#GuestPost Mothers & Daughters by Sylvia Broady, author of “Daughter Of The Sea”

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 I am drawn to writing mother and daughter relationships, which I love.

Mothers and daughters have a special relationship. I speak from experience, both personally, and as a writer. On the annual Mothers’ Day, I pay tribute to my dear mother who died many years ago. I appreciate her struggle and the sacrifices she made to keep me safe in difficult circumstances.

From the moment of my daughter’s birth, she was precious to me. I nurtured her through babyhood to childhood, to those mystified teenage years, and guided her into womanhood. Now she is a mother herself and we share a closeness, an extra bond of understanding. Sometimes our roles are reversed and she becomes the mother and I her child. This is a wonderful act of caring and of enduring love.

In my book, Daughter of the Sea, I am Jessica and I find out that the woman I called mother wasn’t my mother. So who is my mother? And where is she? What is her name? She appears surrounded in a finely spun web of mystery. To my knowledge, only my late, beloved father knew of her existence. So I am a daughter searching for her mother. I dream of her, this mystical mother, and see her floating in the sea, like a mermaid with her long hair flowing. I reach out to her, trying to catch hold of her hands and draw her close to me, to embrace her in my arms, but she disappears, becoming invisible once more.

Alone, I stand on the seashore, bereft of my unknown mother and her love.

In my book, The Lost Daughter, I become Alice. I love and care for my young daughter; she is the most cherished person in my life. My husband is a cruel, selfish brute who lashes out with his fists. Trying to keep my beloved daughter safe from him, I escape to run to the police station for help, when I am involved in a road accident. Hospitalised with injuries and with loss of memory, months later when I recover, my worst nightmare unfolds. My daughter, Daisy, is missing, so I set out to find her. But in the1930s, I am classed as “a bad mother” and no one will help me find her.

As a mother, how would cope if your daughter, your beloved child, goes missing?

Mother’s Day, or Mothering Sunday, is on the fourth Sunday of Lent, is a lovely tradition, which originated in the British Isles around the 1600s. Celebrated in churches, children picked wild flowers for their mothers to celebrate their love. The tradition faded, and it wasn’t until after WW2 that Mother’s Day, as we know it today, was revived. A giving of flowers and cards to our mother and to celebrate in church. The gift of love from mother to her children is precious and cherished when received with joy.

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SYNOPSIS

‘Well-paced … genuinely gripping’ Historical Novels Review

Jessica is grieving for her beloved father, trawler owner Jacob Kingdom, when a heated confrontation ends with her being cast out from the family home and the revelation of a shameful secret. She falls upon the kindness of strangers and meets a charismatic trawlerman, who is proud to walk out with Kingdom’s daughter.

But with her cold-hearted brother at the helm of the family business, there is discontent rising, and being Kingdom’s daughter begins to lose its charm. With Jessica desperate to prove herself worthy to the tight-knit community, does she have what it takes to weather the storm to come, or will her secret hold her back?

 Purchase Link

Amazon UK  

Amazon US

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Author Bio Sylvia Broady

Sylvia Broady was born in Hull and has lived in the area all her life, although she loves to travel the world. It wasn’t until she started to frequent her local library after World War II that her relationship with literature truly began, and her memories of the war influence her writing as does her hometown. She has had a varied career in childcare, the NHS and the EYC Library Services, but is now a full-time writer.

Social Media Links

Website

 Twitter

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#GuestPost by Sharon Linnéa, author of “Death In Tranquility”

Death In Tranquility by Sharon Linnéa BannerFebruary 1-28, 2021 Tour

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~ Guest Post ~

A writer walks into a pub in Lake Placid, New York (spoiler: it’s me). She’s alone, so she takes a seat at the bar. Within moments, a guy with an ill-fitting suit sits on the empty stool next to her, finger in the knot of his pink tie, tugging it open.

“You wouldn’t believe the day I’ve had,” he says.

“Yeah?” says the female bartender.

“I’m here to make a sales call. Slate slabs. Replacing broken pieces around a pool. They’re expecting me at the old Effron place.”

“The Effron place?” I ask.

“Yeah. You know, the mansion left to the spendthrift son by the father who died 30 years ago. Apparently, the son has run out of money and he’s moving back. No one’s allowed in there. No one’s been in for decades. Huge metal fence, four types of locks. Guy wants it fixed by yesterday. They say that place is haunted. How am I supposed to get slate up there by next week?”

Another bar, another female bartender. This time, she has a story to spin in between pouring drinks, about the “camps” on various islands in Lake Placid. They’re not really camps, they’re private Adirondack mansions built by mega-wealthy celebrities, whose homes can only be reached by boat. Their families arrive from all over the world to summer together. She spent several summers at one of them as the private bartender. Stories to tell!

Another trip, yet another bar. Talking about the Olympians who still live there, and train up-and-coming athletes. The ones who are beloved and the ones who…aren’t, so much.

Mysterious deaths on the lake. Disappearing children from decades gone by. Teens who like to party and tragedies that sometimes happen.

Who hears all these stories? Who knows all these folks? The bartender. Well, and also the writer. These are all conversations I heard in the bars of Lake Placid. That’s where it occurred to me, if a bartender knows how to listen, the things she can learn! Or, as the tagline says for the Bartender’s Guide to Murder: No one talks to the cops. Everyone talks to the bartender.

Listening is the superpower of Avalon Nash, my bartender protagonist in the series. She’s moving across the country, changing trains in the Olympic town of Tranquility, New York, when she happens upon the recently-deceased bartender at the Battened Hatch. She is offered his job, with the warning he wasn’t the first bartender at that establishment to die mysteriously.

And so Avalon’s adventures begin. Are there camps and mansions across the lake? Check. Children who mysteriously disappeared? Check. Possible hauntings? Check. Olympians whom the villagers love? Check. And does everyone talk to the bartender who mixes really great drinks? Of course. (Does she share her recipes in the books? Of course.)

I guess what I’m saying is listening is an important superpower for sleuths and bartenders and…writers. I’d love you to sit next to me at the bar next time I’m in Lake Placid. And, if you can’t get there at the moment, meet my friend, Avalon Nash, who will solve any mysteries you might have.

For fun, here’s a recipe Avalon shares in book 2, Death by Gravity:

CLOSED CASKET

Blueberry Margarita

Blueberry Margarita

Ingredients

1 1/2 oz Espolon Tequila Blanco

1 oz Fresh Blueberry Juice

1 wedge fresh lime

1 1/2 oz Homemade or store-bought sour mix

1/2 oz Triple Sec or any orange liquor of your choice

1/2 oz simple syrup (important to use if you make homemade sour mix)

Ice

Rocks Glass

Salt or Sugar for rim of glass

Method

Fill cocktail shaker with ice and combine tequila, orange liquor, fresh blueberry juice, sour mix, and simple syrup.

Shake all ingredients together.

Take lime wedge and wipe around the rim of rocks glass.

Put salt or sugar on small plate.

Dip rocks glass onto plate until rim is covered.

Pour contents of shaker into rocks glass.

Sip and enjoy!

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Synopsis:

Death In Tranquility by Sharon Linnea

No one talks to the cops. Everyone talks to the bartender. And Avalon Nash is one hell of a bartender.

Avalon is on the run from her life in Los Angeles. Having a drink while waiting to change trains in the former Olympic town of Tranquility, New York, she discovers the freshly murdered bartender at MacTavish’s. A bartender herself, she’s offered the position with the warning he wasn’t the first MacTavish’s bartender to meet a violent end.

Avalon’s superpower is collecting people’s stories, and she’s soon embroiled in the lives of artists, politicians, ghost hunters and descendants of Old Hollywood.

Can Avalon outrun the ghosts of her past, catch the ghosts of Tranquility’s past and outsmart a murderer?

The first book in the Bartender’s Guide to Murder series offers chills, laughs, and 30 of the best drink recipes ever imbibed.

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery

Published by: Arundel Publishing

Publication Date: September 29th 2020

Number of Pages: 323

ISBN: 9781933608 (ISBN13: 9781933608150)

Series: Bartender’s Guide to Murder, 1 (Click here to check out other books in the series!)

Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Bookstore Plus | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

Chapter 1

Death in the Afternoon

“Whenever you see the bartender, I’d like another drink,” I said, lifting my empty martini glass and tipping it to Marta, the waitress with teal hair.

“Everyone wants another drink,” she said, “but Joseph’s missing. I can’t find him. Anywhere.”

“How long has he been gone?” I asked.

“About ten minutes. It’s not like him. Joseph would never just go off without telling me.”

That’s when I should have done it. I should have put down forty bucks to cover my drink and my meal and left that magical, moody, dark-wood paneled Scottish bar and sauntered back across the street to the train station to continue on my way.

If I had, everything would be different.

Instead I nodded, grateful for a reason to stand up. A glance at my watch told me over half an hour remained until my connecting train chugged in across the street. I could do Marta a solid by finding the bartender and telling him drink orders were stacking up.

Travelling from Los Angeles to New York City by rail, I had taken the northern route, which required me to change trains in the storied village of Tranquility, New York. Once detrained, the posted schedule had informed me should I decide to bolt and head north for Montreal, I could leave within the hour. The train heading south for New York City, however, would not be along until 4 p.m.

Sometimes in life you think it’s about where you’re going, but it turns out to be about where you change trains.

It was an April afternoon; the colors on the trees and bushes were still painting from the watery palate of spring. Here and there, forsythia unfurled in insistent bursts of golden glory.

I needed a drink.

Tranquility has been famous for a long time. Best known for hosting the Winter Olympics back in 19-whatever, it was an eclectic blend of small village, arts community, ski mecca, gigantic hotels and Olympic facilities. Certainly there was somewhere a person could get lunch.

Perched on a hill across the street from the station sat a shiny, modern hotel of the upscale chain variety. Just down the road, father south, was a large, meandering, one-of-a-kind establishment called MacTavish’s Seaside Cottage. It looked nothing like a cottage, and, as we were inland, there were no seas. I doubted the existence of a MacTavish.

I headed over at once.

The place evoked a lost inn in Brigadoon. A square main building of a single story sent wings jutting off at various angles into the rolling hills beyond. Floor-to-ceiling windows made the lobby bright and airy. A full suit of armor stood guard over the check-in counter, while a sculpture of two downhill skiers whooshed under a skylight in the middle of the room.

Behind the statue was the Breezy, a sleek restaurant overlooking Lake Serenity (Lake Tranquility was in the next town over, go figure). The restaurant’s outdoor deck was packed with tourists on this balmy day, eating and holding tight to their napkins, lest they be lost to the murky depths.

Off to the right—huddled in the vast common area’s only dark corner—was a small door with a carved, hand-painted wooden sign which featured a large seagoing vessel plowing through tumultuous waves. That Ship Has Sailed, it read. A tavern name if I ever heard one.

Beyond the heavy door, down a short dark-wood hallway, in a tall room lined with chestnut paneling, I paused to let my eyes adjust to the change in light, atmosphere, and, possibly, century.

The bar was at a right angle as you entered, running the length of the wall. It was hand-carved and matched the back bar, which held 200 bottles, easily.

A bartender’s dream, or her undoing.

Two of the booths against the far wall were occupied, as were two of the center tables.

I sat at the bar.

Only one other person claimed a seat there during this low time between meal services. He was a tall gentleman with a square face, weathered skin, and dark hair pulled back into a ponytail. I felt his cold stare as I perused the menu trying to keep to myself. I finally gave up and stared back.

“Flying Crow,” he said. “Mohawk Clan.”

“Avalon,” I said. “Train changer.”

I went back to my menu, surprised to find oysters were a featured dish.

“Avalon?” he finally said. “That’s—”

“An odd name,” I answered. “I know. Flying Crow? You’re in a Scottish pub.”

“Ask him what Oswego means.” This was from the bartender, a lanky man with salt-and-pepper hair. “Oh, but place your order first.”

“Are the oysters good?” I asked.

“Oddly, yes. One of the best things on the menu. Us being seaside, and all.”

“All right, then. Oysters it is. And a really dry vodka martini, olives.”

“Pimento, jalapeño, or bleu cheese?”

“Ooh, bleu cheese, please.” I turned to Flying Crow. “So what does Oswego mean?”

“It means, ‘Nothing Here, Give It to the Crazy White Folks.’ Owego, on the other hand means, ‘Nothing Here Either.’”

“How about Otego? And Otsego and Otisco?”

His eyebrow raised. He was impressed by my knowledge of obscure town names in New York State. “They all mean, ‘We’re Just Messing with You Now.’”

“Hey,” I said, raising my newly delivered martini. “Thanks for coming clean.”

He raised his own glass of firewater in return.

“Coming clean?” asked the bartender, and he chuckled, then dropped his voice. “If he’s coming clean, his name is Lesley.”

“And you are?” I asked. He wasn’t wearing a name tag.

“Joseph.”

“Skål,” I said, raising my glass. “Glad I found That Ship Has Sailed.”

“That’s too much of a mouthful,” he said, flipping over the menu. “Everyone calls it the Battened Hatch.”

“But the Battened Hatch isn’t shorter. Still four syllables.”

“Troublemaker,” muttered Lesley good-naturedly. “I warned you.”

“Fewer words,” said Joseph with a smile that included crinkles by his eyes. “Fewer capital letters over which to trip.”

As he spoke, the leaded door banged open and two men in chinos and shirtsleeves arrived, talking loudly to each other. The door swung again, just behind them, admitting a stream of ten more folks—both women and men, all clad in business casual. Some were more casual than others. One man with silvering hair actually wore a suit and tie; another, a white artist’s shirt, his blonde hair shoulder-length. The women’s garments, too, ran the gamut from tailored to flowing. One, of medium height, even wore a white blouse, navy blue skirt and jacket, finished with hose and pumps. And a priest’s collar.

“Conventioneers?” I asked Joseph. Even as I asked, I knew it didn’t make sense. No specific corporate culture was in evidence.

He laughed. “Nah. Conference people eat at the Blowy. Er, Breezy. Tranquility’s Chamber of Commerce meeting just let out.” His grey eyes danced. “They can never agree on anything, but their entertainment quotient is fairly high. And they drive each other to drink.”

Flying Crow Lesley shook his head.

Most of the new arrivals found tables in the center of the room. Seven of them scooted smaller tables together, others continued their conversations or arguments in pairs.

“Marta!” Joseph called, leaning through a door in the back wall beside the bar.

The curvy girl with the teal hair, nose and eyebrow rings and mega eye shadow clumped through. Her eyes widened when she saw the influx of patrons.

Joseph slid the grilled oysters with fennel butter in front of me. “Want anything else before the rush?” He indicated the well-stocked back bar.

“I’d better hold off. Just in case there’s a disaster and I end up having to drive the train.”

He nodded knowingly. “Good luck with that.”

I took out my phone, then re-pocketed it. I wanted a few more uncomplicated hours before re-entering the real world. Turning to my right, I found that Flying Crow had vanished. In his stead, several barstools down, sat a Scotsman in full regalia: kilt, Bonnie Prince Charlie jacket and a fly plaid. It was predominantly red with blue stripes.

Wow. Mohawk clan members, Scotsmen, and women priests in pantyhose. This was quite a town.

Joseph was looking at an order screen, and five drinks in different glasses were already lined up ready for Marta to deliver.

My phone buzzed. I checked caller i.d. Fought with myself. Answered.

Was grabbed by tentacles of the past.

When I looked up, filled with emotions I didn’t care to have, I decided I did need another drink; forget driving the train.

The line of waiting drink glasses was gone, as were Marta and Joseph.

I checked the time. I’d been in Underland for fifteen minutes, twenty at the most. It was just past three. I had maybe forty-five minutes before I should move on.

That was when Marta swung through the kitchen door, her head down to stave off the multiple calls from the center tables. She stood in front of me, punching information into the point of sale station, employing the NECTM—No Eye Contact Tactical Maneuver.

That’s when she told me Joseph was missing.

“Could he be in the restroom?”

“I asked Arthur when he came out, but he said there was nobody else.”

I nodded at Marta and started by going out through the front hall, to see if perhaps he’d met someone in the lobby. As I did a lap, I overheard a man at check-in ask, “Is it true the inn is haunted?”

“Do you want it to be?” asked the clerk, nonplussed.

But no sign of the bartender.

I swung back through into the woodsy-smelling darkness of the Battened Hatch, shook my head at the troubled waitress, then walked to the circular window in the door. The industrial kitchen was white and well-lit, and as large as it was, I could see straight through the shared kitchen to the Breezy. No sign of Joseph. I turned my attention back to the bar.

Beyond the bar, there was a hallway to the restrooms, and another wooden door that led outside. I looked back at Marta and nodded to the door.

“It doesn’t go anywhere,” she said. “It’s only a little smoker’s deck.”

I wondered if Joseph smoked, tobacco or otherwise. Certainly the arrival of most of a Chamber of Commerce would suggest it to me. I pushed on the wooden door. It seemed locked. I gave it one more try, and, though it didn’t open, it did budge a little bit.

This time I went at it with my full shoulder. There was a thud, and it wedged open enough that I could slip through.

It could hardly be called a deck. You couldn’t put a table—or even a lounge chair—out there.

Especially with the body taking up so much of the space.

It was Joseph. I knelt quickly and felt for a pulse at his neck, but it was clear he was inanimate. He was sitting up, although my pushing the door open had made him lean at an angle. I couldn’t tell if the look on his face was one of pain or surprise. There was some vomit beside him on the deck, and a rivulet down his chin. I felt embarrassed to be seeing him this way.

Crap. He was always nice to me. Well, during the half an hour I’d known him, he had been nice to me.

What was it with me discovering corpses? It was certainly a habit of which I had to break myself.

Meanwhile, what to do? Should I call in the priest? But she was within a group, and it would certainly start a panic. Call 911?

Yes, that would be good. That way they could decide to call the hospital or the police or both.

My phone was back in my purse.

And, you know what? I didn’t want the call to come from me. I was just passing through.

I pulled the door back open and walked to Marta behind the bar. “Call 911,” I said softly. “I found Joseph.”

It took the ambulance and the police five minutes to arrive. The paramedics went through first, then brought a gurney around outside so as to not freak out everyone in the hotel. They loaded Joseph on and sped off, in case there was anything to be done.

I knew there wasn’t.

The police, on the other hand, worked at securing the place which might become a crime scene. They blocked all the doorways and announced no one could leave.

I was still behind the bar with Marta. She was shaking.

“Give me another Scotch,” said the Scotsman seated there.

I looked at the bottles and was pleasantly surprised by the selection. “I think this calls for Black Maple Hill,” I said, only mildly surprised at my reflexive tendency to upsell. The Hill was a rich pour but not the absolute priciest.

He nodded. I poured.

I’m not sure if it was Marta’s tears, or the fact we weren’t allowed to leave, but local bigwigs had realized something was amiss.

“Excuse me,” the man in the suit came to the bar. “Someone said Joseph is dead.”

“Yes,” I said. “He does seem to be.”

Marta swung out of the kitchen, her eyeliner half down her face. “Art, these are your oysters,” she said to the man. He took them.

“So,” he continued, and I wondered what meaningful words he’d have to utter. “You’re pouring drinks?”

It took only a moment to realize that, were I the owner of this establishment, I’d find this a great opportunity.

“Seems so,” I said.

“What goes with oysters?” he asked.

That was a no-brainer. I’d spied the green bottle of absinthe while having my own meal. I poured about three tablespoons into the glass. I then opened a bottle of Prosecco, poured it, and waited for the milky cloud to form.

He took a sip, looked at me, and raised the glass. “If I want another of these, what do I ask for?”

As he asked, I realized I’d dispensed one of Ernest Hemingway’s favorite libations. “Death in the Afternoon,” I replied.

He nodded and went back to his table.

It was then I realized I wasn’t going to make my train.

* *

Ernest Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon

Ingredients

• 3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces) absinthe
• ½ to ¾ cup (4 to 6 ounces) cold Champagne or sparkling wine

Method

Hemmingway’s advice, circa 1935: “Pour one jigger absinthe into a Champagne glass. Add iced Champagne until it attains the proper opalescent milkiness. Drink three to five of these slowly.”

Chapter 2

No Known Address

Since I found the body, I got to talk to the lead investigator.

He was in his mid-thirties, just under six feet, walnut skin, black hair cut short. He would have benefitted from a beard. He looked ripped; the king of ripped you got from taking out your frustrations in the gym. His demeanor was no-nonsense.

“Investigator Spaulding,” he said, and he pulled out a notebook. “State Police.”

“State Police? Isn’t that the same as State Troopers? Don’t you manage highways?”

He stopped writing in his small, leather-covered notebook and looked up.

“Common misconception. The local P.D. is small—only 9 on staff. When something big happens, they ask for assistance.”

“They ask?”

“It’s a dance.”

I wasn’t a suspect (yet), so he didn’t need to write down my stats, but I could read upside down as he made notes. He asked my name, and began guessing at the rest. Nash, Avalon. Female. Caucasian. Blonde hair. 5’7 was his guess at my height. The next thing he wrote down could go seriously south, so I said, “healthy weight.”

He looked up.

“5’7” and at a healthy weight,” I supplied. “If I’m charged with something, we’ll get more specific.”

“Age?”

Did he really need to know all of this? “Twenties,” I said, waiting to see if he’d have the gall to object. He didn’t.

“Best way to reach you?”

I gave him my cell number.

“Permanent address?”

“I don’t have one.”

He looked up.

“I’m in the process of moving from California to New York. I’m only in town to change trains. I don’t have a New York address yet.”

“A relative’s address?”

I held up my phone. “This is your golden ticket,” I said. “If you want to reach me, this is it.”

I saw him write ‘no known address.’ Yep, that pretty much summed it up. I glanced at my watch. Seven minutes until my train pulled into—and, soon after, departed from—the station.

“Um, Detective,” I started.

“Investigator Spaulding,” he corrected.

“Investigator Spaulding, my train is about to arrive. I don’t know anything except what I’ve told you. I came in for a drink and helped Marta find the bartender, whom I hope died of a massive heart attack—well, of natural causes. You know what I mean.”

At that point, his phone buzzed and he gave me a just-a-minute finger. He answered, listened for a while, and started to write. Then he hung up, flipped his notebook shut and said, “I can’t let you leave. He was murdered.”

“Great,” I said, the tone somewhere between rueful and intrigued, as I headed back toward Marta, then I turned back toward Investigator Spaulding. “Can I continue to pour drinks?”

He considered less than a moment. “By all means, serve truth serum to anyone who will imbibe.”

Then he turned and walked toward the other officers.

I went to stand with Marta behind the bar. In my imagination, I heard the train chug in across the street.

Investigator Spaulding cleared his throat, and the room went silent. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he said. “This is now a homicide investigation.” He had to pause as everyone shuffled or gasped, or cried out. “Please do not leave until we have taken your statement.”

A woman in her fifties came and sat down in front of me at the bar. Her hair was in a no-fuss bob, she wore a free-flowing skirt with a linen jacket, both of which were in style twenty years ago, but they worked on her. “Got anything stronger than those Death things?” she asked. “I’m not big on Champagne.”

“Sure.” I said. I sized her up. “Layers in a martini glass work for you?”

“Honey, it’s the strength, not the glass.” She looked shaken and sad. I went for the rums and found Malibu Black, the stronger brother of the original. What a bartender Joseph must have been! I decided to try something new. Malibu Black, mango pineapple vodka, and pineapple juice. I mixed it over ice, shook, and poured. I sank some Chambord and topped it with Jägermeister Spice.

“See if this does it,” I said.

Her hand shook slightly as she held up the glass, appreciated the layers, and then took a sip. The jury was out. She took another. She nodded and smiled.

It occurred to me that everyone in the room knew Joseph. They’d lost one of their own.

Another woman in skinny white pants and a white shell with a fancy pink sports jacket came and sat next to her. They were about the same age, if I had to guess, but the new woman was thin as a rail, muscular, and with her blonde hair in a ponytail. I was guessing she colored her hair not from a darker shade, but to cover the white. The two women embraced. “Suzanne,” said the new arrival.

“Gillian,” said no-fuss-bob Suzanne. Then, “Can’t believe it.”

“I can’t, either,” replied hard-bodied Gillian. She had the remains of an Eastern European accent. They sat a respectful moment. “What are you drinking?”

Suzanne looked at me. “No Known Address,” I said.

“Okay,” Gillian said. “I’ll have one.” She then turned and I was dismissed to my task.

“I can’t believe it. One of the only straight, available guys between forty and crotchety, and he’s gone!” said Suzanne.

“There’s Mike,” Gillian said, tilting her head toward the state police investigator. “And I’m not sure Joseph was available.”

“First, really? Maybe if he worked out. Second, you or I crook our little fingers and get a guy away from Sophie.” They both looked back, shooting daggers toward one of the three women in the center wall booth. I knew which must be Sophie, as one of them was crying copiously while the other two petted her solicitously.

“And do we have a suspect?” asked pink jacket Gillian.

This time, they looked at a younger woman who sat at a table with two newly arrived Chamber men. She was gorgeous—skin the color of chai latte and hair as dark as a sky at new moon. She was staring off into space.

I almost said, “You know I can hear you.” But maids, taxi drivers, and bartenders… well, we’re invisible, which is partly how we get the good gossip.

They stopped talking abruptly as two men approached. “Can we get some food?” asked the first. He was in a polo and navy blue slacks.

I heard snuffling and saw that Marta was in the shadows, leaning back against the wall. “Hey,” I said, “would you ask the chef if we can continue to order food?”

She nodded and swung through the kitchen door.

Arthur, the man in the suit who had ordered earlier, accompanied the newcomer in the polo. Arthur addressed his companion in an audible hiss. “I’m telling you… we can’t let word of this get out. Tranquility has to be considered a safe haven. For everyone. For…the festival folks. It’s part of what lures them here. Change of pace.”

“How do we not let the word get out? It’s a matter of record! And everyone in town knows about it—or will, within minutes.”

From the furious pace of thumbs texting throughout the room, it was clear he was correct.

“I mean, don’t print this as front-page news.”

“It is front page news, Art. And, the film festival folks are already committed. They’ve submitted their films. They’ll come.”

Marta returned with a positive nod. I slapped down two menus. “Marta will be out to take your order,” I said. As they turned, I added. “And if it’s a film festival, you don’t need to worry. Film people eat news like this for breakfast.”

Arthur looked at me in surprise, but gave a raised-eyebrows look that inferred I could have a point.

They left with the menus and I turned back to Marta, trying to help get her mind on something other than her boss’s death. “Can you help me add these drinks to people’s tabs?” I nodded toward the POS.

For the record, I hate point of sale machines. Each one hates humans in its own unique way. I pointed at people and she pulled up their tabs and showed me how to input the drinks I’d served.

I only had the Scotsman’s tab left undone when the man in the artist’s shirt stopped right before me. He was likely late 40s and had a face that was long but not unattractive. His shoulders were unusually broad, and he exuded self-confidence and a self-trained impishness. His shirt had one too many buttons left undone.

“Okay,” he said, “I wasn’t going to drink, but Joe…”

“You weren’t going to drink because it’s late afternoon, or because you’ve been sober for seven months?” I had no interest in tipping someone off the wagon.

He laughed. “I haven’t been drinking because this isn’t my favorite crowd,” he said. “And I don’t usually drink. But murder seems an excuse, if there ever was one.” He extended his hand. “Michael Michel,” he said, and smiled, waggling his eyebrows as if this should mean something to me.

I took his hand and shook. It was apparent I didn’t recognize him.

“The Painter Who Brings You Home,” he said, and the trademark practically bled from the words.

“Right,” I said, trying to sound impressed. “Nice to meet you. I’m Avalon. What’ll ya have?”

“Vodka tonic lime.”

“Care which vodka?”

He shook his head while saying, “Whatever you’ve got. Grey Goose.”

Ah, a fellow who pretended not to drink, who knew exactly what he wanted.

I poured and went for the garnish tray. The limes were gone. I looked at the back bar and found lemons and oranges. No limes, though clearly there had been some. I walked along the front bar and found, below patron eye level, a small cutting board with a lime on it. The lime was half-cut, some of them in rounds, a few in quarters. Some juice was dripping down onto the floor.

I reached for a wedge, and then I stopped short.

Joseph never would have left this on purpose. It was obviously what he’d been doing when he was interrupted by death—or someone who led him to his death. Or by symptoms that eventually spelled death.

I leaned down and sniffed.

It was lime-y. But there was something else, also.

I backed away. I walked over to Marta and said, quietly, “Don’t let anyone near that end of the bar.”

Then I walked over to Investigator Spaulding, where he sat at a booth interviewing someone. “Investigator?” I said. “Sorry to interrupt, but this is important.”

He looked at me, squinting, then seemed surprised, since I’d made such a point of being Ms. Just-Passing-Through.

He stood up and stepped away from the booth.

“I believe I’ve found the murder weapon,” I said.

As we walked together, I realized that the door to the smoker’s porch sat open. It was crawling with half a dozen or so more crime scene people.

Together we walked to the limes. I said, “Don’t touch them. If this is what Joseph was doing when he died, if they are poisoned, my guess is that the poison can be absorbed through the skin.”

Investigator Spaulding looked at me like, Of course I knew that, but he stepped back. As another officer and two crime scene investigators came over, I backed away, removing myself as far as possible from the action.

I returned to the Artist Shirt. “I think today we’re going with a lemon and a cherry,” I said. I smelled them before putting them in the drink.

It struck me then that perhaps Joseph hadn’t been the intended target. Maybe there was someone who consistently ordered a drink garnished with lime, and the murderer had injected the poison into the lime, not realizing it could be absorbed as well as ingested.

Like, for instance, the man before me, Mr. Vodka Tonic Lime.

Still, this was a pretty non-specific way of poison delivery. The limes could have been served to half a dozen people before anyone realized they were toxic. Who would do something like that?

The police were letting people go once they had been interviewed. I asked Investigator Spaulding if I could go. He nodded, adding, “Please stay in town until tomorrow morning, in case we have any further questions.”

As if I had a choice. All the trains had gone, except the 11 p.m. to Montreal.

The bar had been sealed off with crime-scene tape, a welcome relief as I didn’t relish closing a dead man’s station on the night of his murder. Why would I even think that? I didn’t work here. But my need to leave a bar in pristine condition ran down to bone and marrow.

As I headed for my bag, which I’d left on my original stool, I saw I wouldn’t even be allowed to access the POS machine.

The only patron whose drink I hadn’t input was the man in the kilt. I looked around the emptying room to find he’d moved to a pub table over to the side. “Sorry, sir,” I said. “I wasn’t able to enter your drinks into the machine. I guess you’re on the honor system to pay up another day.”

He gave a small smile. “Lass,” he said, “I’m Glenn MacTavish. Owner of this place. Seems I’m out a bartender and will be needing another. You have any interest?” he asked.

I stopped and stared. “There’s really a MacTavish?” I asked.

“Aye, and you’re looking at him.”

“But… you don’t know anything about me.”

“You keep a clear head and you know what you’re doin’. That’s all I really need to know. Besides, you don’t know anything about me, either.”

“I, well—thank you for the offer. It’s a beautiful bar. Can I think on it overnight? I’ve been told not to leave town.”

“Aye,” he said. “You can tell me in the mornin’ if you might be stayin.’ And while you’re decidin’, I could pay you for your services tonight with a room here at the hotel.”

That seemed fair. The Hotel Tonight app was offering me a room at a local chain. Staying at MacTavish’s Seaside Cottage for free seemed infinitely more attractive. “All right,” I said. “I should probably let you know they’re expecting me in New York City.”

“All right,” he said. “I should probably let you know Joseph isn’t the first bartender to work here who’s been murdered.”

* *

No Known Address

Ingredients

• ½ oz. Malibu black
• 2 dashes Chambord
• ½ oz. mango pineapple vodka
• 2 dashes Jägermeister Spice
• 1 oz. pineapple juice

Method

Shake pineapple vodka, Malibu Black and pineapple juice over ice and strain evenly into martini glasses.

Sink a dash of Chambord into each flute by running it down the side of the glass.

Layer a dash of Jägermeister Spice in each glass.

***

Excerpt from Death in Tranquility by Sharon Linnéa. Copyright 2020 by Sharon Linnéa. Reproduced with permission from Sharon Linnéa. All rights reserved.

 

 

Author Bio:

Sharon Linnea

Sharon Linnéa wrote the bestselling Eden Series (Chasing Eden, Beyond Eden, Treasure of Eden and Plagues of Eden) with B.K. Sherer, as well as the standalone These Violent Delights, a movie murder series. She enjoyed working with Axel Avian on Colt Shore: Domino 29, a middle-grade spy thriller. She is also the author of Princess Ka’iulani: Hope of a Nation, Heart of a People about the last crown princess of Hawaii which won the prestigious Carter Woodson Award, and Raoul Wallenberg: the Man Who Stopped Death. She was a staff writer for five national magazines, a book editor at three publishers, and a celebrity ghost. She lives outside New York City with her family. In Orange County, she teaches The Book Inside You workshops with Thomas Mattingly.

Catch Up With Sharon On:
www.SharonLinnea.com
BartendersGuidetoMurder.com
Goodreads
BookBub
Instagram
Twitter
Facebook

 

 

Tour Participants:

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

 

 

Enter To Win!:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Sharon Linnéa. There will be SIX (6) winners: ONE (1) winner will receive one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card and FIVE (5) winners will each receive one (1) copy of Death In Tranquility by Sharon Linnéa (These five (5) winners will have their choice of eBook or Print edition however print editions will only be shipped to U.S. addresses). The giveaway begins on February 1, 2021 and runs through March 2, 2021. Void where prohibited.

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#GuestPost Crime and Corruption, Boston Style by Gabriel Valjan, author of “Symphony Road”

Symphony Road by Gabriel Valjan BannerFebruary 1-28, 2021 Tour

~~~

~ Crime and Corruption, Boston Style ~

Stories of political and police corruption and conspiracy theories permeated Seventies cinema and crime fiction. Richard Nixon and his cast of misfits were in the White House. Viewers cheered “Attica! Attica!” alongside Sonny Wortzik in Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon, or agreed with Charles Bronson’s architect Dr. Paul Kersey’s idea of justice in Death Wish because cops were nowhere to be found. If there was one cop everybody loved, it was Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry because criminals gamed the system and got away with it, and Harry wasn’t having any of it. It’s a tossup as to which film showcased corruption in the Seventies better: Serpico or Prince of the City.

Beantown was right up there, in competition with the Windy City and the Big Apple. In The Friends of Eddie Coyle, ATF agent Dan Foley is ambitious and working both ends against the middle, like his other informant, Dillon. Knowing what we know now about “Whitey” Bulger, he ran amok for decades through South Boston, thanks to corrupt FBI agent and handler, John Connolly. My Shane Cleary is no stranger or innocent to whatever his town has to dish out for crime, corruption, and other forms of treachery.

Boston has a long dark history. The greatest swindle in American sports history, the fixing the World Series in 1919, was cooked up in a room at Boston’s Buckminster Hotel, overlooking Kenmore Square. In that same year, the Great Molasses Flood, the cause of which was revealed to be shady and shoddy construction, killed 21 people. A year later, the Boston Police unionized, the idea formed over beers at Foley’s Café, blocks away from where Shane lives in Union Park in the South End. Governor Calvin Coolidge convinced the public that a strike of police officers was Bolshevism and un-American. He crushed the Police Strike and rode the victory into the White House. His reprisal was so effective and brutal that there was not another police strike in the nation until 1974.

History repeated itself with the Coconut Grove Fire in 1942, which killed 500 people. In the late Seventies, Symphony Road—a street in Boston and the title of my second Shane Cleary mystery—was home to an arson for-hire ring, which involved landlords, lawyers, insurance adjusters, and the Massachusetts State Police. City politicians looked the other way until state and federal officials investigated.

As for the virtues of those public servants…John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald and grandfather to future JFK was removed from office in the US House of Representatives when evidence of voter fraud surfaced. Mayor James Curley ran Boston’s political machinery, like Al Capone controlled Chicago. The IRS put Al away in Alcatraz for tax evasion, and James spent time in Danbury for mail fraud, though federal lawyers wanted him for bribery and war profiteering. Mayor Kevin White, in office when Shane enlisted for Vietnam, was indicted and prosecuted for a variety of charges, including fraud, extortion, and perjury. He sat in the chair while Boston roiled in violence around desegregation and the busing crisis of 1974.

This is the world in which my PI Shane Cleary worked his cases. The cops didn’t like him and the politicians were often worse than the criminals he encountered on the street. The city’s elites were given carte blanche on prime real estate and other lucrative business deals, while everyone was at each other’s throat. Shane navigates social circles, murkier than the Charles River. He is up against cops dirtier than the Boston Harbor. The more things don’t change, the more they remain the same.

~~~

Synopsis:

Symphony Road by Gabriel Valjan
Trouble comes in threes for Shane Cleary, a former police officer and now, a PI. Arson. A Missing Person. A cold case. Two of his clients whom he shouldn’t trust, he does, and the third, whom he should, he can’t. Shane is up against crooked cops, a notorious slumlord and a mafia boss who want what they want, and then there’s the good guys who may or may not be what they seem.

Praise for Symphony Road:

“The second installment in this noir series takes us on a gritty journey through mid-seventies Boston, warts and all, and presents Shane Cleary with a complex arson case that proves to be much more than our PI expected. Peppered with the right mix of period detail and sharp, spare prose, Valjan proves he’s the real deal.” – Edwin Hill, Edgar finalist and author of Watch Her   “Ostracized former cop turned PI Shane Cleary navigates the mean streets of Boston’s seedy underbelly in Symphony Road. A brilliant follow up to Dirty Old Town, Valjan’s literary flair and dark humor are on full display.” – Bruce Robert Coffin, award-winning author of the Detective Byron Mysteries   “A private eye mystery steeped in atmosphere and attitude.” – Richie Narvaez, author of Noiryorican  

Book Details:

Genre: Crime fiction, Procedural, Noir, Historical Fiction

Published by: Level Best Books

Publication Date: January 15, 2021

Number of Pages: 232

ISBN: 978-1-953789-07-5

Series: Shane Cleary Mystery, #2

Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

~~~

Read an excerpt:

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

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

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

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

“Thanks for the health advice. Get in.”

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

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

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

“I’m here on another matter.”

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

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

“Kids go missing all the time.”

“This kid is special.”

“Has a Missing Persons Report been filed?”

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

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

“Is this kid one of your own?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr. B said nothing.

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

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

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

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

“I’ve got to ask,” I said.

“I’ll pay you whatever you want.”

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

“I did not.”

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

“What has that got to do with anything?”

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

“Yeah, I understand.”

“Good. Now, screw off.”

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

“Ironic, isn’t it?” Mr. B said.

“What is?”

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

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

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

***

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

~~~

Author Bio:

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

Catch Up With Gabriel Valjan:

www.GabrielValjan.com GabrielsWharf.wordpress.com Goodreads BookBub – @gvaljan Instagram – @gabrielvaljan Twitter – @GValjan Facebook

~~~

Tour Participants:

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

~~~

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~~~

#GuestPost How Far Would You Go to Save a Child? by Cara Putman, author of “Lethal Intent”

Lethal Intent

January 11 – February 5, 2021 Tour

~ How Far Would You Go to Save a Child? ~

Every story has a genesis. A spark that ignites the what if or what now? Often my books come from a combination of articles or books I’ve read about real events. Sometimes it comes from an experience I’ve had. Still other times it’s inspired by a journey someone I know has made.

Lethal Intent is a combination of those. When I started planning Caroline’s story, I wanted to explore the experience a friend had when her son was diagnosed with leukemia. Then I started thinking about the immortal cells of Henrietta Lacks. While no researcher has found a second strain of cells that work like hers, wouldn’t the pressure be intense to do just that? I also teach at a world class university that hosts cutting edge research in many areas including medical areas like cancer and Alzheimer’s.

My mind began twining those three threads together. But how could I make it something you will care about? Something I would care about as a reader? I love a good book…I read or listened to more than 150 in 2020. There are three things that keep me coming back to and thinking about a book. 1) The characters draw me in and won’t leave me alone. There is something compelling about them. Something that makes me want to spend time with them on the pages of a book. 2) The writing grabs ahold of me because of something unique. It’s so tied to the characters or the place or the conflict. 3) The story makes me so curious and grabs my attention.

So once I had the big idea, how to make us care? I love Caroline, but what would make it more than a job for her? And how could I put her and Brandon at odds so that the romance has stakes that are insurmountable? It was as I started playing with those questions that the character of Bethany developed. An 11 year old, she has a life and fire to her that sparks on the page and makes us care.

Bethany also gives Brandon big stakes in Caroline’s work that Caroline can see. As a hero, Brandon has challenges of his own, but one of the biggest to him is trying to protect Bethany from a foe he can’t see or physically fight. It pushes him far outside himself while also forcing him to deal with the pain in his past. Put together, these threads have created what I hope is a story you can’t put down.

I’d love to know. What makes a book un-put-downable for you?

~~~

Synopsis:

If they expected silence, they hired the wrong woman.

Caroline Bragg’s life has never been better. She and Brandon Lancaster are taking their relationship to the next level, and she has a new dream job as legal counsel for Praecursoria—a research lab that is making waves with its cutting-edge genetic therapies. The company’s leukemia treatments even promise to save desperately sick kids—kids like eleven-year-old Bethany, a critically ill foster child at Brandon’s foster home. When Caroline’s enthusiastic boss wants to enroll Bethany in experimental trials prematurely, Caroline objects, putting her at odds with her colleagues. They claim the only goal at Praecursoria is to save lives. But does someone have another agenda? Brandon faces his own crisis. As laws governing foster homes shift, he’s on the brink of losing the group home he’s worked so hard to build. When Caroline learns he’s a Praecursoria investor, it becomes legally impossible to confide in him. Will the secrets she keeps become a wedge that separates them forever? And can she save Bethany from the very treatments designed to heal her?
This latest romantic legal thriller by bestseller Cara Putman shines a light on the shadowy world of scientific secrets and corporate vendettas—and the ethical dilemmas that plague the place where science and commerce meet.

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery/Suspense

Published by: Thomas Nelson

Publication Date: January 12, 2021

Number of Pages: 336

ISBN: 0785233318 (ISBN13: 9780785233312)

Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | ChristianBook.com | Goodreads

~~~

Read an excerpt:

Caroline shifted in the high-backed chair. The massive conference room table made her feel more petite than usual. Quentin Jackson, the man propelling Praecursoria through its rapid growth, vibrated with energy as he studied her. “We are on the cusp of amazing developments and a transition from the lab to trials. We have a few CAR T-cell therapies in early stages now with more in our pipeline.” She racked her mind for the importance of T cells, and he gave a hearty laugh. “Don’t worry if the science overwhelms you. We’ll have you up to speed in no time. All you need to know right now is that T cells are one of the two cells that make up white blood cells. The treatments we’re working on could be the difference between life and death for young cancer patients. We need your legal expertise and quick mind to synthesize the science with the map to market.” “I’ve overseen several court trials related to patents, which should help with that process.” It had been an unforeseen aspect of her days clerking for Judge Loren. She swallowed against the lump in her throat that still welled up when she thought about his untimely death from pneumonia. A month ago she couldn’t imagine interviewing for a job somewhere else, even if a part of her knew that she should stretch her wings. “When can you start? Today?” She felt rooted to the chair. Everything was moving so fast. Could she really transition her experience managing clerks for a judge into managing patents and contracts for a start-up? While Praecursoria had been around for a decade as a cancer research lab, about eighteen months ago Quentin sold off its lucrative genetic testing branch to focus exclusively on the development of cutting-edge CAR T-cell therapies. Starting over that way was a bold if risky move. She lifted her chin and forced a smile that didn’t waver. “If that’s what you need. First we have a few details to work out.” He laughed. “I like the way you tackle issues head-on. That will be key in this role. I know how to steer the ship, and my chief scientist can navigate the research, but you’ll keep us on the legal straight and narrow.” He tapped his pen against the legal pad in front of him. Then he picked up her résumé and named a salary that pressed her against the chair. “There will be performance bonuses tied to the successful conclusion of trials. We want to look into stock options as well. That will be one of your assignments in conjunction with HR.” He slapped his hands on the table and she jumped. “My enthusiasm gets away from me sometimes.” He shrugged but never wavered as he examined her. “Let’s start with a field trip. The best way for you to understand why we’re doing this work and research is to show you.” *** Excerpt from Lethal Intent by Cara Putman. Copyright 2021 by Cara Putman. Reproduced with permission from Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved.

~~~

Author Bio:

Cara Putman
Cara Putman is the author of more than twenty-five legal thrillers, historical romances, and romantic suspense novels. She has won or been a finalist for honors including the ACFW Book of the Year and the Christian Retailing’s BEST Award. Cara graduated high school at sixteen, college at twenty, completed her law degree at twenty-seven, and recently received her MBA. She is a practicing attorney, teaches undergraduate and graduate law courses at a Big Ten business school, and is a homeschooling mom of four. She lives with her husband and children in Indiana.

Visit Cara Putman: CaraPutman.com Goodreads: caraputman BookBub: @CPutman Instagram: caracputman Twitter: @Cara_Putman Facebook: Cara.Putman

~~~

Lethal Intent Tour Participants:

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

~~~

Enter To Win!:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Cara Putman. There will be three (3) winners of one (1) physical copy of Lethal Intent by Cara Putman (US ONLY). The giveaway begins on January 11, 2021 and runs through February 7, 2021. Void where prohibited.

a Rafflecopter giveaway ~~~

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~~~

 

#GuestPost “Journaling Every Week: 52 Topics to Get You Writing” by Kelli A. Wilkins

Hi everyone!

I’m pleased to announce news about my latest non-fiction guide, Journaling Every Week: 52 Topics to Get You Writing.

Book cover

This fun and innovative book is filled with hundreds of journaling prompts that cover your childhood, friendships, beliefs and values, your career, coping with grief, fears, forgiveness, your purpose, and much more.

Whether you are experienced in journaling or completely new to the process, this book is designed to get you thinking about—and writing about—your life, relationships, patterns, goals, and some of your fondest memories. You’ll benefit from writing about these thought-provoking prompts and learn something about yourself along the way.

Journaling is a useful tool for self-discovery. In your journal, you can explore a wide range of subjects, themes, and ideas, revisit the past, and vent about anything (or anyone). In a way, you play counselor to yourself by digging deep into your innermost thoughts and emotions and writing about how you feel.

Sample prompts include:

* What are your favorite childhood memories? List at least ten, and then write about each one.

* What did you want to be when you grew up? Are you that now? If not, when did that idea change? Why? How is your current job different from the one you thought you wanted?

* Write for fifteen minutes about the changes in the last ten years of your life, and change in general. Do you embrace change? Resist it? Why? What feelings or emotions does the thought of change bring out in you?

Journaling Every Week makes a great gift for yourself or someone you care about. Order it today and start journaling in the New Year!

Read more about the book here: https://www.kelliwilkins.com/journaling-every-week

Order your copy here:

Amazon

All other platforms: https://books2read.com/u/b5kBZA

Enjoy the holiday season, and best wishes for a great 2021!

Kelli A. Wilkins

 ~~~

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kelli A Wilkins

Kelli A. Wilkins is an award-winning author who has published more than 100 short stories, 20 romance novels, 7 non-fiction books, 3 horror ebooks, and 2 online writing courses. Her romances span many genres and settings, and she likes to scare readers with her horror stories.

In January 2021, Kelli released Journaling Every Week: 52 Topics to Get You Writing. This fun and innovative guide to journaling is filled with hundreds of thought-provoking prompts designed to get you writing about your feelings and emotions.

Her horror short, “A Witch’s Wishes” was published in the Nothing Ever Happens in Fox Hollow anthology in December 2020.

 

In October 2020, Kelli had horror stories published in two anthologies. “The Uninvited” was published in Halloween Horror Vol. 2. This tale about a children’s Halloween party gone horribly wrong is one of her favorites. Her unsettling short story, “What the Peeper Saw” appeared in Madame Gray’s Creep Show anthology.

 

Earlier in 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 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 2019. If you like horror fiction, don’t miss her disturbing novella, Nightmare in the North.

Not just an author, Kelli is also an amateur photographer. Visit her pages on Shutterstock and iStock to view her photos.

Kelli posts on her Facebook author page and Twitter.

Visit her website/blog for a full title list and to find all her social media links.

~~~

#GuestPost “Romance Every Weekend” by Kelli A. Wilkins

Hi everyone!

If one of your goals is to add more romance in your life, why not start this weekend? How? With Romance Every Weekend: 104 Fun Ways to Express Your Love.

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Whether you’re just starting out dating, in a committed relationship, newlyweds, or you’ve been married for twenty years, Romance Every Weekend will show you how you can strengthen the bond between you and your loved one and deepen your relationship.

Romance shouldn’t be reserved for Valentine’s Day, birthdays, or an anniversary. Why should people wait for a special occasion to show someone they love that they care? Love can (and should) be expressed every chance you get.

Romance Every Weekend 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.

Everyone has his or her definition of “romance.” Some people like to send mushy cards, while others are more practical. But however you define it, romance is more than giving flowers, buying a box of chocolates, or getting frisky in the bedroom. Romance is all about making tender, everyday gestures that let your partner know how much you appreciate him or her.

Romance Every Weekend contains 104 romantic suggestions designed to make your weekends sparkle. Why 104? There are 52 weeks in a year, and two suggestions per weekend will keep you and your partner busy. If your schedules don’t give you a lot of free time on the weekends, that’s okay. You can do these any time during the week.

If you’re looking for ways to keep your romance fresh, this is the book for you!

Romance Every Weekend makes a great gift for you – or for your sweetie! Why not order it now and try all 104 suggestions in 2021?

Get started here:

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Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08124HBMS

All other platforms: https://books2read.com/u/3npVVP

Read more about the book here: https://www.kelliwilkins.com/romance-every-weekend

I hope you (and your partner) enjoy the suggestions. You may even be inspired to come up with a few of your own!


Best Wishes,

Kelli A Wilkins


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kelli 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 settings, and she likes to scare readers with her horror stories.

In January 2021, Kelli will release Journaling Every Week: 52 Topics to Get You Writing.This fun and innovative guide to journaling is filled with hundreds of thought-provoking prompts designed to get you writing about your feelings and emotions.

In October 2020, Kelli’s horror story “The Uninvited” was published in the Halloween Horror Vol. 2 anthology. This tale about a children’s Halloween party gone horribly wrong is one of her favorites.

Her unsettling short story, “What the Peeper Saw” appeared in Madame Gray’s Creep Show anthology in October 2020.

Earlier in 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 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 2019.If you like horror fiction, don’t miss her disturbing novella, Nightmare in the North.

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 for a full title list and to find all her social media links.


#AudioTour “A Bend in the River” Libby Fischer Hellmann

Author: Libby Fischer Hellmann

Narrator: Robin Rowan

Length: 11 hours 19 minutes

Publisher: The Red Herrings Press

Released: Oct. 13, 2020

Genre: Historical Fiction

In 1968 two young Vietnamese sisters flee to Saigon after their village on the Mekong River is attacked by American forces and burned to the ground. The only survivors of the brutal massacre that killed their family, the sisters struggle to survive but become estranged, separated by sharply different choices and ideologies. Mai ekes out a living as a GI bar girl, but Tam’s anger festers, and she heads into jungle terrain to fight with the Viet Cong. For nearly 10 years, neither sister knows if the other is alive. Do they both survive the war? And if they do, can they mend their fractured relationship? Or are the wounds from their journeys too deep to heal? In a stunning departure from her crime thrillers, Libby Fischer Hellmann delves into a universal story about survival, family, and the consequences of war.

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Libby Fischer Hellmann left a career in broadcast news in Washington, DC and moved to Chicago over 35 years ago, where she, naturally, began to write gritty crime fiction. Fifteen novels and twenty-five short stories later, she claims they’ll take her out of the Windy City feet first. She has been nominated for many awards in the mystery and crime writing community and has even won a few. She has been a finalist twice for the Anthony and four times for Foreword Magazine’s Book of the Year. She has also been nominated for the Agatha, the Shamus, the Daphne, and has won the IPPY and the Readers Choice Award multiple times. Her novels include the now five-volume Ellie Foreman series, which she describes as a cross between Desperate Housewives and 24; the hard-boiled 5-volume Georgia Davis PI series, and four stand-alone historical thrillers set during Revolutionary Iran, Cuba, the Sixties, and WW2. Her short stories have been published in a dozen anthologies, the Saturday Evening Post, and Ed Gorman’s 25 Criminally Good Short Stories collection. Her books have been translated into Spanish, German, Italian, and Chinese. All her books are available in print, ebook, and audiobook. Libby also hosts Second Sunday Crime, a monthly podcast where she interviews bestselling and emerging crime authors. In 2006 she was the National President of Sisters in Crime, a 3500 member organization committed to the advancement of female crime fiction authors.

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Robin is a voice-over veteran with more than three decades of experience, beginning in radio in the 1970s. Her voice is warm, low and rich, perfect for healthcare and documentaries. She also has narrated more than 70 audio books, so she has extensive experience with different voices and accents.

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If You Liked The Nightingale, You’ll Love A Bend In The River
Libby Fischer Hellmann

Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale, published in 2017 (and soon to be a major film) is a mega-hit novel about two sisters in occupied France during World War Two. For me it was the the kind of story for which you cancel all your other chores, plans, and activities so you can spend the day reading. Not only is it a beautifully written book, but I’m a sucker for WW2 novels. For me, World War Two was the last time in which there were clear heroes and cowards. We knew the enemy, and we knew it was not us. Another reason I loved it was that it was set in France, which is probably my favorite European country. I took French in high school with the dream of going to France through the Experiment in International Living. I did go, and spent a magical summer in Nice and all over the country.The two sisters, one timid, the other more impetuous, were very different from each other, but both turned out to be quiet heroes themselves. They had lost their mother, which made them both closer to each other despite their differences. One even ended up in the US decades after the war. Most of all, I loved the suspense, the never-ending obstacles with which each sister had to contend. Plus there was an over-arching mystery not revealed until the end which made me both shed a tear and smile with satisfaction. Never in a million years did I think I would ever write a book including even one or two of the elements I’ve just described. Then in 2019 I went to Vietnam as a tourist, and it all changed. I was in a Saigon art gallery looking for something to buy when I saw the two girls who are now on the cover of A Bend In The River, and I immediately knew I was going to write a story about their survival during the Vietnam War. I also knew that I was going to put aside the crime fiction I normally write for a historical novel that had no crime at its heart, unless you consider war to be a crime.Just as World War Two shaped modern Europe, the Vietnam war shaped that country. Both wars were fought for very different reasons. I wasn’t alive during WW2, but I protested against the Vietnam war in college and thought I knew it all. War was wrong. Our government was wrong for sanctioning it, and the soldiers fighting it should have refused. Of course, I was naïve and arrogant back then. The Vietnam war was a civil war between North, which was Communist, and the South, which was bitterly opposed to it. The French had colonized the country for over a century, but they left after they lost a battle in the early Fifties. The US took their place. We aided the south because of the “Domino Theory,” which made us fearful that if Vietnam became Communist, so would the rest of Southeast Asia. It hasn’t happened. But I didn’t realize until I’d finished the book how many elements of The Nightingale were incorporated into Bend. Sisters surviving a war against an invading country. Sisters overcoming existential obstacles to survive, sometimes turning into heroes. Sisters who were so different from each other that they were estranged for a decade. Sisters who’d lost their mother (and the rest of their family), sisters who eventually immigrated to the US. I have no illusions that A Bend In The River will ever or should be compared to The Nightingale. But I can understand now how deeply Kristin Hannah’s book inspired me. I hope you will enjoy the read.

Differences:

  • Bend less mystery more saga
  • 1 sister fights for “enemy”
  • Estranged
  • Asia vs Europe – not world war but civil war
  • No medals
  • Father is alive in Nightingale
  • Sister who fights not as selfless
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#GuestPost “Sniper!” by Thomas A. Burns

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~ Guest Post ~

So Who Is This Natalie McMasters We Keep Hearing About?

by

Thomas A. Burns, Jr.


Natalie McMasters is a detective for the new millennium.

If you’re a mystery lover, you’ve read all the classic detectives. Sherlock Holmes. Sam Spade. Phillip Marlowe. Kinsey Millhone. What do all these sleuths have in common? Each one was a product of their era and their culture. So too is Natalie McMasters.

The Natalie McMasters series is notable for its sexy, intricate plots, breakneck pacing and gritty, dark atmosphere. These are definitely not cozy mysteries! Keep on reading the series and you’ll experience the transformation of an innocent college coed into a hard-boiled PI for the 21st century.

Nattie is a twentysomething pre-law student at State University, a mega-college in the capital city of a southern US state. To help make ends meet, she works for her Uncle Amos Murdoch, the proprietor of the 3M Detective Agency, which is based in a nearby small town because the frugal Amos won’t pay the high rents in the capital. Most of his business comes from catching insurance scofflaws who say they’re hurt but aren’t. Nattie spends most of her working hours on stakeout, waiting for a subject to do something they’re not supposed to be able to so she can get a picture. It’s a great job for a student — she can study during all those long hours in the car. Amos even got her a private detective trainee’s license from the state, of which she’s prouder than she likes to let on.

Stripper! is the first Natalie McMasters novel. Nattie enters the seamy world of web cams and strip clubs to hunt a killer. Her investigation forces her to reassess many of the ideas that she’s lived by her whole life and do things she’s never considered before – strip on a stage, question her sexuality, and rediscover the meaning of love itself.

Revenge! is the sequel to Stripper! A scandalous video of Nattie from her web cam days is posted on the State campus CCTV system for all to see and is just the first in a series of vicious attacks on Nattie, her family and her friends. What could she have possibly done to someone in her short life to deserve the callous revenge her unseen tormentor is so brutally exacting?

The third volume is entitled Trafficked! Nattie takes Manhattan, searching for a very important person in her life. As one reviewer says, in it you’ll find “blood, whipping, love making, sewer stench, a tour of Manhattan and Kosher food, honor, despair, and a healthy dollop of deceit and mystery solving”.

Venom! is the next installment. It’s a contemporary take on an English country house mystery, as Nattie, tries to cope with relationship issues at a retreat in the mountains of rural Georgia, without letting a series of gruesome murders get in the way.

Sniper! is the latest release. Nattie’s in the crosshairs as a crazed sniper stalks the city. She also must deal with family problems arising from her decision to carry a gun and her unconventional lifestyle. It’s a totally griping descent into darkness that you won’t want to miss.

Even though the Natalie McMasters Mysteries are seqential, enough background is given in each book so it can be enjoyed as a standalone.

I started reading mysteries as a kid with the Hardy Boys, Ken Holt and Rick Brant, and graduating to the classic stories by authors such as A. Conan Doyle, John Dickson Carr, Erle Stanley Gardner and Rex Stout, to name a few. I have written fiction as a hobby all of my life, starting in marble-backed copybooks in grade school. I built a career as a technical writer, science writer and editor for nearly thirty years in industry and government. Now that I’m truly on my own as a freelance science writer and editor, I’m excited to publish my own mystery series as well. You can join the Nattie’s Readers Facebook group, and follow me on Twitter, Instagram, BookBub and Tumblr. You can read the first ever Natalie McMasters short story, Stakeout! and sign up for the monthly 3M newsletter on my web page at https://www.3mdetectiveagency.com/, and follow the 3M blog where I post book reviews and news about Nattie and the 3M gang.



 A Natalie McMasters Mystery, Book 5

Crime Fiction

Date Published: November 16, 2020

Publisher: Tekrighter, LLC

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A crazed sniper. A loved one wounded, in danger of death. The unforgiving Fake News media. And a hidden villain more loathsome than any that Natalie McMasters has encountered before.

Nattie’s in the crosshairs as a series of seemingly random shootings terrorizes the city. She must fight to keep her polyamorous family from disintegrating, her emotions from running wild and her personal integrity uncompromised. This would be a formidable task for anyone, much less a twentysomething college student who just wants to graduate and get on with her life. Nattie must rely on old friends and new, but how can she even, when friends can become enemies in the blink of an eye? As Nattie nears an emotional meltdown, society collapses along with her, as the sniper’s depredations take their toll on the city.

Sniper! is a twisted, sexy, absolutely gripping descent into darkness jam packed with nail-biting suspense. Don’t miss it!


  About The Author

Thomas A. Burns, Jr. is the author of the Natalie McMasters Mysteries. He was born and grew up in New Jersey, attended Xavier High School in Manhattan, earned B.S degrees in Zoology and Microbiology at Michigan State University and a M.S. in Microbiology at North Carolina State University. He currently resides in Wendell, North Carolina. As a kid, Tom started reading mysteries with the Hardy Boys, Ken Holt and Rick Brant, and graduated to the classic stories by authors such as A. Conan Doyle, Dorothy Sayers, John Dickson Carr, Erle Stanley Gardner and Rex Stout, to name just a few. Tom has written fiction as a hobby all of his life, starting with Man from U.N.C.L.E. stories in marble-backed copybooks in grade school. He built a career as technical, science and medical writer and editor for nearly thirty years in industry and government. Now that he’s a full-time novelist, he’s excited to publish his own mystery series, as well as to contribute stories about his second most favorite detective, Sherlock Holmes, to the MX anthology of New Sherlock Holmes Stories.

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RABT Book Tours & PR

#GuestPost Heather Redmond, author of “A Christmas Carol Murder”

A Christmas Carol Murder by Heather Redmond Banner

on Tour November 1 – December 31, 2020

~ London Landmarks ~

by

Heather Redmond

I like to paint London images to spiff up my marketing pieces for my A Dickens of a Crime historical mystery series, since I am a keen watercolorist. In August, thinking about the coming release of A Christmas Carol Murder, I thought a nice Tower Bridge painting would be a good idea.

When I started looking for images, I was confused very quickly. Did you know that the iconic towers of the bridge were not built until the late 1800s? The current bridge was built between 1886 and 1894, long after author Charles Dickens, the hero of my series, died. I’d had it in my head that the castle elements must be a very old feature, being an American. I had assumed the average modern bridge was all sleek design, not, well, towers.

Not only that, if you start looking for Tower Bridge images, they can be deceptive, because some of what is out there is concepts, rather than the bridge as it ever existed. Fifty designs were submitted before the current version by Sir Horace Jones was chosen in 1884, and those concepts still exist and are displayed and discussed. Therefore, the hopeful painter has to be careful to look for actual paintings of the period they desire, which for me is the mid 1830s. In reality, no bridge existed between what was then known as Iron Gate and Horselydown Lane, and any bridge paintings or engravings from the 1830s are of other bridges. Uh oh!

If I can’t find a scene I want, I have to reorient it in my mind until it matches my idea. Further confusion can ensue. While painting for me is a hobby, and I’m looking to create a mood, rather than total accuracy, I still want some sense of history.

Meanwhile, I have a lovely background painting with the wrong bridge penciled out over top, since even I, with all these years of 19th century research behind me, had the wrong idea about Tower Bridge.

What London landmarks do you think of as Victorian that aren’t in the landscape as that period began? The Houses of Parliament? Big Ben? Trafalgar Square? All later than the start of Queen Victoria’s reign in 1837. Yes, that means the images on my book covers are wrong. At least they give a general sense of nineteenth century London!

~~~

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

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.

 

 

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).

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

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