#BookTour “The Damned Lovely” by Adam Frost

August 29 – September 23, 2022 Virtual Book Tour

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Synopsis:

 

“She wasn’t pretty but she was ours…”

Sandwiched between seedy businesses in the scorching east LA suburb of Glendale, The Damned Lovely dive bar is as scarred as its regulars: ex-cops, misfits and loners. And for Sam Goss, it’s a refuge from the promising life he’s walked away from, a place to write and a hole to hide in.

But when a beautiful and mysterious new patron to the bar turns up murdered, Sam can’t stop himself from getting involved. Despite their fleeting interaction, or perhaps because of it, something about her ghost won’t let go…

Armed with the playbook from the burned-out ex-cops, Sam challenges the police’s theory on the killing, butting heads with hardened detectives and asking questions nobody wants to answer. As his obsession takes hold so does his sense of purpose—as if uncovering the truth about the killer might heal some part of his own broken life. But the chase sets him on a collision course with a crooked charity, violent fundamentalists, corrupt cops, brazen embezzlers and someone dangerously close to home—all who want to make sure the truth never comes out.

Praise for The Damned Lovely:

The Damned Lovely is the LA crime story born anew, an addictive mystery and a love letter to the careworn and forgotten places of Los Angeles—Los Angeles as it is right now. Adam Frost is a crime writer with a sharp new voice, telling a tale about the one thing everyone in Los Angeles has: desire. Desire for truth, for justice, for love, or maybe just a place to call home. Highly recommended.”

Jordan Harper, Edgar Award-winning author of She Rides Shotgun

“Frost’s crackling debut novel belongs on the shelf right next to Joseph Wambaugh and Michael Connelly. Crisp prose. An intricate plot worthy of Raymond Chandler, packed with scruffy, lovable, and lived-in characters that leap off the page. Frost brings a fresh voice and much-needed new blood to LA crime fiction.”

Will Beall, author of L.A. Rex and creator of CBS’s Training Day

“An unputdownable and suspenseful whodunnit: anchored in the quandary of manifesting destiny in grief and lost opportunity.”

Blake Howard, producer and host of the One Heat Minute podcast and Film Critic

“Every bourbon-soaked sentence in this endlessly entertaining first novel proves Joseph Wambaugh dipped Adam Frost by his ankle into the L.A. river. Roll over Michael Connelly, tell Raymond Chandler the news.”

Adam Novak, author of Rat Park and Take Fountain

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery, Crime

Published by: Down & Out Books

Publication Date:

Number of Pages:

ISBN: 1643962531 (ISBN-13: 978-1643962535)

Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads | The Down & Out Bookstore

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Read an excerpt:

I took a sip and checked my phone. Waiting for the screen to siiiing. Praying. Hoping.

She held her ground and I lost the fight.

The empty telephone. Reminding me, I had no excuses. To be in a better place. To be successful.

I was an American.

I was white.

I grew up safe and surrounded by love.

There was money for birthday parties and proper schools.

I had a college degree in communications.

I’d traveled to Southeast Asia. Seen Europe. Touched down in South Africa. I had a sweet girl who liked to cook and wanted a ring. We had an apartment in West Hollywood with good light.

I’d found a marketing gig early and wrote ad copy for seven years. Logos. Corporate promos. Internet ribbons. Microcopy drawl. Quippy garbage that paid the rent and then some.

I was on the right track.

Until I broke. Crashed the cart and pulled the plug on my world of California lies.

Staring into those smiling faces across a Doheny dinner table one night.

The masquerade of happiness.

The Instagram sham.

There was no substance. No truth. No intent for anything more than gain.

I had sealed the truth for years. Locked and bottled that depression south, convinced I could kick it. Convinced the gnaw would pass.

Things are great, I kept saying. Things are great.

But something about those faces on that very Doheny night popped the cork and shattered the glass. I called it out. I let it rip ugly. These weren’t my friends. They were assets. Nothing more.

This wasn’t love. This was compliance on rails.

I needed something pure. Something with purpose and mine all mine. That I truly adored.

So I quit the girl who liked to cook. Lost the apartment with the light and moved to Glendale. Where it was cheaper. Where there was no good light.

And worst of all. I was compelled by a force inside my bones to write something real. Something long and from the heart. Something maybe even wise.

This, more and more it seemed, may have been a grave mistake.

It was in no way working out.

Still, I refused to believe in misery. An honest rut is all. It’ll turn around soon. It has to. Because when you’re going through hell in Glendale, keep going. Right?

So. Soldier on. Live with intent and drown those voices out.

Drown. Them. Out. Soldier!

Swish. Swish.

A red Trojan alpha bro was swipin’ right at the bar. Americana run off sipping a sea breezer with a skinny lime. Slice and I shared a healthy glare of disdain when Jewels crossed behind me and nodded to stool 9.

“She’s baaaack,” Jewels cooed.

And there she was. Hiding her green eyes under a black felt fedora and a worn-out paperback of To the Lighthouse. She had dark brown hair pinned low at the back. Wore a simple tight white V-neck tee exposing that soft skin around her collarbones. She sat straight. With her legs crossed in black jeans that pinched in at her waist and exposing a band of flawless smooth lower back. She kept her face down. Never spoke to a soul beyond ordering a drink. And never looked at her phone. Not once. Not once had I seen her look at her phone. Instead, she just buried her eyes in that book. Drowning out the world with a Negroni and Woolf’s words like some kinda mystery from a different era. She’d been in four times now by my count. And it was consistent. Early in the afternoon. Same drink. Same book. Alone. Like an oasis in this godforsaken Glendale desert.

***

Excerpt from The Damned Lovely by Adam Frost. Copyright 2022 by Adam Frost. Reproduced with permission from Adam Frost. All rights reserved.

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Author Bio:

 

ADAM FROST was born and raised in Vancouver. He began as an actor, and now works as a television writer and producer, best known for the crime shows Tribal and Castle. He lives on the east side of Los Angeles. He’s also one helluva T-ball coach.

Catch Up With Adam Frost:
www.AdamFrostWrites.com
Instagram – @thedamnedlovely
Twitter – @Afrostbite23
Facebook – @adam.frost.9655

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Tour Participants:

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

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GIVEAWAY!

This is a giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Tours for Adam Frost. See the widget for entry terms and conditions. Void where prohibited.

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Get More Great Reads at Partners In Crime Tours

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#BookTour “Fire & Ice (A Mauzzy & Me Mystery, Book 2)” by B.T. Polcari

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 A Mauzzy & Me Mystery, Book 2

Cozy Mystery, Young Adult Mystery, Mystery

Date Published: 08-15-2022

Publisher: The Wild Rose Press

 

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After encountering a brief power outage at work, college student Sara Donovan might be allowing her imagination to run wild. The main vault in the Carlton Museum holds the Fire and Ice Exhibit, a collection of rare gems, including the Star of Midnight, a 175-carat diamond. Although all the stones are accounted for, Sara suspects the Star of Midnight was stolen and replaced with a fake.

While conducting her own investigation, what Sara uncovers is beyond even her wildest imagination: a coded message, papers with strange characters, and a mysterious set of numbers carved into an office wall. Despite dismissive historians and other experts, she is certain these clues point to a mysterious centuries-old legend.

Unfortunately, her colorful history of usually being right, but always being wrong, means she must solve the mystery to prove her theory.

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Mrs. Majelski

I navigated my way through the grody garage in search of my car, a daily routine for me. Parking garages always mess with me because everything looks the same. Not to mention the stench and filth. Just a fricking maze of concrete pillars and walls, with signs and arrows pointing every which way. Except the right direction for finding your car and the way out of the dang place.

After several futile minutes of searching, I hit the panic button on my key fob in hopes of my car signaling its presence. Multiple blasts of a car horn reverberated off the walls. On the other side of a stairwell, flashing lights danced on the low ceiling in perfect time with the blaring horn.

Score.

I hurried toward the flashing display of—

A sturdy voice called out from the inner recesses of the stairwell. “Hello, dear.”

I jumped sideways, stopped, and spun toward the opening. I recognized that voice.

A scratching sound followed by a metallic click and more scratching emanated from the dark void. A walker emerged from the black, a head of snowy white hair floating above it.

Peering at the ghostly image in the gloom, I called out, “Mrs. Majelski?”

The walker pushed further into the garage, and the jowly image of a very short, very old lady came into focus. Like a four-foot-eight, eighty-five-year-old lady. It was Mrs. Majelski. What the heck was she doing here? I knew her from Tuscaloosa. We met at the gym at the beginning of freshman year, where her iron-pumping, treadmill-dashing, and elliptical-cranking routines put me to shame. Zoe has always been suspicious of the mysterious octogenarian, and she’s never missed an opportunity to remind me. Never. And now Mrs. Majelski is up here? When Zoe finds out, she’ll go ballistic.

“In the flesh,” she declared.

“What…what are you…doing here?”

Mrs. Majelski flipped a hand toward my car. “Shut that racket off.”

I fumbled with the fob, and after two failed punches on the button, turned off the alarm. “What are you doing here?”

“Visiting my twin sister. The old girl is getting on in years,” she cackled.

“You never mentioned you were a twin.”

“I didn’t?” She flicked a thick, gnarly hand. “Pish posh. Not important. What’s important is you think a robbery occurred at the museum?”

My head jerked back. “How do you know that?”

She wheeled forward two steps. A crooked smile appeared beneath soft white curls and a droopy nose. “Let’s say a little birdie told me.”

“Who called you?”

The old lady’s gaze swept the garage before turning back to me. “Again, not important.” Another step forward. “What’s important is why do you think there was a heist? Nothing was out of place. No alarms went off. So…”

Mrs. M was freaking me out, although it’s not the first time she’s done that to me. “How do you know all this?”

She stared up at me, her slate-gray eyes boring into me. “Just answer the question, dear.”

“I had Mauzzy with me in the vault when the power went out. It set him off and when the lights came back on, he was barking and scratching at the wall of the valuables vault. Pretty sure he heard something going on inside it.”

Mrs. Majelski arched an eyebrow and chuckled. “That’s it? Because your little dog was scratching and barking? Like a dog?”

“He’s never wrong.”

She snickered. “Didn’t realize he’s an expert on museum heists.”

I winced. “He has very good hearing.”

Her dubious smile vanished, replaced by a stern visage. “Anybody else with you in the vault during that outage?”

“Just Tony Carlucci.”

“Who is…”

“He’s the evening security supervisor.”

She hesitated. “That his normal post, inside the vault?”

“No, he’s usually upstairs. He stayed behind after they locked the exhibit away to clear everybody out and close the main vault at five.”

The squealing of tires echoed through the garage.

Mrs. Majelski scanned the area, then made a break for my hatchback.

“What are you doing?”

“Let’s get in your car.”

I hit the fob’s unlock button and headed for the car. By the time I got there, she was sitting in the passenger seat, the walker folded and stored behind her.

“Man, you move fast,” I said.

“That’s why I work out.” She looked at the floorboard, then into the back seat. “Looks like you live in here, dear.”

I grimaced. “Commuting two hours a day does it.”

“Mmmm hmmm.”

“Why did you find me?” I shuddered. “Here, in the garage of all places.”

She checked her side mirror, then fixed on me with an unwavering gaze. “Because I need to tell you a few things. Look, I know I can’t stop you from doing what you’re going to do. Lord knows I learned that about you back in Tuscaloosa. So, you need to know this. If that diamond was stolen, and that’s a mighty big if, dear. But if it was stolen like you say, then there are only a few crews in the world who could get past the security measures and into the vault in the short time available and pull that job off.”

“You gotta believe me. The Star of Midnight on display is not the same one I saw in the vault yesterday.”

Mrs. Majelski put out a hand. “I believe that you believe it. I’m just not convinced. However, two crews jump to mind when I think of sophisticated high-value heists.”

“Like who?”

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About the Author

B.T. Polcari is a graduate of Rutgers College of Rutgers University, an award-winning mystery author, and a proud father of two wonderful children.

He’s a champion of rescue pups (Mauzzy is a rescue), craves watching football and basketball, and, of course, loves reading mysteries.

Among his favorite authors are D.P. Lyle, Robert B. Parker, and Michael Connelly. He is also an unapologetic fantasy football addict.

He lives with his wife in scenic Chattanooga, Tennessee.

 

Contact Links

Website

Facebook

Twitter

Blog

Goodreads

Pinterest

Instagram

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Purchase Link

Amazon

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RABT Book Tours & PR

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#AudioTour “Search for the Holy Grail: A Thrilling Caribbean Sea Chase” by MJL Evans & GM O’Connor

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Authors: MJL Evans; GM O’Connor

Narrator: Anne Marie Lewis

Length: 19 hours 20 minutes

Series: Volumes 1-3 (Box Set)

Producer: Audiobook Empire

Publisher: Megan JL Evans

Released: July 18, 2022

Genre: Mystery; Historical Thriller


Every pirate in the Caribbean is searching for The Holy Grail—a ship carrying the treasury of Hanover and the countess Aurora of Calenberg, suspected of orchestrating the theft. Prinz Maximilian will stop at nothing to catch her and regain the fortune, even if it means following her into the deepest, darkest recesses of Samaná Bay. With pirates and cutthroats at every turn, will she be reunited with her handmaiden, Helena and her portrait painter, Dodo? Aurora’s only solace is in a bottle of Cognac with a chaser of coca-leaf powder in this vibrant, fast-paced chase through the Caribbean.

MJL EVANS wanted to be a writer since she was ten years old and in 2014 she finally got her act together and pursued her dream. She is the co-author of No Quarter: Dominium, No Quarter: Wenches, and Search for the Holy Grail. A huge fan of Monty Python, Red Dwarf, and other BBC shows, her time is devoted to acrylic painting, photography, catering to her senior cat and of course, writing.

GM O’CONNOR is a visual artist, illustrator and writer who dabbles in guitars, acting, and sometimes wildlife rescue. A movie encyclopedia, he’s a fan of sci-fi and history. He is the co-author of No Quarter: Dominium, No Quarter: Wenches, and Search for the Holy Grail. He hopes to one day bring the No Quarter Series to film and/or graphic novel format.

Pittsburgh native Anne Marie Lewis has enjoyed a richly varied and long career in the performing arts. She has performed across the globe from Carnegie Hall to Boise to Little Rock to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula as well as in Canada, England and Scotland. With the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s final novel, she performs Persuasion: A Musical Adaptation at Jane Austen festivals on Vancouver Island, British Columbia and in Bath, England in 2018. Chicago area credits: Chicago Shakespeare Theatre (Emma), Music Theater Works (Peter Pan, My Fair Lady, One Night in Venice, The Red Mill) Remy Bumppo Theatre Company (Northanger Abbey, The Skin of Our Teeth), Northbrook Theatre (Fancy Nancy, Elephant and Piggie: We are in a Play), Oil Lamp Theater (Love, Loss, and What I Wore), Refuge Theatre Project (bare), Lifeline Theatre (Midnight Cowboy), Chamber Opera Chicago (Persuasion, Pride and Prejudice, The Sound of Music, Hansel and Gretel), Spartan Theatre (Jake’s Women), Jedlicka Performing Arts Center (Moon over Buffalo), Metropolis Performing Arts Center (The Diary of Anne Frank), Fury Theatre (The Merry Wives of Windsor), Provision Theater (Christmas on the Air), 16th Street Theatre (Graveyard of Empires), Chicago Opera Theatre (Shining Brow, Don Giovanni), and Idle Muse Theatre Company (The Scullery Maid). Regional credits include Lyric Opera Cleveland (Little Women), Pine Mountain Music Festival (Le nozze di Figaro), Muddy River Opera (Die Fledermaus), Quad Cities Opera (La bohème), as well as numerous appearances with regional symphony orchestras. International credits: Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the Buxton Fringe Festival, Camden Fringe Festival and Jane Austen 200 in Winchester, UK. She is also a sought-after audiobook narrator, a genre she loves dearly as she gets to be producer, director, technical crew and all the characters! Anne Marie is a proud graduate of the University of Notre Dame and Northwestern University and an even prouder mother to her four young men.

At Audiobook Empire, audio reigns supreme, narrators are hailed as heroes, and headphones are worn with pride.

Marrying pomp and circumstance with quality you can count on, Audiobook Empire is a full-service production house that produces and promotes audiobooks with gusto.

Give your audiobook the imperial treatment by producing it with Audiobook Empire.

#BookTour “The Bones of Amoret” by Arthur Herbert

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Mystery

Date Published: February 2022

Publisher: Stitched Smile Publications

 

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 “Great action, well-told, and authentic with all the nuances and spirit of small town Texas. Don’t miss it.” -Lone Star Literary Life Reviews

In this enigmatic follow up to his critically acclaimed debut novel The Cuts that Cure, Arthur Herbert returns to the Texas-Mexico border with this chilling mystery set amidst a small town’s bloody loss of innocence.

Amoret, Texas, 1982. Life along the border is harsh, but in a world where cultures work together to carve a living from the desert landscape, Blaine Beckett lives a life of isolation. A transplanted Boston intellectual, for twenty years locals have viewed him as a snob, a misanthrope, an outsider. He seems content to stand apart until one night when he vanishes into thin air amid signs of foul play.

Noah Grady, the town doctor, is a charming and popular good ol’ boy. He’s also a keeper of secrets, both the town’s and his own. He watches from afar as the mystery of Blaine’s disappearance unravels and rumors fly. Were the incipient cartels responsible? Was it a local with a grudge? Or did Blaine himself orchestrate his own disappearance? Then the
unthinkable happens, and Noah begins to realize he’s considered a suspect.

Paced like a lit fuse and full of dizzying plot twists, The Bones of Amoret is a riveting whodunit that will keep you guessing all the way to its shocking conclusion.

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About the Author

Arthur Herbert was born and raised in small town Texas. He worked on offshore oil rigs, as a bartender, a landscaper at a trailer park, and as a
social worker before going to medical school.

For the last eighteen years, he’s worked as a trauma and burn surgeon, operating on all ages of
injured patients. He continues to run a thriving practice in New Orleans where he lives with his wife Amy and their dogs.

 

Contact Links

Website

Facebook

Twitter: @herbertwriter

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 Purchase Link

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#BookReview “The Hub” by Nicola May

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4/5 Stars!

Regrouping mentally and emotionally after getting dumped by her cheating fiancé, crime writer August Saunders has a decision to make. Stay in the safe cozy hamlet of her childhood or return to fast-paced London.

Prodded by her pushy but loving sister, August joins The Hub, a new local work co-op. The affable author falls into instant “like” with her space-mates, and its friendly, but mysterious leader, Max Ronson, gets her problem-solving mind whirring.

Told in a fun, laid-back style, August’s story unfolds with love, laughter, and understanding, especially with serious timely issues.

This read has all the ingredients—strong leads, wacky, fun supporting characters, pets, turkeys, and witty, laugh-out-loud banter—for an enjoyable evening or beach-side read.

Did I mention turkeys?

Enjoy!

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ONE TURKEY FARM, FIVE WILD COLLEAGUES AND A BARN FULL OF MYSTERY

When jilted crime writer August Saunders returns from London to her roots in rural Wiltshire, she feels lost and lacking in inspiration. Determined to reignite her writing mojo, she responds to an advert for a shared workspace in a converted barn.

At the Hub, with its ill-equipped gym, inedible catering and motley array of fellow users, including a matchmaker more interested in her own conquests and a TikToker with a dodgy nocturnal sideline, August is confronted with a real-life mystery to solve.

Why is Max Ronson, the handsome but volatile owner of the Hub, so evasive about his past? And who or what is he hiding on the premises? She is determined to find out – but will her curiosity snuff out the spark of romance?

Nicola May mixes mischief with mystery in a fast-paced rural romp which will make Futtingbrook Farm as beloved a location as Ferry Lane Market or Cockleberry Bay.

Perfect for fans of Beth O’Leary, Sarah Morgan, Jill Mansell and Cathy Bramley.

Purchase Links

Kindle Unlimited

Amazon UK  

Amazon US  

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Giveaway to Win a signed copy of The Hub (Open to UK Only)

E N T E R

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

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#BookTour “The Hub” by Nicola May

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ONE TURKEY FARM, FIVE WILD COLLEAGUES AND A BARN FULL OF MYSTERY

When jilted crime writer August Saunders returns from London to her roots in rural Wiltshire, she feels lost and lacking in inspiration. Determined to reignite her writing mojo, she responds to an advert for a shared workspace in a converted barn.

At the Hub, with its ill-equipped gym, inedible catering and motley array of fellow users, including a matchmaker more interested in her own conquests and a TikToker with a dodgy nocturnal sideline, August is confronted with a real-life mystery to solve.

Why is Max Ronson, the handsome but volatile owner of the Hub, so evasive about his past? And who or what is he hiding on the premises? She is determined to find out – but will her curiosity snuff out the spark of romance?

Nicola May mixes mischief with mystery in a fast-paced rural romp which will make Futtingbrook Farm as beloved a location as Ferry Lane Market or Cockleberry Bay.

Perfect for fans of Beth O’Leary, Sarah Morgan, Jill Mansell and Cathy Bramley.

Purchase Links

Kindle Unlimited

Amazon UK  

Amazon US  

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Author Bio Nicola May

Nicola May is a rom-com superstar. She is the author of sixteen romantic comedies, all of which have appeared in the Kindle bestseller charts. Her books are translated into fourteen languages. Two of them won awards at the Festival of Romance, and another was named ebook of the week in The SunThe Corner Shop in Cockleberry Bay became the best-selling Kindle book in the UK, across all genres, in January 2019, and was Amazon’s third-bestselling novel in that year. Described by Winifred Robinson of BBC Radio 4’s You and Yours as ‘the invisible bestselling author’, Nicola campaigned successfully for the introduction of ebook charts in the publishing trade press.

Social Media Links  

Twitter

Website

Facebook

Instagram

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Giveaway to Win a signed copy of The Hub (Open to UK Only)

E N T E R

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

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#ReleaseBlitz “Fire & Ice (A Mauzzy & Me Mystery, Book 2)” by B.T. Polcari

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 A Mauzzy & Me Mystery, Book 2

Cozy Mystery, Young Adult Mystery, Mystery

Date Published: 08-15-2022

Publisher: The Wild Rose Press

 

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After encountering a brief power outage at work, college student Sara Donovan might be allowing her imagination to run wild. The main vault in the Carlton Museum holds the Fire and Ice Exhibit, a collection of rare gems, including the Star of Midnight, a 175-carat diamond. Although all the stones are accounted for, Sara suspects the Star of Midnight was stolen and replaced with a fake.

While conducting her own investigation, what Sara uncovers is beyond even her wildest imagination: a coded message, papers with strange characters, and a mysterious set of numbers carved into an office wall. Despite dismissive historians and other experts, she is certain these clues point to a mysterious centuries-old legend.

Unfortunately, her colorful history of usually being right, but always being wrong, means she must solve the mystery to prove her theory.

~~~~

About the Author

B.T. Polcari is a graduate of Rutgers College of Rutgers University, an award-winning mystery author, and a proud father of two wonderful children.

He’s a champion of rescue pups (Mauzzy is a rescue), craves watching football and basketball, and, of course, loves reading mysteries.

Among his favorite authors are D.P. Lyle, Robert B. Parker, and Michael Connelly. He is also an unapologetic fantasy football addict.

He lives with his wife in scenic Chattanooga, Tennessee.

 

Contact Links

Website

Facebook

Twitter

Blog

Goodreads

Pinterest

Instagram

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Purchase Link

Amazon

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a Rafflecopter giveaway

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RABT Book Tours & PR

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#BookTour “Worse Than Murder” by Stephen Wechselblatt

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Mystery / Thriller

Date Published: 03-01-2022

Publisher: Barringer Press

 

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Homicide detective John Carver thought he’d seen it all. But when a young woman’s body is discovered floating in the rooftop water tank at a skid-row hotel and a local new-age psychic claims to have seen that young woman moments before her death, he quickly realizes he’s in unfamiliar territory.

Soon he’s thrust into an investigation that makes him question everything he believes in.

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EXCERPT

Prologue                                                                Los Angeles, 3:30 pm., January 27, 2018

                                                            The Master of Death

            It’s time. The SS bolts on the watch he wore while policing the Sobibor Concentration Camp 75 years ago whisper, the Holocaust Memorial service is starting. He glances down at the lot. Full. The cars that circled the streets on all sides of the temple have parked. Their drivers are inside the sanctuary.

He lives his hiding place, beside a dormer, and scurries crablike across the sloping roof over to the air vent twenty feet away. He wears a state-of-the-art military grade gas mask and carries a  lim bag that swings back and forth. He reaches the main air vent, stops, and rubs his fingers over it, savoring the chill of flesh against metal. Now in a borrowed body, he’s flushed, excited. His senses have returned. He feels everything: the quickening of his breath; the infinitesimal widening of an artery; the fevered pulse of elation

He unscrews the vent . He hears a violin playing softly in a minor key. The  voice of a frail old man who speaks of suffering. He smiles. Music, memories and prayers won’t help.

The Master of Death is no longer an outcast. Shulamit’s perfumed hair will turn to ashes again.

He unscrews the vent , removes his gift from the bag, and carefully drops the pellets of Zykon B. Flattening his body along the roof, he tries to make himself invisible, and waits for the cries of the dying to reach his ears.

 

 

Chapter 1                               San Miguel de Allende, Two days earlier                                                                               Alicia, the psychic

The tile floor is cold on my bare feet and makes my toes curl. I shake off the morning haze and look toward the mountain in the distance. Dress hurriedly, listening to birdsong and telling myself to trust that the day will bring its rewards just as clearly as the birdsong, which suddenly stops in mid-chirp.

Today feels different from all the other mornings I’ve spent here; nothing of the future was contained within them; but today change is in the air.

I’d like to go downstairs and chat with the ice cream vendor, but it’s too early for him to be setting up his tiny stand. I think of the landlord, the way he looks at me, with so much hunger, so little affection. Better to remain celibate. I think of Carver’s slightly too large ears, his spicy scent, his warm but wary eyes. Sometimes I miss him desperately, as a lover should. At other times he’s like a figure of fog and mist.  It’s impossible to long for someone that doesn’t exist, isn’t it?

Maybe not.

My cuticles hurt. I’ve bitten them down too far again. I don’t know why. My room has a calming effect. It smells like jasmine and eucalyptus. The shower has a cheerful orange curtain; lemon-yellow walls show every insect, however tiny; and the white-and-blue tiled floor has a lovely fleur-de-lis pattern with only one chipped tile under the sink. It reminds me of a child with a cracked front tooth. The neighbors are friendly but not inquisitive. None of them care what brought me here – or imagine the problems I’ve left behind.

An hour goes by. The winter sun casts shadows on San Miguel’s historic district, twenty-four blocks of narrow streets, alleyways and paths. I head down the stairs and pass through the Farmacia on the ground floor, where the proprietor smiles and waves. I smile back but don’t stop to talk. Untethered, I drift out the pale yellow stucco building that has been my refuge for last three months. I glance up at the sash windows and decorative cast-iron balconies and past the red and white umbrella where the vendor will sell goat’s milk ice cream later in the day. I walk four more blocks over cobblestone streets to San Miguel’s traditional food market, the Mercado Ignacio Ramírez to purchase churros, a perfect pick-me-up with Mexican chocolate pot-de-crème.

Life here is more than tolerable.

Mid-afternoon, my steps lead me unexpectedly to San Juan de Dios, a beautiful old colonial cemetery guarded by a rusted gate. Most days it’s triple locked, perhaps to keep out looters, but today the door stands open, perhaps an invitation from an unknown spirit. The graves inside are close together, separated only by ill-tended spikes of grass. Despite the sun’s warmth, my skin prickles; goose bumps form on my arm. I know what’ll happen next. A call will come, as impossible to evade as that rock hidden in the underbrush. I stop to touch my ankle and assess the injury.  Bending down, I’m startled to see that the stone is actually a slab of blue marble. Someone’s smashed a tombstone. Suddenly, with a rush of chilly air, a vision sweeps me in, swallows me up, so that I see it all from the inside.

Phyllis bends over, rests her fingers on the floor in a runner’s crouch, every muscle twitching. I slip into her body. Our mouth opens like a panting dog—

quick, shallow breaths. Clammy skin.

Our eyes water. Fear.

A wide-eyed mother reaches for her toddler, pulling the child to her chest but loses her grip and the child slips from her hand and falls floor face up, without expression, a broken toy. A man stumbles over us. His attempt to scream hangs for a split second in the air before it disappears.

Phyllis-and-I pass into a fugue state, shaking, only the insistent life-beat of our heart for company, so loud it sounds several times its size, as big as the temple itself. Something, the cold or the fear siphons our consciousness, pulling us       down a dark long, silent tunnel.

Her lungs fail, her heartbeat slows. I scratch like a wild cat, desperate to escape from her body before she dies and takes me with her. As Phyllis succumbs and falls to the floor I float above her. Phyllis is frozen, her lips blue. But her skin is cherry red.

All over the sanctuary people gasp, struggle to breathe, but sodden lungs no longer work. The doors won’t open. Men and women bang until they collapse one by one, overcome by seizures, thrashing,

A father holds the hand of a tiny seraph in a green dress. And prays for her. Parents are all ears, listening to their children’s ragged breaths, to the awful gurgling within their chests. Parents are all eyes, watching the pinkish saliva drool from tiny lips.

Grief flows all around like a silken metal river.

A man with crazed eyes staggers up the raised platform where the sacred scrolls are kept. He pulls the curtain and removes a Torah mantled in silk and draped with a silver breastplate, shoving a frail white-haired man who tries to prevent him from committing a sacrilege. The old man collapses. His head strikes the wooden floor with a thud. The other doesn’t even look down, but races with the scroll in his arms to the windows. He heaves the scroll against glass that doesn’t shatter

Now I’m floating. Outside the building there’s an eerie silence until a Volvo stops in front of the synagogue.  Carver? Yes. Get in there. Save them. Of course, he can’t hear me. He lowers black tasseled loafers to the pavement and walks around the car to open the passenger door. He leans in and takes the elbow of an old man, helping him up. Must be his father — the resemblance is unmistakable.

            Carver raises his head. He hears the banging, faint now. He sprints to the door. Sees it’s chained. He urges his father back into the car, but his father just screams, “The Nazis! They’re after me again.” 

            Carver wraps his arms around his father. “Shh. It’s all right. You’re safe” But he can’t calm him, and feels compelled to return to the synagogue. He goes around to the back of the building, looking for another door or a window he can break. When he sees no way in, he pulls out a cell phone and calls for help.

            Minutes later sirens scream. A rescue team and an ambulance arrive. Using huge bolt cutters they cut one part of the link at a time, the police open the door.

            They wave off the EMS team. “Wait until we give you the all clear.”

            In a minute or two, the policemen come out, coughing stumbling, dropping to the walkway. ”You got gas masks, right…?”” an officer wheezed,. “…Use ‘em. I’ve never seen so many bodies.” His eyes close.            

            An EMS member checks his pulse, desperately starts CPR. Compresses his chest, trying to pump life back into him. He tilts the man’s head back and pinches his nose. But as soon as he breathes into the victim’s mouth, he coughs and pulls away.

            “I can’t do this,” he croaks. He lifts his hand to his throat as if it’s on fire .”Get me an AED,”

            A stick-thin EMS tech rushes back to the yellow van and returns with an automated electric defibrillator. On his way back, he yells, “Do we have any Class Three masks? Looks like we’re gonna need them.” 

            A voice answers from the van. “Yeah, two CM-7Ms. When you and Charlie are done helping the victim, come back for them.  I’ve called for more ambulances. If all these people are like him –“ He didn’t finish the thought.

            Minutes later more teams arrive with stretchers to carry out the dead.. A few –  so very few! – show signs of life and are rushed to the hospital.

            Carver ‘s father sees all of it. Rocks back and forth and murmurs. Carver’s eyes widen and his jaw drops, as if he’s never heard his father speak in a foreign language. He clasps his hand on the old man’s shoulder, but the old man breaks away from him.  Carver shouts something, and wrestles his father into the car,  Following the ambulance to the hospital, Carver hopes to find  help for his dad.  

 

Sitting next to the shattered grave, I come return to the here and now. Birds chirp, but the dread that rips though me is sharp enough to double me over.

Dear Goddess, Why would someone want to glorify history’s darkest night?

I had received visions of death before. A girl floating in a cistern that supplied drinking water to hundreds of residents and guests in a hotel. But they hadn’t all died, just one of them –stranger, not a dear friend.

I didn’t bring my iPhone; but in my mind I’m typing away on it furiously, warning Phyllis to skip the memorial and warn others as well. To tell her that something terrible was going to happen. But when will it occur? I have no idea –

all the more reason for speed.

Phyllis won’t ignore me. I know too many things. I’m heavy with knowledge. And hate? It will do what it always does – metastasize.

I turned and ran down the cobbled streets towards my room, throw together some essentials and head to the airport.

 

Chapter 2                                                                   Alicia

Blue and gay patterned carpet muffles my steps as I move through Mexico City’s airport. I glance at the faces of people sitting and waiting for their flights. The silent ones with  features frozen into stillness, the young mothers following their toddlers up and down the walkway and shooing them from the moving stairs where they’re likely to trip, and the teenagers laughing together with their companions. But I’m alone. The faces I see are the faces of strangers.

Phyllis never texted me back. I fear the worst; that I’m too late, the bombing has already happened. But maybe –

I trip over a duffle bag someone left on the floor. I see a pair of shiny black shoes and black slacks. I look up and see a slender, youngish man with a long black coat, curly sideburns and a wispy beard. He stretches out a pale arm to help me up, but I feel an odd reluctance to take it, a frisson of fear, as if it’s not really flesh and bone.

“Are you all right, miss?” he asks.

“I’m fine. I wonder whose bag this is.”

“No, I mean your friend. You’re returning for her funeral. “

“What?” Oh God. Phyllis is dead. “How do you know?

“The way your eyes stare. And the slant of your shoulders.“

Icy fingers flutter along my spine. “Who are you?”

His eyes shine like lanterns. “Face the future with courage. Great work is ahead that only you can accomplish.”

My mouth goes slack. Why trust the tongue that moves so smoothly from thoughts of death to predictions of greatness?

But then, I think, what’s so great about greatness? I’ve brought a dead man back to life. Fought an immortal demon. And he can’t possibly imagine guess how these memories and responsibilities continue to weigh on me.

I take a deep, cleansing breath..” You don’t know me at all.”

“Not yet.” He smiles. His teeth are pearly white. He winks, turns away, and vanishes in the passing stream of strangers with the luggage I’d tripped on.

He’d stopped me on purpose. But why? He was a messenger without a clear message. He promised great things. Maybe that meant finding out why the attack occurred. Maybe it meant something else. Or maybe it meant nothing at all. Now that he was gone I wasn’t sure he’d even been there. He was less real, less tangible, than Aishe, my spirit mentor.

I  adjust the strap of my carry-on bag and continue walking. The faces around me take on a wolfish hue. Even the children. A little girl throws the head of a doll into the air and catches it again and again. A boy with an untied shoelace grinds his sneaker into the carpet, leaving the smudge of a dead insect.

Wickedness walls me in. I walk on, not looking to the left or right, and speed up as if something’s chasing me, hoping the plane to Los Angeles will arrive on time. I pass the endless waiting room, its gray carpet, its round, recessed lights, wishing to be anyplace but here.

To my right is a bank of chairs. A man in jeans reads a newspaper, and I catch a glimpse of the headline. In bold letters it says ISIS attacks U.S Synagogue — Greatest Death Toll Since 9-11.

Hope drains entirely. I’m too late.

~~~~

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About the Author

 Stephen Wechselblatt received his Ph.D. from the University of Iowa. Thirty years later he moved to the mountains of North Carolina and began writing
fiction.

His book of short stories, Diamonds and Moths was published in 2017.

Worse than Murder is his first novel.

 

 

Contact Link

Website

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Purchase Link

Amazon

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RABT Book Tours & PR

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#BookTour “The Potrero Complex” by Amy L. Bernstein

The Potrero Complex by Amy L Bernstein Bannerugust 1-31, 2022 Virtual Book Tour

Synopsis:

The Potrero Complex by Amy L Bernstein

Journalist Rags Goldner is battle-scarred and heartbroken after covering a devastating pandemic that rages in Baltimore for five years. She leaves the city with her partner in search of a simpler life in small-town Maryland—only to discover nothing in Canary is simple. A teenager is missing, and it falls to Rags to fight the forces of apathy, paranoia, and creeping fascism to learn the shocking truth about Effie Rutter’s fate—and the fate of thousands like her.

Praise for The Potrero Complex:

“Anyone immersed in the experience and possible outcomes of social change after this pandemic will find The Potrero Complex frightening and hard to put down, presenting thought-provoking insights on the progress and erosion of freedom in the name of safety and social preservation.”

D. Donovan, Sr. Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

“Bernstein sets us in a post-pandemic time just the barest bit beyond our own, on the way to a dystopia that feels too frightening and too familiar. A thoughtful, complex, well-executed novel—not a who-done-it? but a much scarier what-in-the-hell-is-happening?”

Robert Kanigel, author of Hearing Homer’s Songand The Man Who Knew Infinity

“An intelligently conceived tale of an unthinkable yet credible future. A novel of dark deeds in dark times.”

Karen S. Bennett, author of Beautiful Horseflesh

“A complicated tale of post-pandemic times in the not-so-distant future, where share cars, data phones, and respies figure into a plot that is scarily believable.”

Avery Caswell, author of Salvation

“Richly textured, with many evocative threads [that] explore the culture of a post-pandemic small town—a town that camouflages its disturbing secrets. A cautionary tale.”

Kathy Mangan, Professor Emeritus, McDaniel College, author of Taproot

“A scarily prescient novel that deftly explores the fraught connections between individuality, society, public policy, and technology.”

Courtney Harler, Harler Literary LLC

“An emotional, haunting tale leaves you with more questions than answers, and that’s a good thing. A memorable and timely reminder that there are no easy solutions when fear and conspiracy feed like hungry beasts and the innocent exist simply for the taking.”

PJ McIlvaine, screenwriter, author of My Horrible Year

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery, Thriller

Published by: Regal House Publishing

Publication Date: August 2nd 2022

Number of Pages: 270

ISBN: 1646032500 (ISBN13: 9781646032501)

Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads | Regal House Publishing

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Read an excerpt:

MISSING: A teenaged girl with lanky, blonde hair and a sunburst tattoo on her cheek.

The holographic posters, brighter than day itself, lit up the air on every block of Main Street. They were the first thing Rags Goldner noticed as she and her partner, Flint Sten, arrived in Canary.

The girl’s name was Effie and she was sixteen.

Effie’s pixelated image beamed down at Rags like a celebrity unaware that her fifteen minutes of fame were up.

Rags refused to give a damn about the missing girl who, after all, she didn’t know. Nor did she know much about the town, Canary, where the driverless ShareCar she and Flint had leased for their move had brought them. But missing kids make news, and as Canary’s newly imported one-and-only newspaper editor, Rags knew she’d be expected to do something about it. Which meant she wouldn’t control the news hole on day one. Which meant all kinds of people would come at her to do one thing or another.

Rags hadn’t been in town five minutes and already she could tell things were going to get complicated—and complicated was the very thing she and Flint were trying to get away from. Damn all the politicians and peacekeepers and their gatekeeping bullshit, she thought.

As the car made a final turn toward its programmed destination, Rags’s twitch flared up: the muscles in her upper left cheek and the outer corner of her left eye performed an uncontrolled little dance. “Ah, crap,” she said. “Turning Main Street into Times Square won’t help them find the girl. What a waste. And all that light pollution.” She stretched her face, willing the twitch to stop.

Flint held up his dataphone and aimed it at one of the digital posters as they cruised by. The static image of Effie sprang into augmented-reality motion: she turned her head, blinked, and laughed.

“Stop doing that, Flint,” Rags said. “Just don’t.” No way that girl, out there somewhere, is smiling.

“Don’t get spun up so fast.” Flint looked over at her for the first time in hours. Their connection was like a faulty wire, fritzing on and off. “Give yourself some room to ramp up,” he said, putting his hand on top of her head in a familiar gesture: simmer down. It helped. The twitching nearly stopped. “We haven’t even come to a full stop yet. Pace yourself.”

“Well, look,” Rags said. “They’ve plastered her face everywhere. Probably been like that for weeks.”

“You think the story about this girl has gone cold, right?” Flint said. “What do you call that?”

“Beat up. I’m guessing the story’s beat up. The first thing I’m going to hear is that they want me to flog it some more. Remind me, why are we doing this?”

“Let’s not,” Flint said, looking back down at his screen. “Anyway, it was your idea.”

As the ShareCar rolled noiselessly down Main Street, Rags saw just one person hanging around the deserted downtown: a woman standing on a corner who appeared to be waiting. For what? Rags wondered. As they slowly passed by, Rags caught a dead look in the woman’s eyes. A block further on, Rags watched a man and a woman, both in shabby coats, as they appeared to argue, their faces contorted with anger. The man handed the woman a bicycle pump. She handed him in return a loaf of bread. What kind of town is this?

The ShareCar parked curbside at 326 Main Street. For well over a century, the little brick building, sandwiched between other little brick buildings, had housed the Canary Courant. A chatty little newspaper, the Courant, as Rags knew from her research, printed anything and everything within the bounds of what people once called ‘common decency’ about the town of Canary, a tiny hamlet in the northwestern corner of Maryland, not far from the Pennsylvania border. The kind of town that flew under the radar for anyone who did not live there.

The fact that the Canary Courant was still a going concern in 2030 was astounding, even mysterious, and a key reason that Rags was here. Though perhaps not the only reason. The paper’s survival was even more of a puzzle when one considered that the town itself, which had been shriveling for decades, was now skeletal. The pandemic, which everybody called The Big One, had raged for nearly five years. It hollowed out an already hollowed out place, killing off over two-thirds of the elderly population living out their days in Canary. Those folks never knew what hit them—their dreams of slipping into gracious idleness on their front-porch rockers, eating breakfast on the cheap at the town diner, destroyed in an agony of fever and blood.

On Canary’s rural outskirts, on their way into town, Rags had seen the crematorium, a hulking cinderblock rectangle erected for one single purpose: to incinerate the infected dead into piles of decontaminated black ash. She was sure Flint missed it— though it was very hard to miss, rising up from a flat expanse of undeveloped land—just as he’d missed seeing Effie until she pointed it out. Like I’m his goddamn tour guide.

Now, nearly two years after The Big One had been officially declared over, Rags suspected that Canary’s survivors were like a mouth full of missing teeth—families broken by a plague that took not merely the elderly but also children and their parents with a seemingly vicious and terrifyingly random determination. With an emphasis on random. Survivors everywhere were known as “Luckies,” though Rags only ever used that term in its most ironic sense.

And yet, even in a near ghost town like Canary, in a still-brittle economy, in a world where print media was a rare novelty, the ink-on-paper edition of the Canary Courant lived on, as quirky and creaky as Miss Havisham in the attic, each folded issue tossed at sunrise every Wednesday and every other Sunday into doorways and onto walkways by a young father and son living on gig income.

Rags deliberately suppressed her own journalistic instincts when it came to figuring out how this newspaper managed to keep going years past its natural expiration date. Turning a blind eye to its improbable existence was both expedient and convenient for her. She knew that income from print ads—about as old-fashioned as you could get—was the sole reason the paper was able to keep going. It surely wasn’t due to subscription revenue. But she didn’t know why anyone would buy print ads in a tiny newspaper serving a dying community in a digital world. There’d be time, she figured, to get to the bottom of that.

The main thing was that this improbable job as the Canary Courant’s editor came her way at a time when she and Flint were looking for an escape hatch that would take them away from the exhausting hysteria and suffocating autocracy that made post-pandemic, big-city living unbearable in countless ways. They came to Canary in search of a simpler life—though Rags, if pressed, could not readily have defined what that would look like. Freedom from fear? Freedom to forget? She kept these notions to herself because she did not think Flint would admit to any of it—let alone acknowledge the possibility.

Rags had worried before they arrived that an out-of-the-way place like Canary might have borne an influx of people seeking—or imagining—that this place would prove to be some kind of oasis. But from the little she’d seen so far, there was nothing oasis-like about this town. The garish and intrusive billboards of the missing Effie radiated an anxious thrum, nothing like a small-town welcome.

Rags and Flint left the ShareCar with programmed instructions to continue on and wait for them at the house they were renting a few blocks from Canary’s minuscule town center. The entire move, including Rags’s new job, had been planned remotely, so this was their first time actually in Canary. In the grand scheme of things, given the terrifying and unpredictable upheavals they’d already lived through, moving hundreds of miles away to a new place sight unseen didn’t feel at all risky.

From the outside, the newspaper office mimicked the virtual reality images Rags had already seen online. A plate-glass window with old-fashioned gold lettering rimmed in black spelled out Canary Courant. Since 1910. Rags doubted there was anything very “current” about it; the very name advertised its status as a relic with a pretentious echo of French. Rags wondered who else knew that courant in French had more than one meaning— not just “current” but also “ordinary.” Someone must have had the lettering on the window repainted many times over the years—and who even knew how to do that sort of thing, anymore?—but this was a line item Rags wasn’t going to worry about. She was here on purpose yet still felt faintly ridiculous about the whole thing.

All this ye-oldy feel-good yester-year crap, she thought. Some kind of amusement park for blinkered folks. A post-apocalyptic Disneyworld? Or maybe Westworld—a place where you could trick yourself into relaxing, just for a moment.

Yet here she was, along with her IT-guru partner Flint, a software developer steeped in AI arcana, who was definitely not the ye-oldy type. Fitting in, for both of them, was beside the point. Rags figured they’d both settle for some kind of new equilibrium. She waved her dataphone in front of the digi-lock and the heavy front door swung open. The newspaper office was a step up from the threshold because, Rags learned later, the floor had been reinforced a century ago to support the heavy metal printing presses that used to take up a third of the space with their loud, clackety racket.

As Rags entered the square-shaped newsroom, the old floor creaking, a woman likely more than twice Rags’s age—a surprise in and of itself, in this day and age—stood up quickly from a battered wooden desk, her chair scraping against the floor. Rags knew only her first name, Merry. She was tall with broad shoulders, like a swimmer, dressed in loose-fitting wrinkled clothes, her hair silver-gray and so long it touched her buttocks.

“You’re here,” Merry said with a slightly accusatory edge that did not escape Rag’s notice, as though she’d been doing something she shouldn’t.

“Yup,” Rags said as she scanned the room. She made a quick mental list of all the things she intended to change. Rags hated clutter the way healthy people hate cancer: it was offensive, invasive, and should be eliminated quickly and surgically. The heavy furniture would have to go, and the old-fashioned filing cabinets, and the shelf of tacky journalism awards—the fake-gold winged angels, the stupid quill pens mounted on blocks of glass. Rags guessed that most if not all of the people who’d won those awards were long dead, one way or another. She’d call someone as soon as possible to haul all this crap away. The place looked like a mausoleum, for chrissakes. And that told her all she needed to know about Merry, who radiated the territorial energy of a fox guarding its cubs.

“I’ve got tomorrow’s front page made up on screen,” Merry said, standing rigidly by her desk. “I suppose you want to see it.” Rags saw Flint make a tiny, familiar gesture: flicking on his ear discs (he’d insisted on upgrading from old-school earbuds), so he could drown out the voices around him and listen to the soundtrack of his choice. With this personal sound cushion enveloping him, Flint glided around the room like a restless ghost, ignoring the two women, fingering every piece of tech there was, and there wasn’t much. Rags turned her attention to Merry—watching her watching Flint, to see how much this invasion of Merry’s claimed space unsettled her. Rags didn’t bother to introduce them, as Flint wasn’t likely to visit the newsroom again.

“Is it all about the missing girl?” Rags asked.

“Is there another big story in town I’ve missed?” Merry asked, her blue-gray eyes staring icily at Rags. “Because if so, be my guest. You’ve got two whole hours until we send the file to the printers.” Merry stepped away from her desk, as if inviting Rags to step in. Rags read the gesture as it was intended: What the fuck do you know?

Well, this wasn’t going to be pretty. In that moment, Rags had to admit to herself that while she thought she longed to live in a place where she could pursue small stories of no consequence, instead of big ones that traded in life and death, she was never going to check her personality at the door. She wouldn’t look for trouble, but she wouldn’t back away from a fight, either, especially if she knew going into it that she had the upper hand. She was editor-in-chief, after all, not Merry—a holdover from a previous regime with an ill-defined job, as far as Rags knew.

Rags sat down at a battered desk nearly identical to Merry’s and began opening drawers, which contained random bits of long-obsolete office junk: Post-It notes, ballpoint pens, paperclips, a box of peppermint Tic-Tacs. Rags popped a Tic-Tac in her mouth and bit down hard; it was stale and tasteless.

“That’s Freddy’s desk,” Merry said. “You mean it was,” Rags said.

“For a long time, yeah. He was a damn good copy editor.

Nothing got past Freddy. That’s what everybody said.”

“Except The Big One, I’m guessing,” Rags said, without an ounce of sympathy. “Snuck right up on him.”

“Yeah, it did,” Merry said flatly, turning back to her screen.

“So what’s your plan, Polly?”

“Don’t call me Polly. Call me Rags.”

“I was told the new editor-in-chief is named Polly,” Merry said, as if trying to catch Rags in a lie. “I wasn’t told anything about somebody named Rags.”

“Yet here I am,” Rags said, rising from Freddy’s chair. She stood behind Merry and looked at the screen. “How many stories on this girl, Effie, have you run this month, Merry?”

“We try to post something every week.” “Why?” Rags asked.

“Why? Because we’re trying to flush out new leads, Pol—

Rags.”

“Are there any?” Rags asked, scrolling around the digital home page of the Courant. Merry hovered over her, as though she feared Rags would break something.

“Not in over a week,” Merry said.

“So it’s a beat-up story but you keep milking it for, what, sympathy?”

“No!” Merry said, turning red. “You don’t have any children, do you? Because if you did, you’d—”

“Bury it,” Rags said.

“You want me to bury the lead story? And replace it with what?” Merry’s cheeks flushed. She bit her lower lip. Rags noted how little it would take to get her really and truly riled up.

By this point, Flint had found an ancient PC from 2010 sitting on a dusty windowsill and he was taking it apart, down to the motherboard and its old components. Rags knew he was going to wait her out, and this would keep him happily occupied until she was good and ready to leave. He was patient in this type of situation, which Rags appreciated; his tolerance of her own need to press on, push hard, was essential to balancing them out. Maybe here, finally, she’d find a way to press less, though the situation was not promising in that respect.

Rags touched Merry’s screen to scroll through the pages of the main news well. It was only a couple of pages long before you hit sports, the crossword (unkillable), and then those unaccountably robust print ads listing everything from flying lessons to bizarre personals. She told Merry to make the lead a story she’d spotted about a leaking septic tank and to bury the Effie story right before the sports section. The need for the switch was obvious. The Effie story had had its day, and anything that remotely threatened public health, like a septic tank problem, belonged well above the fold. It was a thin fold, in any case, despite the ads.

“And when the next kid goes missing, you want us to bury

that too?” Merry asked.

“What do you mean, the next kid?” Rags asked. “It’s going to happen,” Merry said, biting her lip. “You don’t know that.”

“You don’t know anything,” Merry said.

“Then tell me, Merry. Tell me what I don’t know.”

Rags could see Merry’s chest rising and falling, as if she was struggling to hold something in. But Merry said nothing.

“Switch the stories,” Rags said. There was no way she’d back down and let Merry have her way. And besides, if there was nothing new to report on the Effie case, then there really wasn’t a compelling reason to give the story the banner headline for the week. Rags had no qualms about her decision. “Flint, let’s go find our new home.”

Flint had his head deep inside the guts of the old PC he’d found. She called to him again. He straightened up, dusted off his hands, and followed Rags out without a word to Merry, leaving the deconstructed computer in bits and pieces on the desk.

***

Excerpt from The Potrero Complex by Amy L Bernstein. Copyright 2022 by Amy L Bernstein. Reproduced with permission from Amy L Bernstein. All rights reserved.

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Author Bio:

Amy L Bernstein

Amy L. Bernstein writes stories that let readers feel while making them think. Her novels include The Potrero Complex, The Nighthawkers, Dreams of Song Times, and Fran, The Second Time Around. Amy is an award-winning journalist, speechwriter, playwright, and certified nonfiction book coach. When not glued to a screen, she loves listening to jazz and classical music, drinking wine with friends, and exploring Baltimore’s glorious neighborhoods, which inspire her fiction.

Catch Up With Amy L Bernstein:
AmyWrites.live
Goodreads
BookBub – @Amy5705
Instagram – @amylbernstein
Twitter – @amylbernstein
Facebook – @AmyLBernsteinAuthor
TikTok – @amylbernsteinauthor

 

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#BookTour “Heroes Ever Die ( Ken Allen Super Sleuth Series, #2)” by J. A. Crawford

Heroes Ever Die by J A Crawford BannerAugust 1-31, 2022 Virtual Book Tour

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book cover

Synopsis:

In his world, everyone wears a mask.

When the actors who play iconic superheroes in big screen blockbusters start dying on set, Ken Allen, failed actor and neophyte detective, answers the call after the blame falls on effects expert Ray Ford, Ken’s oldest friend.

But the deaths are not accidental. Someone is killing heroes. Maybe for love, maybe for money. Maybe for both. Ken Allen finds himself outmatched and outgunned when he learns that Ray Ford’s banished apprentice makes weapons that are anything but props.

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery

Published by: CamCat Books

Publication Date: August 16th 2022

Number of Pages: 304

ISBN: 0744305926 (ISBN13: 9780744305920)

Series: Ken Allen Super Sleuth Series, #2

Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads | IndieBound | CamCat Books

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Read an excerpt:

Chapter 1

FALL HAD COME to This Town, the season where hopes spring eternal, with new productions shooting up to bloom or be nipped in the bud. I was on the studio backlot, gaping at everything like a tourist. There was a reason why I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face.

I was about to meet my hero.

I don’t often ask for favors. Whether it’s a character strength or flaw, I am far more comfortable helping others than I am being helped. But when I heard Dave King was coming out of seclusion, I had to meet him. Just once. And thank him for doing so much for me, a person he didn’t know existed.

Of course, the one man who could grant an audience with King was the person I owed the most.

Ray Ford was the “Magician of Make-Believe”—the premier special-effects expert in the entertainment industry for more than six decades. Last season, when the rest of the world pegged me a serial killer, Ray fabricated the host of gadgets that elevated me from

mild-mannered to super. In return, he played spectator to my adventures and got to test his inventions under real-life conditions.

Ray was currently transforming mild-mannered actors into silver-screen superheroes. There were two major players—production companies with rival expanded universes—filming and releasing simultaneously in a box-office death match. The demand for spectacle and escalating budgets had led to Ray working both sides of the fence. I didn’t want to imagine what his NDAs must look like.

I got far as I could without an escort—corralled with a crowd of fans waving their phones around in hopes of catching the barest whiff of a leak. There was no shortage of ex-[insert armed service branch here] private police personnel hoping to be discovered through a guarding gig, and my banner year didn’t elevate my status to the height required to part a sea of badges. I took shelter in the shadow of a warehouse and drank in the October air. It was only seventy-five degrees, but my blazer was a sculpted sheath of ballistic gel. While nothing less than a bursting shell could penetrate its surface, the material also blocked the cross breeze. I dug out my phone and jumped back into the Dave King omnibus collection I had downloaded for long plane rides.

Ray located me via the bell he’d hung around my wrist. My custom-built smart watch had all the extras, including GPS, a heart-rate monitor, and a microphone which never turned off, for Ray’s eavesdropping pleasure. You didn’t think about how much you talked to yourself until someone was listening in on every word. He waved at me from the far side of the security cordon. An extra-large fanboy hard-blocked my route.

He ignored my polite requests and apologies, so I spiked his phone like a volleyball.

“Dude, what the hell?”

I shoved my way into the opening. “That’s what you get for filming vertically.”

He sized me up, decided I wasn’t bully material, and went searching for his phone.

Ray admitted me through the gate. He was as I saw him last, muscle and gristle shrink-wrapped into an one-piece racing suit. His russet skin was free of stubble and his head was razored into a reflective surface.

“Well, well. If it isn’t Ken Allen, the detective to the stars himself.” “Quiet, you’ll draw a crowd.”

Ray laughed. I had been a shamus for exactly two cases, one where I cleared myself for murder and another which had taken me overseas.

Security permitted me through after Ray presented a lanyard with a hybrid hologram/bar code. I hung it around my neck, and we wove through the time traveler’s menagerie that was multiple-production traffic toward the soundstage.

Ray opted for chatter. “How was your flight?”

“Are you telling me you can’t listen in when I’m on airplane mode?”

“Ken, help me out here. I’ve been practicing my small talk. According to those internet sites, I need to work on my people skills.”

As someone who had been the subject of memes for more than a decade, I felt Ray’s pain. “I warned you not to look.”

When Ray replied, he kept his volume low. “It wasn’t by choice.

My last few gigs have had leaks. Been trying to track the source.”

I knew which soundstage was ours from the drones. Constructs of Ray’s design, they patrolled both the interior and exterior of the hangar-sized structure. Like any magician, Ray couldn’t have the audience peeking behind the curtain. But time was catching up to him. Everyone had a camera in their pocket loaded with apps capable of instantly reaching millions. As kids, we were warned about the rise of Big Brother. What no one foresaw was that we would become him. The guard at the door scanned our lanyards before letting us pass, including Ray, who had been gone five minutes. I stepped into the

façade of a factory. A cauldron that could have boiled a tyrannosaurus rex belched molten metal into the air. A catwalk OSHA never would have approved ended over the cauldron like a diving board. The grated floor allowed a peek at a legion of killer robots idling below. Orange light glowed from off-screen sources. The light wasn’t there to provide visibility, but instead to create shadows and suggest heat. Smoke machines added a haze of steam, enhancing the effect.

All the trappings of moviemaking were present: the light arrays, boom mikes, camera tracks, and monitors. At least one person was assigned to each object. Everyone had a badge hanging from their neck, even the saints stationed at craft services.

An average-sized white guy in a modern, tactical version of a Confederate army jacket stepped onto the catwalk. Clutching fighting sticks that resembled rolled-up scrolls, he inched forward like a dog who wasn’t supposed to be in the kitchen.

I couldn’t contain my excitement. “Bill O’Wrongs is the villain in this one?”

“Yeah,” Ray said. “Wait here.”

When you’re a kid playing pretend, you either want to be a cop or a robber. Me, I was a cop all the way, right down to the embarrassing daydreams of saving my fourth-grade teacher from masked kidnappers. I’ve never been a rule breaker by nature. So, when Ray told me to stay put, I stayed put.

There was plenty to take in. The production was an expert operation, performed by a crew who had worked together many times, churning out franchise faire assembly-line style. I had appeared—not acted but appeared, you’d agree if you’d seen it—in exactly one movie, whose production wasn’t exactly traditional. If I had my way, that flick would have stayed secret forever. Then again, it was what got me here. I guess you could say I had a love/hate relationship with my origin story.

Someone’s assistant approached me.

I knew it was an assistant from the way he eased into my eye line, instead of confronting me as to who I was and what I thought I was doing. Which was good, because I didn’t have a firm answer for either. Not now, not ever.

“Mr. Allen?”

“Mr. Allen is my father. Please, call me Mr. Allen Junior.”

The assistant made a note in his phone, and I immediately regretted the joke.

“Mr. West would like to speak with you.”

The assistant was unable to hide his curiosity over how a person of my station could possibly know Flint West. I waved up to Ray above me, but he was absorbed in his work. If he needed to find me, he could. “Then let’s not keep Mr. West waiting.”

The assistant led me outside while not taking his eyes off me, as if he were watching his kid. Mr. West’s trailer was nicer than every place I’d lived up until three months ago, when my life took a ride on the roller-coaster that was the twenty-four-hour news cycle. The assistant waved a key fob across the door, and I heard a latch click.

“Mr. West is inside, Mr. Allen Junior.”

A response would have only created more problems, so I stepped into a curtained landing area, stopping to ensure the door locked back into place. A deep voice boomed from the private side of the cloth barrier.

“That you, Ken Allen? Get in here!”

I pushed the curtain aside and ran face-first into Flint West. He squeezed me until I was ready to pop before pushing me back to give me a once-over.

“You miss me, Ken? You know I missed you.”

Flint was in a silk robe, boxer briefs that could have been painted on, and nothing else. His smile made he smile.

“Your body sure didn’t,” I said. “You were so jacked in that last Civil Warriors flick people thought it was CGI.”

Flint shook his head, smiling at suffering-gone-by. “Man, we had paramedics off camera with IVs ready. I looked like that for maybe on hour. They couldn’t get the lighting right.”

He gestured for me to sit before taking a seat himself. I’d never known someone who could maintain genuine, interested eye contact for as long as Flint could.

It forced me to say something. “Becoming an ideal carries a cost.”

Even before computer magic, there were myriad methods to elevate a humble human to heroic status. One was extreme dehydration. In combat sports, competitors only had to be at their fighting weight for a scant moment on the scale. The best way to do so while maintaining your muscle mass was to eliminate as much liquid from your body as possible. Typically, by sweating it out.

It was a dangerous practice. People have died cutting too much weight, particularly those of Flint West’s proportions. And I was the one who taught him the trade. In my previous alter ego as the “Sensei to the Stars,” I had acted as both personal trainer and stage-fighting guru for the A-list.

Flint West was my masterpiece.

“So, Ken, you got a minute for the little people, now that you’re a big-time crime fighter?”

I leaned forward, elbows on my thighs. “Not sure where you’ve been getting your news, but I cleared my name and went on safari.”

Flint wasn’t buying it. “Mmm-hmm. Well, your safari buddy and I have the same agent. You saved her career, man.”

The way Flint said it, we could have been talking about his mother. The pedestal he was putting me on was high enough to end us both if I tumbled off. Flint’s emotions were as herculean as the rest of him. The intensity that had served him on the gridiron translated perfectly to the big screen.

You felt what Flint was feeling.

“What’s on your mind?” I asked.

“I have a friend.” Flint started having second thoughts. He crushed his lips together. His jaw was so muscular it had striations. When you are cast to wear a mask, it’s all about the jawline.

“You have lots of friends,” I replied. “Including me. This isn’t going anywhere you don’t want it to go.”

Flint nodded at my reassurance. Around rep number five, he unflexed his mandibles. “This friend of mine, he’s getting into something big. Real big. And dangerous. He’s used to going it alone, but I think he could use your help.”

The vagueness was giving me a headache. I massaged the bridge of my nose. “I’m going to need more proper nouns here, Flint.”

“If I were to hire you, would my friend have to know you were on the case?”

“I can’t work for a guy who doesn’t know I’m working for him.

And I can’t help someone when I don’t even know his name.”

Flint tapped a fist on his lips to acknowledge I was making some good points, so that was progress. When he spoke again, he kept his hand over his mouth.

“It has to do with Dave King.”

Flint didn’t ask if I knew who Dave King was. We had bonded over our love of all things King, years past. It was no coincidence Flint was playing one of King’s characters on screen.

“What’s going on with Dave King?” I asked.

“What you should do is meet him. See if you hit it off.”

I managed to keep from throwing my hands into the air. “Sounds like a plan.”

Flint nodded some more, adding a smile. “All right. All right.

Okay, Ken. Look, they have to start getting me into costume.” “Has that process gotten any better?”

“A little. It’s like having your own pit crew.” “Well, you did make your name in action vehicles.”

Flint laughed to be polite, then switched right back to sincere. “Look, go talk to Dave. Keep it casual, tell him you and I are buddies.” “I’ll do my best, but when it comes to acting, my track record

speaks for itself.”

This time, Flint’s laugh was genuine.

Flint’s assistant played boatman and guided me back to set, where he pointed out Dave King, who I would have known anywhere. I strolled up next to the legend, strategizing how to break the ice, but King spoke the moment he noticed me.

“It’s too small.”

Dave King had once been a big man. Geometrically cubed, with a block head, a barrel chest, and boxy shoulders. You wondered how a pencil could have survived those scarred, square clamps he had for fingers. Age had taken its toll, shrinking him down and thinning him out, but in my eyes, he would always be a giant.

Dave King, the man who had birthed hundreds of heroes with nothing but a #2 pencil and some bristol board. Dave King, the greatest mythmaker of the modern age.

“I always dreamed big. These are titans we’re talking about.” I stood up straight when King glanced my way but stopped short of puffing out my chest. “Who are you supposed to be? One of mine?”

I was stunned silent.

The first thing I said to Dave King needed to mean something, without coming on too strong. The silence was getting uncomfortable, so I went with what I was thinking.

“I wish.”

Dave King boomed a laugh that turned heads in our direction. “If wishes were fishes, we’d all cast nets. So, who are you playing in this picture show?”

It wasn’t the first time my getup had been mistaken for a costume. While my jacket passed casual inspection, close-up, people realized it was closer to a bulletproof vest than a button-down blazer.

“Myself. I’m Ken Allen.” In an attempt to impress him, I added, “I’m a detective.”

Dave King measured my form with an artist’s eye, fitting me for the role. Whether or not I was qualified, I looked the part. Seasoned, but still in shape and easy on the eyes. He might have drawn me in the role, once upon a time.

I tried to remember any of the hundred questions I’d dreamed of asking him over the years. The kind that demonstrates the depth of your devotion. The ones that mark you as a True Fan.

“Well Ken, if you’re looking for evildoers, take your pick. Here comes a grade-A pack of thieves now. Good to meet you.”

Dave King offered his hand. I don’t usually shake hands on principle, but for him I’d make an exception. His grip tremored as we touched palms, the thick fingers curled like claws. I let him lead, keeping my response a notch less firm. There was too much to tell him. I decided to start with the ending.

“Thank you, Mr. King. Growing up, your work meant the world to me.”

King pursed his lips with a nod. He must have heard the same sentiment a billion times before. A sadness crept into his eyes. I’d blown it. Upset him, when I’d intended the opposite. We untangled hands. I did most of the work. Once his fingers had locked down, they didn’t want to release.

The group Dave King had identified as suspect stopped an arm’s length from us. I knew right away who was in charge, because he was rocking a hoodie and track pants. In a realm of suit and tie, the person in casuals bore the crown. His right hand was a Desi woman who wore a power suit as if it were armor. She studied me, so it was only fair for me to study her back.

In This Town, you had to realign the one-to-ten scale. There were too many tens. Her makeup was impeccable. Professional, with deniability. I knew right away she was smarter than me.

Not that it was a rare occurrence.

“Mr. King,” said the tracksuit-in-charge. “So glad you could make it.”

Only he wasn’t.

A lifetime of taking hits had taught me to trust my instincts. Later on, I could dissect the factors behind my initial read. Off the cuff, my gut was enough.

Dave King’s innards were synced with mine. “Save the speeches.

I’ve got a shelf about to snap from worthless awards.”

I wasn’t sure what to do with myself. I hadn’t gone looking for an awkward situation, it had found me.

Tracksuit read me all wrong. “I didn’t realize you were bringing representation.”

“He’s not a lawyer,” the woman informed him.

“Let’s take this elsewhere, this isn’t our shoot to start with,” Tracksuit decided. When he went to guide Dave King by the shoulder, King shrugged him off.

Realizing my moments on set were numbered, I scanned around for my patron. Ray was above me, with Bill O’Wrongs, on the edge of the catwalk. Ray walked Bill through the stunt, pointing, soothing, and doing everything else he could to reassure an actor who was about to dive into a vat of lava.

The cameras weren’t rolling, so Bill O’Wrongs wasn’t in character. Unless his interpretation of the villain was a guy who nodded nervously between deep breaths. Ray turned Bill O’Wrongs’s back to the pit, then reached out over the threshold and grabbed a handful of air. Try as I might, there was no making out what Ray was attaching to the actor’s costume.

Ray wound his way back to me and guided us to his spot behind the firing line, where he had a battle station bristling with monitors, each displaying a different camera angle.

“I thought they wiped out the wires in post.”

Ray snorted. “If you’re going to do that, why not go ahead and make a cartoon?”

The crew took position, their stillness spreading a contagious tension. I wanted to watch it go down live but got a better view from the monitors. I leaned in, as if another six inches would help the ultra-high-definition images. I knew what was coming but not when. Sitting through the coverage for later editing was torture.

Flint entered from above, crashing through a skylight. Stopping to hover midair, he spread his wings to reveal the golden-taloned symbol on his chest below an eagle cowl. I couldn’t help but play civilian. At least I didn’t point and shout his name. Fortunately, Bill O’Wrongs had it covered.

“Flying Freeman!”

Ray had trimmed Flying Freeman’s avian cowl to take full advantage of Flint’s carved-from-ebony jawline. The sculpted brow accentuated his intense expression. I wasn’t surprised they were still showing his eyes instead of the golden orbs from the comic. It was a dumb move to take away an actor’s biggest tool, and anyone who could have won the role of Flying Freeman would have made damn sure of it in their contract.

Flying Freeman dove with a two-footed kick, which Bill O’Wrongs blocked by crossing his fighting sticks. It was the absolute dumbest way to defend such a massive attack, but it looked great. Flying Freeman drifted back with a beat of his wings and pointed at his foe.

This was where it would cut to a close-up hero shot—complete with a one-liner—in the finished film. But right now, the sausage was getting made, and we sat through twelve more takes of Flying Freeman’s entrance. Ray’s drones swept the set, vacuuming up the not-actually glass and installing the next doomed skylight.

Once the director got what she wanted, they moved on to shooting the rest of the fight scene. There had never been anything like it on film. Flying Freeman kept to the air, attacking Bill O’Wrongs

from every angle. This sort of thing was normally done with computer graphics, but Ray had developed some new version of wirework. A technique which allowed the cameras to zoom, pan, and track to show that the actors were doing their own stunts. I could only make out the wires when one of the players was off their mark. They were woven into a network, like a three-dimensional spiderweb. Ray was playing puppet master via drones.

Bill O’Wrongs’s scrolls were revealed to be chain whips—a little on the nose when fighting a Black hero birthed during the civil rights movement. But it was sure to generate an online debate, and there was no marketing like free marketing. I was blown away by the actor’s skill in manipulating a pair of the most complex weapons in martial arts. Until I realized the whips were also tethered to the drones.

After the second meal break, the director made the decision to push forward to the ending sequence. The announcement caused some grumbles and groans, but she reminded everyone they had fallen behind schedule. Ray winced at her comment, which told me he had something to do with the shooting problems. I put a pin in it and kept quiet on the set.

The sequence came in two beats. In the first, Flint as Flying Freeman started on one knee, wings sheathed as Bill O’Wrongs rained down the chains with both hands. In a surge of determination, Flying Freeman spread his wings, casting the chains aside. From his crouch, Flint launched into the air, delivering an uppercut that sent both him and Bill O’Wrongs airborne. They ascended at two different speeds, Flying Freeman rising high as Bill O’Wrongs drifted weightless.

As Bill O’Wrongs hovered over the smoking cauldron, Flying Freeman flipped in the air and dove toward him. With a colossal hammering punch, he sent Bill O’Wrongs rocketing toward molten justice.

Usually, this kind of stunt was executed at low speed, then sped up in post. But that technique always showed. The little things added up: the steam drifted too fast, or the capes whipped around like flags

in a storm. Small motions became jerky enough to yank the audience into the uncanny valley. Ray had created an effect performed in real time. It had me believing a man could fly.

Bill O’Wrongs plummeted at a rate that would have flagged a radar gun. He started dead center over the cauldron, but the angle was all wrong and he veered toward the lip. I reached out as if I could will what was coming to halt. Bill O’Wrongs clipped the edge of the cauldron. The back of his skull struck the rim, ringing the bowl like a gong. A blink after, he splashed into the faux liquid metal, sending a wave of glowing material into the air, where it cooled into sparks.

Behind me, Ray cursed, once and short. Under his piloting, the drones lifted Bill O’Wrongs out of the cauldron, a limp marionette, and lowered him gently as medical rushed in.

Ray stared into the circle of paramedics, but his thoughts weren’t in the present. The paramedics went through the motions, administering CPR until an ambulance arrived. I caught a glimpse of an EMT trying to straighten Bill O’Wrongs’s airway. I’d seen Pez dispensers with straighter alignments. It wasn’t the first death I had witnessed. I didn’t take it any better this time than the others.

The call came to clear the soundstage. Ray didn’t budge. Almost imperceptivity, he started shaking his head and didn’t stop. An inch left, an inch right. He went back to his bank of monitors and loaded what looked like diagnostics.

“This was no accident, Ken. I don’t make mistakes like this. Not now, not ever.”

Every reply that came to mind, every consolation I considered, fell short, so I kept them to myself.

“I’m not responsible for this. I want you to prove it. I don’t care what it costs or how long it takes.”

Ray’s gadgets had saved my skin ten times over. He never so much as asked for a penny. If the man needed me to tilt at his windmills, so be it.

“This one’s on me, old buddy.”

Before Ray could argue, security swept us off set. We had joined the pileup being funneled toward the doors, when I spied someone who belonged in an entirely different universe.

“Is that Foxman?”

Ray tilted his head, trying to get line of sight through the chaos. “Might be Flying Freeman’s stand-in.”

“Nope. Different capes.” I started shoving a path toward the door. Being a detective meant noticing things that were out of place. Foxman didn’t belong in this universe.

Or on this set.

I forced my way out of the exit into a packed mob. The chatter among the crew was rapidly drawing attention. Running from the scene would only draw more, so I walked with purpose, a guy late for his afternoon roundtable. Actor that I was, it didn’t fool anyone. I raised my badge like a torch to ward off security. There was a lot of ground to cover with a throng of people in it, but it was hard to miss a guy dressed as a fox.

I finally broke free of the crowd and gave pursuit. Three guards tried to stop me to check my lanyard but not hard enough to cause a scuffle. I came around a corner to spot Foxman fifty feet away, taking a selfie with a fan. As the taller guy, he was holding the phone. His cape was wrong. It had four scallops instead of five, and his boots were brown when they should have been gray.

I drew the Quarreler — a fictional nonlethal pistol Ray had made real—and attempted to creep closer. I was inside effective range for the taser darts, but Foxman was cuddled up to a civilian and his cape looked sturdy enough to afford some protection. Foxman caught me out of the corner of his eye.

He was good. He dropped the phone and took out the fan with an elbow in the same motion as he spun toward me. I sent two shots center of mass.

Foxman swept up his cape, soaking both darts. When he completed his spin, he extended an arm toward me. His fluted metallic gauntlet sported twin openings reminiscent of a double-barreled shotgun.

I threw my arm over my face. Twin impacts slammed into my forearm and ribs. As I reeled, Foxman aimed his gauntlet at the ground between us.

Smoke exploded all around me. I forged ahead toward Foxman and clear air. I held my breath, but the cloud attacked my sinuses. My legs stopped working. I broke through on pure momentum only to wipe out on the pavement.

My airway started to close up. I went blind. The sun on my skin felt like a nuclear blast. I tried to call for help, but you need to be able to breathe to talk.

Foxman had taken me down without breaking a sweat. How could I have been so stupid? I forgot about his gadget gauntlet and now I was going to die like some two-bit villain.

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Excerpt from Heroes Ever Die by JA Crawford. Copyright 2022 by JA Crawford. Reproduced with permission from CamCat Books. All rights reserved.

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Author Bio:

J A Crawford

Born near Detroit, J. A. Crawford wanted to grow up to be a superhero, before he found out it was more of a hobby. He’s the first in his family to escape the factory line for college. Too chicken to major in writing, he studied Criminal Justice at Wayne State University instead, specializing in criminal procedure and interrogation.

Despite what his family thinks, J. A. is not a spy. When he isn’t writing, he travels the country investigating disaster sites. Before that, he taught Criminal Justice, Montessori Kindergarten, and several martial arts. J. A. is an alum of the Pitch Wars program. In his spare time, he avoids carbohydrates and as many punches as possible.

He loves the stories behind the stories and finds everything under the sun entirely too interesting. J. A. splits his time between Michigan and California. He is married to his first and biggest fan, who is not allowed to bring home any more pets.

Catch Up With J. A. Crawford:
JACrawford.net
Instagram – @josephoforb
Twitter – @josephoforb
Facebook – @jacrawfordoforb
TikTok – @josephoforb

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