#GuestPost “Celeste Three is Missing” by Chris Calder

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~ Guest Post ~

by Chris Calder

The Visitor

A few years ago when I lived in France, on a bright, sunny but chilly Sunday morning, we had a visitor. Outside the glass patio doors that led from our dining kitchen to the garden, there was a small area of wooden decking. On that morning on the decking, we had a visitor. A wild dog fox.

It seems that in many towns and cities in the UK, foxes routinely scavenge for scraps after dark. They have learned two things about human animals: that they are best avoided in daylight hours and that they are a good source of edible scraps. Like their country cousins, urban foxes have to fend for themselves. These days when CCTV is everywhere, foxes are seen regularly on camera in the unlikeliest of urban habitats. Let’s face it, even scavengers have to live. But they are invariably scruffy, unkempt and generally regarded as vermin.

Our visitor was the very opposite. When I looked up from my corn flakes and saw him standing there just six feet away, I was astonished. He was big, really big, in size somewhere between a Labrador and a Dobermann. His coat was clean and in perfect condition and his eyes inquisitive and bright. But the most amazing thing about this beautiful creature was his attitude. He stood still for about half a minute, examining us through the glass patio door.

Did I detect a look of pity for the humans trapped behind the glass? Perhaps. He, on the other hand, was free. His curiosity satisfied, he turned and, in no hurry at all, loped away into the garden.

Never before in all the years that we had been living in France had we seen a fox, never mind one almost close enough to touch. Thank you, Mister Fox. It was a privilege to meet you.

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Celeste cover

SYNOPSIS

The world’s first earth-orbit passenger plane, the sensational Celeste Three, takes off from its base in Arizona, also the only place where it is designed to land. On a routine flight the craft disappears.

On board is Viktor Karenkov, billionaire oil magnate who has used his wealth to evade prosecution for a murder he committed years earlier. Gregory Topozian, the murdered man’s friend, has been waiting for a chance to bring Karenkov to justice. With dogged determination and considerable ingenuity, he conceives an audacious plan.

Getting the craft down in total secrecy is key. And someone has to pay the huge costs  involved.

Purchase Links:

Amazon US  

Amazon UK

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Author Bio   Chris Calder

After ten happy years of retirement in rural France, Chris Calder is back in England. He came late to writing novels, penning his first whilst incarcerated in a French hospital following cancer surgery. At the time he spoke little French. Unable to communicate effectively with the staff, he spent his time fleshing out his first novel. Five more have followed; light thrillers leavened with humour. Best of all, the cancer is now history.

Chris knows that readers of fiction expect to be diverted and entertained. He loves feedback and believes passionately that taking on board readers’ views improves what what he does. You can email him at chris@chriscalder.com. Go on, he’d love to hear from you.

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#GuestPost “Landsliding” by Mandy Jameson

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~ Guest Post ~

by Mandy Jameson

Before being selected by Lightning Books to be part of their ebook series, Mandy JamesonLandsliding was self-published by me. During that process I learned the importance of having confidence in my novel – and if I hadn’t, I’d have given up a long time ago!

Initially, I followed the well-trodden path of sending the early chapters to literary agents in the hope that they’d be interested in the rest of the book. Each time I’d wait in agonised impatience for a positive response, but none came. Every agent gave me good feedback – they liked my writing, they thought the content would appeal to a wide audience – but nobody picked it up as a novel.

One time I was especially hopeful when I sent the first chapters of Landsliding along with a covering letter to an agent I’d seen speaking at a literary festival. She emailed back within 24 hours and my heart nearly leapt out of my mouth when I saw her name in my inbox; I was convinced she was writing to say she wanted to publish the novel.

Unfortunately, I was wrong. She certainly liked it – her message was full of compliments about my writing style – but said that the book wasn’t quite what her agency was looking for at that time. My disappointment was intense but I was determined to keep going.

I’d already had to learn resilience when a fellow member of my writing group voiced her opinion about the first chapter of Landsliding. Within the group we would review each other’s work on a regular basis and gave our views in a frank yet careful way. Nearly everyone was polite and would veil any criticism with a balancing amount of compliments – but not this person.

She told me the first chapter was ‘boring’ and the characters didn’t interest her. I bit back my instinctive reply – which was to tell her she was wrong – and managed to keep smiling despite a temptation to burst into tears. Luckily nobody else in the group agreed with her and I soon realised that the occasional negative response is part of being an author. Not everyone can like your work.

So when the publishing world didn’t show immediate interest in Landsliding I had to stick to the courage of my convictions: that it was a strong, interesting story that would appeal to a wide audience. That’s when I decided to self-publish – and when the five star reviews started coming in, I was thoroughly relieved.

At times, though, my resilience was tested to the limit. One such occasion was a book fair attended by some of the dreariest people I’ve ever had the misfortune to meet. I sat stoically at my stall, trying to look unconcerned as the attendees drifted past, showing no interest in my book (or anybody else’s) and even less interest in me.

On the rare occasion that somebody stopped at the stall, it was to request the name of a good local restaurant or to confirm the quickest way to M&S. Do you realise you’re at a book fair?, I wanted to ask. One woman – who did ask what my novel was about – yawned ostentatiously as I was telling her, then walked off without saying any more. I wanted to cry.

Fortunately my belief in the book paid off. When Lightning Books said they wanted to publish Landsliding as part of their first e-series, I was so happy. The stress of awaiting a positive response from an agent; the indignity of being told my story was boring; the tolerance I had to show at that book fair – it was all worth it.

Now I’m writing my second novel and no doubt the process will start all over again. This time, though, I know what to expect!

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When Julia’s husband leaves her, and their small son Matty, to live with another woman, her friends, especially Caroline and Vick, rally round to help. But when Julia starts a new relationship, after a chance meeting, her friends are not quite as supportive.

Julia sees Brendan, the quietly spoken IT guy who comes round to fix her computer, as a loving and protective man and, as time passes, a potential father figure for Matty. Caroline and Vick, on the other hand, see him as jealous, controlling and potentially dangerous. He appears to be a man with a secret past.

What her friends don’t know is that Julia has secrets of her own which, if they get out, will almost certainly shatter her fragile domestic bliss.

Landsliding is a compelling drama that turns your expectations on their head with a subtle twist that will leave you wondering where your sympathies lie.

Amazon UK

Amazon US

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About Mandy Jameson

Originally from Manchester, Mandy Jameson spent ten years living in southwest France where Landsliding, her first novel, was written with the encouragement of a prolific writing group.

Now settled in Sussex with her daughter, her passions include football, chocolate and walking on the Downs.

She is working on her second novel.

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#GuestPost “Diver’s Paradise” by Davin Goodwin

Diver's Paradise by Davin Goodwin Banner

on Tour April 6 – May 8, 2020

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~ GUEST POST ~

by Davin Goodwin

My wife, Leslie (aka Double L), and I had just finished a scuba dive at a location called The Rock, our two-week vacation on the beautiful island of Bonaire half over. We stood waist-deep in the sea a few yards from shore as Leslie gently untangled hair from the buckles of her face mask, eventually sliding it up and over her head.

Wide-eyed and wearing a grin that’d make the Cheshire Cat envious, she said, “How cool was that?”

I nodded. “Nice job.”

The “cool” event had happened about twenty minutes ago in twenty feet of depth during the second portion of our dive. We were slowly swimming back to the takeout point when I spied a hawksbill turtle resting on the bottom in a bundle of soft corals. Double L floated above it, taking a few pictures, and then slid in front of the turtle, inches above the bottom, for two more.

Before taking her last photo, she tilted sideways, and stared at the base of the soft coral. The turtle seemed to be struggling. She waved me over and pointed at two of the turtle’s legs; one front and one rear. The front one was wrapped in the soft coral and the rear one was wedged in a rock.

The turtle was stuck, unable to free itself.

At that moment, I couldn’t remember what I had read regarding a turtle’s ability to hold its breath. Just like humans, it probably ranged a little depending on the individual animal. But also, just like humans, I knew it wasn’t indefinite.

The little dude was between the proverbial rock and hard place. He was going to drown.

Unless….

To be honest, I was a little torn. It seemed nature had put this turtle in a predicament, and I considered letting nature take its course. Kind of like the Prime Directive in Star Trek; don’t interfere and change the outcome. Numerous other reef inhabitants would feast for days on his dead carcass. Isn’t that the way nature worked? Keeping everything in balance? If we saved this turtle, would we inadvertently throw the reef out of balance?

To coin a phrase, I was paralyzed with analysis. I decided to take the coward’s way out and wait a few more moments to see if the turtle freed itself. If not, I’d rethink.

What would Captain Kirk do?

While Star Trek scenarios ricocheted off the inside of my skull, Leslie summoned her Stephanie Plum call-to-action attitude and reached over, gently moving the branch of soft coral that snagged the turtle’s leg. And that’s all it took. The little guy sprung loose and bolted skyward. Les and I hovered above the coral and watched as it floated on the surface with its neck outstretched. After a few moments, I gave Double L an underwater high-five and we continued on our way.

Now, standing in the shallows after our dive, I figured Mother Nature owed us one. Or maybe the other way around. I’m not sure; I’m not good with Mother Nature.

“I think you deserve a burger and fries for lunch,” I said to Les.

Another high-five. “Absolutely,” she said.

# # #

A few days later, we stood at the tailgate of our four-door truck rental. We stacked our dive gear in the bed, having just finished another dive at The Rock. One more day and our vacation would come to an end.

“You want one?” Les asked. She held up an unopened Amstel Bright, condensation running down the side of the bottle onto her fingers.

“You brought beer?” I asked, which she obviously had, the question somehow seeming pointless.

We didn’t usually bring beer with us on our dive excursions fearing they’d be stolen out of the truck. Les, in all her wisdom, stashed a few inside the bag we had filled with water bottles and snacks.

Our diving for the day complete, I said, “Sure.” Then added, “You remember an opener?”

She didn’t answer, instead producing an opener from the back seat and making an exaggerated display of opening a bottle and handing it to me. Never doubt Double L!

We drank the beers while getting out of our wetsuits. Sitting on the truck tailgate, we griped to each other about tomorrow being our last day on the island. How can two weeks go by so fast?

Before getting in the truck and heading back to the resort, Les popped open two more “road pops” for the drive. Glad I brought her along.

About a mile up the road we noticed some police—or Politie in Papiamento, the native language of Bonaire—doing a random traffic stop. We’d seen several of these over the course of our stay, and word on the street was that the Police were cracking down on illegal motorists and vehicles, being more aggressive toward drunk drivers and open seals in vehicles.

We hadn’t been pulled over at the previous road checks, the Politie just waving us past. Probably something to do with us driving a rental vehicle (with AB CarRental all over it) and not wanting to harass tourists. We felt confident that we’d again get a pass.

But why take chances?

“Hide this,” I said to Double L, handing her my bottle.

“What am I supposed to do with them?” she asked.

“I don’t know. If we’re stopped, someone will come up to my window, so just hide them beside your leg the best you can.”

Les tucked the bottles between her leg and the door and covered them with her arm. I still wasn’t worried, figuring we’d be waved through.

To my surprise, an officer walked into the street and waved me to the shoulder. Uh oh, I thought.

Tall, fortyish, and in obviously good physical condition, he walked over to the driver’s side window, leaned down, and said, “Driver license, please.” His voice exuded authority and it seemed the other officers, all younger, awaited his direction and guidance. The name tag pinned to his chartreuse green safety vest read Officer Ruud. I wasn’t sure exactly how to pronounce his name, but I hoped his demeanor didn’t match the obvious pronunciation.

I dug into a pocket and produced my driver’s license. He looked it over, then looked at me.

After a short stare down, he motioned his head towards Les. “And, Mr. Goodwin,” he said, “who is the lady?” Leslie tightened. I sensed it more than I felt it and placed a hand on her forearm.

“She’s my wife, Leslie Goodwin.”

Officer Ruud looked at Leslie, then at me. “She is Double L?” he asked.

I held back a smile. “Sometimes, yes.”

He looked at Les. When he spoke, his voice was much softer, almost childlike. “You saved the turtle.” It was a statement not a question.

My smile slipped out and worked itself across my face. I found myself also looking at Les.

She nodded and simply said, “Yes.”

Officer Ruud nodded. Still looking at Les, he said, “You can pass.” He stood, barked something in Papiamento to the other officers, who all jumped to the side of the pavement. He waved us through and made a point of saying to Les, “Have a nice day. And thank you,” as we pulled forward, past the waving Politie officers.

Down the road, Double L handed me my beer. We clanked bottles and had a good laugh.

“Thanks Mother Nature,” she said.

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Synopsis:

Diver's Paradise by Davin Goodwin After 25 years on the job, Detective Roscoe Conklin trades his badge for a pair of shorts and sandals and moves to Bonaire, a small island nestled in the southern Caribbean. But the warm water, palm trees, and sunsets are derailed when his long-time police-buddy friend back home, is murdered. Conklin dusts off a few markers and calls his old department, trolling for information. It’s slow going. No surprise, there. After all, it’s an active investigation, and his compadres back home aren’t saying a damn thing. He’s 2,000 miles away, living in paradise. Does he really think he can help? They suggest he go to the beach and catch some rays. For Conklin, it’s not that simple. Outside looking in? Not him. Never has been. Never will be. When a suspicious mishap lands his significant other, Arabella, in the hospital, the island police conduct, at best, a sluggish investigation, stonewalling progress. Conklin questions the evidence and challenges the department’s methods. Something isn’t right. Arabella wasn’t the intended target.

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery

Published by: Oceanview Publishing

Publication Date: April 7, 2020

Number of Pages: 336

ISBN: 1608093832 (ISBN13: 9781608093830)

Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

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Read an excerpt:

With the windows down and the top off, the warm Bonaire-island breeze flowed through the cabin of my four-door Jeep Wrangler. I glanced right, across the sea, savoring the salt-filled air. A brilliant shade of blue—one found only in the Caribbean—filled the cloudless sky. Living on Bonaire, I never worried about traffic lights or big city hustle and bustle. With fewer crowds and more locals, I considered this tiny island my undiscovered paradise, not yet spoiled by restaurant chains, high-rises, or all-inclusive resorts. Scooters and bicycles were primary transportation for many, while others walked, greeting each other with smiles and waves. The culture, best described as laid-back with an unhurried pace, continued to have that slow, relaxed feel of the old Caribbean. Unhurried, unspoiled, unforgettable. My phone rang as I turned left, heading north on the road called Kaya International, toward Kralendijk. Even island life has its flaws. Damn cell phones. “Hello, Erika,” I said. “Hello, R. You are on your way back?” My full name is Roscoe Conklin. However, most folks refer to me as R. “Yes. Do you need anything?” “It is Friday,” she said. A Bonaire native, and having lived on the island her entire life, Erika spoke English as a third, maybe fourth, language. As with most of the local population, her speech contained a hint of Dutch accent and reminded me of someone who wanted to sound formal and correct, but sometimes placed words in the wrong order. “Yes, it is Friday… all day,” I said. “I must leave early today.” She had reminded me three times since noon. I smiled, downshifting around a curve. “I know, I know. You must have a wonderful boss.” “I did have a wonderful boss. Now I work for you.” “Yes, you do.” I sighed. “Need anything?” “I need a raise.” I shook my head. “Anything else?” “I do not think so.” “See you soon.” A few turns later, I stopped for a road-crossing iguana, or tree chicken as they’re called on Bonaire. It stood in the middle of the lane and swiveled an eye my direction which I considered a gesture of gratitude for saving its life. Even so, this guy had better quicken the pace. Many locals considered iguanas a food source, and one this size—maybe three feet long from head to tail—would be a prized catch. We studied each other a moment or two, then I beeped the horn, ending our one-sided standoff. The iguana scurried away and found refuge in the roadside underbrush. I pulled into the parking lot of the YellowRock Resort, which I owned, courtesy of my life savings and a large chunk of my pension. The Resort part, however, was a bit of a misnomer. It was a 10-unit ma-and-pa type hotel with a front reception area and a small apartment upstairs where I lived. Guilt shot through me knowing the roof leaked in several units, and, scattered along the path, yellow flakes of paint reminded me of some much-needed upkeep. Bonaire is an island for water lovers and, most days, I wished for more time in the sea. Retired, and in no hurry to overwork myself, I struggled to stay ahead of the repairs. Erika seemed her happiest when keeping me busy. I’d be lost, though, without her. Before going into the office, I walked around the side of the building. Mounds of dirt, a cement mixing tool, and several wooden forms laid haphazardly around a partially repaired section of the foundation. The mess had cluttered the small side yard between the YellowRock and the building next door for several weeks. Neither the contractor responsible for the work nor any of his crew had bothered to show for work in several days. He wanted more money to finish; I wanted the job completed before paying him another cent. A stalemate like this on Bonaire—on island time—could last for months. Shaking my head, I walked into the guest reception area, which also doubled as the office, on the first floor. Erika sat behind an old gray desk that reminded me of something from a 1960’s secretarial office. I did my work on an identical one against the back wall, and a third, stacked high with papers and other junk, gathered dust in the corner. The place needed an upgrade, but the retro decor of our cozy office served our function and suited us well. Erika punched away at a computer keyboard, acting as if she hadn’t seen me enter. Her yellow polo, embroidered with YellowRock Resort on the upper left shoulder, deepened the tint of her dark skin. She refused to tell me her age, but insisted she was older than me “by several years.” I loved her like a big sister, and most of the time, she treated me like a little brother. With black-rimmed glasses perched halfway down her nose, she rolled her eyes as I walked by her desk. “There are still some papers on your desk that still need your signature,” she said, turning back to her work. “Hello to you, too.” I laid a plastic bag on my desk and retrieved a bottle of water—or awa as it’s called in the native language of Papiamento—from the small fridge in the corner. I sat and put my feet on Erika’s desk, playing a game with myself by blocking out most of her face with my size eleven sandals. Her modest afro formed a dark halo around the tops of my toes. “You still have not fixed the problem with that bathroom light.” She continued to gaze at the computer, not giving me the satisfaction of showing the least bit of aggravation. I didn’t say anything and hoped she’d look over and see the soles of my sandals. “The light?” she said. I decided I’d better answer. “Which unit?” I glanced at the bags I’d placed on my desk. They contained several packages of light bulbs. “You know which unit.” “It’s just a light bulb.” “Then it will be easy to fix, yes?” “I’ll get it tomorrow.” She moved her head to look around my sandals. “That is what you said last month about the paint.” She grabbed a small stack of papers, slapped my feet with them and turned back to her work, muttering “hende fresku.” My Papiamento wasn’t good, but I got the gist of what she said. “What would I do without you?” I lowered my feet to the floor. Knowing how far to push was most of the fun. “Don’t forget you have some friends arriving on tomorrow afternoon’s flight,” Erika said. “You’ll need to meet them at the airport.” “Yup, I remember. Tiffany and her boyfriend.” She removed her glasses, laid them on the desk, and leaned forward resting on her elbows. “And how does that make you feel?” I knew what she trolled for but didn’t bite. Tiffany and I had met during a case many years ago and were friends long before I moved to the island. She had visited me on Bonaire in the past and decided to bring her new boyfriend along on this trip. “I feel fine about it.” “You know what I mean.” She leaned back in her chair. “When do you plan to introduce her to Arabella?” “Tiffany is a friend. That’s all she’s ever been. Nothing more, nothing less.” I took a swig of water and wiped my mouth with the back of my arm. Letting out an exaggerated “Ahh,” I concentrated on screwing the cap on the bottle before continuing. “Erika, you think you know more than you actually do.” “Uh-huh.” She put her glasses back on, grabbed the stack of papers, and walked to the filing cabinet. Wanting the conversation to end, I stood and headed up the stairs leading from the office to my apartment. “I’m going to take a shower. Have a nice weekend and don’t forget to lock up when you leave.” Entering my apartment, I went straight to the fridge for a cold beer, my favorite being an Amstel Bright. The advertisements described it as a “Euro Pale Lager,” whatever that meant. Most of the bars and restaurants served it with a slice of lime wedged atop the bottle’s neck. At home, I didn’t waste time slicing limes. Unlike Jeff “The Big” Lebowski, I liked the Eagles and Creedence, so I popped the Eagles Greatest Hits, Volume 1 into the CD player and sat in front of my computer to check email. Twelve new messages. Eleven went straight to my junk folder, but one had a recognizable address—Marko Martijn, the contractor responsible for the unfinished foundation work. Before I clicked it open, my cell phone rang. “What’s up, Bella?” I said. “Hey, Conklin, happy birthday.” I laughed. “Thanks, but you’re a little early.” “I know, but since it will be the big five-oh, I thought your memory might slip and needed a reminder.” “Yeah, that’s funny.” Arabella was from the Netherlands, and I’d found sarcasm doesn’t always work on the Dutch. “I thought so. I called to see how you are doing.” “Well… I’m about to take a shower. Want to join me?” “I wish I could, but I am on my way to work. They called me in to work the desk tonight.” “That’s too bad.” “Yes, for both of us. It is that new inspector, Schleper. He thinks we are at his beck and call.” I walked out on the balcony and sat on a lounger facing the sea. “Yup, sounds familiar.” “Ach. You think he would give me more respect.” She exhaled a short, hard breath. “I’ve been a cop for ten years on this island. Longer than him!” Changing the conversation, I asked, “We still running tomorrow morning?” “You bet. Eight kilometers?” “If you mean four point nine miles, then yes.” She laughed. “No, I mean eight kilometers.” “Ah, forgive me. My measurements are still strictly American.” “I will forgive you. You are drinking a beer right now?” “Yup. Need to drink away my sorrows before I shower. Alone.” “Do not drink too much. I do not want to hear excuses for tomorrow’s run.” “Maybe one more, then I have some paperwork to do. Or maybe change a lightbulb.” “Yeah, right. You are drinking, so you will not do more work tonight. “Hey…” “I will see you tomorrow. Usual time?” “Yup. Good night.” She chuckled. “I will send you a text reminder.” I seldom read text messages and never answered them, but the phone pinged as soon as I set it down. She’d included the words “old man” as part of the reminder about our run. The sun had moved closer to the distant horizon, creating an orange aura behind the few low clouds. Palm trees and sunsets. Tough to find a more relaxing setting. I nursed my beer and watched the sparse traffic crawl along the one-lane road that ran between the YellowRock Resort and the sea. I imagined Erika’s delight in arriving at work in the morning and finding the light fixed. It’d be easy—just a bulb. As I headed towards the stairs to retrieve the bags sitting on my office desk, the landline phone rang; the one used most often for off-island communications. It might’ve been a future guest wanting to make a reservation at the YellowRock or maybe an old friend from the States calling to chat me up about retirement in paradise. Darkness was settling over the vast, smooth sea and I took a swig of beer, not interested in answering the phone, content with letting voicemail do its job. Besides, the Eagles were telling me to take it easy, and, regardless of the lightbulb, that sounded like a good idea. Arabella was right. I was drinking; my work finished for the night. Second ring. Nearby, my banjo sat on its stand. Erika had kept me busy enough lately that practice had eluded me. Picking some tunes sounded good. Third ring. Turning around, I noticed my old 7-iron propped in the corner. I hadn’t played golf since moving to Bonaire five years ago but still fed the urge to practice my swing. Make sure my elbow stayed tucked, and the clubface didn’t open. Fourth ring. Or I could swap the Eagles CD for Creedence, sit on the balcony, and drink another beer or two or three, watching the sun settle below the horizon. Maybe skip the shower, doze off early, and catch a few Zs to the rhythm of the waves. Fifth ring. I could’ve done any of those things but didn’t. Instead, I went to my desk and answered the phone. *** Excerpt from Diver’s Paradise by Davin Goodwin. Copyright 2020 by Davin Goodwin. Reproduced with permission from Davin Goodwin. All rights reserved.
 

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Author Bio:

Davin Goodwin My family members have always been epic storytellers. I regularly wrote short stories in high school and college and, later in life, freelanced several articles for trade and industry publications. For years, the idea of writing a novel bounced around in the back of my mind, but never found its way out of the darkness. My wife, Leslie (Double L), and I have visited the island of Bonaire nearly 30 times over the past 20 years, many of those trips for extended periods. The island is a perfect setting for the style of novel I wanted to write. Yes, the book would be a murder mystery, but I needed a laid-back, slightly exotic setting. And I wanted the book to partially center around scuba diving, an activity Les and I enjoy together as often as possible. During the Spring of 2010, with mild coaxing from friends and family, the concept of Diver’s Paradise came to fruition. However, after close to a year of writing, I gave up, not touching the story for almost six years. In the Spring of 2017, I pulled out the tattered manuscript, rewrote and edited till blue in the face, then endured daily heart palpitations, waiting for submission responses from agents and publishers. Nine months after my first submission, and after agonizing through a boatload of rejections, Oceanview Publishing—to my good luck—offered a contract. I would be a published author. Diver’s Paradise launches on April 7, 2020 in Hard Cover and eBook, followed later in paperback. I enjoy being outdoors when the weather is nice. I don’t particularly like snow and cold weather, which can be problematic dwelling in the frigid, midwestern state of Wisconsin. Exercise is a passion of mine, although I don’t do it as intensely as in past years. Running, biking, and swimming are my favorites. As of several years ago, golf and I decided that we can no longer be friends. Through high school and college, I played violin in the orchestras and community ensembles. Much to the chagrin of those close to me, around the age of sixteen I was struck with an uncontrollable desire to play the 5-string banjo. And play I did. Hours and hours a day. Everyday. In 1992, the band I played with at the time, travelled to the Ukraine and performed in the International Kiev Music Festival. I’ve also performed on radio, TV, and recorded on several albums. I’m 58 years old and live in Madison, WI. Originally from Rockford, IL, I went to college at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, AR., graduating with a degree in Computer Science. I’m married and have one daughter and one stepson, both grown. Professionally, I have roughly 30 years’ experience in the technology industry and currently manage a group of software developers for a local, mid-sized company. In the past, I’ve owned several small businesses, worked as an aerial photographer, a semi-professional banjo player, a flight instructor, and a real estate investor. Future Plans: Continue the Roscoe Conklin series, hopefully, for a long time.  

Catch Up With Davin Goodwin On: DavinGoodwinAuthor.com Goodreads BookBub – @dgoodwin7757 Facebook – @authordavingoodwin Instagram – davin_goodwin_author

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Tour Participants:

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

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Giveaway

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Davin Goodwin. There will be 6 winners. Two (2) winners will each win (1) Amazon.com Gift Card; two (2) winners will each win one PRINT copy of DIVER’S PARADISE by Davin Goodwin (US addresses only); and two (2) winners will each receive one EBOOK copy of DIVER’S PARADISE by Davin Goodwin. The giveaway begins on April 6, 2020 and runs through May 9, 2020. Void where prohibited.

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#GuestPost by Chris Karlsen, author of “A Venomous Love”

A Venomous Love by Chris Karlsen Banneron Tour April 1-30, 2020

~ GUEST POST ~

by Chris Karlsen

Writing a series

I was recently asked my thoughts on writing a series. I like reading a series and writing a story with the idea that the main characters will come back. Depending on the type of series, they may or may not be the protagonist again but return in a supporting role.

Multiple stories with the same characters give me the opportunity to continue to develop their personalities. In A Venomous Love, the latest book in my Bloodstone series, I have my running protagonist, Detective Rudyard Bloodstone. He and his partner are investigating multiple murder-robbery cases where the suspect uses a poisonous snake as the weapon. Over the course of the series I’ve been able to show the men he works with and the differences in them. Rudyard has various occasions to respond to each in his own way. In creating a more detailed professional world I’m able to add interest and color to him as a character and the setting.

Over time with each story I’ve added more to his personal life. In Snifter of Death, book two, I introduced a romantic interest for him and I introduced his brother. Both have become popular with readers. Including the addition of his brother to the series was especially fun as the brothers are close, similar yet different. I knew when writing Will Bloodstone, Rudyard’s brother, that I’d give him more page time in a later book, which I have in A Venomous Love. If he remains as popular with readers in this new book as he was in the past, and as much as he is with my critique partners, I’ll seriously consider giving him a story where he’s the protagonist.

I’ve also brought back many of the regular friends and characters of Rudyard’s outside of the police world. How those characters view him and the people he chooses as friends tells the reader a lot about him. That is another luxury a series allows. Rudyard is a war veteran who fought in a horrendous battle and received the Victoria Cross for his actions. His good friend, Morris, is a veteran who now owns a pub that caters to non-commissioned military men. Both men have little respect for high ranking officers.

His romantic interest, Honeysuckle Flowers, has been a delight to create. She’s a music hall star in London and having been raised by theatre people has a propensity to spurn much of society’s views on women and how they should behave. She is as candid as a woman can be given the Victorian age restrictions. That candor lets me add a lot of humor into her dialogue and a lot of honest observations.

Unlike Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, I don’t use the same villains. Professor Moriarty is a brilliant foil for Holmes and makes for a wonderful series bad guy. I choose to write different villains as I prefer to give them a variety of weapons and motives.

In my historical romance series, Knights in Time, all the English knights were friends who fought in the Battle of Poitiers. I didn’t start the series with the idea in mind of giving each knight his own book. I’d just proceed to write a story with a chosen hero and let the characters reveal their personalities as I went along. As I wrote each story and the individual knights came on the scene, one of the friends would begin to stand out. I knew in the process of drawing out the scene, I had the protagonist/hero for the next book. That is another advantage to series writing.

I am currently working on a novella that will be book two in a World War Two romance series. Instead of connecting the stories through characters, I wanted to use setting and timeframe. In the first story, Moonlight Serenade, an American Marine is on leave for three days in Melbourne, Australia and falls in love with a big band singer. My work-in-progress is set in England during the blitz and is centered on a young woman who is part of a team that operates anti-aircraft systems and an RAF pilot. It is called The Ack-Ack Girl. I hope to have it released in December.

For me, for all the reasons in this article, I prefer writing and reading series stories. Some of my favorites are: The Saxon Tales by Bernard Cornwell, The Pennyroyal Green series by Julie Anne Long, and Hollywood Station by Joe Wambaugh.

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Synopsis:

A Venomous Love by Chris KarlsenThe killer whispered-“A pretty damsel…worth a pretty risk.”

A veteran, Detective Rudyard Bloodstone has fought a brutal battle and witnessed war horrors that haunt his nightmares. Now one of those horrors has followed him home from Africa.

A vicious predator, the Cape cobra, can kill a man in thirty minutes. A suspect using the snake as a weapon in robberies is terrorizing London.

When the crimes escalate into murder, a victim’s daughter, Honoria Underhill, becomes the focus of the killer. After several attempts on her life, Scotland Yard threatens to take over the high profile case. With few leads to follow, Bloodstone and his partner must now fight department politics and catch the killer before Underhill becomes another murder victim.

Book Details:

Genre: Historical Suspense

Published by: Books to Go Now

Publication Date: February 28, 2020

Number of Pages: TBD

ISBN: 979-8600864139

Series: Bloodstone Series, #3

Purchase Links:

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Read an excerpt:

Puzzled, Ruddy asked, “You say the body is still in the chapel? Couldn’t the nurse bring an exam table to put him on and start treatment?” “She did. Young and I attempted to help but he suffered violent convulsions. Because the hospital is for children, they don’t have restraints. The head nurse instructed us to leave him back on the floor. She was afraid he’d fall off the table.” “Makes sense.” The timeframe of Underhill’s death didn’t make sense. At minimum it usually took an hour and more often, hours for the venom to kill. A horrible thought occurred to Ruddy. What if it was a different suspect with a different lethal snake? “But he died while you were still here?” “Yes. He convulsed brutally hard a few more times and an excessive amount of drool came out his mouth. Then he lost consciousness. A nurse put a blanket over him and a pillow under his head. He died as she was making him comfortable.” “Strange. This is abnormally fast even for cobra venom.” Flanders stepped up on Ruddy’s right. “What is it, constable?” “Shall I leave you to start my search?” Flanders asked. “Yes. Collect anything, and I mean anything, you find that looks out of the ordinary,” Archie told him. “This case is so unusual we can’t be sure what is important and what isn’t.” The nurse led them to the curtained-off bed. Honoria Underhill lay on her side softly sobbing. Her legs were curled up so she fit on the short bed meant for a child. The nurses had covered her with a blanket. When she saw Ruddy and Archie, she sat up and swung her legs down to the side of the bed. “Yes. We know this is traumatic for you but we need to ask you to repeat what happened with as much detail as you can recall,” Ruddy told her. “I understand.” Her shoulders trembled. She buried her fists in her skirt and kept her head down as she fought to control her emotions. Ruddy brought the conversation back to the crime. “Did the suspect say anything when he attacked?” “’A pretty little damsel, worth a pretty risk,’ he said as he rushed toward us. Then he leapt at me with the snake in hand inches from my face. Father pushed me out of the man’s reach and stepped between us. My father tried to knock the man’s hand away and swatted at the animal.” She dabbed at her nose again and then offered the handkerchief back to Archie who waved off the return. “It happened so fast,” Honoria continued. “In the time it took me to blink, the snake’s throat blew outward, like a fan opening.” She demonstrated the action with her hands. “A second later it lunged and struck.” *** Excerpt from A Venomous Love by Chris Karlsen. Copyright 2020 by Chris Karlsen. Reproduced with permission from Chris Karlsen. All rights reserved.

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Author Bio:

Chris Karlsen I was born and raised in Chicago. My father was a history professor and my mother was, and is, a voracious reader. I grew up with a love of history and books. My parents also love traveling, a passion they passed onto me. I wanted to see the places I read about, see the land and monuments from the time periods that fascinated me. I’ve had the good fortune to travel extensively throughout Europe, the Near East, and North Africa. I am a retired police detective. I spent twenty-five years in law enforcement with two different agencies. My desire to write came in my early teens. After I retired, I decided to pursue that dream. I write three different series. My paranormal romance series is called, Knights in Time. My romantic thriller series is Dangerous Waters. The newest is The Bloodstone Series, which is historical suspense with romantic elements. Each series has a different setting and some cross time periods, which I find fun to write. I currently live in the Pacific Northwest with my husband and four wild and crazy rescue dogs.

Catch Up With Chris Karlsen On: ChrisKarlsen.com, Goodreads, BookBub, Instagram, Twitter, & Facebook!

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Tour Participants:

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

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Enter Now:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Chris Karlsen. There will be Three (3) winners. One (1) winner will receive an Amazon.com Gift Card and Two (2) winners will each receive A Venomous Love by Chris Karlsen (eBook). The giveaway begins on April 1, 2020 and runs through May 2, 2020. Void where prohibited.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Get More Great Reads at Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours

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#GuestPost “Redeeming the Reclusive Earl” by Virginia Heath

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~ G U E S T P O S T ~

Oh, the Irony!

by Virginia Heath

Irony and coincidence are a bizarre thing. Nearly a year ago, while I was writing REDEEMING THE RECLUSIVE EARL, I had no idea that the story I was telling about a man isolating himself from the world would be released during a time when the world was isolating itself from a virus!

However, Max’s self-imposed social distancing comes about by choice because of the horrific injuries he received while saving the crew of his ship from a fire. That catastrophic event was the first in a series of things which ripped the rug from beneath his feet and sent his life spiralling out of control. He loses everything— his career, his fiancée, his confidence and his face. As a last resort, he withdraws to his newly inherited estate where he plans to hide from it all forever. Poor Max. He’s probably the most tortured hero I have ever written and is in dire need of saving.

For him, his damsel in shining armour is Effie Nithercott. Effie isn’t your average heroine. In fact, there is nothing average about her. In today’s world she would be a professor of archaeology somewhere impressive, making huge strides in her field and publishing books and starring in documentaries. Because Effie is a genius. She’s the cleverest person I’ve ever written, speaks five ancient, dead languages fluently and has a photographic memory. The speed at which her brains works is staggering! Unfortunately, in a time when women were less than second class citizens and weren’t expected to do much beyond being a wife and mother, she is an oddity in the extreme. The only place she can be herself is excavating the myriad of treasures buried around the Rivenhall estate.

Her plans are thwarted by the arrival of the surly new earl who banishes her from stepping foot on his soil again. Of course, his unreasonableness doesn’t deter Effie who takes to digging up his land by lamplight at midnight, which entirely scuppers all Max’s lofty plans to hide from everyone…

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BLURB

His heart is a fortress… And she’s trespassing!
After losing all he holds dear in a horrific fire, Max Aldersley, Earl of Rivenhall, shuns the world—until he catches Effie Nithercott digging holes on his estate! He banishes the intrepid archaeologist and the unsettled feelings she rouses within him. But she returns even more determined and infuriatingly desirable than before! He wonders just how deep she’s prepared to dig—so far she’ll reach the man beneath his scars?

Purchase Link: http://mybook.to/reclusiveearl   

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Virginia HeathAuthor Bio

When Virginia Heath was a little girl it took her ages to fall asleep, so she made up stories in her head to help pass the time while she was staring at the ceiling. As she got older, the stories became more complicated, sometimes taking weeks to get to the happy ending. Then one day, she decided to embrace the insomnia and start writing them down. Despite that, it still takes her forever to fall asleep.

Social Media Links

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Twitter

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Giveaway

Win a digital copy of Redeeming the Reclusive Earl (TWO WINNERS!)

(Open INTERNATIONALLY)

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E N T E R

*Terms and Conditions –Worldwide entries welcome.  Please enter using the Rafflecopter box below.  The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days, then Rachel’s Random Resources reserves the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over.  Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, except for the winners’ information. This will be passed to the giveaway organizer and used only for the fulfilment of the prize, after which time Rachel’s Random Resources will delete the data.  I am not responsible for dispatch or delivery of the prize.

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The Making of “Love, Lies and Redemption” (Part 2) By Kelli A. Wilkins

Hi everyone,

Today I’m sharing Part Two of the making of my historical western romance, coverLove, Lies and Redemption. In the first blog, I talked about how the book came to be and discussed the research involved in writing a historical romance. Today, I’ll explore the characters and touch on another subject—realism.

The book opens with Sam, the hero, bleeding from gunshot wounds and stumbling across the prairie. He’s wondering if he is already dead and suffering in hell for what he has done in the past.

This gives readers initial insight into Sam. Right from the start, we know he has done something that he feels guilty about, and he is harboring secrets. We also learn that Sam is stubborn and not the type of man to give up easily.

When readers meet Cassie in her store, they see that she works hard trying to make her store successful. But they also watch her going through the motions and wondering why she bothers.

Each character is at a crossroads, and everything is about to change for them. As the book progresses, we learn that Cassie is headstrong, independent, and not the type to take guff from Sam, or the people in town. She’s running a store all by herself and doesn’t like to accept help or rely on anyone.

I contrasted Cassie’s independent nature with a secret vulnerability. The consequences of a failed relationship left Cassie emotionally fragile and broken. She says she’s not afraid of anything, but later we learn that’s not true. Deep down, she fears losing the store. She’s also afraid of falling in love with Sam, only to lose him. Cassie has experienced many losses in her life, and she is hesitant to open her heart and trust anyone.

Sam is a noble man who feels he has a debt to pay and a duty to watch over Cassie, and this leads to conflict between them. She doesn’t want to admit that she needs his help, and he is being overprotective of her (or so she thinks…).

Although Sam comes across as honest and open, readers quickly discover that Sam is keeping his past a secret and is hiding his true identity—and much more—from everyone. Sam is a troubled soul who has also experienced a lot of loss in his life. Without giving too much away, readers learn that Sam lost someone very important to him through an act of violence, and he’s set on getting his revenge—and that’s not pretty.

This leads me to my next topic—realism. Before I sat down to write, I did a lot of research about general stores, what life was like in the 1870s, etc., and I learned that life back then was very difficult and much different from how we live today.

People died of infections, diseases, and all sorts of other ailments, and there was the threat of violence to consider. The west was known for being “lawless” and some people took advantage of the fact that you practically could do whatever you wanted.

Life for anyone in the “wild” west was tough. Combine that with the fact that women virtually were the property of their husbands and had no rights, and you have the makings for pretty rough times for women.

I incorporated a few of these elements into the book. How could I not? The setting and time period have to be realistically represented in a historical romance. Although readers might take issue with including violence in a romance, it has a place in the story (to a degree). If everything was too perfect or too pretty, the book would lose the richness in details that bring it—and the characters—to life.

Having Sam face the threat of a potentially lethal infection, Cassie trying to help a woman escape a violent marriage, and Sam admitting the horrific truth of his past, all work together to give the book an authentic feel.

And part of an author’s job (especially when writing historical romances) is to let readers live the story through the eyes and experiences of the characters. One thing authors are told is to make life difficult for your hero and heroine. If there is no conflict or drama, the story becomes dull, and the characters have nothing to strive for and don’t grow.

Yes, I may have put Sam and Cassie (and a few other characters) through an emotional wringer, and yes, they had to face violent situations, but they’re strong and their challenges built up their resilience.

And of course, as in any romance, it all worked out happily-ever-after.

Here’s the book summary:

Love, Lies and Redemption

Shot and left for dead, Sam Hixton stumbles into a general store on the Nebraska prairie and collapses into the arms of Cassie Wilcox.

Cassie’s world is turned upside down when the handsome stranger drops into her life. Sam is another complication she doesn’t need: her business is dying and her trouble with the townspeople is escalating. Yet she’s determined to keep the store open — no matter what the cost.

As Sam recovers from his injuries, he hides the truth about his identity and convinces Cassie to let him work in the store. He’s attracted to her and admires her independent nature, but quickly realizes Cassie’s in way over her head. They fight their growing attraction, and Cassie questions whether she can trust her fragile heart to a mysterious stranger. Will he accept her once he knows about her troubled past?

Cassie resists Sam’s advances and represses her feelings until one fateful night when they give in to their fiery passion. Together, they work out a plan to save the store, but find their efforts are thwarted — and their lives endangered — by the locals.

Sam’s secret returns to haunt him and pulls him away just when Cassie needs him the most. Will he regain her trust when she learns the truth?

Cassie has everything invested in the store — can she save it and find true love with Sam before it’s too late?

Order Love, Lies and Redemption here:

 Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0849LN73Z

All other platforms: https://books2read.com/u/mdzL6W

Want more romance? Visit my site: www.KelliWilkins.com and follow my Facebook pages:

Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorKelliWilkins

Facebook Historical Romances: https://www.facebook.com/Historical-Romances-by-Kelli-A-Wilkins-1703805359922371/

I hope you enjoyed this look at the making of Love, Lies and Redemption. I had a great time creating the characters and I think readers will fall in love with them as much as I have.

I welcome comments and questions from other authors and readers. Be sure to follow my blog for the latest updates and visit me on social media.

Happy Reading!

Kelli A. Wilkins

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ABOUT THE AUTHORKelli A Wilkins

Kelli A. Wilkins is an award-winning author who has published more than 100 short stories, 20 romance novels, 6 non-fiction books, and 2 online writing courses. Her romances span many genres and heat levels, and she’s also been known to scare readers with her horror stories.

In January 2020, Kelli published Love, Lies & Redemption, a western romance set in 1877 Nebraska. This novel blends a sensual love story with mystery and danger.

She released Romance Every Weekend: 104 Fun Ways to Express Your Love, a non-fiction guide to romance in November 2019. The book features 104 fun and easy ways you can express your love to that special someone in your life. Perfect for men or women, it focuses on tender, everyday gestures that let your partner know how much you love him or her.

Kelli published Extraterrestrial Encounters, a collection of 18 sci-fi stories, in August 2019. If you like horror fiction, don’t miss her disturbing novella, Nightmare in the North.

Earlier in 2019 she released The Viking’s Witch, a paranormal/historical romance, and Dangerous Indenture, a historical mystery romance set in Colonial Pennsylvania.

 Kelli has authored two online writing courses: Fiction Basics: Finding Ideas and Fiction Writing for Beginners. These courses are perfect for anyone who wants to learn how to write. Visit: https://kelliwilkins.teachable.com/ for more details.

Kelli posts on her Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorKelliWilkins and Twitter: www.Twitter.com/KWilkinsauthor.

Visit her website/blog www.KelliWilkins.com to learn more about all of her writings.

#GuestPost “Dirty Old Town” by Gabriel Valjan

Dirty Old Town by Gabriel Valjan Banneron Tour March 1 – April 30, 2020

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Crime in Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood

 1968, the year I was born, was an apocalyptic year, according to my high Gabriel Valjanschool English teacher. We had a half-hour class one day before lunch, which was too little time to do much, so we shot the breeze with her. Most of my classmates in the Eighties were born within a year or two, give or take, of each other. We were born during the time she was a graduate student at Columbia studying the poetry of William Blake. If you read Thomas Harris’s Red Dragon, then you know William Blake didn’t paint sunflowers and wheat fields. The way she spoke, the serious tone in her voice is something I’ll never forget. She said 1968 was the one year in her life that she thought the world would end. Assassinations. Vietnam. A pallor of cynicism and despair clung to everything, she told us.

She did say, however, that when Walter Cronkite, the legendary journalist for CBS Evening News and an outspoken war-hawk, questioned political and military leaders about American involvement in Vietnam, there was a short-lived sliver of hope that even the venerable Cronkite was willing to admit that the government had lied to the public. People, she said, thought there might be a change. There wasn’t. Her comments that day haunted me for years.

The Eighties never spoke to me. Yes, like some of my peers, I enjoyed the films of John Hughes, and I can appreciate the soundtrack to the film and musical Rock of Ages, but the Seventies offered more to my imagination as a writer. The film Three Days of the Condor shows the dirty and gritty Manhattan I knew as a child. Times Square then was surreal, and not for the porn theatres but the street life, the ‘characters’ who walked the sidewalk. Fort Apache, The Bronx wasn’t just a movie with Paul Newman, but as real a place and as vivid as graffiti spray-painted on subway cars, while they were still moving and packed with people. I remember when SNL first aired. I remember the Summer of ’77, the heat wave and blackout, and how the Son of Sam terrorized New York City. I remember the day Etan Patz disappeared.

Readers of my Shane Cleary series will revisit the Seventies, but experience a different city. Boston. My choice of city is a bold one since I’m walking in the shadows of literary heavyweights such as George V. Higgins, Robert B. Parker, and Dennis Lehane, but I think I can offer something new and different to fans of crime fiction. I offer readers a principled main character, a person you would want to have your back. I’ll also take readers into parts of Boston that the authors I’ve named did not write about. I will show readers how the 1970s were fascinating and that Boston was every bit as corrupt and tough as any other urban city in America; in fact, many of the social issues then are still with us today.

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Synopsis:

Dirty Old Town by Gabriel Valjan

“Robert B. Parker would stand and cheer, and George V. Higgins would join the ovation. This is a terrific book–tough, smart, spare, and authentic. Gabriel Valjan is a true talent–impressive and skilled–providing knock-out prose, a fine-tuned sense of place and sleekly wry style.”– Hank Phillippi Ryan, nationally bestselling author of The Murder List

Shane Cleary, a PI in a city where the cops want him dead, is tough, honest and broke. When he’s asked to look into a case of blackmail, the money is too good for him to refuse, even though the client is a snake and his wife is the woman who stomped on Shane’s heart years before. When a fellow vet and Boston cop with a secret asks Shane to find a missing person, the paying gig and the favor for a friend lead Shane to an arsonist, mobsters, a shady sports agent, and Boston’s deadliest hitman, the Barbarian. With both criminals and cops out to get him, the pressure is on for Shane to put all the pieces together before time runs out.

Book Details:

Genre: Crime Fiction, Mystery, Procedural, Historical Fiction

Published by: Level Best Books

Publication Date: January 14th 2020

Number of Pages: 162

ISBN: 1087857325 (ISBN13: 9781087857329)

Series: A Shane Cleary Mystery

Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

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Read an excerpt:

The phone rang. Not that I heard it at first, but Delilah, who was lying next to me, kicked me in the ribs. Good thing she did because a call, no matter what the hour, meant business, and my cat had a better sense of finances than I did. Rent was overdue on the apartment, and we were living out of my office in downtown Boston to avoid my landlord in the South End. The phone trilled. Again, and again, it rang. I staggered through the darkness to the desk and picked up the receiver. Out of spite I didn’t say a word. I’d let the caller who’d ruined my sleep start the conversation. “Mr. Shane Cleary?” a gruff voice asked. “Maybe.” The obnoxious noise in my ear indicated the phone had been handed to someone else. The crusty voice was playing operator for the real boss. “Shane, old pal. It’s BB.” Dread as ancient as the schoolyard blues spread through me. Those familiar initials also made me think of monogrammed towels and cufflinks. I checked the clock. “Brayton Braddock. Remember me?” “It’s two in the morning, Bray. What do you want?” Calling him Bray was intended as a jab, to remind him his name was one syllable away from the sound of a jackass. BB was what he’d called himself when we were kids, because he thought it was cool. It wasn’t. He thought it made him one of the guys. It didn’t, but that didn’t stop him. Money creates delusions. Old money guarantees them. “I need your help.” “At this hour?” “Don’t be like that.” “What’s this about, Bray?” Delilah meowed at my feet and did figure eights around my legs. My gal was telling me I was dealing with a snake, and she preferred I didn’t take the assignment, no matter how much it paid us. But how could I not listen to Brayton Braddock III? I needed the money. Delilah and I were both on a first-name basis with Charlie the Tuna, given the number of cans of Starkist around the office. Anyone who told you poverty was noble is a damn fool. “I’d rather talk about this in person, Shane.” I fumbled for pen and paper. “When and where?” “Beacon Hill. My driver is on his way.” “But—” I heard the click. I could’ve walked from my office to the Hill. I turned on the desk light and answered the worried eyes and mew. “Looks like we both might have some high-end kibble in our future, Dee.” She understood what I’d said. Her body bumped the side of my leg. She issued plaintive yelps of disapproval. The one opinion I wanted, from the female I trusted most, and she couldn’t speak human. I scraped my face smooth with a tired razor and threw on a clean dress shirt, blue, and slacks, dark and pressed. I might be poor, but my mother and then the military had taught me dignity and decency at all times. I dressed conservatively, never hip or loud. Another thing the Army taught me was not to stand out. Be the gray man in any group. It wasn’t like Braddock and his milieu understood contemporary fashion, widespread collars, leisure suits, or platform shoes. I choose not to wear a tie, just to offend his Brahmin sensibilities. Beacon Hill was where the Elites, the Movers and Shakers in Boston lived, as far back to the days of John Winthrop. At this hour, I expected Braddock in nothing less than bespoke Parisian couture. I gave thought as to whether I should carry or not. I had enemies, and a .38 snub-nose under my left armpit was both insurance and deodorant. Not knowing how long I’d be gone, I fortified Delilah with the canned stuff. She kept time better than any of the Bruins referees and there was always a present outside the penalty box when I ran overtime with her meals. I meted out extra portions of tuna and the last of the dry food for her. I checked the window. A sleek Continental slid into place across the street. I admired the chauffeur’s skill at mooring the leviathan. He flashed the headlights to announce his arrival. Impressed that he knew that I knew he was there, I said goodbye, locked and deadbolted the door for the walk down to Washington Street and the car. Outside the air, severe and cold as the city’s forefathers, slapped my cheeks numb. Stupid me had forgotten gloves. My fingers were almost blue. Good thing the car was yards away, idling, the exhaust rising behind it. I cupped my hands and blew hot air into them and crossed the street. I wouldn’t dignify poor planning on my part with a sprint. Minimal traffic. Not a word from him or me during the ride. Boston goes to sleep at 12:30 a.m. Public transit does its last call at that hour. Checkered hacks scavenge the streets for fares in the small hours before sunrise. The other side of the city comes alive then, before the rest of the town awakes, before whatever time Mr. Coffee hits the filter and grounds. While men and women who slept until an alarm clock sprung them forward into another day, another repeat of their daily routine, the sitcom of their lives, all for the hallelujah of a paycheck, another set of people moved, with their ties yanked down, shirts and skirts unbuttoned, and tails pulled up and out. The night life, the good life was on. The distinguished set in search of young flesh migrated to the Chess Room on the corner of Tremont and Boylston Streets, and a certain crowd shifted down to the Playland on Essex, where drag queens, truck drivers, and curious college boys mixed more than drinks. The car was warmer than my office and the radio dialed to stultifying mood music. Light from one of the streetlamps revealed a business card on the seat next to me. I reviewed it: Braddock’s card, the usual details on the front, a phone number in ink. A man’s handwriting on the back when I turned it over. I pocketed it. All I saw in front of me from my angle in the backseat was a five-cornered hat, not unlike a policeman’s cover, and a pair of black gloves on the wheel. On the occasion of a turn, I was given a profile. No matinee idol there and yet his face looked as familiar as the character actor whose name escapes you. I’d say he was mid-thirties, about my height, which is a liar’s hair under six-foot, and the spread of his shoulders hinted at a hundred-eighty pounds, which made me feel self-conscious and underfed because I’m a hundred-sixty in shoes. He eased the car to a halt, pushed a button, and the bolt on my door shot upright. Job or no job, I never believed any man was another man’s servant. I thanked him and I watched the head nod. Outside on the pavement, the cold air knifed my lungs. A light turned on. The glow invited me to consider the flight of stairs with no railing. Even in their architecture, Boston’s aristocracy reminded everyone that any form of ascent needed assistance. A woman took my winter coat, and a butler said hello. I recognized his voice from the phone. He led and I followed. Wide shoulders and height were apparently in vogue because Braddock had chosen the best from the catalog for driver and butler. I knew the etiquette that came with class distinction. I would not be announced, but merely allowed to slip in. Logs in the fireplace crackled. Orange and red hues flickered against all the walls. Cozy and intimate for him, a room in hell for me. Braddock waited there, in his armchair, Hefner smoking jacket on. I hadn’t seen the man in almost ten years, but I’ll give credit where it’s due. His parents had done their bit after my mother’s death before foster care swallowed me up. Not so much as a birthday or Christmas card from them or their son since then, and now their prince was calling on me. Not yet thirty, Braddock manifested a decadence that came with wealth. A pronounced belly, round as a teapot, and when he stood up, I confronted an anemic face, thin lips, and a receding hairline. Middle-age, around the corner for him, suggested a bad toupee and a nubile mistress, if he didn’t have one already. He approached me and did a boxer’s bob and weave. I sparred when I was younger. The things people remembered about you always surprised me. Stuck in the past, and yet Braddock had enough presence of mind to know my occupation and drop the proverbial dime to call me. “Still got that devastating left hook?” he asked. “I might.” “I appreciate your coming on short notice.” He indicated a chair, but I declined. “I have a situation,” he said. He pointed to a decanter of brandy. “Like some…Henri IV Heritage, aged in oak for a century.” He headed for the small bar to pour me some of his precious Heritage. His drink sat on a small table next to his chair. The decanter waited for him on a liquor caddy with a glass counter and a rotary phone. I reacquainted myself with the room and décor. I had forgotten how high the ceilings were in these brownstones. The only warm thing in the room was the fire. The heating bill here alone would’ve surpassed the mortgage payment my parents used to pay on our place. The marble, white as it was, was sepulchral. Two nude caryatids for the columns in the fireplace had their eyes closed. The Axminster carpet underfoot, likely an heirloom from one of Cromwell’s cohorts in the family tree, displayed a graphic hunting scene. I took one look at the decanter, saw all the studded diamonds, and knew Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton would have done the set number of paces with a pair of hand-wrought dueling pistols to own it. Bray handed me a snifter of brandy and resumed his place in his chair. I placed my drink on the mantel. “Tell me more about this situation you have.” “Quite simple, really. Someone in my company is blackmailing me.” “And which company is that?” “Immaterial at the moment. Please do take a seat.” I declined his attempt at schmooze. This wasn’t social. This was business. “If you know who it is,” I said, “and you want something done about it, I’d recommend the chauffeur without reservation, or is it that you’re not a hundred percent sure?” I approached Bray and leaned down to talk right into his face. I did it out of spite. One of the lessons I’d learned is that the wealthy are an eccentric and paranoid crowd. Intimacy and germs rank high on their list of phobias. “I’m confident I’ve got the right man.” Brayton swallowed some of his expensive liquor. “Then go to the police and set up a sting.” “I’d like to have you handle the matter for me.” “I’m not muscle, Brayton. Let’s be clear about that. You mean to say a man of your position doesn’t have any friends on the force to do your dirty work?” “Like you have any friends there?” I threw a hand onto each of the armrests and stared into his eyes. Any talk about the case that bounced me off the police force and into the poorhouse soured my disposition. I wanted the worm to squirm. “Watch it, Bray. Old bones ought to stay buried. I can walk right out that door.” “That was uncalled for, and I’m sorry,” he said. “This is a clean job.” Unexpected. The man apologized for the foul. I had thought the word “apology” had been crossed out in his family dictionary. I backed off and let him breathe and savor his brandy. I needed the job. The money. I didn’t trust Bray as a kid, nor the man the society pages said saved New England with his business deals and largesse. “Let’s talk about this blackmail then,” I said. “Think one of your employees isn’t happy with their Christmas bonus?” He bolted upright from his armchair. “I treat my people well.” Sensitive, I thought and went to say something else, when I heard a sound behind me, and then I smelled her perfume. Jasmine, chased with the sweet burn of bourbon. I closed my eyes, and when I opened them I saw his smug face. “You remember Cat, don’t you?” “How could I not?” I said and kissed the back of the hand offered to me. Cat always took matters one step forward. She kissed me on the cheek, close enough that I could feel her against me. She withdrew and her scent stuck to me. Cat was the kind of woman who did all the teaching and you were grateful for the lessons. Here we were, all these years later, the three of us in one room, in the middle of the night. “Still enjoy those film noir movies?” she asked. “Every chance I get.” “I’m glad you came at my husband’s request.” The word husband hurt. I had read about their marriage in the paper. “I think you should leave, dear, and let the men talk,” her beloved said. His choice of words amused me as much as it did her, from the look she gave me. I never would have called her “dear” in public or close quarters. You don’t dismiss her, either. “Oh please,” she told her husband. “My sensibility isn’t that delicate and it’s not like I haven’t heard business discussed. Shane understands confidentiality and discretion. You also forget a wife can’t be forced to testify against her husband. Is this yours, Shane?” she asked about the snifter on the brandy on the mantel. I nodded. “I’ll keep it warm for you.” She leaned against the mantel for warmth. She nosed the brandy and closed her eyes. When they opened, her lips parted in a sly smile, knowing her power. Firelight illuminated the length of her legs and my eyes traveled. Braddock noticed and he screwed himself into his chair and gave her a venomous look. “Why the look, darling?” she said. “You know Shane and I have history.” Understatement. She raised the glass. Her lips touched the rim and she took the slightest sip. Our eyes met again and I wanted a cigarette, but I’d quit the habit. I relished the sight until Braddock broke the spell. He said, “I’m being blackmailed over a pending business deal.” “Blackmail implies dirty laundry you don’t want aired,” I said. “What kind of deal?” “Nothing I thought was that important,” he said. “Somebody thinks otherwise.” “This acquisition does have certain aspects that, if exposed, would shift public opinion, even though it’s completely aboveboard.” Braddock sipped and stared at me while that expensive juice went down his throat. “All legit, huh,” I said. “Again, what kind of acquisition?” “Real estate.” “The kind of deal where folks in this town receive an eviction notice?” He didn’t answer that. As a kid, I’d heard how folks in the West End were tossed out and the Bullfinch Triangle was razed to create Government Center, a modern and brutal Stonehenge, complete with tiered slabs of concrete and glass. Scollay Square disappeared overnight. Gone were the restaurants and the watering holes, the theaters where the Booth brothers performed, and burlesque and vaudeville coexisted. Given short notice, a nominal sum that was more symbolic than anything else, thousands of working-class families had to move or face the police who were as pleasant and diplomatic as the cops at the Chicago Democratic National Convention. I didn’t say I’d accept the job. I wanted Braddock to simmer and knew how to spike his temperature. I reclaimed my glass from Cat. She enjoyed that. “Pardon me,” I said to her. “Not shy about sharing a glass, I hope.” “Not at all.” I let Bray Braddock cook. If he could afford to drink centennial grape juice then he could sustain my contempt. I gulped his cognac to show what a plebe I was, and handed the glass back to Cat with a wink. She walked to the bar and poured herself another splash, while I questioned my future employer. “Has this blackmailer made any demands? Asked for a sum?” “None,” Braddock answered. “But he knows details about your acquisition?” I asked. “He relayed a communication.” Braddock yelled out to his butler, who appeared faster than recruits I’d known in Basic Training. The man streamed into the room, gave Braddock two envelopes, and exited with an impressive gait. Braddock handed me one of the envelopes. I opened it. I fished out a thick wad of paperwork. Photostats. Looking them over, I saw names and figures and dates. Accounting. “Xeroxes,” Braddock said. “They arrived in the mail.” “Copies? What, carbon copies aren’t good enough for you?” “We’re beyond the days of the hand-cranked mimeograph machine, Shane. My partners and I have spared no expense to implement the latest technology in our offices.” I examined pages. “Explain to me in layman’s terms what I’m looking at, the abridged version, or I’ll be drinking more of your brandy.” The magisterial hand pointed to the decanter. “Help yourself.” “No thanks.” “Those copies are from a ledger for the proposed deal. Keep them. Knowledgeable eyes can connect names there to certain companies, to certain men, which in turn lead to friends in high places, and I think you can infer the rest. Nothing illegal, mind you, but you know how things get, if they find their way into the papers. Yellow journalism has never died out.” I pocketed the copies. “It didn’t die out, on account of your people using it to underwrite the Spanish-American War. If what you have here is fair-and-square business, then your problem is public relations—a black eye the barbershops on Madison Ave can pretty up in the morning. I don’t do PR, Mr. Braddock. What is it you think I can do for you?” “Ascertain the identity of the blackmailer.” “Then you aren’t certain of…never mind. And what do I do when I ascertain that identity?” “Nothing. I’ll do the rest.” “Coming from you, that worries me, seeing how your people have treated the peasants, historically speaking.” Brayton didn’t say a word to that. “And that other envelope in your lap?” I asked. The balding halo on the top of his head revealed itself when he looked down at the envelope. Those sickly lips parted when he faced me. I knew I would hate the answer. Cat stood behind him. She glanced at me then at the figure of a dog chasing a rabbit on the carpet. “Envelope contains the name of a lead, an address, and a generous advance. Cash.” Brayton tossed it my way. The envelope, fat as a fish, hit me. I caught it. *** Excerpt from Dirty Old Town by Gabriel Valjan. Copyright 2020 by Gabriel Valjan. Reproduced with permission from Gabriel Valjan. All rights reserved.

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Author Bio:

Gabriel Valjan Gabriel is the author of two series, Roma and Company Files, with Winter Goose Publishing. Dirty Old Town is the first in the Shane Cleary series for Level Best Books. His short stories have appeared online, in journals, and in several anthologies. He has been a finalist for the Fish Prize, shortlisted for the Bridport Prize, and received an Honorable Mention for the Nero Wolfe Black Orchid Novella Contest in 2018. You can find him on Twitter (@GValjan) and Instagram (gabrielvaljan). He lurks the hallways at crime fiction conferences, such as Bouchercon, Malice Domestic, and New England Crime Bake. Gabriel is a lifetime member of Sisters in Crime.

Catch Up With Gabriel Valjan On: GabrielValjan.com, Goodreads, BookBub, Instagram, Twitter, & Facebook

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