blog tour · book review · cosy · Giveaways · mystery · Partners in Crime Tours · suspense

Blog Tour ‘n’ Book Review – The Widow Catcher (plus Giveaway)

The Widow Catcher

by Jonette Blake

February 1-28, 2021 Tour

Synopsis:

Delia Frost loves her job at the bank. She loves her customers, most of whom are elderly. She doesn’t love the idea of quitting her job to travel around Australia in a motor home with her husband who is recovering from a heart attack. And she can’t bring herself to tell him that she doesn’t want to go. Days before she quits her job, she is invited to a book club meeting, run by a local celebrity. This seems like a beacon of hope, one last chance to do something for herself before she leaves it all behind. But this isn’t a random invitation. Delia has been carefully selected by a serial killer to play her part in the murders of elderly widows. ​Finding herself caught in a web of blackmail and murder, Delia is now keen to leave this town behind. But the killer doesn’t want to let her go.

Book Details:

Genre: Thriller
Published by: Jonette Blake
Publication Date: August 27th 2020
Number of Pages: 260
ISBN: 9798675198726
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Read an excerpt from The Widow Catcher:

Chapter 1

Susan

ONE WEEK AGO

The setting sun cast a shadow on the headstone. A cool wind blew down the mountain. Susan Johnson tugged at her long woollen coat thinking she would soon be trading this blustery weather for tropical bliss and poolside cocktails.

She placed a hand on the headstone to steady herself and leaned over to drop a bouquet of lilies on the gravesite. She regretted not being able to bend low to lovingly place the flowers in the slot provided, but if her seventy-six-year-old body tilted even a few degrees she would topple over. It was embarrassing having paramedics lift her off the floor.

“This is goodbye for now, love,” she told the ten-years-dead occupant. “Just for a little while. I won’t be visiting because I’m off on a holiday.” She smiled and nodded. “Yes, I know what you’re thinking. I never go anywhere by myself. But I’m not going alone.”

The snap of twigs pierced the frigid air. Her grip remained on the headstone for support. But she managed to twist her head to catch a glimpse of the noisemaker.

Someone was here.

“I won’t be long,” she told the man. “I was just telling Eric about our trip.”

The man stood with his hands thrust deep into the pockets of his trouser pants. The sunlight framed his body, and she wanted to picture him as an angel, instead the image of angry plovers at the beach protecting their nests popped into mind. The sneaky way they flew towards you with the rising sun blinding you to their attack meant you heard the click of their beaks too late.

She pushed off this sense of trepidation and the chill that followed. It was just nerves. This trip was something new for her; it was bound to give her goose bumps.

She returned her attention to her late husband’s grave. “We’re in for a storm. You’d better batten down the hatches.” She laughed gently, then her features grew serious. “My new friend has promised to take me to North Queensland. Well, to the airport at least. That’s a big help. Once I’m on the plane I’ll be fine. Ah, Eric, I’m finally going to a place where the nights are warm and I wish you could be coming with me. I’ll be gone a few weeks.”

“Susan,” her visitor called out. “I’m ready when you are.”

“We’re off to the airport,” she told the gravestone.

The day had finally arrived when she was going on holiday. Without her friend’s support, she’d never have found the courage to say ‘book it’. He’d helped with booking the flights, hotels, and the tourist destination. He’d even created a week-long itinerary. She fumbled in her pocket for it but couldn’t find it.

Where have I put it?

Never mind. Her friend would have a copy.

She was finally going to see the Great Barrier Reef. It had been a cast-aside dream until her friend had searched on the website and found a tour operator with a glass-bottom boat who specialised in trips for people with mobility issues.

“Susan,” he called out again. “We don’t want to be late.”

“I’m almost done,” she replied, though the wind snatched away her words. Once, she’d had the strength in her lungs to be heard over an earthquake, but years of cigarette smoking had reduced her voice to an almost inaudible wheeze.

She spoke to the headstone again: “I know you think he’s only using me for my money, but he’s never asked for any. He’s not like that.” She patted the headstone. “I’ll bring you back a present.”

She hobbled over with the aid of her cane to join the man.

He lifted a bouquet of flowers from a shopping bag at his feet. “I brought something to show my respects,” he said, thrusting them at her.

Yellow roses were her favourite; they’d be wasted on Eric. Her late husband wouldn’t have known a rose from a weed.

The man smiled at her. “Will you place these on his grave for me?”

“I thought you said we were in a hurry.”

“I said we don’t want to be late. We have time to say our goodbyes.”

She glanced back at the gravesite. There was a lot of uneven lawn between here and there. Her cane had sunk into the dirt already and almost tripped her over a dozen times.

“You should take them yourself,” she told the man.

“Susan, I feel downright scandalous taking his wife to the airport for the first real holiday of her life. I can’t go over there and rub this in his face. Even in death, a person has dignity. My mother used to tell me that all the time. She was a nurse at a hospital in Sydney. Saw people dying every day. A lot of elderly people, too. The stories she told me of comfort she gave them in their final years has made me the compassionate man I am today.”

Susan knew a snow job when she heard one. She was old, arthritic, deaf in one ear, probably riddled with emphysema, but she was not stupid. Still, a sense of gratitude swept over her. She would have been locked inside the aged-care facility forever if her young friend had not convinced her to do something adventurous with the remaining years of her life.

“All right,” she said. “And then we’re off to the airport.”

She gripped her cane in one hand and the yellow roses in the other and set off across the uneven lawn.

“Be sure to inhale the perfume before you place them on the grave,” the man called out. “I asked the florist to select the most delectable bunch.”

Susan stopped and pulled the bouquet closer to her face to take in the scent. This bunch was strong. Probably perfumed. Everything was perfumed these days: soap, washing powder, toilet paper, tissues. As if the big companies could convince the population that life smelled like roses, therefore it must be roses.

She took a deep breath. This was a strange scent. Stronger than most. Not rosy at all. More like yellow jonquils. They had a stink that could cause nostril hairs to fall out.

She coughed on the odour. Her cough turned into a fit, one that fifty years of smoking ensured would bring a crushing pain to her chest.

Then her head began to swim. Her vision blurred. Her chest should have gulped for air. Instead it felt like it was sealing itself shut, jam-jar tight.

She twisted and tried to run toward the man who was still dappled in hues of orange and pink as the sun set behind him. She called out for help but her voice was lost. She couldn’t move.

The cool wind raced along her body like a knife, except this wasn’t the wind. This was an invisible chill attacking her veins.

Her limbs grew weak. She lost her grip on her cane.

A stroke? A heart attack? Years of being warned about the impact of smoking did not lessen the shock that it was actually happening.

Unable to support herself, she fell to the ground.

“Help,” she called out, though her voice was barely above a whisper.

The sun was setting faster now. Her visitor was now a dark, ominous shadow.

A shadow that wasn’t rushing to help her.

He should have grabbed his phone and called for medical help.

He should have raced over to her and administered first aid.

He should have done something.

Instead, he stood at the edge of the cemetery with his hands thrust in his pockets, rocking back and forth on his heels.

“Help,” she spluttered in between chest-breaking coughs.

She couldn’t get enough air into her lungs.

The man still did not make any movement to help her.

At last, he walked towards her and knelt down to stare into her face. His stare was vacant, expressionless, and when he tilted his head and frowned, she realised it wasn’t a vacant stare, but one of curiosity.

As if he’d never seen someone die before.

She reached for his hand.

He reached out for her.

His hand moved to the left toward the flowers. She noticed he wore gloves.

Had he been wearing them earlier?

The bouquet of flowers were pushed closer to her face. The pungent stench had lessened, as if her senses had adapted to the stink. More likely they were numbed by something else. Chemicals.

Now she recognised the scent. It was…

Sharp pain shot throughout her body. Her muscles contorted. Her vision blurred.

She saw his shadow fade away.

And then everything went dark.

***

Excerpt from The Widow Catcher by Jonette Blake. Copyright 2020 by Jonette Blake. Reproduced with permission from Jonette Blake. All rights reserved.

 

Author Bio:

Jonette Blake writes supernatural thrillers and suspense thrillers. She is the author of over ten books and dozens of short stories, writing as D L Richardson.

She was born in Ireland and grew up in Australia. She lived through the 80s and music is still a big part of her life. When she is not writing, she plays her piano and guitar, listens to music, reads, and enjoys the beach.

​She has held jobs in administration, sales and marketing, has worked in HR, payroll, and as a bank teller. Her latest novel The Widow Catcher is based on the coastal town she lives in and her own bank teller experience.

Her books are standalone titles.

Catch Up With Jonette On:
www.JonetteBlake.com, Goodreads, BookBub, Instagram, Twitter, & Facebook!

My Review

4/5 stars

Delia has been so worried about her husband’s health that she daren’t tell him that she doesn’t want to give up her job and go travelling in a campervan around Australia. Not only does she fear she might trigger another heart attack in him, but she also worries her two children won’t have anywhere to return to, should they need her. All this despite them both willingly having moved abroad to live their own lives.

To say she is stuck in a rut – the dependable wife, mother & colleague – is an understatement. When Andrew, a colleague at the bank where she works, invites her to his monthly book club hosted by a local celebrity – a former famous actress – she jumps at the chance. Will this add some sparkle to her life, and give her the confidence to tell husband Richard that she’s not as keen on his travel plans as he is? Or is this her one last hurrah before succumbing to a life she doesn’t want? Either way, you have to feel sorry for her – attending a book club doesn’t scream risk or adventure or excitement or even fun.

The book club, while held at the actress’s beautiful home, is anything but exciting, aside from the gossip about the increased number of deaths within the community. When she leaves, the hostess forces an envelope into Delia’s hands, which puts her in a very awkward position. Not really wanting to attend another meeting of the book club, Delia tries to hand the envelope and its contents back – but Karen, the actress is having none of it. In fact, she wants Delia’s help to solve the mystery of the recent deaths … and to stop either of them from becoming the next victim.

Delia being Delia can’t walk away, she either too nice or too intrigued by the story Karen tells her. So, predictably, she finds herself embroiled in the mystery, going so far as to look into the bank records of the victims and placing herself very firmly in the path of the killer.

There are some great suspenseful moments as Delia, the mother of dependability, sees her life thrown into a spiral of disasters. From complaints about her work at the bank, to plants on the porch, not to mention the drama over her car keys and her encounter with the police, Delia certainly gets a glimpse of a very different and much scarier life than she is used to.

I loved her relationship with her sister, and how they came together stronger. Sometimes, I probably overestimated Delia, and expected her to break the mould but her innate “niceness” held her back, so her sister’s input really made the story for me. Though the killer is revealed early on, the motive behind the killings kept me engaged and the pace certainly picked up in the second half. From a cosy-esque mystery to hints of psychological suspense, this was an intriguing read with some great characters.

Tour Participants:

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

Click here to view The Widow Catcher by Jonette Blake Participants

 

Giveaway!:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Jonette Blake. There will be 1 winner of one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card. The giveaway begins on February 1, 2021 and runs through March 2, 2021. Void where prohibited.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

As always,

Blog hop · Giveaways · Partners in Crime Tours · psychological suspense · thriller

Book Recommendation – Saving Grace

Saving Grace by D.M. Barr Banner

 

 

Saving Grace

A Psychological Thriller

by D.M. Barr

on Tour October 12 – November 13, 2020

Synopsis:

Saving Grace by D.M. Barr

Grace Pierrepoint Rendell, the only child of an ailing billionaire, has been treated for paranoia since childhood. When she secretly quits her meds, she begins to suspect that once her father passes, her husband will murder her for her inheritance. Realizing that no one will believe the ravings of a supposed psychotic, she devises a creative way to save herself – she will write herself out of danger, authoring a novel with the heroine in exactly the same circumstances, thus subtly exposing her husband’s scheme to the world. She hires acclaimed author Lynn Andrews to help edit her literary insurance policy, but when Lynn is murdered, Grace is discovered standing over the bloody remains. The clock is ticking: can she write and publish her manuscript before she is strapped into a straitjacket, accused of homicide, or lowered six feet under?

With a cast of secondary characters whose challenges mirror Grace’s own, Saving Grace is, at it’s core, an allegory for the struggle of the marginalized to be heard and live life on their own terms.

“A psychological thriller with more than enough twists, turns, and misdirection to keep even the most jaded reader turning pages all night long.”

–Lori Robbins, author of the Silver Falchion Award-winning novel, Lesson Plan for Murder

Book Details:

Genre: Psychological Thriller, Domestic Suspense
Published by: Black Rose Writing
Publication Date: October 15th 2020
Number of Pages: 255
ISBN: 978-1684335565
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | BlackRose Writing | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

One felony was all it took to convince Andrea Lin she was better suited to committing crime on paper than in person. As renowned mystery author Lynn Andrews, she understood conflict equaled good drama. Like her readers, she should have expected the hiccups, even relished them. What she hadn’t counted on was the accompanying agita, especially while sitting in her Bergen County kitchen, far from the action at the Bitcoin Teller Machine.

Her one job had been to place a single phone call when the money hit and tell the hacker to lift the encryption on Grace’s computer. Trouble was, her dozen calls remained unanswered until a few minutes ago, throwing their meticulous plan off schedule.

Andrea stroked the blue-gray Nebulung purring on her lap and tried to ignore the churning in her stomach. “Denver, the next time I consider helping a sibling with some crazy scheme, you have my permission to use my leg as a scratching post until I come to my senses. Agreed?”

Denver looked up, his green eyes filled with innocence, and answered with a single meow before leaping onto the table toward her plate of shortbread cookies.

“I’ll take that as a yes.” She sipped her tea, willing the sugar to sweeten the acrid taste in her mouth. The phone interrupted her meditation. No doubt a check-in from her brother, the extorter-in-chief.

“I figured you’d have called by now. Everything on track?” Joe’s strained voice conveyed his own jangled nerves. They’d agreed to be vague when communicating. In these days of Siri and Alexa, anyone could be listening.

“Finally. Took forever to get through to our friend, but she said she’d take care of ‘our project’ as soon as her meetings wrapped up. From here on out though, I’m sticking to fiction. Real-life intrigue is too stressful.”

Andrea missed Joe’s response, instead perplexed by her cats’ sudden change of behavior. Denver had tilted his head and leapt from the table; Vail and Aspen sat frozen, ears perked, staring toward the foyer. Then she heard it too, the sound of papers shuffling in the living room. She leaned forward, muscles taut, hackles raised, ready to pounce. “Joe, hold on a sec. I think someone’s in the house. I’ll call you back later.”

***

“Wait, what? Andrea??” Silence. The connection was dead.

After twenty minutes of weaving in and out of rush-hour traffic to travel one mile, Joe “Hack” Hackford pulled up outside his sister’s Ridgewood home. Adrenaline pumping on overdrive, he jumped from his car and sprinted toward the house. Door wide open—not an encouraging sign. He steeled his nerves and hastened inside. The living room looked like a hurricane’s aftermath, with furniture overturned and papers littering the carpets and floor.

“Andrea? Are you here?” He rushed into the kitchen, which lacked any signs of their celebratory dinner—no spaghetti boiling on the stove, no cake rising in the oven. Only the door to the backyard ajar and a shriek emanating from the next room, piercing the eerie silence. Hair stiffening at the back of his neck, he raced into the dining room where a redheaded woman stood frozen, staring across the room.

“Who the hell are you?” he growled.

The stranger remained wide-eyed and unresponsive. He followed her gaze to the floor, where he witnessed the unthinkable. His beloved sister lay in the corner, surrounded by a pool of blood, a kitchen knife stuck in her chest. Her eyes remained fixed on the ceiling. A trio of feline guards circled her lifeless body.

Hack’s knees turned to jelly, and he grabbed onto a chair for support, forcing back the remains of the snack he’d consumed only minutes earlier. Once the initial shock waned, he reverted his attention back to the intruder. At second glance, she did look somewhat familiar, though the woman he’d met a few weeks back—the missing heiress whose computer they’d just hacked—was brunette. Had she uncovered their con? With a bolt of fury, he reached forward and pulled the wig from her head. A thousand questions zigzagged in his brain, but only one forced its way past his lips:

“Oh my God. Grace. Oh my God. What the hell have you done?”

***

Excerpt from Saving Grace by D.M. Barr. Copyright 2020 by D.M. Barr. Reproduced with permission from D.M. Barr. All rights reserved.

 

 

Author Bio:

D.M. Barr

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

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

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

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

Catch Up With Our Author On:
www.DMBarr.com, Goodreads, BookBub, Instagram, Twitter, & Facebook!

 

 

Tour Participants:

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


https://www.linkytools.com/basic_linky_include.aspx?id=298987

 

 

Enter To Win!:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for D.M. Barr. There will be 1 winner of one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card. The giveaway begins on October 12, 2020 and runs through November 15, 2020. Void where prohibited.

a Rafflecopter giveaway
https://widget-prime.rafflecopter.com/launch.js

 

 

Get More Great Reads at Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours

 

blog tour · book review · murder mystery · mystery · Partners in Crime Tours · series

Blog Tour ‘n’ Book Review – Spent Identity – plus giveaway

Spent Identity by Marlene M. Bell Banner

 

 

Spent Identity

by Marlene M. Bell

on Tour August 1-31, 2020

Synopsis:

Spent Identity by Marlene M. Bell

Farm For Sale. 360-acre lot with ranch-style home. Refurbished barn. Corpse not included.

To find her missing aunt, she has to unearth the secrets of the past. But lies and deceit run through the very heart of their town…

What started out as a promising relationship with adventurer and tycoon Alec Zavos has fizzled into an uncertain future for antiquities expert Annalisse Drury. Returning to Walker Farm in Upstate New York to see her Aunt Kate should have been a welcome homecoming and distraction. Instead, she finds the childhood home she expected to inherit is for sale, without her permission. What’s worse, Kate’s ranch manager makes a gruesome discovery in the barn: the body of an unidentified man, dead by foul play.

Annalisse turns to Alec for help. She and her aunt shelter on his estate in the Catskills while the authorities canvass the scene. But when Kate herself disappears without a trace, Annalisse fears the worst: that one of the many secrets of her hometown has ensnared her family—a secret someone is willing to kill for to keep hidden.

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery Published by: Ewephoric Publishing Publication Date: December 11th 2019 Number of Pages: 378 ISBN: 0999539426 (ISBN13: 9780999539422) Series: Annalisse Series #2 || This is a Stand-Alone novel but the reader may gain more about the character’s past if they pick up the first book. Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

…from chapter fifteen   She caught a glimpse of Bill’s scarred neck and considered prying. “May I ask a personal question?” “Sure.” He steered the next turn. “I’ll answer if I can.” “Did you get burned?” He rubbed the side of his neck as if to soothe a haunting memory. “I used to be a fireman. Got caught in a seven-story roof collapse. Almost bought it.” He tapped cruise control and slid his shoe off the accelerator. An injured fireman with a near-death experience turned private investigator made more sense to her now. Bill didn’t fit the cookie-cutter-investigator type. They hit smooth asphalt in the cross into Sullivan County. Annalisse relished the soothing hum from the roadway. At the county border, they passed a renovated eighteenth-century church refurbished into a modern brick farmhouse. The original belfry and bell sat atop the gable roof at the midpoint, with a new masonry chimney erected on one side near the redwood decking. She hadn’t noticed it the first time with Woody. “What a horrible experience for you, Bill. I’m sorry. Alec didn’t mention it.” “We don’t talk about it much. For a bunch of reasons.” Bill fiddled with a tabloid-size newspaper wedged next to the console. “My hours are better now anyway.” He chuckled, rolling the newsprint into a tube and blowing into it. “A gossip rag? Haven’t read any juicy dirt in a while. I could use a laugh.” She reached for the paper, expecting him to hand it to her. “Boring issue.” Bill tossed the roll over the headrest, wiping newsprint from his fingers to the seat. That was strange. She tried to grab it, but it landed just out of her reach. Annalisse unbuckled and twisted for a closer look at the huge headline, reading aloud, “THE HOUND CHASES ANOTHER FOX. Please people. Such original journalism. Who this time?” She laughed as she lunged for the paper. Bill’s arm moved in like a slingshot and bumped her sore cheek, blocking her. “Ow. Watch the road,” she exclaimed and bounced backward. “Walking wounded here. Just drive, Bill. Allow me to revel in someone else’s grief for a while.” He touched her elbow. “Please don’t.” Bill wasn’t smiling, and his skin had morphed to ashen of the dead. He had the look of a man who’d just lost his best friend and was about to lose his faithful dog too. It clicked. “What don’t you want me to see what thousands of other people have already seen?” “Wait till we get to Brookehaven so he can—” “Who can?” Annalisse hung over the seat and stretched her sore body far enough to snag the tabloid with her fingertips. She braced herself—the photo had to be disturbing. “The timing is bad. Really bad.” Bill stared at the road and in a low voice added, “I’m so sorry.” The pang of the unknown boomeranged through her heart, and she looked down at the front page of Reveal Reality. A couple with their backs to the camera, overlooking an ocean at sunset at some kind of event. She wasn’t sure where but expected the piece would say. The paparazzi photographer had zoomed in on a brunette in a skimpy, backless sundress leaning into a man with his elegant hand cupping her barely covered butt cheek. His chiseled profile and windblown curls were unmistakable. Say bye-bye to the mysterious, green-eyed Annalisse! Italian starlet Monica Corsetti on Italy’s Riviera with Greek magnate, Alec Zavos of the Signorile Corporation. They were… She covered her mouth. “Pull over, Bill. I’m gonna throw up.” *** Excerpt from Spent Identity by Marlene M. Bell. Copyright 2020 by Marlene M. Bell. Reproduced with permission from Marlene M. Bell. All rights reserved.

 

 

Author Bio:

Marlene M. Bell Marlene M. Bell is an award-winning writer and acclaimed artist as well as a photographer. Her sheep landscapes grace the covers of Sheep!, The Shepherd, Ranch & Rural Living, and Sheep Industry News, to name a few. Her catalog venture, Ewephoric, began in 1985 out of her desire to locate personalized sheep stationery. She rarely found sheep products through catalogs and set out to design them herself. Order Ewephoric gifts online or request a catalog at TexasSheep.com. Marlene and her husband, Gregg, reside in beautiful East Texas on a wooded ranch with their dreadfully spoiled horned Dorset sheep, a large Maremma guard dog named Tia, along with Hollywood, Leo, and Squeaks, the cats that believe they rule the household—and do.

Catch Up With Marlene M. Bell: MarleneMBell.com, Goodreads, BookBub, Twitter, & Facebook!

 

My Review:

Having listened to the first book (Stolen Obsession) in the series only recently, I was well and truly caught up in Annalisse’s world. Book number two (Spent Identity) moved on effortlessly and paid homage to past events from the first book without regurgitating everything.

As before, this is jam-packed with details, subplots blend in well, and the story moves along at a great pace. It’s one of those stories in which you have no chance of solving the puzzle yourself, as the culprit comes literally from nowhere. That said, the surprise arrival of the killer makes perfect sense once the initial gasp-inducing shock dissipates. With relevant backstory and connections to multiple characters, the killer is believable.

Annalisse seems to be one of those characters who attract bad news. she’s already had her fair share of drama, but this time round the impact is life-changing. Explosive stuff, indeed.

In Spent Identity, less relevance is given to her job in the art world, yet there are sprinklings of detail that keep that thread going: the tribal masks and the suggestion of European trips all validate Annalisse’s world outside of this personal, family drama. I quite fancy a trip to Rome for book three. Am I going to be lucky? I hope so 😉

Tour Participants:

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

https://www.linkytools.com/basic_linky_include.aspx?id=297952

 

 

Giveaway Image

Enter To Win!:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Marlene M. Bell. There will be 4 winners. Two (2) winners will each win one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card. Two (2) winners will each win a set of autographed books, a notebook, and silver jewelry. The giveaway begins on August 1, 2020 and runs through September 2, 2020. Open to U.S. and Canada addresses only. Void where prohibited.

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway https://widget-prime.rafflecopter.com/launch.js  

 

Get More Great Reads at Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours

As always,

blog tour · Partners in Crime Tours · series · Spotlight

A Spotlight on “Tooth for Tooth” (plus giveaway)

Tooth for Tooth

by JK Franko

on Tour June 1 – July 31, 2020

Synopsis:

Tooth for Tooth by JK Franko

What would YOU do?

What would you do if you got away with murder? Would you stop there? Could you?

Susie and Roy thought that they committed the perfect crime.

Their planning was meticulous. Their execution flawless.

But, there is always a loose end, isn’t there? Always a singing bone.

Now, while enemies multiply and suspicions abound, their perfect world begins to crumble.

The hunters have become the hunted.

IN THIS BLISTERINGLY RELENTLESS SEQUEL TO HIS DEBUT SHOCKER, EYE FOR EYE, J.K. FRANKO TAKES READERS ON A BREATHTAKING JOURNEY OF CAT AND MOUSE

Book Details:

Genre: Thriller, Suspense, Crime, Legal
Published by:Talion Publishing
Publication Date: April 4th 2020
Number of Pages: 400
ISBN: 9781999318819
Series: Talion Series, #2
Purchase Links: Amazon || Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

PROLOGUE

Before meeting Susie and Roy, I had never met a murderer. But then, I had also never lied to the police or destroyed evidence. I had never seen the inside of a jail cell. And I had most certainly never been complicit in a homicide.

I have to reluctantly admit that I am a better person for the experience. I now appreciate that murderers really are just regular people like you and me. Indeed, I have come to consider Susie and Roy more than mere patients… they are friends. And I think back on our time together with nostalgia—fondness, even.

This did not happen overnight. It was a process.

What would you do if you found out that your neighbor was a murderer? Would you double-check that you’d locked your doors every night? Keep an eye out for strange comings and goings? Would you ultimately put your house up for sale, not disclosing what you knew about the folks next door to potential buyers?

For most people, being in the proximity of a killer is neither pleasant nor desirable.

Imagine how I felt about having not one but two as-yet-undetected murderers as my patients. Sitting with each of them for hours every week. Trying to guide them toward more moderate conflict resolution techniques. And failing.

Well, I’m here to tell you that despite the complexities inherent in that situation, I found my path to inner peace and happiness.

I know. I may have said elsewhere that, as a psychologist, I’m not a big believer in “happily ever after.” But my thinking has evolved.

I’ve come to believe more in choices—in the power of decision. This is the key nugget of wisdom I have taken away from this whole mess: We are not what happens to us. We are what we choose.

And I am pleased to report, for the first time in years, that I can finally say I am happy.

You have to understand that my unhappiness was not due to lack of trying. Chalk it up to naiveté—but, at first, it was difficult to process everything Susie and Roy told me and still be happy.

It’s hard to put a positive spin on murder.

Selfishly, I was overwhelmed by the fear that they might turn on me. They had shared everything about their crimes with me in meticulous detail. It was manifestly apparent that I was the weak link. The one person who could bring them down.

I was not just a loose end.

I was the loose end.

And, though I tried, I could not initially find peace under these circumstances. But, as I said earlier, happiness is a choice. And it was a choice that I made which finally ended my torment and brought me to a place where I could be at peace—even though everything ended tragically: my relationship with Susie and Roy, their marriage, the whole mess.

For you to understand the rest of my journey with Susie and Roy, I must share with you something that happened years ago at an ostensibly happy event. I say ‘ostensibly’ because it was a wonderful night for almost everyone concerned.

There were two people at that event who figure in this story—in my story.

The first is Sandra Bissette. For her, the night in question was the beginning of what would become a successful career in politics and law.

For the other, Billy Applegate, the night would end in tragedy.

PART ONE

Billy Applegate

1974

Everybody loves a party.

And there’s nothing quite like an election night party. What makes an election night celebration different?

The guest of honor. You see, all parties—birthdays, anniversaries, wakes—feature a guest of honor. But an election night party is a completely different animal because it isn’t about any one person or couple. It’s not even about the candidates.

At an election night party, the guests of honor are the attendees.

The people who gather to watch election results together are all of one mind. Of one spirit. They are like pack animals, all focused on the same outcome. They all share the same heroes and the same enemies.

If their candidates win, they all win. And a “win” means real-world changes for them—tax breaks, preferential government spending, judicial appointments—and money in their pockets.

Now, that’s a party.

This particular election night party took place in Maryland in 1974. To be precise—because I can be—this party was held on the night of the 1974 midterm elections, on Tuesday, November 5th.

It was a good year for Democrats.

This was the first national election after Watergate. Nixon’s resignation had severely damaged the Republicans’ chances in the election. Gerald Ford was just three months into his presidency, having taken over from Richard Nixon a few months earlier. And, of course, having pardoned Nixon in September, Ford had destroyed his own hopes for re-election and added to the national animus against Republicans.

This election night party took place in a spacious colonial-style home decorated in red, white, and blue, with American flags hanging from the windows and banisters. It featured a spacious living and dining area. The kitchen was large and well-equipped. There was a generous backyard with a comfortable deck and a terrace around the pool. All four bedrooms—aside from one guest bedroom—were upstairs.

There was even a “pin the tail on the donkey” game set up near the bar, for those with a sense of humor. No one actually played.

This house belonged to Dan and Annette Applegate, two proud and active members of the Democratic party in Maryland.

Dan’s family had always been active in politics. His grandfather had been a state representative. His father had served as a county judge for most of his career. Dan—born Daniel Parsons Applegate IV—was the fourth generation of Applegates admitted to the Maryland bar. While he would never actually serve in public office, he understood the value of political contacts and actively cultivated them.

This party was part of that effort.

Dan was dressed in a three-piece, tan wool suit, a white Brooks Brothers shirt, and a burgundy silk tie. The lapels and tie were wide, and the shirt collar oversized—all very fashionable at the time. Annette wore a slim, gold-belted, navy blue flare-leg pantsuit with a pale blue silk blouse and a pair of simple gold earrings. Apropos for the gathering, and it went quite nicely with all the flags, she’d decided.

Their twelve-year-old son, Billy Applegate, was in dark green overalls with a white shirt and blue Keds. A handsome boy, Billy had inherited his mother’s cornflower blue eyes and his father’s thick sandy blond hair, which he wore in a neatly trimmed surfer cut.

Billy was an only child. His parents doted on him, as did his grandparents since he was the only grandchild in both families. Even so, Billy was a good boy and knew to stay out of the way when his parents had guests, though he stayed close enough to be in the mix and see what was going on. He was at the age where he still enjoyed watching the grown-ups. Spying on them. In fact, he was familiar with many of the faces that night from other events of this kind. It was a small community.

Tonight, Tuesday night, the guests were arriving early, many coming over straight after work before polling places even closed.

It was going to be a long night.

The band played. Alcohol flowed. Anticipation and excitement were in the air at the prospect of big Democrat wins. And, after everything Nixon had put the nation through, how could voters not want a change?

In the living room, a handsome mahogany console TV with a big twenty-five-inch-diagonal color screen announced results as they came in. Dan was loitering by the avocado green Trimline rotary phone, mounted on the kitchen wall, that rang periodically with live information. The spring-coiled, twelve-foot receiver cord allowed him to pace anxiously as he fielded calls from the few Democrats charged with providing up-to-the-minute results from county polling.

Remember, this was back in the days before computerized voting machines. Back then, voters travelled to their precinct’s designated polling station and used a machine to punch holes in their ballot. These were then collected and transported to a central counting center where the ballots were put through a counting machine which tabulated the results that were then released to the public.

Dan relayed results to his guests, with each ring of the phone bringing more good news. More cheering and more drinking.

It was a good year to be a Democrat.

At the peak of festivities, there were over 250 guests in and around the property, to the point where the party overflowed onto the street, which was not a problem. No one was going to complain, as most of the neighbors were in attendance. And these were all good white folk. The police were kind enough to block off both ends of the street and make sure that those who’d had too much to drink made it home safely.

Inside, the house was a political orgy. Supporters rubbed elbows with candidates. Candidates rubbed elbows with incumbents. Incumbents rubbed elbows with donors. And lobbyists rubbed elbows with everyone except each other.

There were a number of judges in attendance. Several city council members hovered by the buffet, and a few state representatives were sprinkled through the crowd.

It was into this whirlwind of excitement that Sandra Bissette arrived.

At a time when men still ran everything in politics, Sandra hoped to make a name for herself. The fact that she was a Yale-graduated lawyer didn’t hurt, nor did the fact that she had both the figure and the looks of Jackie Kennedy.

Sandra was the daughter of lifelong Democrats, and her father happened to be the county sheriff. Although Sandra was not part of the elite set in Maryland, she was making her way. She was two years into working as an associate at a top law firm after having done a couple of high-level summer internships in D.C.

That night, Sandra was primarily interested in meeting two people: one was Annette Applegate. Although Sandra knew that both Dan and Annette were active in the Maryland Democratic party, Dan was known to be a snob—his career consisted of riding on his family’s coattails. Annette was universally recognized as the nicer of the two. Annette knew everyone, and everyone loved Annette. It was with her that Sandra was hoping to build a connection.

The second person who Sandra had added to her charm offensive for the evening was Harrison Kraft—another young Yale lawyer who, unlike her, was connected in all the right ways. Having graduated a few years ahead of her from law school, Harrison was running for state representative. He checked all the right boxes— family pedigree, education, professional credentials. There was no doubt the man was going places. Sandra had heard good things about him as a person and was interested in seeing for herself.

It was a little after 9:00 p.m.—Dan had just announced the results from Precinct Four in Montgomery County when Sandra saw an opening. Annette was by the buffet chatting with Howard Patrick, an older lobbyist—handsy, and a bit of a bore. Sandra straightened her back, raised her chin, and approached.

“Hello Howard,” she said with a big smile.

“Sandra! Hello, my dear. Don’t you look beautiful tonight?” “Why, thank you, Howard. Ever the charmer,” she said, allowing him to kiss her hand.

“Have you met our hostess, Annette Applegate?”

As Sandra turned to greet Annette, she noticed that the woman was looking past her, over her shoulder.

“Um, excuse me, young man!” Annette said, eyebrows raised and pearly white teeth dazzling.

Sandra turned and followed Annette’s gaze to a young boy in green overalls filching shrimp from the buffet. She guessed he was just shy of being a teenager.

“Aw, crap,” said Billy as he chewed.

“Come here, you,” Annette said, narrowing her eyes in mock disapproval.

The boy hesitated as he took in the young woman, the fat old man, and his mother, who stood waiting for him expectantly with her hands on her hips. He’d never seen the young woman before. She was new.

Unconsciously, he slowly moved to return the three shrimp in his sticky hand to the platter.

“With the shrimp, silly,” his mother said, shaking her head. Billy moved toward her, chewing rapidly so he could stuff
the other shrimp into his mouth.

Howard put his hand against the small of Sandra’s back, a little too low, and harrumphed to her under his breath, “Better seen, not heard. That’s how it used to be.”

Sandra tried to smile and fought the instinct to pull away.

Howard’s breath smelled of scotch and cigarettes.

Annette overheard, but ignored the old lobbyist’s comment.

“I suppose I don’t need to ask if you’ve had dinner? I left meatloaf for you in the kitchen.”

“I know. But, Mom, these shrimp are amazing.”

“And the meatballs?” asked Annette, looking over Billy toward the platter on the buffet.

Billy blushed. “Those, too.”

“Well, it’s getting a bit late for you,” Annette said, ruffling her son’s fair hair and then kissing him on the forehead, making him squirm. “Finish up the shrimp and get to bed.”

“What about Dad?” Billy asked, looking around. Annette’s face darkened, and she sighed. “I’ll send him up for a goodnight kiss. But you come along now, young man.” She put her hands on her son’s shoulders and steered him towards the stairs. “Excuse me for a moment,” she said over her shoulder.

Shit, thought Sandra as she twisted politely away, getting the old lobbyist’s hand off her lower back as he struck up a conversation. While she tried to focus on what he was saying, it was all she could do not to stare at the green thing wedged in between the man’s tar-stained teeth.

It took her ten minutes to extricate herself from Howard, thanks to Alan Watts—a wiry man who was only modestly more interesting. His family ran a small chain of grocery stores. Alan had asked her out a while back, and though she’d declined, he still had hopes—she could tell.

After a few more minutes of polite conversation, Sandra fell back on “old reliable” with a forced smile. “Excuse me, gentlemen… ladies’ room.”

Once she was sure she had escaped, she continued to work the room. About half an hour later, as she accepted another glass of white wine from a passing waiter, she felt a hand pressing low on the small of her back.

Oh fuck, not again.

“Yes, Howard?” She turned, fake smile firmly in place, to find Annette Applegate standing behind her.

“Gotcha!” laughed Annette.

Sandra laughed, both from relief and from delight at the inside joke made by the woman to whom she’d hoped to ingratiate herself.

This is going to be a great night.

While Sandra and Annette chatted amiably, many other members of the party were well beyond civility.

The drinking had begun five hours earlier, but there was more than just alcohol flowing. Other substances were being abused. It was all very discreet, of course. Most were partaking solely for recreational purposes, but a few were ingesting more heavily. Beyond alcohol and drugs—and most hazardous of all, given that it was infecting everyone to some degree and was in ample supply—was the potent and dangerous combination of two psychological stimulants, victory and power.

You see, politics doesn’t attract only “normal” people. As in every part of society, there is a spectrum. And politics, too, has its outliers. The smug and the superior. The arrogant and the snide. And the sociopaths.

Victory and power are dangerous to all, but more so to the sociopath.

Do not consume alcohol or operate heavy machinery while taking…

For these select few, the alcohol, drugs, and victory combined with power was toxic. It created a euphoria that knew no rules.

No limits.

No fear.

* * *

Upstairs, Billy had fallen asleep with the soothing press of his mother’s goodnight kiss still fresh on his cheek.

A small nightlight plugged into a wall socket illuminated his bedroom, casting a warm glow on a baseball snuggled in a catcher’s mitt that lay in a corner next to a wooden Adirondack baseball bat.

On one end of his small dresser sat a model airplane—a Douglas A-20 Havoc that he’d built with his grandfather. It was a replica of the plane Gramps had flown during World War II. The model was flanked by a teddy bear that Billy claimed he’d outgrown but refused to give away. The other end of the dresser was reserved for the little boy’s current prized possession—Rock’em Sock’em Robots. A gift from his parents for his birthday.

The room was quiet, the party sounds muffled.

Suddenly, the door opened, spilling light into the little boy’s room along with the blare of music and the chaotic chatter of voices. Then, just as quickly, the door shut, returning the room to calm semi-darkness.

Billy was groggy and didn’t try to open his eyes. Instead, he just spoke out loud. “Dad?”

He felt the bed sag as his father sat next to him in a cloud smelling of alcohol and cigars.

Then he felt dry lips on his forehead. The kiss made him smile sleepily.

A hand stroked his head and his hair as Billy snuggled into his pillow and drifted back to sleep.

Suddenly, the same hand that had been stroking his hair gently clamped over his mouth. It was a man’s hand, but it was soft. Clammy. It was not his father’s….

Billy tried to sit up, but the hand squeezed harder, the man leaning into him, pushing him down and pinning him to the bed as a second hand groped at him, pulling away his sheets.

Billy didn’t know what to do. He was terrified. He opened his eyes, but with just the little nightlight on, he couldn’t see anything other than the vague shape of the form pressing down on him. He could smell booze and food on the man’s warm breath.

Tears came as the vise over Billy’s mouth forced him to suck air noisily through his nose as the groping continued—searching, finding, fondling, stroking, then reaching, penetrating, sending a hot shard of searing pain through his body. Inside.

He tried to fight, but couldn’t. The hands were too strong. The body too heavy. He felt sick. The stench of cigars, food, and alcohol on fetid breath was nauseating. And he was scared. Terrified. In pain.

Bile rose in Billy’s throat. But the hand over his mouth prevented him from vomiting. He gagged, then swallowed everything back down.

His body began to convulse.

To thrash.

As it did, the second hand stopped.

The man’s weight eased on top of his body, no longer pinning him down. The hand over his mouth loosened slightly, and Billy felt the other stroking his hair. He wanted to move, but he was paralyzed with fear.

The whole ordeal lasted minutes, but it felt like hours.

Then the presence leaned over and whispered, “Sleep. Sleep.

You were dreaming. Go back to sleep.”

The weight lifted from the bed, and as it did, the hand fell away from Billy’s mouth, leaving him shivering in the aftermath.

The door opened, first slightly. Through the crack, the man looked out into the hall as the babble of music and voices invaded the bedroom. Then the door swung fully open, and as it did, Billy saw the man clearly in the light from the hallway. The image burned itself into his memory. The image of a stranger whose identity he would eventually learn.

The door closed and the crowd cheered as the band started playing—“You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet.”

And Billy Applegate cried himself into a fitful sleep.

***

Excerpt from Tooth for Tooth by JK Franko. Copyright 2020 by JK Franko. Reproduced with permission from JK Franko. All rights reserved.

 

 

Author Bio:

JK Franko

J.K. FRANKO was born and raised in Texas. His Cuban-American parents agreed there were only three acceptable options for a male child: doctor, lawyer, and architect. After a disastrous first year of college pre-Med, he ended up getting a BA in philosophy (not acceptable), then he went to law school (salvaging the family name) and spent many years climbing the big law firm ladder. After ten years, he decided that law and family life weren’t compatible. He went back to school where he got an MBA and pursued a Ph.D. He left law for corporate America, with long stints in Europe and Asia.

His passion was always to be a writer. After publishing a number of non-fiction works, thousands of hours writing, and seven or eight abandoned fictional works over the course of eighteen years, EYE FOR EYE became his first published novel.

J.K. Franko now lives with his wife and children in Florida.

Catch Up With JK Franko On:
jkfranko.com, Goodreads, Instagram, Bookbub, Twitter, & Facebook!

 

 

Tour Participants:

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


https://www.linkytools.com/basic_linky_include.aspx?id=296763

 

 

Enter To Win!!:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for JK Franko. There will be six (6) winners. Two (2) winners will each win one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card. Two (2) winners will each win TOOTH FOR TOOTH by JK Franko (print) and two (2) winners will each win TOOTH FOR TOOTH by Jk Franko (eBook). The giveaway begins on June 1, 2020 and runs through August 2, 2020. Void where prohibited.

a Rafflecopter giveaway
https://widget-prime.rafflecopter.com/launch.js

 

 

Get More Great Reads at Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours

As always, 

 

blog tour · book review · Partners in Crime Tours · political · revenge · thriller

Blog Tour ‘n’ Book Review – The Pinebox Vendetta (plus giveaway)

The Pinebox Vendetta by Jeff Bond Banner

 

 

The Pinebox Vendetta

by Jeff Bond

on Tour May 1 – June 30, 2020

Synopsis:

The Pinebox Vendetta by Jeff Bond

From the author of The Winner Maker and Blackquest 40 comes The Pinebox Vendetta: a genre-bending thriller that combines a love story, cold-case murder mystery, and political blood feud — told over the course of a single breathless weekend.

The Gallaghers and Pruitts have dominated the American political landscape dating back to Revolutionary times. The Yale University class of 1996 had one of each, and as the twenty-year reunion approaches, the families are on a collision course.

Owen Gallagher is coasting to the Democratic nomination for president.

Rock Pruitt — the brash maverick whose career was derailed two decades ago by his association to a tragic death — is back, ready to reclaim the mantle of clan leader.

And fatefully in between lies Samantha Lessing. Sam arrives at reunion weekend lugging a rotten marriage, dumb hope, and a portable audio recorder she’ll use for a public radio-style documentary on the Pruitt-Gallagher rivalry — widely known as the pinebox vendetta.

What Sam uncovers will thrust her into the middle of the ancient feud, upending presidential politics and changing the trajectory of one clan forever.

The Pinebox Vendetta is the first entry in the Pruitt-Gallagher saga: a series that promises cutthroat plots, power grabs, and unforgettable characters stretched to their very limits by the same ideological forces that roil America today.

Book Details:

Genre: Thriller Published by: Jeff Bond Books Publication Date: February 19th 2020 Number of Pages: 264 ISBN: 1732255253 (ISBN13: 9781732255258) Series: Pruitt-Gallagher Saga, #1 Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

1

Jamie Gallagher stood beside the pirate at the skiff’s rail, the African sea thick on his skin. Neither man could see the other in the moonless night, but Jamie smelled the khat the Somali never stopped chewing—sweetly sharp, a scent that made Jamie feel part cleansed and part crazed. “The money is ready,” said the pirate named Abdi. “My men have packed the briefcase.” “Wanaagsan.” Jamie ducked his head in gratitude. “You believe the general will accept a briefcase?” “This is the usual way, yes. It will be checked for explosives with X-ray and IMS swabs.” “Of course.” “Also, the general will insist on verifying the amount before the release occurs.” “His men are going to count ten million dollars?” Jamie asked. The Somali spat khat leaves into the sea. “He has machines. The machines check by weight.” Jamie exhaled, pushing his own breath into the hot, still air. The money would weigh out. The money wasn’t the trick. Abdi continued, “Once the amount is verified, the general will call his people in the jungle by satphone, and they will free your journalist.” “Immediately? I’ll need confirmation from HD before we leave the yacht.” “That is the arrangement.” Jamie mopped his brow. Acting wasn’t his strength, and he hoped his insistence on this procedural point was convincing. In fact, Humanitarian Dialogue (HD) knew nothing about tomorrow. There would be no representative at the hand-off spot, and the French journalist—whose reporting on minority suffrage truly had opened the world’s eyes—would not be freed. This was a regret. But Jamie Gallagher had lived with worse. He said, “I’ll be X-rayed, too?” “Yes.” “Strip-searched?” “At a minimum. You should expect a body cavity search.” “Fine.” In his years advocating for peace and public health around sub-Saharan Africa, Jamie had had his cheeks probed, his neck magnetically combed, and the arches of his feet flayed. “I suppose the general’s in no position to be trusting.” The pirate took a while to respond. Was he eyeing Jamie in the dark? Signaling to his men back on the mothership? Jamie’s statement had been obvious and shouldn’t have invoked offense. Since joining the pirates at Merca, a white beach paradise down the coast from Mogadishu, Jamie had detected hostility—even after paying their exorbitant convoy fee. Abdi himself had been civil enough, but his three young lieutenants, after pointedly using their left hands to shake Jamie’s, had glared at him with undisguised contempt. He understood this. A westerner waltzes onto their ship with unimaginable stores of cash—cash that, in a matter of hours, will bring them into contact with the most wanted war criminal on the planet. Naturally, they resented him. He was what, five years older than them? With his bandanna and dishwater-blond hair? Abdi said, “This is a great risk for us. We have earned the general’s esteem. We do not wish to squander it.” Jamie heard the clench in the man’s jaw. “I assure you, I will comply with every procedure he or you tell me to follow.” General Mahad and these Somali pirates fought on the same side of many issues. Both wanted the ruling Muslims out of Puntland. They didn’t care that the Muslims had remade the conflict-ravaged region into a prosperous enclave, introducing compulsory education and a foodstuff-based living wage. For the pirates, the problem was their strict, Islam-centric brand of law and order, which had made the coastal waters harder to pillage. General Mahad’s beef was simple: the Muslims had replaced him in power. He’d ruled Puntland for a decade, enriching himself and his cronies using any resource available—khat, guns, people. When word of his atrocities leaked, international pressure mounted for a free election. The general agreed after a period of stonewalling, believing he could manipulate the results. When Al Jama-ah won anyway, the general stole all he could in the weeks before yielding control. According to a local guide Jamie trusted, the general toured polling stations his last day with a machete, taking three fingers from each precinct leader. “If I lose next time,” he told them, “you lose the rest.” Though he retained a few loyalist strongholds like the one holding the French journalist, General Mahad himself lived on a yacht, moving constantly to evade capture. The Hague had convicted him last year in absentia. Now Jamie asked, “Who’ll be coming aboard with me?” “Me and Josef,” Abdi said. “We are known to the general.” “Will you be armed?” “No. He will search us, too.” Jamie shuffled in place, the skiff feeling suddenly unsteady beneath him. “I—er, I hope it’ll be okay that I bring a gift. Akpeteshie. I was told it is the general’s favorite liquor?” The pirate groaned pleasurably. “Akpeteshie, yes.” “I thought we might share a drink as a token of good faith.” “The bottle is factory-sealed?” “Yes.” “The general will like this. The general believes in courtesy.” Several retorts came to mind at the ludicrous idea this butcher had any claim on civility, but Jamie swallowed them. He removed a pair of night-vision goggles from his rucksack. Before looking himself, he offered them to Abdi. Abdi waved them off as though the technology were frivolous. Jamie scanned the horizon, right to left, left to right. The skiff’s sway seemed to increase. The eye cups stuck to his sweaty forehead. The smell of khat, which hadn’t bothered him before, grated now, like sugar grit needling into his nose and eardrums. He felt the pressure of this place keenly. Every actor—man, woman, or child—who entered this stretch of ocean would be girded to fight. They must be. Choice never came into it. A shape appeared on the horizon. Jamie thumbed his focus wheel until red blurs resolved to running lights. “The general,” Abdi said. Adrenaline jolted through Jamie. Here was a ghost vessel—a vessel many militaries of the world would board on sight, and one the United States wouldn’t think twice about blasting to smithereens with a drone strike. The yacht grew larger in the greenish display. Jamie screwed on a bulky magnifier lens and was able to make out guards on the gunwale, ambling, AK-47s on their shoulders. The yacht was perhaps twenty meters. Several figures were sprawled out on deck, sleeping in the open for the heat. Jamie raised the goggles, thinking to find the general on the bridge. The cockpit windows were smoked—opaque from outside and surely bulletproof. He panned back down. The craft made a leeward turn, and he glimpsed new figures at the base of the pilothouse. These were prone like the others but smaller—a dozen in a line, little pulled-apart commas. Most of them were still, but one squirmed restlessly. Children. Jamie’s stomach shrank to a cold fist. # He barely slept. Long after rowing back to the mothership and helping Abdi loosely tie up the skiff, and bedding down in the holds beside crates of ammunition and rocket-propelled grenades, Jamie lay awake thinking of those children. He’d known the general had kids, twenty or thirty that he acknowledged. And it shouldn’t have been surprising such a monster would keep family members near, in the cross-hairs of danger. Still, the concrete knowledge of these innocents shook Jamie. His moral clarity waned, like a tower of blocks losing its crosspiece. How will the general’s children move on? What if they fall into the arms of the pirates or the next warlord up? From here, it was no leap at all to obsess about the French journalist. When the exchange was revealed as phony, would the general’s men execute her on the spot? They would blame her, despite the fact that she had played no role whatsoever in the ruse. Renée Auteuil had been raised by a jobless father in Roubaix, the post-industrial husk of a city. She’d worked sixty-hour weeks as a line cook to support them. She’d defied dictators on three continents to achieve the eminence and audience that had prompted General Mahad to snatch her last spring. Now Jamie was putting her in jeopardy, and for what? So that he could feel better about himself? So he could feel absolved? Jamie had chosen Puntland precisely because it was neutral territory in the feud between his family, the Gallaghers, and their conservative arch-enemies, the Pruitts. The two clans had been fighting for nearly three centuries—and while there was hardly a facet of American political, corporate, or philanthropic life their battles hadn’t touched, neither family had much connection to Puntland. As president, Jonathan Pruitt hadn’t carried out any significant dealings with the territory during his term. (His only term, thankfully.) The Gallaghers facilitated relief missions all over Africa, but nothing specially in Puntland. Jamie’s action tomorrow wouldn’t be interpreted as having grown out of the feud, or impacted the feud, or given the Gallaghers some edge in the next midterm elections. This was separate. This was good, a thing nobody could spin or debate. That had been the plan, at least. Now doubts roared in Jamie’s mind. He dug at the roots of his hair, flopping about the damp, creaking boards. The Somalis snored in the adjacent room. Their arsenal reeked of grease and sulfur. Jamie crunched his eyes and pulled his rucksack, which he’d been toting around since freshman year at Yale, down over his head. The thoughts still came, and the guilt. His emotions spiraled and sickened and fought, and finally came to a head. He growled, disgusted by himself, then tore through his rucksack for the shoe that contained, wedged up in the toes, a newsprint photo of a mass grave discovered in northeast Puntland. By penlight, he stared at the image. He seared it into his brain. The open trench of dusted gray bodies. The overlapping femurs. The fleshless faces. The photo was merely one of dozens. Jamie knew the general was well-positioned to continue the slaughter once the collective international eye moved along. “That’s it,” he whispered aloud. “Not one more thought.” # The meeting was to take place twenty minutes after sunrise. Jamie woke, having finally fallen asleep around four a.m., to the Somalis chatting in their native tongue over pieces of flatbread. He dragged himself aboveboard, feeling at once languid and jittery. “Bread?” Abdi offered, tearing a piece from a slab. “Thanks, no.” Jamie reached into his rucksack instead for a piece of biltong, the wildebeest jerky he’d grown fond of. “Has the general been about?” “Yes, Josef saw him. The hat.” Abdi made a sifting gesture above his head to indicate the general’s beret. The day was already scorching, the sky’s blue brilliance broken only by the boiling disk of the sun. The general’s yacht rocked softly in the west, appearing quite large now, its bow sleek and spear-like. “They’re within gun range,” Jamie observed. “Oh yes. We are in their scopes.” As if to prove the point, Abdi raised a hand in the yacht’s direction and laughed. Nobody joined him. The pirate named Josef, taller and broader in the chest than Abdi, loaded the ten-million-dollar briefcase into the first of three skiffs. Jamie stepped in after, fitting his rucksack into the hull—careful of the Akpeteshie inside—and tying back his hair. Abdi took a minute instructing the two men staying back on the mothership. Was he arranging a distress signal? Telling them what to do if shots were fired? Coordinating a double-cross? There was no use worrying. Jamie had placed himself between dangerous people, but dangerous people performed the same calculations benign ones did. The pirates would keep up their end so long as the benefits remained clear: not only cash, but stronger ties with the general and the establishment of a new back-channel to the powerful Gallaghers. The skiff loaded, Adbi yanked the outboard motor’s cord. The engine sputtered alive and settled to a rumbling purr. Josef untied them, flashing a grim thumbs-up to the men staying behind. They charted a course for the general’s yacht. The sea felt choppier on the smaller craft, which didn’t bother Jamie—a lifelong boater and varsity swimmer in college—but did compel him to pull the rucksack protectively into his lap. If the Akpeteshie somehow ruptured against the hull, the mission would be lost. As they neared the general’s yacht, the faces of his guards became visible—wary, textured faces. The carry-straps of AK-47s sawed their necks. Abdi cut the motor and drifted in. A section of railing was unclipped, and a ramp extended from the yacht’s stern. After helping Josef tie up, Jamie slipped the rucksack onto his back and boarded. The Somalis trailed him with the briefcase. “Halkan, ku siin!” said one of the general’s men. Abdi shook his head forcefully at the request—to hand over the briefcase. The guards backpedaled, their formation hemming Jamie and the pirates into a corner of the aft deck. Abdi and Josef walked with their bodies shielding the case as if it contained plutonium. With these uneasy field positions established, the general’s men conferred briefly and parted to form an aisle to the pilothouse. General Mahad emerged. The general wore his full dress uniform: navy blue, epaulets, ribboned medals. He lumbered forward with a mild limp, said to have originated during the Simba rebellion of 1964. He raised his chin to Abdi, then spoke to Jamie. “Welcome to the one and true seat of Puntland, Mr. Gallagher.” Jamie felt the man’s deep, scarred voice in his bowels. “That’s none of my concern. I’m here for Renée.” The general smiled, his lips fat and sly. “How fortunate she is. You are the white knight, eh? Sir Jamie?” The characterization stung, but Jamie pushed on. “I’ve been in touch with Humanitarian Dialogue—their helicopter is ready. Give me a latitude and longitude for the exchange and let’s get this over.” “Your friends have the money?” Every eye on the yacht turned to Abdi, whose knuckles tightened on the briefcase handle. “Ten million,” Jamie said. “Count it if you like.” The general crooked a finger at one of his men, who disappeared to the pilothouse. The man returned with a machine resembling a fax with bill-sized trays. Abdi stepped forward with the briefcase. The man with the counting machine passed a handheld X-ray scanner around the case and swabbed a cloth along each edge. He started for the pilothouse with the cloth, likely to perform a residue test for explosives, but the general stopped him. Then gestured for Abdi to go ahead. When Abdi undid the clasp, the lip snapped open—ten million was a squeeze, even with an oversize case—and a few packets spilled out. The counting began. Now Jamie reached into his rucksack for the Akpeteshie. “I’ve heard tell around campfires,” he began, gathering himself, “that you enjoy a certain Ghanaian beverage.” The general grinned when he saw the bottle, squat, the neck’s glass bowed in the distinctive shape of a baobab tree. “This is true.” “Shall we drink together?” Jamie said. “It’s early, but I find a day started well nearly always ends well.” The general palmed his jaw. There was a risk he would set the gift aside, but Jamie was counting on this subtle challenge to his manhood—in front of his crew, in front of Abdi and Josef. People like the general didn’t back down from such dares. Jamie thought of his old classmate Rock Pruitt who’d downed a fifth of whiskey disproving a frat brother’s claim that prep-schoolers only drank martinis and smoked reefer. “I would quite enjoy that,” the general said. “After the bottle is checked.” Jamie raised a shoulder, feigning indifference as two men seized the Akpeteshie and held it sideways up to the sun, testing its feel in their hands, poking fingernails along the dripped-wax seal. They would find nothing. Jamie’s sister Charlotte Gallagher, founder of internet-of-things giant SmartWidget and the eighteenth-richest person in the world, owned 45 percent of the local distillery that produced Akpeteshie. She had allowed Jamie to follow this lone bottle through the factory. At the final step, just before corking, he’d poured out 150 milliliters of liquor and replaced it with an equal amount of king cobra venom. For fifteen months, Jamie had been inoculating himself with increasingly larger doses of the venom. He had started, after discussing the strategy at length with a Sudanese shaman, with a pinprick diluted in a pint of water. Last week, he had managed eight milliliters of venom—the amount a shot from the spiked Akpeteshie would deliver, depending on the pour—and suffered only dizziness, blurred vision, and severe cottonmouth. When his men were satisfied the bottle was unaltered, the general took a pair of tumblers from the yacht’s fiberglass sideboard. Tumblers, not shot glasses. Eight ounces at least. “To finding a middle, eh?” The general poured each tumbler to the brim. “Two parties can start from opposite ends and, with good sense, find a common understanding.” Jamie’s teeth pulverized each other in the back of his mouth. He’d always found the rhetoric of compromise disingenuous, whether it came from television pundits or the North Carolina Gallaghers exhorting the clan to give ground at the fringes of the abortion debate. To hear it from the mouth of a man like Mahad? Revolting. “To the middle,” he spat. He raised the tumbler to his lips. Calculations whipped around his brain. Eight ounces divided by one point five… Equaled six times the amount of venom his body had previously endured. The liquid was amber, almost orange. As the glass tilted, Jamie imagined he saw currents of venom slithering among the palm wine. His fingers trembled. Some sloshed over the side, but not nearly enough. In his periphery, Jamie became aware of Abdi and Josef arguing with the general’s men. Abdi slapped one empty well of the briefcase. The general’s men shouted. More rushed to the deck from below board. The general balked at Jamie’s tone. “You do not like my toast. That is your right. You are the guest, so make your own.” He smirked about. “We are democratic here, aren’t we?” Jamie ignored the low hoots. “To justice.” He regripped his tumbler. “To justice, and fair treatment for all living things.” The general guffawed, big and toothy. “For ten million, yes. Why in hell not?” Their eyes locked over the tumblers’ rims. Jamie perceived something in the man’s look, some hustler’s instinct, and knew if he faltered now—even for a moment—the trap would be blown. Jamie stared into the lethal brew, waited for bright madness to rise, and drank. The Akpeteshie burned his throat. His jaw felt weak and daggers pressed into his eardrums from inside. Still, he kept his head tipped back and drank it all. The general and several of his men goggled at the feat. When their eyes turned to him, the war criminal downed his, too. “…no, the release! ” Jamie heard behind him. “No money before release!” “We will keep it.” “No, us! We will hold the money.” A guard wearing ripped denim leveled his rifle at Abdi. Josef stepped forward to push aside the muzzle. Another guard drove the butt of his rifle into Josef’s back, crumpling the pirate. Jamie didn’t know how long he and the general had. During his inoculation, the symptoms would begin in about a minute, but he’d never ingested this large a dose. His heartrate zoomed and breath pumped through his chest like air from a bellows—still, this could be the effects of anticipation. “So, um…the release,” he said, feeling a vague duty toward Abdi. “If you…so I’ll call HD and be sure Renée, er…s’all okay with the money…” Words were deserting him. The scuffle on deck was intensifying. Josef had recovered to pounce on the man in denim. Abdi was buried in a furious tangle of fists and churning hips. Jamie didn’t understand the fight. Let them have the money—who cared? He began to feel disconnected from his body, Abdi and Josef blending into other people he’d known in life, Gallaghers and Pruitts, senators and reporters, grad students and business titans, all fighting without reason, finding joy and enemies, grinding their life into the larger sausage. The general unleashed a thunderous whistle and raised his hand for calm. The struggle paused. Every eye turned his way. He began to lower his hand but suddenly couldn’t. His arm convulsed and became some bucking stick-animal beyond his control. His fingers twitched unnaturally. He grasped his throat, staggering back. Froth bubbled in his nostrils. The man who’d retrieved the money scale from the pilothouse pointed at Jamie. “What is this?” Jamie tried answering, but his tongue would not obey, dead and heavy in his mouth. Pain gored his brain. Sweat screamed from his pores, a thousand beads altogether. This wasn’t the outcome Jamie had wanted, but neither was it wholly unexpected. He thought now of life’s best moments. In Burundi, feeling that boy’s skeletal hand squeeze as he sucked a tab of enriched peanut butter. On the vineyard, fourteen years old, swinging his cousins round and round in celebration after his mother—the senior senator from Connecticut and Democratic National Committee chairperson—had succeeded in her long-shot campaign to retake majority control of the Senate. Above all, though, he remembered kissing Sam. Seniors on their last night at Yale, about to go conquer the world, standing together in an entryway. Emotions spiked to the heavens. Their mouths came together in the gentlest, deepest touch he’d known before or since. Samantha Lessing. God, she was it. The life he missed. Half the general’s men were swarming the Somali pirates while the other half moved on Jamie. There was a gap between the two, but it was closing. Jamie willed his tongue back into service. “This was right,” he croaked. “Here, today. This was not a waste.” And he believed this—dashing across the deck through grasping hands, over the gunwale, into the black ocean.

TEN YEARS LATER

2

Sam slipped out of the WNYC studios at four thirty, waving off cheers of “Have fun!” and “Take me with you!”, hurrying through the lobby, jogging a short block to catch the uptown C. She needed to pick up a daughter and possibly husband in Brooklyn, then be back in Manhattan for the 5:41 p.m. train to New Haven. Reunion check-in closed at eight. If the train arrived on time, she’d make it easy. If not? If any of the dizzying array of pitfalls inherent in teenagers and public transit popped up? Sam guessed they were sleeping on the street. Half an hour later, she hiked three flights of stairs with key at the ready. The apartment was unlocked. “Joss?” she called. “You are packed, yes?” Her daughter’s door was closed, but guitar chords thwanged through. Sam stepped around French bread pizza and a stack of indie music magazines to pound twice. “Not telling you what to wear,” she yelled, “but I suggest a dress or dress-like garment for Saturday night.” The music inside dulled, indicating Sam had been heard. The warning bell had been sounded. She found an oversize duffel bag in the hall closet and tossed in her stuff: toiletries, three-odd outfits for the weekend, Zoom audio recorder. About outfits: Sam both cared and didn’t care. She was forty-three. Her classmates were forty-three, give or take. Nobody should go rocking a prom dress, but they weren’t dead yet either. She brought dark-red sleeveless, plus yellow floral in case of glorious weather. “Leaving twelve minutes!” she said through Joss’s door. “Zero wiggle situation.” Tight timelines didn’t bother Sam—the studio commonly dropped post-production on her for shows that were airing in mere hours. Packing now, she thought pleasurably of the friends she’d see at the reunion. Laurel in from San Francisco. Jen Pereido. Naomi, even though she was still recovering from the birth of her fourth(!) child. From her own daughter’s room came a squeal, streaked with joy. The noise pinched Sam’s heart. Her husband Abe was in there—they’d probably harmonized on some new melody. Which was awesome. Truly. Except that it was 4:48. She opened the door. “I hate to be Yoko, but the time’s come to break up. Leaving in five minutes.” Fourteen-year-old Joss looked up from fingering the neck of her guitar, still grinning. Abe sat cross-legged on the floor with the Yamaha across his knees, a kind of strung-out, hipster Dalai Lama. Both appeared stumped. Sam said, “Yale? My alma mater, where you’ve been dying to go for months?” Joss’s grin vanished. “Dad said you were leaving whenever! Isn’t it like an all-weekend thing? Today’s only Thursday.” “Yes, but in order to check in Thursday night, as I hope to,” Sam said, patiently as she could, “we need to arrive on campus by eight o’clock.” “That’s ridiculous, I’ve barely even looked at clothes.” “Then look quickly. I’m winging it myself.” Joss shot upright, dropping her guitar with a clang against the bed. “I’m not going to Yale on, like, zero notice. You can’t just spring this on me.” “I sprung no thing on no body. We discussed timing last night, and this afternoon I sent your father four texts—every hour, on the hour—reminding him.” “But those go to his phone,” Joss said. “Remember, I don’t have one? Because you won’t let me?” Sam stretched one arm laboriously toward the ceiling, focusing on good breaths. Apparently, they were skimming right over Abe’s not passing along the messages. His long-running campaign to absolve himself of any and all responsibility—waged by a steady pattern of never giving a crap for anyone but himself—had succeeded at last. “Look, we can argue about phones again or we can try to make this train. Otherwise, we basically miss half the reunion. We might as well skip.” This genuinely spooked Joss. Her face hollowed even more deeply than usual. (She’d grown three inches this year, causing Sam to marvel at this moody, suddenly supermodel whose laundry she washed every week.) They’d been talking about the reunion forever, what architecture couldn’t be missed, whether student activists would be around for Joss to connect with. Sam hated to use fear, that blunt-force instrument of the parenting arsenal, but she knew a reasoned argument would produce nothing but gridlock. Joss started packing. Abe, who’d disappeared to the bathroom, emerged now with drawstrings dangling from his sweats. He nodded to a pair of shiny heels in Sam’s duffel. “Somebody’s dressing to impress.” “I haven’t seen these people in twenty years,” she said. “I’m erring on the side of adequate.” Her husband snorted, seeming to take the comment personally. Twelve years older than Sam, he’d been an already-aging rocker when she had met him in her late twenties. Between drugs and alcohol, and having nowhere in particular to be for the last twenty years—no office or classroom mores to adhere to—Abe had aged poorly. His leatherette skin belonged to a person decades older, and beige hair had fled the top of his head for his ears and nostrils. “You’re more than welcome to join,” Sam said, stuffing in a toothbrush. “But we are leaving mucho rapido, so…” He ambled a step away, picked up Joss’s guitar and set it in its case. She heaved the duffel’s halves together to make the zipper zip. “You’re passing, correct? I just want to confirm with a verbal yes or no answer.” Sam knew with four hundred percent certainty that some future argument would hinge on this point—whether or not Abe had been invited. They would be sniping back and forth about Yale, how phony or not phony her friends were, what first-world problems they were finding themselves crippled by, and he would break out his trump card. You were embarrassed. You didn’t want me there, dragging you down. And here it came, earlier than expected. “You don’t have to faux-invite me,” Abe said. “You prefer to go alone. Oh, you’ll tolerate Joss. Joss is an acceptable accessory. Perfectly cool, I get it. I won’t ruin your triumphant return.” Sam again focused on respiration. In, out. In, out. “This is a real invitation,” she said. “Just like the one I offered in April, and in May. You are absolutely welcome at my reunion. Come. Please. Joss would love having you there. Maybe you could jam with Thom—he’s supposed to be playing Toad’s.” As convincingly as Sam delivered these words, her husband was right. The invitation wasn’t real. Abe thought Thom’s music was derivative and had zero interest in strumming out tired chords while Activist Boy preened at the mic for the ladies. If Abe went, he would grump and sulk and criticize, and ruin the whole thing. “Pass,” Abe said. “Thom can play ‘Better Man’ solo. That is where he opens, isn’t it? Pearl Jam? Or is it the first encore?” Sam chuckled with relief. Complicity with ragging on her own friends? Fine. Fine, she’d do it—so long as he stayed home. Their daughter’s voice came through the wall, “What’s the formality situation for Saturday night dinner?” “Less stuffy than a cotillion,” Sam called back, “but expect mosh-pitting to be frowned upon.” As she waited on her daughter, Sam kept tabs on a few text conversations by phone. People were arriving into New Haven and wondering where Demery’s had gone, or at the airport dreaming of hugs on the quad, or annoyed because they had to work tomorrow which royally sucked! Sam grinned at this last but didn’t tap back a response. Abe was watching her, surely guessing what the rapid-fire chimes were about. For Sam to actively join in would risk an argument or, worse, a change of heart. She didn’t think her husband was capable of attending the reunion for spite, enduring a rotten weekend just to play the killjoy. But why push him? Finally, Joss emerged. She had changed into a clingy ankle-length skirt and carried a backpack. “Thank you for hurrying,” Sam said. “Excited?” Joss rolled her eyes but couldn’t completely suppress a smile. Sam clutched her hand. After double-checking the cat dish had food, she slipped on her jacket and pulled her cell charger out of the wall, jamming it into the side of her bag. Abe tilted his head. “Why’re you taking the Zoom?” Shoot. Sam inwardly punched her brain for not packing last night. “Ah…I’m kicking around this audio doc. Just ideas. Might record some clips.” “Topic?” She hated how he asked, all aggressive and pedantic. “I doubt I’ll have time.” She considered lying outright. Joss was watching, though, and the idea of cowering in front of her daughter—who was learning how to relate to others and respond to adversity and be an assertive female—repulsed her. “It’s about pinebox. How it affected our class, et cetera. Of course the vendetta’s been done—this would try to get at it through the lens of our class at Yale. We had one Pruitt, one Gallagher, that death freshman year. Kind of the whole feud in miniature.” She shrugged, pretending to be flip, and started for the door. It was 4:32. Abe asked, “Is Rock Pruitt going to the reunion?” “Dunno,” Sam said. “We didn’t exactly run in the same circles.” “Really? That seems disingenuous given you were bosom buddies there with the immortal Jamie Gallagher.” Sam felt her chest constrict. Let it go, she told herself. Let it go like Elsa. Turn yourself to ice, and everything slides right off. Except she couldn’t. “Jamie despised Rock. You could walk the earth and never find two people with more diametrically-opposed worldviews than Rock and Jamie.” Abe huffed. “Those beautiful people and their worldviews. What rarefied air you’ll be breathing again.” Sam opened her mouth hotly to speak. At the last moment, she stopped and finished zipping her bag instead. She stood tall-shouldered, smiled, and invited Joss to lead the way out. “The audio doc does sound right out of This American Life,” said Abe, evidently unsatisfied with the fight’s resolution. “Who produces that? Must be one of those Yale ninety-sixers working there you could pitch.” She felt like asking how he could possibly believe in mythical Ivy League connections after this life of theirs: Sam’s twelve years bouncing around the periphery of pseudo-academic film, hustling after grants, performing peon tasks in job after job to bulk up a CV so it could sit on her Patreon page getting a half-dozen page views per month. She had finally risen to prominence at WNYC but almost in spite of Yale, which carried significant prima donna baggage in the field. Again, though, Sam restrained herself in front of Joss. “Hey, quick Zoom question,” she said. “You think forty-eight/twenty-four-bit, or forty-four/sixteen is better? It’ll be mostly outdoor clips.” Abe tipped his balding head left, then right. “Forty-eight. File sizes won’t be that different, and at sixteen, the Zoom gets super noisy.” Sam crinkled her nose. “Yeah. Yeah, I guess that’s right. Thanks.” Mother and daughter both pecked Abe goodbye and bounded off to catch a train. Joss seemed to study Sam down the stairs, and she wondered momentarily if her ruse had failed—if Joss understood that Mom had forgotten more about sampling rates than Dad had ever known—and had only made this final query to escape the apartment on a positive note. Other fictions existed between the couple. That Abe respected her managerial position at WNYC. That she believed his vow to start playing shows again—that those freelance audio-tech Fiverr gigs he’d parlayed fairly successfully into income were just temporary and not his professional endgame. That reuniting each night for dinner, they asked about the other’s day with anything like genuine interest. Sometimes Joss would make comments indicating she knew. “Gee, Dad, bitter much?” or, “I’d rather not be involved in this,” swirling her hand as though over a cesspool. Other times, she seemed oblivious, just a regular kid consumed by regular kid stuff. Either possibility broke Sam’s heart. *** Excerpt from The Pinebox Vendetta by Jeff Bond. Copyright 2020 by Jeff Bond. Reproduced with permission from Jeff Bond. All rights reserved.

 

Author Bio:

Jeff Bond Jeff Bond is a Kansas native and graduate of Yale University.

He lives with his wife and two daughters in Michigan, and belongs to the International Thriller Writers Association.

Catch Up With Jeff Bond On:

JeffBondBooks.com

BookBub

Goodreads

Instagram

Twitter

Facebook!

 

My Review

I hadn’t read anything by this author before but was hooked by the political intrigue promised in the book’s description. The crux of the story revolves around two families with extraordinary political influence and an even greater rivalry. Their desire to control supersedes everything – there are no lengths to which they will not go to retain influence.

Stuck in the middle is Sam, whose own marriage is on its knees, and who sees the reunion of her fellow Yale graduates as a chance to find herself again. Of course, the reunion  is drama-packed, and really shows the true nature of the warring families. For me, as a non-American, the Yale scenes were confusing, so many unexplained acronyms to identify certain groups I had no idea what was going on. Added to the fact that key characters were just so awful, with not a likeable bone in their body, it was difficult to relate to them and understand their anger with the world. 

In today’s political climate, mud-slinging has become common-place, and here it was no different. It also seemed that these people – much like today’s politicos – were never held accountable for their actions. Where was the voice of reason in all of this? I expected more of Sam, assumed her role would be to provide balance …but, no. 

The pace of events picked up in the second half and that old family feud kicked off with a vengeance, highlighting the darker and manipulative side of those wielding the power in politics. As fascinating as this was, at the back of my mind I was waiting for someone to own up to their actions, admit responsibility, and maybe – I know, what was I thinking? – show some contrition. 

Despite the characters’ complete lack of moral fibre, the families’ ingrained ability to deceive, and the cover-ups, I felt compelled to read on, just in case …. It certainly gave me insight into the shenanigans going on behind the scenes during campaign season. It’s probably – at least I hope so – an extreme take on that world. The ending felt incomplete, but maybe that will be resolved in the next book of the series. 

I received a complimentary ARC edition as part of a blog tour review. This is my honest and voluntary review.

 

Tour Participants:

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

https://www.linkytools.com/basic_linky_include.aspx?id=296758

 

 

Enter To Win!:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Jeff Bond. There will be 2 winners of one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card each. The giveaway begins on May 1, 2020 and runs through July 2, 2020. Void where prohibited.

a Rafflecopter giveaway https://widget-prime.rafflecopter.com/launch.js  

 

Get More Great Reads at Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours

As always,

 

blog tour · crime · historical fiction · mystery · Partners in Crime Tours · police procedural

A Spotlight on “Dirty Old Town” – plus a giveaway!

Dirty Old Town by Gabriel Valjan Banner

 

Dirty Old Town

by Gabriel Valjan

on Tour March 1 – April 30, 2020

Synopsis:

Dirty Old Town by Gabriel Valjan

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

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

Book Details:

Genre: Crime Fiction, Mystery, Procedural, Historical Fiction Published by: Level Best Books Publication Date: January 14th 2020 Number of Pages: 162 ISBN: 1087857325 (ISBN13: 9781087857329) Series: A Shane Cleary Mystery Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

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

Author Bio:

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

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

 

Tour Participants:

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

Click here to view the Dirty Old Town by Gabriel Valjan Participants

 

Enter To Win!!:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Gabriel Valjan. There will be 1 winner of one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card. The giveaway begins on March 1, 2020 and runs through May 2, 2020. Void where prohibited.

RAFFLECOPTER LINK

 

Get More Great Reads at Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours

As always,

blog tour · book review · cosy · Giveaways · murder mystery · mystery · paranormal · Partners in Crime Tours · series

Blog Tour ‘n’ Book Review – The Great Witches Baking Show – plus Giveaway

The Great Witches Baking Show by Nancy Warren Banner

 

The Great Witches Baking Show

by Nancy Warren

on Tour February 1-29, 2019

Synopsis:

The Great Witches Baking Contest by Nancy Warren A baker with secrets Witches in trouble The cameras are rolling Ready, set, die.

Poppy Wilkinson is thrilled to be chosen as a contestant on The Great British Baking Contest. As an American with English roots, winning the crown as Britain’s Best Baker would open doors she’s dreamed of. In more ways than one. Appearing on the reality show is her chance to get into Broomewode Hall and uncover the secrets of her past.

But strange things are happening on the show’s set: accusations of sabotage, a black cat that shadows Poppy, suspiciously unsociable residents at Broomewode Hall—and the judges can be real witches.

There are murmurs that Broomewode is an energy vortex. It certainly makes Poppy see and do things that aren’t exactly normal, and seems to draw interesting characters to the neighborhood.

When a fellow contestant dies in mysterious circumstances, Poppy has more to worry about than burned pies and cakes that won’t rise. There’s a murderer on the loose and it’s up to Poppy and her new friends to solve the crime before it becomes a real show-stopper.

From USA Today Bestselling Author Nancy Warren, this delicious series of cozy paranormal mysteries will have you guessing until the end. Includes recipes.

Book Details:

Genre: Culinary Cozy Published by: Ambleside Publishing Publication Date: January 15th 2020 Number of Pages: 250 ASIN: B07ZL472PK Series: Culinary Cozy #1 Purchase Links: Amazon | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

CHAPTER ONE

As life-changing moments go, getting the call that I’d been chosen to compete in The Great British Baking Contest was right up there. I’d practiced, auditioned and practiced some more. I was a decent home baker, but was I really the best in Britain? Probably not. But I didn’t have to be. The contest was my way of getting into Broomewode Hall, where the show was filmed. I had my own reasons for going there that had nothing to do with baking. Still, it hadn’t been easy to be chosen. There were thousands of applicants every year and then an excruciating selection process, where the show’s producers chose twelve from the short list and made us bake on camera. Some people went to pieces; some were just really boring. They randomly selected bakers off the short list and tried out different combinations of personalities, a bit like baking, really, seeing which ingredients created the most interesting results. I quickly learned that the trick was to be a good character, try to be funny, be a good sport, pretend you didn’t notice that cameras were on you and a clock was ticking down the minutes, and still turn out a decent jam tart. Easy peasy! Not. One of the reasons they chose me for the show, I think, was that while I was British, I’d grown up in the States, which was kind of fun, as the show had become a huge hit in America. I’d also started life in a bakery. Or, more accurately, in a cardboard box outside a bakery in Norton St. Philip, a charming village near Bath in Somerset. I like to think my mother, whoever she was, chose the bakery so she knew I’d be warm and, since bakers start work so early, I’d be found. And I was. When Gareth Philpott came to work that morning, he said he looked into the box and found me wide-awake, staring up at him. Not crying, not fussing, just staring as though I’d expected him. They named me Poppy. The Philpotts would have kept me if they could have. They’re a nice family, but they already had three children, and the authorities don’t just give a family a baby because they happened to stumble across one. First they tried to find my mother or any information at all about my origins. When that proved impossible, I was adopted by Agatha and Leland Wilson, and they became my parents. They were both teachers. They’d tried for years to have their own children, and their delight in getting me was reflected in the way they pretty much turned their lives around to give me the best upbringing they could. They were loving parents, kind and patient. Strict when they had to be. We lived in Bath for the first eight years of my life, and then my dad was offered a teaching job in Seattle. I grew up there, mostly, lost the British accent, became a typical American teenager, and then when I finished high school, my folks retired and moved back to the UK. I could have stayed in Seattle. I had friends, and I could’ve gone to college there, but I chose to come back to England. I think, deep down, it’s always felt like home. Besides, like a lot of adopted kids, the mystery of my beginnings haunts me. Soon after returning to England, my folks moved to the south of France to bask in warmer weather, grow lavender and cook gourmet meals. My dad, who taught history, was writing a book. My mom was learning French. They’d saved up a nice chunk of change for me to go to college but, in spite of having teachers as parents, I never felt the urge. I was always more artistic than intellectual, so I went to an art and design college for two years, and they let me use the rest of the money toward buying a tiny cottage in Norton St. Philip. It’s probably crazy, and nobody even thinks my mother was from there, but I started my life in that village and so it pulled me back. The Philpotts still ran the bakery and were my second family. I guess you’ll always have a bond with the person who picked you up off the street as a newborn. Besides, growing up as an only child, I was fascinated by their sprawling, noisy family. I became a freelance graphic designer, which allowed me to work from home. Gina Philpott was my age and my best friend. She was also the only one who knew why I really wanted to get on that show. It went all the way back to when I was just a baby in that cardboard box. I’d been wrapped in a curious blanket. I saw my baby blanket one day when I was watching The Great British Baking Contest. They always filmed at Broomewode Hall, a Georgian manor house that wasn’t open to the public. Broomewode Hall was the seat of the Earl of Frome, Robert Champney and his family. During one of the behind-the-scenes segments on the show, Lady Frome, showed them around her home. As the camera panned around the great dining hall I was instantly transfixed by a woman in an oil painting who seemed to be wearing my baby blanket! I saw now that, in fact, it was a shawl. But the pattern was the same. I was certain of it. And from that very moment, I began my quest to find out more about Broomewode Hall. Lord and Lady Frome guarded their privacy tenaciously, and it was impossible to get access to them and their family home. Besides, what would I say? “I think one of your ancestors once wore my baby blanket? The best way I could think of to spend time there was to qualify as a baker on The Great British Baking Contest. I’d done it. Against incredible odds, I’d been chosen as one of twelve bakers. It was one step toward finding how who I really was. All I had to do now was figure out how to get the rest of the way. *** Excerpt from The Great Witches Baking Show by Nancy Warren. Copyright 2019 by Nancy Warren. Reproduced with permission from Nancy Warren. All rights reserved.

 

Author Bio:

Nancy Warren Nancy Warren is the USA Today bestselling author of more than seventy novels, including the best selling Vampire Knitting Club series and the Toni Diamond mysteries. She’s from Vancouver, though she tends to wander. She holds an MA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa university, appeared on the front page of the New York Times when her book Speed Dating launched the Harlequin/Nascar series. She was also the answer to a clue in a crossword puzzle in Canada’s National Post newspaper.

Catch Up With Our Author On: NancyWarren.net, Goodreads, BookBub, Instagram, Twitter, & Facebook!

My Review:

4/5 stars

This was like having the Bake Off TV series in my living room! It felt so real, as though I knew who everyone was from the get go. And, then the “incident” happened!!!

But first, some background info … Twenty-something Poppy Wilkinson was born in Britain, left in a shoe-box as a baby on the doorstep of a bakery. Her adoptive family later moved to the US, but Poppy returned; she had some unfinished business to deal with – finding out about her birth family. Her only clue, though, was seeing a painting of a woman wearing a shawl on the walls of Broomewode Hall, the pattern matching the one she’d been wrapped in. 

The problem was getting access to Broomewode Hall; the family lived a reclusive life and it was only when they opened their grounds to the Baking Contest that Poppy saw a way in. Luckily, Poppy loved to bake and auditioned for the show, only to get into the final twelve. She was about to be a contestant in the very place she needed to be to further her enquiries. 

The contest began, and Poppy was anxious to not be the first contestant to leave, and her mind was focused on her baking. However, once the filming was over, she set off to visit the house, not expecting to be turned away, nor to find that disaster had befallen one of her baking colleagues – and I don’t mean just a soggy bottom! – and least of all did she expect to learn that she was a witch. 

Poppy’s search for information about her family continued as the police arrived to investigate the incident in the tent, requiring some contestants to stay on in the village for further questioning. While she was grateful for the extra time, her endeavours only created more questions – the family was very quick to turn her away, the cook who might have had info was strangely vague, and a stray cat seemed to appear at the oddest of times. 

This is the first book in the series, and so there are many loose ends at this point which will no doubt be tied up as the story develops. Will Poppy ever find out about her birth family? How does she come to terms with her new powers as a witch? Who will win the Baking Contest? This cosy mystery series has got off to a great start; it’s lighthearted and funny, and moves at a good pace. plus there’s a recipe at the back too!

I’m certainly intrigued enough to want to know more, and I understand the next two books are being released shortly: Baker’s Coven in March & A Rolling Scone in May, which can only be good news 😉

I received a copy from the author and have reviewed this book voluntarily.

 

Tour Participants:

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

02/01 Review @ Lauras Interests 02/02 Review @ Cheryls Book Nook 02/03 Review @ Book Babble 02/04 Review @ sunny island breezes 02/05 Showcase @ Nesies Place 02/06 Guest post @ Reading A Page Turner 02/06 Showcase @ The Bookworm Lodge 02/07 Interview @ BooksChatter 02/08 Review @ Just 4 My Books 02/10 Review @ Book Fidelity 02/10 Showcase @ Im All About Books 02/10 Showcase @ Lisa-Queen of Random 02/11 Interview @ Cozy Up WIth Kathy 02/11 Showcase @ Celticladys Reviews 02/12 Review @ Quiet Fury Books 02/13 Guest post/showcase @ CMash Reads 02/14 Review @ Cozy Up WIth Kathy 02/15 Review @ It’s All About the Book 02/15 Showcase @ Diane Reviews Books 02/16 Showcase @ Read and Review 02/17 Review @ Sapphyrias Books 02/18 Review/showcase @ Our Town Book Reviews 02/19 Review @ Wall-to-wall books 02/20 Showcase @ Archaeolibrarian – I Dig Good Books! 02/21 Review @ Just Reviews 02/28 Review/showcase @ The Bookwyrm 02/29 Guest post @ Teatime and Books

GIVEAWAY!!:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Nancy Warren. There will be 2 winners of one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card each. The giveaway begins on February 1, 2020 and runs through March 2, 2020. Void where prohibited.

a Rafflecopter giveaway https://widget-prime.rafflecopter.com/launch.js  

 

Get More Great Reads at Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours

As always, 

blog tour · mystery · Partners in Crime Tours · series

Blog Tour – How Deep is the Darkness

How Deep Is The Darkness by Mary Anne Edwards Banner

 

 

How Deep is the Darkness

A Charlie McClung Mystery

by Mary Anne Edwards

December 17, 2019 Book Blast

Synopsis:

How Deep is the Darkness by Mary Anne Edwards

Charlie McClung has always known about darkness, it’s part of being a police chief.

But now it’s spreading throughout the town and creeping into his life.

With each body found, the killer deepens the darkness and McClung must put an end to it.

Now.

Book Details:

Genre: Traditional Mystery Published by: Sellem Books Publication Date: December 2, 2019 Number of Pages: 247 ASIN:B081MYBYG8 Series: The Charlie McClung Mysteries Book 6 Purchase Links: Amazon | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

This story begins on Monday, June 20, 1983, in Lyman County, Georgia

Chapter 1

Chief Charlie McClung stared at the pale, bloated body of Myron Wagstaff lying next to his own swimming pool. He’d seen enough bodies to know when dead is dead. And Myron was dead. McClung glanced at his wife standing near the diving board at the far end of the pool. Marian’s white tee shirt clung to her body and her wet hair was plastered to her head and neck. Hugging herself, she managed a pitiful grin. Not only was Myron Wagstaff a neighbor and the president of their Homeowners Association, but he was also Marian’s archnemesis. McClung knelt beside Myron, grabbed his thick wrist, and checked for a pulse. His fingers sank into doughy flesh. Myron’s waterlogged polo shirt looked as if it had been spray painted on his belly, now bloated more than normal. While McClung held his fingers in place waiting for a beat, he scanned the area. The patio furniture was jumbled together with the garden hose, snaking between the chairs, and stopping at the spot where Myron lay. That, combined with the fact there weren’t any signs of bruising on Myron, perhaps meant this was an accidental drowning. “Boss?” Sergeant Thayer asked as he stood behind McClung. He shook his head as he moved aside for the paramedics to perform their magic. But McClung realized not even Doctor Frankenstein could reanimate poor Myron. As the emergency team worked on Myron, Charlie hurried toward Marian. “Are you okay?” He kissed her forehead and pulled her into his arms. Marian’s body trembled against his chest. “Thayer! Get Marian a blanket.” The young sergeant ran full blast and quickly returned. “I’m okay just, um, just, um.” Marian fought hard to keep her tears in check. “Here.” Thayer’s breath pounded the back of Marian’s neck as he laid the blanket across her shoulders. Charlie released Marian, secured the blanket then blotted a tissue under her eyes and nose. “Here’s a clean one.” “Love the magical tissues.” A weak chuckle tumbled from Marian as she pulled the blanket tighter. “You’d think I’d be sweating in this June heat.” “Well, it’s not even ten o’clock. It’s cloudy, and you’re soaking wet.” Charlie glanced at her feet. “Where are your shoes?” “They were muddy, so I took them off before I went into Myron’s house to call 9-1-1 after I failed with CPR.” Marian sighed. “I was afraid that if Myron survived, he’d send me a bill to have the muddy floors cleaned.” Pointing at the patio doors, she winced. “My shoes are over there.” “What’s wrong?” Marian massaged her lower back. “I guess I hurt my back getting Myron out of the water. I’ll be okay.” Charlie squeezed her hand. Ever since Marian had the terrifying encounter with the Paper Heart Stalker and fell from a second-floor balcony last year, he worried about her health. When McClung came face to face with the Paper Heart Stalker, Marian almost lost her life to save his but unknowingly sacrificed their unborn child. He crossed over to the diving board and beckoned for her to follow. “Sit down. Here. Back toward me.” She eased down on the hard plank. Charlie’s strong hands ran across her shoulders and down her back. “Does it hurt?” “No, not really.” “I guess nothing’s broken, dislocated, or cracked.” He crossed over the board and sat down. “When I get home tonight, I’ll give you an intense massage once you’ve soaked in a tub of hot Epsom salt water.” “Sounds good.” Marian watched the paramedics work on Myron. The team’s jaws were tight as they knelt over Myron’s body. One paramedic rubbed the back of his neck as he stood in defeat while the other one closed Myron’s eyes and pulled a blanket over his face. “I didn’t think they’d have much luck reviving him. I’d hoped, but…” Marian’s voice trailed, her head heavy as she leaned on Charlie’s shoulder. “You did everything by the book. I still don’t see how you got Myron out of the pool.” Marian sighed. “I did what I had to.” She studied Charlie’s face, then swallowed hard and grimaced. “I tried to revive him. CPR but maybe if—.” “Don’t even go down that path.” Charlie scratched his eyebrow. “Dispatch said you saw a man run from the scene.” She sat up. “Yeah. Do you think he had something to do with this?” “Possibly, but we won’t know for sure until we’ve gathered the facts.” Charlie shrugged. “To me, every death is suspicious. Been fooled before but never again.” A year ago, two weeks after Charlie McClung had moved to Lyman County, he was called to the scene of a fatal shooting, Dianne Pannell. Without an investigation, the then chief of police ruled Dianne’s death a suicide, but Charlie proved it was murder after Dianne’s irritating neighbor, his now-wife, Marian, pressed him to look further into the case. “Yeah.” Marian murmured. Charlie stood. “Could be the guy got spooked when he saw Myron in the pool and ran away.” He held out his hand. “Come with me. The paramedics need to give you a quick check.” “Why? My back isn’t hurting that bad.” His hand cupped her cheek. “Sweetie, please just humor me.” Marian avoided looking at Myron and let her husband guide her to the ambulance. They met officers Willard and Marsh at the gate. Photographer Sam Goldstein wasn’t far behind. “Ma’am, are you okay?” Marsh’s voice quivered, and his eyebrows drew together. Marian looked at him for a moment. “I’m fine. Just a bit damp.” She bit her bottom lip and blinked several times. “Maybe a little shaken.” Both officers were like sons to Marian. A tentative smile eased the furrow between Marsh’s eyes. “Thank goodness.” Willard scratched his head. “Where are your shoes, ma’am?” McClung answered. “They’re outside the patio door. One of you get them for Marian.” “Consider it done, Boss.” Willard took off. “Marsh, I want you and Willard to help Thayer process the scene.” “Yes, Boss.” Willard returned a few minutes later, holding the less-muddy sneakers. His hands were filthy. “Here you go. I cleaned them up the best I could.” “Thank you, Willard.” Marian took the shoes. “No trouble.” “You two. Go assist Thayer.” McClung barked. “Wait.” Marian held up her hand. “I scratched the running guy’s tag number on the sidewalk.” “Marsh go find it. Willard, you report to Thayer.” McClung directed his trusted men. The two young men hurried off on opposite paths. “Sam, how did you know I needed you?” The silver-haired man tapped his temple. “Didn’t take me long to figure you out. You’re a cop that sees murder everywhere.” “But Sam, how did you know to come here?” Marian blurted. Charlie and Sam answered. “Police scanner.” Marian frowned. “Just anybody can have one?” “Yep!” Charlie sighed. “In this case, it’s a good thing but mostly it’s not.” Sam coughed. “I’ll just take a picture or two of that tag number.” “Yeah, do that. Plus, there’s a lot going on behind the house.” Charlie watched the older man trudge down the sidewalk. Camera bags banged against Sam’s body with each step he took. One of the paramedics joined McClung and Marian at the ambulance. “Ma’am don’t fret. There wasn’t a thing you could’ve done for that guy.” The bear of a man shook his head. “I ain’t no coroner, but I’ve been at this job for a long time. He’s been dead too long to be revived.” The reassurance that she wasn’t a factor in Myron’s death didn’t make Marian feel any better. “Mel, do you mind giving my wife a quick once-over to make sure she’s safe to go home?” Charlie stroked Marian’s back as he spoke. “Sure.” Mel removed his latex gloves and put on a fresh pair. He tilted his head toward the rear of the ambulance. “Just sit there.” “Boss.” Thayer called to McClung from the open gate. Charlie looked at Marian. “Go on. Do your job.” Marian kissed her husband’s cheek. He didn’t move from her side. “I’m fine, just a tweaked back. Besides you’re making me nervous watching me like a hawk.” “Boss.” Thayer repeated more urgently. Charlie smiled and gave her a casual salute. “As you wish.” McClung hurried toward Thayer. “Found something?” “I think I figured out what happened.” McClung disappeared behind the fence. ♦♦♦♦♦♦ “What is it, Thayer?” McClung followed him into Myron’s house as he pulled a pair of latex gloves from his pocket. “I was hoping I could go a whole year without having to use these.” “Makes for a mundane job.” Sergeant Thayer said flatly. “Here sir, in the kitchen. There’s a half-empty bottle of whiskey and one glass.” McClung arched an eyebrow as he leaned over to study the bottle of Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon Whiskey. About three fingers of liquid was left inside the bottle, a few drops coated the bottom of the tumbler. He walked to the sink and smelled the drain. No lingering odor of alcohol. Then he carefully picked up the tumbler. “Thayer, flip on the overhead light.” The fluorescent tubes buzzed to life. McClung held up the tumbler to the harsh light. On the rim, was a faint lip print. “Hmm, make sure you dust this for prints and bag it.” He set it back in its original position. Marsh squinted as he entered the kitchen. “Boss, put me to work.” “Where’s Sam?” “Taking pictures of the deceased before they cart him away.” McClung rubbed his earlobe. “Tell Mel to instruct the hospital not to release the body until I say so. I want Jack Jackson to do the autopsy, if he’s available.” He snapped his fingers. “And tell Sam I’ll need him in here when he’s finished.” “Will do.” Marsh headed outside. McClung studied every inch of the kitchen: the floor, inside the cabinets, oven, and refrigerator. He examined everything as he searched for possible clues. There was no hint to what may have led to Myron’s death. “Boss, I don’t think it’s murder.” McClung raised an eyebrow and replied sarcastically, “Yeah? Well then, enlighten me with your hypothesis of poor Wagstaff’s watery demise.” He strolled toward the open patio door and headed for the pool. As Thayer spoke, McClung studied the jumbled furniture. “Myron was drunk, got tangled up in the patio furniture, stumbled around, and then fell into the pool. He was too drunk to get himself out of the water.” McClung pushed out his bottom lip and nodded. “Hm. He was in the shallow end. All he had to do was stand up.” Thayer rubbed the top of his head. “Maybe he hit his head on the bottom. Knocked himself out.” McClung wandered around the pool. He stopped where the garden hose lay beside the pool. The concrete was soaked, and the grass drenched to the point that a small stream had flowed down the incline, out the gate and onto the street. “What do you think Myron was doing with the hose?” Thayer hunched his shoulders. “Topping off the pool?” “Yeah, sounds right.” McClung pointed to the water-logged grass. “The hose had to be on for a long time to have created that miniature creek rolling down the hill and into the street.” “That goes to show I’m right. He was drunk standing here. The hose got tangled in the furniture. He yanked it. Lost his balance. Dropped the hose. Hit his head on the concrete and fell into the pool. Accidental drowning.” Thayer crossed his arms and grinned. McClung pulled on his bottom lip. “Plausible.” Something on the concrete caught his eye. “What does this look like to you?” McClung knelt close to the spot. “It looks like blood. Must be where he hit his head.” “Yeah, and what about this?” McClung touched a hard, yellowish, rectangular-shaped chip, like a half of a Chiclet. He looked around for Sam Goldstein. The EMTs were talking to Sam as he photographed Myron’s body. McClung yelled over his shoulder. “Sam, get over here.” The paramedics began moving Myron’s body. “What do we have there?” Sam held the camera to his eye, snapping pictures as McClung pointed toward the areas. “That appears to be blood.” McClung pointed to the yellowish object. “And that, my friend, doesn’t belong here. Possibly a clue.” Thayer knelt beside McClung. “Yep, could be. It looks like old ivory?” McClung thought the odd chip looked familiar, but the vague memory faded away. Sam zoomed to get a few tight shots of the chip and the blood spatters. McClung glanced at the EMTs. “Thayer, bag it and look for more spatters and anything else in this area. I want a chat with Mel.” “Mel, where’s Marian? Is she all right?” McClung moved out of the way of the paramedics while they loaded Myron onto the stretcher. “She’s fine. Just hurt her back. Understandable.” Mel groaned as they lifted Myron’s body. “Even for me this guy is hefty. I’m surprised your wife got him out of the water. She’s a tiny lady. What 5’3’ and 125 pounds?” McClung snorted as he nodded. “Yep, but she’s stubborn. If she’s got it in her mind to do something, consider it done.” “Is Marian still sitting in the back of the ambulance?” McClung followed the gurney. “No, sir. She’s sittin on the front stoop waitin on you.” Officer Billy Crawford met them inside the gate. McClung couldn’t help but smile at his oldest officer. Crawford was always in a jolly mood. But not this morning. “Boss, sorry it took me so long to get here.” Crawford wore a rare frown. “What’s the matter?” McClung waved the paramedics to go on. Crawford shifted the criminal investigation kit from one hand to the other. “Ah, the missus got news her favorite uncle isn’t doing so good and her dad’s not taking it none too well. If her uncle dies, my father-in-law will be the last one left in his family.” McClung gripped Crawford’s firm shoulder. “I’m sorry to hear that. Are you sure you should be here? Your wife needs you.” “Thanks, but I’m not much help. Best thing for me is to stay out of her way.” “Okay, but don’t be shy about asking for time off. Understand?” “I appreciate that, Boss.” “If there’s anything we can do, don’t hesitate to ask.” He shook his index finger at his officer. “I mean it. Ask. Marian will make sure you’re fed, you got that?” “Yes, Boss. But I saw her sitting out front, and she doesn’t look so good.” McClung’s eyes widened. “What?” “You didn’t know she’s here?” Crawford pulled back his head. “Yeah, but she said she was fine.” McClung patted the officer’s back. “Let me go speak with her. I’ll catch up with you later.” Charlie hurried to find his wife, but stopped a few yards away to observe her. So many questions he needed to ask, but he was worried about her. Marian didn’t need this stress. Not now. Marian looked like a triangular-shaped lump of coal. The dark gray blanket was wound tightly around her body and she was resting her forehead on her knees, which she’d pulled up to her chest. Charlie wondered how she was able to breathe. He sat beside her and rubbed her back. “Sweetie?” Marian’s head popped up. “Hey! I didn’t hear you come up. I must’ve dozed off as I was praying.” “Yeah? Are you sure you’re okay? You don’t look so hot.” Charlie wrapped his arms around her. Marian winced. “You’re such a sweet talker.” Charlie released his embrace. “Sorry.” His fingers massaged her lower back. “That’s okay.” Marian pulled off the blanket and neatly folded it. “I’m tired. I want to lie down. Is it okay for me to walk home, now?” “Nope, it’s at least a mile and a half. I’m driving you home.” She straightened her legs. “Might as well. These sneakers are ruined. Not good for anything but stomping around in the yard.” Marian tucked the thin blanket under her arm. “What about the investigation? Aren’t you going to question me?” “Your well-being is more important to me. Besides, Thayer’s opinion is this is an accidental drowning. My best team is on this. They don’t need me telling them how to do their job. And you can tell me what happened when you feel like it.” “Now?” “Do you honestly want to talk about it now?” Marian whispered. “I need to, but—” “But means later. Tonight?” “Yeah, tonight.” Charlie held her hand as they walked toward the gate. “Let me tell the guys I’m taking you home.” McClung passed the EMTs as he disappeared behind the fence. Marian shuddered as she watched the paramedics load Myron’s body inside the ambulance. “I’ve witnessed this scene too many times in the past year.” *** Excerpt from How Deep is the Darkness: A Charlie McClung Mystery by Mary Anne Edwards. Copyright 2019 by Mary Anne Edwards. Reproduced with permission from Mary Anne Edwards. All rights reserved.

 

 

Author Bio:

Mary Anne Edwards Born in Mercedes, Texas, Mary Anne has lived in Georgia for most of her life. A life-long fan of authors such as Agatha Christie, Anne Perry, Caroline Graham, and Elizabeth Peters, it wasn’t until a few years ago that Mary Anne listened to the voices in her head and began writing her own series of traditional mysteries featuring Detective Charlie McClung. The first book in the series, Brilliant Disguise, was released to critical acclaim in January 2014. The next three in the series, A Good Girl, Criminal Kind, and Sins of my Youth were released soon afterward. The fifth book in the series, Flirting with Time, was released on June 30, 2017. The sixth book, How Deep is the Darkness, will be released on December 2, 2019. She is working on the seventh book, Complex Kid, with at least three more to follow. Mary Anne and her husband live in Smyrna, GA with an ill-tempered Tuxedo cat named Gertrude. Mary Anne is a member of Sisters in Crime and sits on the advisory board of Rockdale Cares, a non-profit advocacy group for the developmentally challenged.

Catch Up With Mary Anne Edwards: MaryAnneEdwards.com, Goodreads, BookBub, Instagram, Twitter, & Facebook!

 

 

Book Blast Participants:

Visit these other great hosts on this tour for more great reviews, interviews, guest posts, and giveaways! Books Can Be Deadly        Mythical Books Quiet Fury Books Teatime and Books Eclectic Moods     CMash Reads I’m All About Books              Just 4 My Books Archaeolibrarian – I Dig Good Books!              Novels N Latte Lisa-Queen of Random     Tome Tender EienCafe               Celticladys Reviews The Book Divas Reads       Our Town Book Reviews 

GIVEAWAY!!!!:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Mary Anne Edwards. There will be 2 winners of one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card each. The giveaway begins on December 17, 2019 and runs through December 27, 2019. Void where prohibited.

a Rafflecopter giveaway 

Get More Great Reads at Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours

As always,