’s not gourmet.”

In the two months Mimi had worked for her father, she and Channah had become fast friends, bonding over their shared love of mystery novels, crossword puzzles, and sarcastic senses of humor.

Channah was not Mimi’s typical friend. She was twenty-three and her parents were strictly religious, even more than Mimi’s. She commuted to Forty-Seventh Street every day on a charter bus from Borough Park, a frum enclave in Brooklyn. The Diamond District was her main exposure to the wider world. She reminded Mimi of her younger, more religious self, under her parents’ thrall yet curious what else was out there.

Mimi was not Channah’s typical friend either. During their lunches, Channah quizzed her on the taste of non-Kosher food (it didn’t taste any different, Mimi told her); sex (“When the time comes,” Mimi said, “you’ll figure it out”); and popular culture (“Can you explain,” Channah once asked, “why Kim Kardashian is famous?” Mimi just said no.) Today, as usual, they talked about Yosef.

“I don’t get it.” Channah wrapped sesame noodles around her white plastic fork. “I love him. He loves me. Why not get married?”

Mimi took a sip from her Styrofoam cup filled with warm tap water. She preferred bottled water but couldn’t afford it. “Have you thought of giving Yosef an ultimatum? Tell him if he doesn’t marry you by a certain date, that’s it.”

“Yosef wouldn’t take that seriously.” Channah turned her eyes to her tray.

“Why not?”

“Cause I’ve done that already. Three times! I backed down every time.” Her fork toyed with her food. “I believe it is beshert that Yosef and I will end up together. I’ve thought so since I first met him at your father’s office, and he smiled at me. What choice do I have?” Her elbow nudged her tray across the table.

“I understand why he’s waiting. He wants to be a steady provider. That’s a good thing, right?”

Actually, Mimi found it sexist. She didn’t say that, because she found many things in Channah’s world sexist.

“He just needs to sell that pink,” Channah said, spearing a dark brown cube of chicken.

Mimi took a quick sip of water. “That pink” was an awkward subject.

One month ago, Yosef had bought a three-point-two carat pink diamond. It was the biggest purchase of his career, the kind of high-risk move that could make or break his business. Max was overjoyed. “Do you know how rare pink diamonds are?” he exclaimed. “And it’s a three-carater! Sounds like a great buy!”

That was, until Yosef proudly presented it to his uncle Max, who inspected it under his favorite lamp, muttered “very nice,” and quickly handed it back.

It was only after Yosef left that Max dismissed his nephew’s score as a strop, a dog of a diamond, the kind of unsellable item that gathered dust in a safe.

“It has so many pepper spots,” Max lamented. “The color’s not strong at all. No one will buy that thing.”

“Maybe he got it for a good price,” Mimi said.

“I’m sure whoever sold it to him said it was the bargain of the century. Anytime someone offers me a metziah, that’s a sign they can’t sell the stone. There’s a saying, ‘your metziah is my strop.’” His face sagged. “I wish he talked to me first. That stone is worthless. I don’t have the heart to tell him.”

When Channah brought up the big pink at lunch, Mimi didn’t want to dwell on the subject. “What’s happening with that?” she asked, as casually as possible.

“Didn’t you hear?” Channah jerked forward. “It got the highest grade possible on its USGR cert.”

“You’ll have to translate.” Mimi tuned out most diamond talk.

“Cert is short for certificate, meaning grading report. The USGR is the U.S. Academy for Gemological Research, the best lab in the industry.”

Mimi just stared.

“That stone’s worth four million dollars.”

That Mimi understood. “Wow.” A lot of money for a dog of a diamond.

“Four point one million, to be exact.” Channah laughed. “Don’t want to leave that point one out!”

“I thought that stone was—”

“Ugly?” Channah chuckled. “Me too! I don’t understand how it got that grade. I guess it doesn’t matter. As your father says, ‘today the paper is worth more than the diamond.’” She slurped some diet soda.

“Is Yosef going to get four million dollars?”

“Who knows? He isn’t exactly an expert in selling such a stone. Your father convinced him to post it on one of the online trading networks. Someone called him about it yesterday.”

“That’s great!”

“Hopefully. If anyone could screw this up, Yosef could.” Channah’s mouth curled downward. “I keep checking my phone to see if there’s any news.” She flipped over her iPhone, saw nothing, and flipped it back. “The way I figure, if he sells that stone, he’ll have to marry me. Unless he comes up with some new excuse. He wouldn’t do that, right? Not after all this time. Would he?”

Mimi struggled to keep herself in check. She was dying to shake Channah and scream that if Yosef wasn’t giving her what she wanted, it was time to move on. She didn’t. Yosef was her cousin. Mimi was in no position to critique someone else’s love life. She always told people hers was “on hold.” It was basically non-existent.

Plus, she remembered how, weeks before her wedding, her friends warned her that her fiancé had a wandering eye. That just strengthened her resolve to marry him, even though in retrospect, they were right. “With situations like that,” her therapist said later, “I always recommend not to say anything. Just be a supportive friend.”

Mimi waited until Channah stopped speaking. She touched her hand. “I’m sure it will work out,” she said.

***

Excerpt from A Murder is Forever by Rob Bates. Copyright 2020 by Rob Bates. Reproduced with permission from Rob Bates. All rights reserved.

 

 

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TWO MURDERS TOO MANY by Bluette Matthey | #Showcase #GuestPost #Giveaway

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Two Murders Too Many

by Bluette Matthey

December 1-31, 2020 Tour

Synopsis:

Two Murders Too Many by Bluette Matthey

Barn burning in a sleepy farming community is a serious enough matter, but a grisly murder or two in a small midwest town is a showstopper. Throw in a serial blackmailer who has his claws in some of the town’s leading citizens and you have one big recipe for disaster.

Charlie Simmons, newly sworn in as Shannon’s policeman, takes on the challenge of investigating this cauldron of crimes in stride, untangling one thread after another from the fabric of the town of Shannon to find the simple truth.

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery
Published by: Blue Shutter Publishing
Publication Date: October 21st 2020
Number of Pages: 254
ISBN: 978-1-941611-16-6
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Smashwords | Goodreads

 

Author Bio:

Bluette Matthey

Bluette Matthey is a product of the melting pot of America’s settlers, with her ancestry rooted in the Swiss, German, and English cultures. She is a keen reader of mysteries who loves to travel and explore, especially in Europe. Bluette currently lives in Béziers, France, with her husband and band of loving cats. Other books by Bluette Matthey include the Hardy Durkin Travel Mystery series: Corsican Justice, Abruzzo Intrigue, Black Forest Reckoning, Dalmatian Traffick, and Engadine Aerie.

Guest Post

10 Things The Reader Doesn’t Know About Charlie Simmons

1) Charlie Simmons was raised on a farm on the outskirts of Shannon and was educated in a one-room country schoolhouse. The school, located not far from the Simmons farm, was known locally as the Simmons School. He graduated at the end of his senior year.

2) Charlie has a second breakfast every morning which consists of a piece of pie and mug of steaming black coffee. His favorite pie is rhubarb custard.

3) Charlie was run out of a bar in a neighboring town once, depriving him of the cold beer he sought. He filled one of his long woolen socks with rocks and, swinging it like a deadly flail over his head, he went back in the bar, chased out the local bullies, and had his beer.

4) Charlie loves reading Rex Stout mysteries about Montenegrin detective Nero Wolfe.

5) Charlie’s pet cat, Lion, is a trusted confidant to Charlie. He discusses the events of the day with Lion who is sometimes an attentive listener and, at other times, completely aloof.

6) Charlie is one of twins. His younger-by-one-minute brother died in childbirth.

7) Charlie had his tonsils removed when he was eleven years old. He sat on the kitchen table at home and held a slop pan under his chin while the doctor removed his tonsils. They eventually grew back, and he had to have them cut out again.

8) Charlie learned to play the piano from his mother, who was quite gifted. He plays by ear, picking out the popular tunes of the day.

9) Charlie is a crack shot with a rifle and can shoot the eye out of a squirrel from 100 yards.

10) Although Charlie has never been more than 70 miles from Shannon, he has a considerable understanding of human nature.

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Read an excerpt:

Blanche Gruman sprawled on the park bench in front of the Presbyterian Church Monday enjoying the afternoon sun, her long, tanned legs stretched out on the sidewalk in front of the bench. She looked serene, with her face turned sunward, eyes protected by aviator sunglasses. Her blonde hair was almost white, bleached by the sun, and she wore it long and loose.

“Afternoon, Blanche,” Charlie said as he made his way toward town hall.

Blanche turned her head to see who had spoken. “Well, hey, Charlie!” she replied. She quickly sat up, pulling her bare legs primly under the edge of the bench. It was a lady-like move; just what you would expect from Blanche. A broad smile, showing perfect pearl-white teeth lit up her face.

Blanche Gruman owned and operated a successful hair salon in town. For Shannon, it was an exclusive salon. Blanche was an excellent cutter and stylist, and her flamboyant but tasteful sense of style attracted the cream of Shannon’s women to her salon, as well as some of the more prominent men. She had expanded her business over the course of a decade, hiring additional staff, but she was the queen bee, and closely guarded her select clientele.

Blanche had never married, though she’d had a fairly constant parade of suitors. Rumor had it that when someone had once asked her why she had never married she had flippantly replied, “Why marry one man when I can make so many happy?” Whether or not this was true, it was generally agreed that Blanche had a less traditional approach to relationships with men than her female contemporaries, and it was speculated that many of her female devotees who religiously came to Blanche for hair treatment did so as a means of keeping an eye on her latest paramour, primarily to make sure it wasn’t a wayfaring husband.

“You look mighty pleased with yourself,” Charlie said. He stood in front of her, blocking the sun from her eyes. She removed her sunglasses, hooking one of the templates on the V-neck of a snug knit top that accented her generous curves.

“It’s a great day to celebrate life,” she told him, “and that’s just what I’m doing.” Clearly, she was enjoying herself.

Charlie changed the subject. “You hear about what happened to Otto Hilty the other night?”

His question soured Blanche’s mood noticeably. Her voice took on a hard edge when she responded. “That SOB …” she began. “I don’t truck with what happened to Otto,” she said, “but I’ll not shed any tears for him.” She put her sunglasses on and stood, facing Charlie. “Like I said … it’s a great day to celebrate.” She walked off leaving Charlie standing, literally, with his mouth agape.

***

Excerpt from Two Murders Too Many by Bluette Matthey. Copyright 2020 by Bluette Matthey. Reproduced with permission from Bluette Matthey. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Giveaway!:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Bluette Matthey. There will be five (5) winners for this tour. Each winner will receive an eBook of Two Murders Too Many by Bluette Matthey. The giveaway begins on December 1, 2020 and runs through January 2, 2021. Void where prohibited.

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THE MADNESS OF MERCURY by Connie di Marco | #Showcase #Interview #Giveaway

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The Madness of Mercury

by Connie di Marco

December 1-31, 2020 Tour

Synopsis:

The Madness of Mercury by Connie di Marco

San Francisco astrologer Julia Bonatti’s life is turned upside down when she becomes a target of the Reverend Roy of the Prophet’s Tabernacle. The Reverend, a recently-arrived cult preacher, is determined to drive sin from the city, but his gospel of love and compassion doesn’t extend to those he considers an “abomination unto the Lord.” Julia’s outspoken advice in her newspaper column, AskZodia, has put her at the top of the Reverend’s list. While the powerful Mercury-ruled preacher woos local dignitaries, his Army of the Prophet will stop at nothing to silence not just Julia, but anyone who stands in his way.

Driven out of her apartment in the midst of a disastrous Mercury retrograde period, she takes shelter with a client who’s caring for two elderly aunts. One aunt appears stricken with dementia and the other has fallen under the spell of the Reverend Roy. To add to the confusion, a young man claiming to be a long-lost nephew arrives. The longer he stays, the more dangerous things become. One aunt slides deeper into psychosis while the other disappears. Is this young man truly a member of the family? Can astrology confirm that? Julia’s not sure, but one thing she does know is that Mercury wasn’t merely the messenger of the gods – he was a trickster and a liar as well.

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery
Published by: Suspense Publishing
Publication Date: October 9, 2020
Number of Pages: 268
ISBN: 0578752654 (ISBN13: 9780578752655)
Series: Zodiac Mystery #1
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

 

Author Bio:

Connie di Marco

Connie di Marco is the author of the Zodiac Mysteries featuring San Francisco astrologer Julia Bonatti. The Madness of Mercury, the first book in the series will be re-released in October 2020.

Writing as Connie Archer, she is also the author of the national bestselling Soup Lover’s Mysteries from Berkley Prime Crime. You can find her excerpts and recipes in The Cozy Cookbook and The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook. Connie is a member of Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers and Sisters in Crime.

Q&A with Connie di Marco

What was the inspiration for this book?

The initial inspiration for this story was the history of Jim Jones and the People’s Temple in San Francisco. I was living in the city at the time of Jones’ fame and was horrified when news of the mass murders in the jungle and the shooting of a California Congressman and others broke.
But it was the mythology of Mercury that made this story come together. Mercury was a messenger of the gods, but he also represented much darker concepts. He ruled over crossroads, he escorted the dead on their final journey, and on top of all that, he was a liar and a trickster. Jones was a silver-tongued preacher, undoubtedly with a powerful Mercury in his chart, powerful enough to convince others to follow him and give up autonomy over their own lives. He used his ‘Mercury gifts’ to control others. My evil preacher, the Reverend Roy of the Prophet’s Tabernacle, is just as evil but perhaps a little less mad.

What has been the biggest challenge in your writing career?

Oddly enough, while writing the Zodiac series and waiting and hoping my agent would be able to sell these books, I was offered a three-book deal from Penguin to write a cozy series. It was about the last thing I ever expected. So there I was, an unpublished writer, faced with completing three books for one of the biggest publishers. Could I produce something acceptable? Hopefully, something much more than acceptable? I didn’t really have a choice in the matter. I had signed a contract. Fear is a great motivator, so convincing myself that I could actually do this was probably my biggest challenge and a great learning experience.

What do you absolutely need while writing?

I need absolute focus, complete quiet, no music and best of all no interruptions. I think that’s why I’ve always written at night. The house is quiet, the phone stops ringing, there’s no place I need to go. Sometimes all of that is impossible, but I do my best to achieve it. I think we write best when we can step into our stories completely and feel like our characters are real people. After all, we live with them for such a long time while we write.

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

With my first series, the Soup Lovers’ Mysteries, I was under a contract that required submitting each finished manuscript every eight months. I had to stick to a routine. I’d write from about 9 PM to 11 or midnight, as long as my brain would work. On weekends, I’d put in anywhere from three to six hours of writing.

Now that I’m not under such a tight schedule, I have a lot more freedom. The truth of the matter is that in the process of writing a book, I’m haunted. The story nags me and takes over my brain until I reach the end of my first draft. Once that first draft is finished, I breathe a little easier. There’s still a lot of work to do, but by then I feel I have something solid to work with.

Who is your favorite character from your book and why?

I think Jack, Lucky’s grandfather in the Soup Lovers’ series, pops into my mind first. Jack’s a loving but eccentric elderly man, a Navy vet, who suffers from episodes of PTSD. Jack tells time by the bells and only Lucky can interpret. He calls the walls the bulkhead and the floors, the deck. Without thinking of it consciously, I created an amalgam of my dear dad and my ex-father-in-law. So, Jack’s still my favorite in that series.

In the Zodiac Mysteries, I’ve had a lot of fun creating unusual characters, like Zora, the cranky psychic, and Nikolai, the Russian past-life regression hypnotist. I love them all, but if I have to pick just one, I’d say Kuan Lee. Kuan is an old friend of Gloria, Julia’s grandmother. He lives in the first floor apartment of Gloria’s house and practices Chinese medicine and acupuncture. Julia considers him family. He’s always there to give her good advice, to help her see problems or crimes from a different perspective and Julia’s grateful for his advice. He’s a Yoda figure who can shift the paradigm of the story.

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

Least favorite character in Madness? Okay, I’ve got it. It’s Gudrun, the companion of the elderly ladies on Telegraph Hill. She’s a larger than life woman, surly, taciturn, who speaks with a German accent and tries to control the household. She’s been hired to look after the elderly aunts, but in reality, she’s committed to the forces of darkness. I can’t say much more about Gudrun, it would be a spoiler.
I love all my characters, especially the bad ones! I think you have to get into the head of villains as much as sleuths. And with certain exceptions, I’ve made the killer or killers sympathetic characters. The exploration of what would cause someone to take a human life is one of the more fascinating things about crime writing – whether a thriller or a culinary cozy. Even the bad guys have reasons for what they do.

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

I like to use locations that I know personally, particularly locations that could be threatening or chilling at the right time of day or night. I try to imagine how they would work in a crime story. Chrissy Field, an old military installation, now updated as a beautiful park with modern facilities, would be a good place to find a body at night in the fog. In the next book in the series, the murderer attempts to use the currents under the Golden Gate Bridge to dispose of bodies. Most physical addresses in the books don’t really exist, but Julia’s apartment does. It’s real. I know because I used to live there.

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

I just hope my readers will be entertained and enjoy the stories. And best of all, want to come back for more.

Tell us a little about yourself and your background?

I was born in Boston. I grew up there and went to school there. I majored in biology in college and worked as a lab technician until I realized I didn’t want to spend my life in a lab, so I changed my major to English lit, the quickest way to escape college. My real love was always acting. As a kid, I worked with Boston Children’s Theatre and then years later, on the west coast, returned to that professionally. I’ve always held a day job, but I’ve spent years working in TV for the most part. One day, I was on a set, chatting with one of the assistant directors about stories and films and I realized I was creatively bored. That’s when I decided to try to write a mystery – just one, that was my goal. And look what happened! Here I am, still writing.

What’s next that we can look forward to?

Next up is Book 2 in the series, All Signs Point to Murder. Because these first three books are being re-released by my new publisher, they’ll be coming out very quickly. All Signs will be released on December 1st. Book 3, Tail of the Dragon should be out about a month after that.

Then a novella, Enter a Wizard, Stage Left, will be released in e-book format. That story is set before the series actually begins and the action of the story takes place at a theater production of an Agatha Christie play and of course, there’s a murder! Then finally, Book 4, Serpent’s Doom, will be out. Book 5 is finished but needs a bit more work and I guess then I’ll start thinking about Book 6.

Catch Up With Connie di Marco:

ConniediMarco.com, Goodreads, BookBub, Twitter, & Facebook!

 

Read an excerpt:

“Thank God you’re there.” Gale sounded very shaky.

“What’s wrong?”

“I’m at the Mystic Eye. Something very strange just happened. I heard a knock at the back door. I thought it might be you.”

“Are you alone?”

“Yes. I closed up and sent Cheryl home. When I opened the door . . . oh God, Julia. Someone left a dead cat on the doorstep.”

I cringed. “I’ll be right there.”

“I’m sorry. You don’t need to come. I wrapped it up and put it in plastic in the dumpster. It looked like its neck had been broken.”

“Don’t argue. I’ll be there in twenty minutes. Less than that.”

I drove the length of California Street as fast as I could, slowing at each red light. Once I was sure no other cars were crossing I ran through several intersections. When I reached the Eye the shop was closed but the display lights were on in the front windows. I pulled down the alleyway and parked next to Gale’s car. I tapped on the door. “Gale, it’s me.” She opened the door immediately. The storeroom was dark. A stack of empty boxes and packing materials stood against the wall. Inside, the only light was a small desk lamp in the office.

Gale is tall and self-assured with a regal bearing. Tonight she was completely shaken. She hugged her arms, more from fright than from cold. “I feel bad now that I’ve called you. I was just so freaked out. I recognized the cat, it was the little gray one that hangs out behind the apartment building next door. I think it’s a stray. Everyone around here feeds it, even the restaurant people, and it’s such a friendly little thing. Some sick bastard probably gave it some food and then snapped its neck. God, I think I’m going to be sick.”

“Shouldn’t you call the cops?”

“And tell them what? I found a dead cat? Please. Like they’d listen. Even if they thought someone had killed it, what could they do?”

“It shows a pattern of harassment. Might be worth making a report.”

She sighed. “Yeah. You’re probably right. I just wasn’t thinking straight. I was so upset.” She collapsed in the chair behind her desk.

I shrugged out of my coat. “Why are you here so late?”

“We just got a huge shipment of books and supplies in. Cheryl’s been working late every night so I sent her home. I had just finished stacking the boxes in the storeroom.” Gale shivered involuntarily. “Look, let’s get out of here. Have you eaten? Why don’t we go up the block and grab some food? Actually a drink sounds even better.”

“Okay.”

“Get your coat. We can leave the cars here and walk. I’ll just get my purse.”

I headed to the front door and checked that the locks were all in place. The drapes separating the display windows from the shop were drawn for privacy. Gale left the desk lamp on in the office and walked out to the front counter. As she reached under the counter for her purse, we heard glass breaking. Then I saw a flash of flame through the doorway to the back storeroom. I screamed. The empty boxes and packing materials had caught fire in an explosive flash. The smoke alarm started to ring, filling the shop with earsplitting sound. Using my coat like a blanket, I dropped it over the center of the flaming pile. It wasn’t going to be enough, but I had to do something before the entire storeroom went up, if not the building.

***

Excerpt from The Madness of Mercury by Connie di Marco. Copyright 2020 by Connie di Marco. Reproduced with permission from Connie di Marco. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Mailbox Monday

Mailbox Monday

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

Click on title for synopsis via GoodReads.

Wednesday:

Saving Grace by D.M. Barr~ eBook from Black ROse Writing via NetGalley
Saturday:
Beyond The Headlines by R.G. Belsky ~ print ARC from Oceanview Publishing
Magic Lessons by Alice Hoffan~ ARC win from Quiet Fury Books
Winter Witness by Tina deBellegarde ~ print ARC from Quiet Fury Books

#Review | Little Deadly Secrets by Pamela Crane

Little Deadly Secrets by Pamela Crane
Genre: Domestic Thriller, Psychological Thriller
Published by William Morrow
Publication Date: August 18, 2020
ISBN-10 : 0062984918
ISBN-13 : 978-0062984913
Pages: 384
Review Copy From: Publisher
Edition: Print
My Rating: 4

Synopsis (via GR)

Mackenzie, Robin, and Lily have been inseparable forever, sharing life’s ups and downs and growing even closer as the years have gone by. They know everything about each other. Or so they believe.

Nothing could come between these three best friends . . .

Except for a betrayal.

Nothing could turn them against each other . . .

Except for a terrible past mistake.

Nothing could tear them apart . . .

Except for murder.

My Thoughts

Twenty years ago while at college a friendship formed where Mackenzie, Robin, and Lily vowed to be forever bound, through life and love, through thick and thin, until that day when death will win. pg. 14

They thought that they knew everything about each other but that wasn’t the case. Each of them was broken and hiding secrets that could destroy the bond that they created in college. Could they come clean? Would they finally tell all? Would the friendship survive? Lies, betrayals, abuse, addiction, and even murder, will test this friendship.

I was hooked with the first chapter. I connected with the characters even though they all had flaws, some more than others. The writing flowed and the pages kept turning with the suspense. What I enjoyed the most was the dynamics between the three women and their loyalty, even through the toughest times. I did figure out some of the aspects in the story but there were others that totally surprised me.

This was the first book I read by this author and looking forward to future works.

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

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