It’s August in the Berkshires, and the area is suffering from a terrible drought. As wetlands dry up, the perfectly preserved body of a local man, missing for forty years, is discovered in Wolf Bog by a group of hikers that includes Kathryn Stinson. Who was he and what was his relationship with close friend Charlotte Hinckley, also on the hike, that would make Charlotte become distraught and blame herself for his death? Kathryn’s search for answers leads her to the discovery of fabulous parties held at the mansion up the hill from her rental house, where local teenagers like the deceased mingled with the offspring of the wealthy. Other questions dog the arrival of a woman claiming to be the daughter Charlotte gave up for adoption long ago. But is she really Charlotte’s daughter, and if not, what’s her game? Once again, Kathryn’s quest for the truth puts her in grave danger.
Praise for Wolf Bog:
“Wheeler’s deep sense of place—the Berkshires—illuminates a deftly woven plot and a quirky cast of characters that will keep you glued to the pages until the last stunning revelation. It’s always a pleasure to be in the hands of a pro.”
Kate Flora, Edgar and Anthony nominated author
“When a long-lost teenager turns up dead, a cold case turns into hot murder. A deliciously intriguing Berkshire mystery.”
Sarah Smith, Agatha Award-winning author of The Vanished Child and Crimes and Survivors
Genre: Mystery/Amateur Sleuth/Suspense Published by: Encircle Publishing Publication Date: July 6, 2022 Number of Pages: 336 ISBN: 164599385X (ISBN-13: 978-1645993858) Series: A Berkshire Hilltown Mystery, #3 Book Links:Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Read an excerpt:
Charlotte’s brow furrowed as she stared at the bog. “There’s something down there. A dead animal or…?” She raised her binoculars to get a better look.
“Where?” Wally asked. She pointed to a spot on the peat at the edge of the water. Wally had barely lifted his binoculars when Charlotte cried, “Oh, my God, it’s a body!” And took off toward it.
“No, don’t go there!” Wally grabbed at her, but she eluded him. When Charlotte was almost to the body−−if that’s what it was−−she began to sink into the bog. She waved her arms and twisted her legs, trying desperately to get out, but her struggles only made her sink deeper.
Kathryn’s heart seized. They had to rescue Charlotte, but how without getting stuck themselves? Brushing past Wally, Steve started down the slope. Wally caught him, pulled him back, and handed him over to Hal Phelps. “You stay put. Everyone else, too. I’ve had experience hiking around this bog, and I think I can get her out. Stop struggling and try to keep calm,” he called down to Charlotte. “Help is on the way.”
Wally made his way carefully to where Charlotte stood, caught in the mire. He tested each step before putting his full weight on it, backtracking when he deemed the ground too soft. When he was a few yards away, he stopped.
“This is as far as I can safely come,” he told Charlotte. He extended his hiking pole and she grabbed it. Then, on his instructions, she slowly and with great effort lifted first one leg, then the other out of the muck and onto the ground behind her. Wally guided her back to the others, following the same zigzag pattern he’d made when descending. Charlotte went with him reluctantly. She kept glancing back over her shoulder at what she’d seen at the water’s edge.
Kathryn trained her binoculars on that spot. Gradually an image came into focus. A body was embedded in the peat. The skin was a dark, reddish brown, but otherwise, it was perfectly preserved. Bile rose in her throat.
Charlotte moved close to Kathryn. “You see him, don’t you?” Her face was white, her eyes wide and staring.
“See who?” Wally demanded.
“Denny,” Charlotte said. “You must’ve seen him, too.”
“I saw something that appears to be a body, but–” Wally said.
“So there really is a dead person down there?” Betty asked.
“It looks that way,” Wally said grimly. “But let’s not panic. I’m going to try to reach Chief Lapsley, though I doubt I’ll get reception here. We’ll probably have to leave the area before I can.”
“We can’t just leave Denny here to die,” Charlotte wailed.
“Charlotte,” Wally said with a pained expression, “whoever is down there is already dead.”
She flinched, as if he’d slapped her across the face. “No! I’m telling you Denny’s alive.” She glared at him, then her defiant expression changed to one of uncertainty. “Dead or alive, I’m to blame. I’m staying here with him.”
Excerpt from Wolf Bog by Leslie Wheeler. Copyright 2022 by Leslie Wheeler. Reproduced with permission from Leslie Wheeler. All rights reserved.
An award-winning author of books about American history and biographies, Leslie Wheeler has written two mystery series. Her Berkshire Hilltown Mysteries launched with Rattlesnake Hill and continue with Shuntoll Road and Wolf Bog. Her Miranda Lewis Living History Mysteries debuted with Murder at Plimoth Plantation and continue with Murder at Gettysburg and Murder at Spouters Point. Her mystery short stories have appeared in numerous anthologies. Leslie is a member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime, and a founding member of the New England Crime Bake Committee. She divides her time between Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the Berkshires, where she writes in a house overlooking a pond.
Exit Strategy Virtual Book Tour May 16 – June 10, 2022
When I’m asked what kinds of writing I most enjoy, the answer is “almost anything.” At the top of the list are books that push me out of my own mental comfort zone with plots and characters that keep me reading far into the night. One of those books is Exit Strategy, book 2 of 2 in the Endings series by Linda L. Richards.
Written in first-person POV, Exit Strategy offers a view into the mindset of a nameless middle-aged woman whose life was, at some point in the past, wrenched from a familiar small-town routine and thrust into an underworld of darkness, isolation, and contract killing. It is the very anonymity of the character that resonates with me: no name, no friends, and a home shared with only a Golden Retriever, who also remains nameless through the story.
The placement of her home–at the edge of a dark forest with no neighbors close, and in a town that is never named–provides us with a glimpse of the private world in which she functions (the act of living seems at times to be almost too much of a burden) and in which she struggles to make sense of the what and why of her present path in life. With only hints of a past tragedy that sent her spiraling down into darkness, we’re left wondering if she can find the strength to remain with the living, or if she will succumb and seek oblivion in eternal darkness.
Even as the temptation to end it all persists, she’s offered an assignment that’s diametrically opposed to the business of contract killing: the chance to protect a high-profile, internationally known target. When she accepts, she finds herself on a path that just might lead to redemption.
The author does a brilliant job of building suspense through action and leads us into a world where high-tech research and “unicorn start-ups” have the potential to change lives on a global scale. This is an intricately plotted mystery/thriller that will have you on the edge of your seat and keep you reading to the stunning conclusion.
Thanks to Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours, I can share a synopsis of Exit Strategy with you. Read on to learn more!
A shattered life. A killer for hire. Can she stop?
Her assignments were always to kill someone. That’s what a hitman—or hitwoman—is paid to do, and that is what she does. Then comes a surprise assignment—keep someone alive!
She is hired to protect Virginia Martin, the stunning and brilliant chief technology officer of a hot startup with an innovation that will change the world. This new job catches her at a time in her life when she’s hanging on by a thread. Despair and hopelessness—now more intense than she’d felt after the tragic loss of her family—led her to abruptly launch this career. But over time, the life of a hired killer is decimating her spirit and she keeps thinking of ending her life.
She’s confused about the “why” of her new assignment but she addresses her mission as she always does, with skill and stealth, determined to keep this young CTO alive in the midst of the twinned worlds of innovation and high finance.
Some people have to die as she discharges her responsibly to protect this superstar woman amid the crumbling worlds of money and future technical wonders.
The spirit of an assassin—and her nameless dog—permeates this struggle to help a young woman as powerful forces build to deny her.
Fans of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Dexter will love Exit Strategy.
Genre: Thriller Published by: Oceanview Publishing Publication Date: May 17th 2022 Number of Pages: 320 ISBN: 1608094227 (ISBN13: 9781608094226) Book Links:Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads
Read an excerpt:
He proves to be a genial companion. I’d never doubted that he would. Across the table from him in a romantic restaurant, I can see his pale eyes are sparked with amber. Or is it gold? Maybe it depends on your perspective. A trick of the light. So much of life, I’ve found, are those things: perspective and also light. Or maybe that’s saying exactly the same thing. He tells me he’s in “finance,” a term that is vague enough to accommodate a whole range of activities. I’ve done some research, though, and I know he is a hedge fund manager; that his apartment in this town is a playpen: weekends only. I know he is based in the City and that he flies down here for the occasional weekend, especially since his divorce, which was messy. He doesn’t say that: “messy.” But when he briefly skates over that episode of his life—the period of time in which “we” became “me” —he makes a face that is unpleasant, like he’s got a bad taste in his mouth. I let it ride. Where we are going, it won’t make a difference. He tells me funny, self-deprecating stories. I reflect that he is someone I would date—in another lifetime. If I dated. If I still had a heart. “This is a fun first date,” he says in that moment, as though he has read my mind. His thick dark hair flops over his eye endearingly, and my heart gives a little flutter. I’d try to stop it, but I don’t hate the feeling. That flutter. It feels good, in this moment, to simply feel alive. “Yesterday, Brett. Wasn’t that our first date?” I ask, more for interaction than anything real. Because, of course, the few moments on a rooftop we shared were not a date by any standard. Especially since I was trying to think how to kill him for part of that time. But he doesn’t know that, so maybe it doesn’t count? “Nope,” he says firmly. “That was a meeting. This,” he indicates our wine and the delicate nibbles between us, “this is a date.” “How does it end?” I ask pertly. Knowing the answer. Knowing he doesn’t. Wanting to know what he thinks. He looks at me searchingly for a moment, then smiles raffishly, a certain boyish charm bubbling through. It’s a practiced look. He’s used that smile before, to good effect, I can tell. He’s probably done that his whole life. I don’t dislike him for any of that. It distresses me slightly that I don’t dislike him at all. It would be beneficial to me if I could find it in myself to dislike him. “It ends well,” he says. A beat. And then: “It ends as it should.” There is more conversation, just like that. An ancient dance. After a while he excuses himself to go to the bathroom. Once he’s out of sight, I slip a vial out of my purse. It contains a powder I made myself. Oleander flowers, dried, crushed and mixed with salt and a few strong spices, intended to cover the plant’s bitter taste. I don’t know how well those spices mask the taste. It’s not as though I can test it, and none of my customers have ever complained. I quickly sprinkle some of this concoction judiciously on the food that remains. I do it using natural motions. Anyone watching would think I was eating. A little OCD, maybe, but it wouldn’t look anywhere close to what is true. I mix it quickly into the salsa, the guacamole. I salt the chips with it. Sprinkle it on what is left of the chicken wings. I don’t dust the calamari. I’d noted he hadn’t been eating that. It will give me a safe spot to nibble, not that I plan on needing much time to eat. All of this will happen quickly, my experience tells me that. Before he returns, I have this moment of absolute indecision. I very nearly call out to a nearby server; have her clear the table. I’m not even super sure why I don’t. All of this is going well. Textbook. And yet, I have qualms. Why? He’s lovely of course, there’s that. But beyond the way he looks or how he looks at me. Not long ago, things had happened that had made me resolve to do my life in a different way. Then I’d gotten an assignment and instinct had more or less kicked in. And it was easy to reason around it and to rationalize: if not me, then someone else, right? There would always be some other person ready to do the job. Viewed in that light, there was no earthly reason for me not to do what I do. But still. I don’t call a server. And the moment passes. He comes back looking refreshed, like he’s maybe splashed water on his face or combed his hair, which is behaving for now. Not, for the moment, flopping into his eyes. I figure he probably did both—splashed and combed. He looks good. He smiles when his eyes meet mine. A 24-karat smile that lights his whole face. My heart gives a little bump. “Fuck,” I say. But it isn’t out loud. He takes his seat and starts talking again, picking up where we left off. He is easy. Comfortable. But I’m having trouble tracking the conversation; my mind is elsewhere. I’m thinking about what my next steps will be. After. And does it matter what he says right now? Really? If it does, it won’t matter for long. I try not to follow his actions. Try instead to listen to what he is saying. These words will be his last ones, I know that. And part of me thinks I should do him that courtesy. At least. The courtesy of attention. But it’s difficult to follow his words now. I watch one corn chip as he picks it up, dips it into salsa. I watch him consume it, and it feels like all of it is happening in slow motion. All the while I am listening to his words—I am! —participating in the conversation, not wanting to miss any cues. And wanting to honor the small amount of time he has left. It’s all I can do. The chip is consumed. I detect no reaction to the bitterness, so that’s a plus. He picks up a chicken wing, swirls it in the blue cheese dip, which makes me realize that, in my haste, I’d missed an opportunity by skipping doctoring the dip. He consumes the wing while we talk; a slight sucking, the meat peeling gently off the bone, all the while, the words flow, though it doesn’t come off as rude. He seems adept at eating and talking so everything stays and sounds as it should. I listen closely, interjecting as appropriate when I think it’s necessary, all the while watching for . . . signs. I detect nothing until another wing and several chips later. His eyes are suddenly glassy. Sweat stands on his forehead. His hands shake. “Brett, are you all right?” I ask, but it is pure form. I know he is far from all right. All right no longer exists for him. “I don’t know. I’ve never . . . never felt like this before.” I give it another minute. A little less than that. I know it’s all we’ve got. I make the right sounds, the correct motions of my hand. Even when no one is watching, people are watching. Physically, I am unremarkable. A middle-aged woman, so some would say I am invisible, certainly there is nothing about my appearance that makes me stand out. But there will be a future, when questions are asked and people are perhaps looking for clues. I don’t want them to be looking for me. When he collapses, face directly into salsa, I scream, as one does. Not bone chilling, but an alarmed scream. Our server trots over, clearly distressed. The manager is on her heels. All as expected: it’s pretty terrible for business when customers collapse into their food. “My date . . . he’s . . . taken ill . . . I don’t know what to do” etcetera. All as one would expect. I don’t deviate from the script. An ambulance is called. Paramedics arrive quickly. The manager has already pulled Brett from the salsa, but it’s clear he is not all right. They take him away, one of the paramedics offering to let me ride in the ambulance. I decline. “I’ll follow you,” I say, heading for my rental. And I start out following, but a few blocks from the restaurant I make the turn I know will lead me to the freeway and then the airport. My bag is in the trunk and it’s all mapped out: I am ready to go. With this moment in mind, I’d left a ballcap on the passenger seat before I entered the restaurant. It is emblazoned with the logo of a local team. While I drive, I push my hair into the cap and wiggle out of the jacket I know I’ll leave behind. These are simple changes—hat on, jacket off—but it will change my appearance enough. I don’t anticipate anyone will be looking for me, but I like to think forward. Just in case. I have no way of knowing for sure what will happen to him, but I can guess. From the amount of food I watched him consume, I figure he’ll probably have a heart attack before he reaches the hospital and will likely arrive DOA. And at the age and heft of him, and with a high stress job, they will probably not test for poison. And the woman with him at the restaurant? I figure no one will be looking for a girl who doesn’t follow up on the date that ended in hell. From there it all goes like it’s being managed by a metronome: tick tock, tick tock. Arrive at airport. Drop off rental car. Get through security. Get to plane while they’re boarding. Claim aisle seat at the back of the plane. Keep my eyes peeled for both watchers or people who might recognize me from the airport. But everything goes exactly as it should. No watchers this time. No one looking at me in ways I don’t understand. In fact, everything is perfect. Everything is exactly as it should be. Except.
I had not planned on killing again. That is, it wasn’t in the plan. That’s not to say it was an accident. You don’t arrive for a date with a poison in your pocket unless you’re preparing to do some bodily harm. But, as I said, that hadn’t been the plan. Not before. When the call came, I had been eyeballing my gun again. A darkness of spirit. A feeling I can’t fight or name. For a while I had spent a lot of time wondering why I kept bothering at all. In recent weeks, there had been darkness all around me. Times that, if it wasn’t for the dog, I wouldn’t bother hanging around. At times I wonder why I am still showing up every morning. For life, I mean. What’s the big appeal? What is the motivating factor? Is there a mirror beyond the darkness? A pool; some reprieve. I don’t know. Here’s the thing, though: at this point, I’m less convinced that I need to hang around to find out. It’s a battle I wage every day. Most days. Before the call comes, there are times it takes me a while to get out of bed. This is new. And when I do get out of bed, it takes a while longer still to orient. Motivating factor, that’s the question. Is there one? What is supposed to be motivating me? I don’t know for sure. So I wait it out. And the call doesn’t come right away. First, and for a long while, everything is very silent. And not a churchlike silence. The sort one dreads when pieces fly together. First there was this and this and it all made sense. Then we added that other thing and we’re done. I don’t know. I can’t figure it out. I mostly don’t bother anymore. Why would one even bother anymore? It wasn’t always like this. Let’s put it that way. There was a time when I didn’t live alone. There was a time when someone loved me. Several people loved me. I don’t remember that time anymore. Not exactly. I’m like a ghost looking back at her memories from a previous lifetime. They are my memories, but they might as well belong to someone else. Let me tell you this as I try to bring you up to speed. I live at the forest’s edge. My house is small and simple. It is all I need. My garden is incomplete, though it is occasionally vibrant. I am alone but for the company of a golden dog. I am alone. These are the things I think about. Vibrant gardens. Forest’s edge. Seasons in motion. The padding about of golden feet. I don’t dwell on the past. I try not to dwell on the past. For the most part, I have released everything that has happened. It no longer has a hold on me. Mostly. I have tried a lot of things to bring some sort of meaning to my life. Attempted. For instance, recently I have begun to keep a gratitude journal. It is a practice I read about somewhere. I try very hard to begin every day with that notebook, pen in hand. In gratitude. It changes the heart, I’m told. It changes the mind. I have charged myself with finding five things every day for which I am grateful. It’s like an affirmation. It is an affirmation. Some days it is easy. Five things to affirm. How hard can that be? I have air. Sufficient food. There is a roof over my head. The beautiful golden dog. Some days there is rain. On others, sun. Both of those are things to be grateful for. The air is clean. The ground is firm. All reasons to give thanks. Most of the time. On other days it is more difficult. On those days I sit there, stare at the blank page. Maybe a tear falls. Or more than one. Sometimes I begin to write and then stop; picking up and putting down my pen. The past is closer on those days, I guess. The past is nipping at my heels; my heart. On days like that I am filled with that unnamable darkness. It is unnamed, but I recognize some of the contents. Guilt. Remorse. Regret. And variations on all of those things that incorporate measures of each. I don’t believe in regret, and yet there it is. Regret does not bother checking in with me about my beliefs. *** Excerpt from Exit Strategy by Linda L. Richards. Copyright 2022 by Linda L. Richards. Reproduced with permission from Linda L. Richards. All rights reserved.
Linda L. Richards is a journalist, photographer and the author of 15 books, including three series of novels featuring strong female protagonists. She is the former publisher of Self-Counsel Press and the founder and publisher of January Magazine. Linda’s 2021 novel, ENDINGS, was recently optioned by a major studio for series production.
A Message in Poison Virtual Book Tour May 9 – June 3, 2022
This post is a departure from the norm for me. Instead of focusing on animal-themed stories, cozy fiction, or life in the Ozarks, I’m exploring the world of a medical mystery/thriller set against a backdrop of covert anti-terrorism operations and a kaleidoscope of geopolitical intrigue. If you’re ready to take the plunge with me, read on for a synopsis of A Message in Poison by the internationally recognized expert BJ Magnani:
Sparks fly as Dr. Lily Robinson-the brilliant academic pathologist and covert assassin for the U.S. Government-investigates two seemingly unrelated deaths alongside her lover, Agent Jean Paul Marchand, and D.C. Medical Examiner Dr. Logan Pelletier.
A U.S. Senator and the president of a developing nation are found dead in their beds. As governments thousands of miles apart react to the fallout and begin their investigations, no one claims responsibility, and no motives are clear. Yet, the cause of death implies a link between the two—one that only a mind versed in poisons and politics can decipher. With her personal relationships teetering on the brink and her loved ones facing foreign threats, Lily must unravel the mystery and uncover a plot more calculating than anyone could imagine—but it may be too late.
A Message in Poison, the third part of the Art of Secret Poisoning trilogy (The Queen of All Poisons and The Power of Poison), continues with twists and turns as Dr. Lily Robinson travels the globe, stares down death, and finds herself at “another crossroad, another choice between life real or imagined…”
The storyline in A Message in Poison includes tantalizing references to the events and characters featured in the previous two books of the trilogy. While some readers might prefer to read the books in order, I found this story so well written that it easily stands on its own. The author skillfully integrates her in-depth expertise in toxicology and all things medical into a well-researched landscape of global politics and covert operations. Shifting POVs provide myriad perspectives of Dr. Lily Robinson and her colleagues in an ultra-secret government agency dedicated to preventing mass destruction on a global scale. Each agent brings specialized skills; to this group, Dr. Lily Robinson brings her knowledge and skills drawn from her medical studies and research in rare poisons as a specialized weapon against evil.
As the story progresses, Dr. Robinson and her fellow agents are on the trail of those who seek to tilt the balance of power to suit their own mercenary goals. At the forefront is a group determined to control the source and distribution of rare earth minerals and their use in critical technologies. Doing so would give them dominance in every field from computer technology and communication satellites to military-grade weapon systems. This group presents a serious threat to international stability, and it is this group that Dr. Robinson and her colleagues must find and eliminate before a global catastrophe occurs.
The author does a brilliant job of building multidimensional characters whose worldviews are the result of early influences and cataclysmic events that ultimately led them to their chosen paths. From the earliest chapters, it’s clear that Dr. Robinson is burdened by her own experiences and her complex—and seemingly contradictory—professions. She struggles with the knowledge that the secrets she carries would, if revealed, likely prove as deadly as the poisons that have become the tools of her trade in the covert anti-terrorism unit.
As the story progresses, she recognizes the dangerous consequences should her two worlds collide. Can she find the right path for herself and for those she loves?
The author delivers a well-plotted mystery that will have you on the edge of your seat and keep you reading far into the night. Highly recommend!
Genre: Medical Mystery / Thriller Published by: Encircle Publications Publication Date: April 20th 2022 Number of Pages: 278 ISBN: 1645993256 (ISBN13: 9781645993254) Series: A Dr. Lily Robinson Novel, The Art of Secret Poisoning Part 3 Book Links:Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads
Read an excerpt:
I’ve done some terrible things in my life. Big lies splash in my wake and follow me until the water creeps into my lungs. I’ve murdered many people who deserved to die. I take the phrase ‘pick your poison’ literally. My arsenal of natural toxins and poisons hidden deep within a freezer provide enough variety to mimic natural death. The cool salt air at my seaside cottage coaxes plants in my poisonous garden to yield the natural killers that I need. And I have collaborators around the world who can provide for me what my garden cannot.
Yes, it’s true that I’ve spent much of my life taking care of patients as a physician and taught a generation of medical students. But it was this very expertise in toxicology that captured the attention of our government. They seduced me and then orchestrated a transformation from consultant to assassin. Some say it’s my jewel-green eyes, raven-colored hair, and even my stiletto heels that tend to disarm my victims. They are blinded to the truth. With eyes closed to the Hippocratic Oath, I travel the world, eliminating terrorists and traitors with poison, stealth in a bottle, in the name of preventing mass destruction on a global scale. Our small covert counter-terrorism team weeds out threats at home and abroad—sanctioned killing, the price of doing business. I’m told that ‘the good of the many outweighs the good of the one.’ It’s become my guiding mantra, allowing me to rationalize this dual existence.
I hide my secret life beneath the cloak of justice, and I’ve discovered that others do too. So I ask you if you’re sure you know the truth about those around you. This last year of my life has been fraught with revelations that I didn’t see coming. For more than twenty years, I thought my baby, my little girl, had died in the Colombian jungle. Not only did I learn that she’s alive, but I discovered that she’s attending the same medical school where I have my academic appointment—a life-changing disclosure. I tremble when I think that we may have brushed by each other not only at the university, but in my fleeting past. I look back and see momentary images of familiarity etched in my mind. Was my beautiful Rose right in front of me while I wore blinders of guilt and despair?
JP, my lover, and partner in our covert government band, grasps my turmoil. Desperate to soothe my soul, he promises that life’s twists and turns can only make us more resilient and resolute. Facing the wind, my body stands tall and hard like a tree firmly rooted in the ground. Having no support on its own, a vine uses its tendrils to clutch to the broad trunk. My stories are like this vine, ever climbing, ever strangling—a complicated life that requires both brilliance and strength.
BJ Magnani (Barbarajean Magnani, PhD, MD, FCAP) is the author of the Dr. Lily Robinson novels: The Queen of All Poisons (Encircle Publications, 2019), The Power of Poison (Encircle Publications, 2021), and A Message In Poison (Encircle Publications, 2022.) Lily Robinson and the Art of Secret Poisoning (nVision Publishing, 2011) is the original collection of short stories featuring the brilliant, yet deadly, doctor. Dr. Magnani is internationally recognized for her expertise in clinical chemistry and toxicology, has been named a “Top Doctor” in Boston magazine, and was named one of the Top 100 Most Influential Laboratory Medicine Professionals in the World by The Pathologist. She is Professor of Anatomic and Clinical Pathology (and Professor of Medicine) at Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston, MA, and the former Chair of both the College of American Pathologists (CAP) Toxicology Committee and the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at Tufts Medical Center.
As a writer and reader, one of the things I most enjoy is the “hook” that captures my imagination and draws me into a book. In the case of Tina deBellegarde’s novel Dead Man’s Leap¸ the hook was the title itself that called to me, pulling me into a landscape shadowed by intrigue and populated with characters bound in a complicated web of love, loss, desires, fears—and secrets.
I should confess here that I am usually the sort of reader who tends to speed through chapters, enjoying plot twists and turns in a sprint to the finish.
This is not that sort of book.
In the early pages of Dead Man’s Leap, the pace invites the reader to linger within each scene, as if looking through a camera lens, framing the character before shifting to focus on the next. The overall effect is an impression of a series of character vignettes, woven into an intricate pattern that is slowly revealed as the plot progresses. This style of narrative, enhanced through the lens of multiple POVs, might be most appealing to readers who enjoy being immersed in detail.
The second in the Batavia-on-Hudson mystery series, Dead Man’s Leap is set against the backdrop of a small village nestled along the edge of the Hudson River. While some of the inhabitants were born and raised in the village, others—including writer and amateur sleuth Bianca St. Denis and Sheriff Mike Riley and his wife Maggie—were city dwellers before moving to Batavia-on-Hudson. Whatever their background, the villagers, and those living in the hills above are drawn together in support of a charity rummage sale and auction to raise money for the nearby children’s hospital. The event catches the attention of dealers and antique lovers from the city as well, including some who have other, more nefarious reasons for coming to Batavia-on-Hudson.
The author makes skillful use of weather to enhance the suspense as the storyline builds. When heavy rains threaten to push the river over its banks and flood the village, the villagers rush to collect essential belongings and their pets—which include a Golden Retriever, a Shiba Inu, a rescue skunk, and an orange tabby “with cuddling issues”—and seek refuge in the community center. From there, the pace of the story quickens, intensifying just as the weather does. And when volunteers stacking sandbags to reinforce the river bank discover a body in the shadow of Dead Man’s Leap, the resulting investigation brings Sheriff Mike Riley and Bianca together to solve the mystery. Along the way, long-buried secrets come to light which may forever alter life in the village of Batavia-on-Hudson.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. Thanks to Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours, I can share a synopsis of Dead Man’s Leap as well as an excerpt with you. Read on to learn more!
DEAD MAN’S LEAP revisits Bianca St. Denis in Batavia-on-Hudson, New York
Rushing waters…dead bodies…secrets…
As Bianca St. Denis and her neighbors scour their attics for donations to the charity rummage sale, they unearth secrets as well as prized possessions. Leonard Marshall’s historic inn hosts the sale each year, but it is his basement that houses the key to his past. When an enigmatic antiques dealer arrives in town, he upends Leonard’s carefully reconstructed life with an impossible choice that harkens back to the past.
Meanwhile, when a storm forces the villagers of Batavia-on-Hudson to seek shelter, the river rises and so do tempers. Close quarters fuel simmering disputes, and Sheriff Mike Riley has his work cut out for him. When the floods wash up a corpse, Bianca once again finds herself teaming up with Sheriff Riley to solve a mystery. Are they investigating an accidental drowning or something more nefarious?
Dead Man’s Leap explores the burden of secrets, the relief of renunciation, and the danger of believing we can outpace our past.
He inched toward the precipice, his toes gripping the stone ledge as if they had a will of their own. He lifted his head and squinted into the sunlight still streaming through the blackening clouds. He took in the expanse of rushing water below. In all his eighteen years, Trevor had never seen the creek roil so ferociously.
A clap of thunder startled him. His toes relaxed, and he felt as if the slightest wind could take him over the edge. Lightheaded for a second, he regained his footing and his purpose.
He had no choice if he wanted all this to stop.
He needed to do it.
And do it now.
The downpour would break again soon. But for now, all he could hear was the rushing of Horseshoe Falls beneath him, the roar drowning out the noise of his past.
Of his father.
Of his mother.
Yes, his mother. He had expected his father to be weak, and wasn’t surprised at all after he left. But his mother? A mother’s love is supposed to be unconditional. At least that’s what she had always said before she had turned their world upside down. It was bad enough when she had played at being the sexiest woman in town. At least when his friends teased him then, it was meant to be fun. But this was worse, far worse. Now they wanted nothing to do with him. Now they used him as a punching bag.
His gang no longer looked to him as their leader. They ridiculed him for what his mother had done. From the beginning, he knew those kids were bad news. What choice did he have? In grade school he’d been bullied. Well, he had put a stop to that in high school. Can’t be bullied if you’re the biggest bully.
His mother was gone. His father was gone. And now his posse. First, it was the cold shoulder, and a few snide remarks. Then he was cornered in the locker room after the game one day. That was the hardest. He hadn’t taken a beating like that since the fifth grade. But the tables had been turned on him so fast that he never saw it coming. Trevor realized now that they were never friends. They were just a group of trouble makers who hung out together. Good riddance to them. He didn’t need them anymore.
Another thunderclap reminded him where he was. On the edge. Right on the edge. He either had to do this properly or he would be going over anyway.
Trevor looked over his shoulder one last time and heard a faint commotion in the background. Once they rounded the path, he closed his eyes and jumped.
Long-term readers of this blog know I’m a fan of cozy mysteries–particularly those featuring dogs or other animals. Lois Schmitt is a new-to-me author, and after reading book #3 of her Kristy Farrell Mystery Series, I’m hooked!
The classic elements of a cozy mystery are all here, framing a storyline that’s rich with suspense, misdirection, and intrigue. Our amateur sleuth, Kristy, is a journalist who writes articles for Animal Advocate Magazine. Her husband is a veterinarian, as is her daughter. Add in an assistant district attorney as her future son-law, and Kristy has a ready-made team of experts to supplement what she learns through her own research and hands-on investigation.
The plot was paced in the style of a traditional cozy, with assorted characters introduced as multiple story lines emerge. In addition to investigating deaths and disappearances at a Long Island wildlife refuge–and butting heads with police along the way–Kristy searches for the truth about sick animals that were brought to her husband’s vet clinic. She takes a part-time job at the pet shop selling the sick dogs to unsuspecting customers and uncovers a puppy mill business and even more illegal activities.
The author has a knack for writing short chapters that capture your interest and have you turning the page to see what happens next. She also does a great job of developing a protagonist with “forgivable” flaws–shortcomings we can identify with and may even have ourselves. Kristy could be described as direct, even forceful, when interviewing people. It’s fair to say subtlety isn’t her strong suit. She’s not deterred when suspects try to mislead her or withhold information. She’s relentless in chasing down clues, and isn’t easily discouraged when her efforts lead to dead ends.
Themes of family, politics, passion, and greed weave through the book and lead Kristy through a maze of motives in pursuit of the truth behind the crimes.
This was an informative and interesting book. Thanks to Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours, I can share a synopsis of Playing Possum as well as an excerpt with you. Read on to learn more!
Praise for Playing Possum:
Lois Schmitt’s Playing Possum does cozies proud. Fresh and traditional all at once.” -Reed Farrel Coleman, New York Times bestselling author of Sleepless City
“In her third book of the series, writer Lois Schmitt has crafted an intricately-plotted mystery full of twists and humor, with a cast of colorful characters, set in a wildlife refuge rehab center. Cozy fans, and especially followers of Schmitt’s animal lovers’ mysteries, will find great entertainment in Playing Possum.” -Phyllis Gobbell, award-winning author of the Jordan Mayfair Mysteries
Genre: Cozy Mystery Published by: Encircle Publications Publication Date: December 8, 2021 Number of Pages: 296 ISBN: 1645993051 (ISBN13 978-1645993056) Series: A Kristy Farrell Animal Lovers Mystery, #3 Purchase Links:Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads
Synopsis: When animals mysteriously disappear from the Pendwell Wildlife Refuge, former English teacher turned magazine reporter Kristy Farrell is on the case. Days later, the body of the refuge’s director is found in a grassy clearing.
Kristy, assisted by her veterinarian daughter, investigates and discovers strong motives among the suspects, including greed, infidelity, betrayal, and blackmail.
As Kristy delves further, she finds herself up against the powerful Pendwell family, especially matriarch Victoria Buckley Pendwell, chair of the refuge board of trustees, and Victoria’s son, Austin Pendwell, who is slated to run for the state senate.
But ferreting out the murderer and finding the missing animals aren’t Kristy only challenges. While researching a story on puppy mills, she uncovers criminal activity that reaches far beyond the neighborhood pet store.
Meanwhile, strange things are happening back at the refuge, and soon a second murder occurs. Kristy is thwarted in her attempts to discover the murderer by her old nemesis, the blustery Detective Wolfe.
Kristy perseveres and as she unearths shady deals and dark secrets, Kristy slowly draws the killer out of the shadows.
Read an excerpt:
I waited until a man and a woman emerged from the county medical examiner’s van. I followed them into the wildlife preserve, maintaining a discreet distance while wondering what happened. Did a jogger succumb to a heart attack? Did a child fall into a pond and drown? I inhaled deeply, hoping to steady my nerves.
I passed the clearing on the right where the administration building was located. I continued trailing the two members of the medical examiner’s staff until another clearing came into view—this one bordered by yellow crime scene tape.
Not far from where I stood, spread out in full view was a female body with blood covering much of the head. The body was face down, but I recognized the small build, sandy colored hair, and jade green shirt.
I tasted bile. I wanted to scream, but I slapped my hand in front of my mouth.
After regaining my composure, I surveyed my surroundings. Three people wearing jackets emblazoned in the back with the words Crime Scene Investigator were near the front of the clearing. One was bent over the body and the other two appeared to be examining the nearby ground. When the medical examiner’s team approached, the investigator next to the body rose up and started talking. I couldn’t make it all out, but I did hear him say “Blow to the head.”
“Oh, no,” I mumbled when I spied two homicide detectives I knew.
Detective Adrian Fox, a thirty something African American, stood on the side of the clearing, near a small pond. He was talking to a woman who yesterday had been arguing with the preserve’s director.
The director had called this woman Elena, so I assumed this was Elena Salazar, the education coordinator. I couldn’t hear what she was saying to the detective, but she was gesturing wildly with her arms.
The other detective, Steve Wolfe, had marched over to the body and was now barking orders to the medical examiner’s staff, who didn’t seem pleased. As Wolfe turned around, the woman in the medical examiner’s jacket shook her head.
I sighed. Wolfe and I had a history. He was a bully who had gone to school with my younger brother Tim, constantly picking on him. Granted Tim was the classic nerd who might as well have worn the sign “Kick Me” on his back. I had recently solved two of Wolfe’s murder cases, which only irritated him more.
Wolfe spied me and headed in my direction, his face turning the color of a beet. His gray pants hung below his pot belly, his glacier blue eyes as cold as ever, and he wore the same annoying grin as when he was a kid that made me want to slap his face.
“What happened?” I asked.
“I’m here about a dead squirrel,” he said. “I’m a homicide detective. What do you think happened?”
“I know the victim,” I said.
He narrowed his eyes. “How do you know her?”
“I’m doing a story on the wildlife refuge and—”
“How come whenever you do a story people die?”
Not really a nice way to put it.
“Who found the body?” I asked.
“This is none of your business. This is a crime scene.” He pointed a fat finger at me. “You need to leave.”
“I’m behind the yellow tape,” I argued.
I didn’t think his face could get any redder, but it did. “Stay out of my way.” He spun around and stomped off toward the side where Detective Fox appeared to be jotting something in a notepad. Elena Salazar was no longer there. I had no idea where she went.
I had lots of questions, but I wasn’t getting answers from Wolfe. The crime scene investigators were packing up. Maybe I’d have better luck with them.
“When was she killed” I asked the one investigator, who looked young enough to appear on an acne remedy commercial.
“We need to wait for the autopsy.”
“Do you have an approximate time of death?”
“Sorry. We can’t talk to the public.”
I sighed. I’d have to get the answers somewhere else.
I wondered why the victim had been at the clearing. I glanced at the pond, guessing this was where the rehabilitated turtle would be released. Did she come here early to check things out before the release? But what would she be checking?
My thoughts were interrupted as the medical examiner’s team passed by me carrying a stretcher with the covered body. I figured I might learn something if I listened to their conversation. Eavesdropping was one of my talents.
I scratched my theory about arriving early to check on conditions for the turtle release when one of the attendants said, “I can’t imagine why anyone would be in these woods at midnight.”
Excerpt from Playing Possum by Lois Schmitt. Copyright 2021 by Lois Schmitt. Reproduced with permission from Lois Schmitt. All rights reserved.
About the Author:
A mystery fan since she read her first Nancy Drew, Lois Schmitt combined a love of mysteries with a love of animals in her series featuring animal magazine reporter Kristy Farrell. Lois is member of several wildlife conservation and humane organizations, as well as Mystery Writers of America. She received 2nd runner-up for the Killer Nashville Claymore award for her second book in the series entitled Something Fishy, She previously served as media spokesperson for a local consumer affairs agency and currently teaches at a community college. Lois lives in Massapequa, Long Island with her family, which includes a 120 pound Bernese Mountain dog. This dog bears a striking resemblance to Archie, a dog of many breeds featured in her Kristy Farrell Mystery Series.