A Compelling Mystery/Thriller

A Message in Poison by BJ Magnani Banner

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…”

Review:

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!

Book Details

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.

***

Excerpt from A Message in Poison by BJ Magnani. © 2022 by BJ Magnani. Reproduced with permission from BJ Magnani. All rights reserved.

 

Author Bio:

BJ Magnani

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.

Follow BJ Magnani on:
www.BJMagnani.com
Goodreads
BookBub – @bjmagnani
Twitter – @bjmagnani
Facebook – @bjmagnaniauthor

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Note: I received a complimentary review copy on behalf of PICT. All opinions expressed are my own.

A Batavia-on-Hudson Mystery

Dead Man’s Leap Virtual Book Tour May 1-31, 2022

Review:

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!  

Synopsis:

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.

Book Details:

Genre: Traditional Mystery

Published by: Level Best Books

Publication Date: April 5, 2022

Number of Pages: 254

ISBN: 1685120849 (ISBN-13: 978-1685120849)

Series: A Batavia-on-Hudson Mystery, #2

Purchase Links: Amazon

Read an excerpt:

CHAPTER ONE

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.

Continue reading

Murder, Mayhem, and Missing Animals

Playing Possum

by Lois Schmitt

February 1-28, 2022 Virtual Book Tour

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

***

Book Details:

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.

I gasped.

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.

“Three hikers.”

“What caused—”

“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:

Lois Schmitt

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.

Catch Up With Lois Schmitt:

LoisSchmitt.com
Goodreads
Instagram: @loisschmittmysteries
Twitter: @schmittmystery
Facebook: @LoisSchmittAuthor

***

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Note: I received a complimentary review copy on behalf of PICT. All opinions expressed are my own.

Showcase: Into The Light

Note: I received a complimentary copy from Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours  and enjoyed the book so much that I purchased a copy. Look for my review very soon.

Into the Light

by Darcia Helle

on Tour February 1-28, 2019

Synopsis:

Max Paddington refuses to go into the light until he finds his killer. This presents a dilemma, since Max is even less competent as a spirit than he was as a live person. No one sees or hears him and he can’t manage to get anywhere or do anything on his own.

Joe Cavelli is a private investigator, living an ordinary life. Then one day he walks across a parking lot, gets yelled at by a ghost, and his life only gets stranger from there.

Max and Joe team up to find Max’s killer. In the process, they form an unlikely friendship and change each other’s lives in ways they never expected.

 

Book Details:

Genre: Paranormal Suspense
Published by: Indie
Publication Date: July 14th 2011
Number of Pages: 250
ISBN: 146364020X (ISBN13: 9781463640200)
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads | Audible

Read an excerpt:

Joe fumbled with the lock on his door. Once inside, he flipped the deadbolt and headed straight for his bedroom. He didn’t bother with lights, didn’t undress. He sprawled face down on the rumpled sheets and exhaled a long sigh.

Mysterious voices and dead people. This night could not get any crazier. Lydia must have spiked his drink with some sort of hallucinogenic. Maybe she thought he’d enjoy the trip. Or maybe she was crazy. He should call Chris, make sure he was okay.

“Not a bad place, Joe. You live alone?”

Joe shuddered, a tiny shriek escaping his lips. He sounded like a scared girl. Jesus. “Don’t do that!” he shouted.

“Sorry,” Max said. “I forgot that you can’t see me. I’m still here. Ain’t that cool? I wasn’t sure. Thought I might get stuck in your car, like I was stuck in that awful parking lot. But I blinked and here I am, in your place.”

“Perfect.”

“So have you thought about it? Will you help me?”

“Help you what? You’re not even real!”

“I am real. Well, like we discussed before, I’m as real as any dead person could be.”

“Go away.”

“I can’t. I mean, even if I wanted to, I don’t know how. I can’t figure this ghost thing out.”

“There is no dead guy in my house.”

“Hey, you must have a computer, right?” Max said. “Everyone has a computer these days. Look it up. Even us nobodies have to make the news when we get murdered. You’ll see. I’m real!”

Joe flipped over and stared into the darkness. Nothing there. Not even a tiny blip. No weird shadows, no floating orbs. So much for what they claimed on all those ghost-hunter programs.

Before he could give it much thought, Joe found himself grabbing his laptop from the top of his dresser. He sat on the edge of his bed, waiting for it to boot up, and thinking about how crazy this all was. He hadn’t watched the news last night or at any time today. Someone could have been murdered in that parking lot yesterday.

But a ghost, following him home? Crazy.

As he opened a browser page, that nasally, disembodied voice said, “Max. Max Paddington. I was at Chili’s. Then I got shot in that bank parking lot.”

Joe typed the name into a Google search. He found the story on TBO.com. He scanned the article, not sure whether he should be happy or mortified. A man named Maxwell Paddington had been murdered in that parking lot last night. Shot in the head by an unknown assailant. The police had no leads, though they believed it might have been a carjacking gone bad.

“Carjacking,” Max sputtered. “How ridiculous is that? It wasn’t about my car! That person shot me. Just shot me!”

“What person?” Joe heard himself ask.

“I don’t know! Someone in a ball cap. Or a cap, anyway. I don’t know if it was a ball cap or some other kind of cap.”

“Someone wearing a hat shot you.”

“Yes! Because of my wife. She was mad about those golf clubs.”

Joe dropped his head into his hands. “No. Stop talking.”

“But—”

“Stop. Talking.”

The room fell silent. Joe waited a moment, then did what he always did when he was in trouble. He dug his cell phone from his pocket and called his big brother.

“Jimmy,” he said when his brother picked up. “Did I wake you?”

“No,” Jimmy said. “What’s up?”

“I think I might have lost my mind.”

Jimmy chuckled. “That’s not news. You lost that years ago.”

“I’m serious, Jimmy. I’m hearing voices.”

“Voices? What kind of voices?”

“Well, not really voices. A voice. One voice.”

“One voice? What the hell are you talking about?”

Joe quickly filled his brother in on Max. He heard the desperation in his own voice and forced himself to slow down. This was crazy. He was crazy. That was the only explanation.

After a brief silence, Jimmy said, “A ghost named Max followed you home? That’s what you’re telling me?”

“Yeah. I don’t feel crazy, Jimmy. I swear. But crazy people don’t ever really know they’re crazy, do they?”

“You’re not crazy, Joe.”

“The guy is real. Not real, like I can see him. But he was alive yesterday and now he’s dead. How the hell can this be happening?”

“Do you remember having invisible playmates when you were a kid?”

“This is not an invisible playmate!”

“I know that.” Jimmy paused, cleared his throat. “You heard voices when you were a kid. All the time. I’d walk into the room and you’d be holding a conversation with someone I couldn’t see or hear. At first, you’d do it only at home. Mom and Dad thought you had an invisible playmate, like a lot of kids do.”

“I remember that,” Joe said. “Vaguely. Felt real to me then.”

“Maybe because it was.”

“What?”

“Pretty soon you didn’t just do it at home. We’d be out at a store or a restaurant and you’d start talking to invisible people. Tell us their stories. Freaked Mom out. Dad thought you were schizophrenic. Made Mom take you to a shrink.”

“Jesus. I don’t remember that.”

“You were young. Maybe four.”

As Joe listened to Jimmy talk about the ghosts from his childhood, fragments of memories surfaced. All those voices talking to him. He’d thought it was normal, that everyone could hear them. Soon he’d realized how wrong he was, and he’d tried to keep them secret. His father, then the psychiatrist, had insisted there were no spirits talking to him. All of it was his imagination. His father had demanded he stop pretending and acting like a baby. The psychiatrist had scared him with his constant questions and disapproving eyes. Not long afterward, the voices had faded away.

“You’re saying I really heard the voices of dead people?” Joe said.

“That’s what Mom always thought.”

“She told you that?”

“Not directly. I heard her talking to Aunt Jeannie a few times.”

Joe sat with the phone pressed against his ear. He could find no words. Which was worse, being crazy or having real conversations with dead people?

“You should call Mom,” Jimmy said.

“She’s in Vegas. Left this morning with a bunch of her friends.”

“You want me to fly down there? I could take a few personal days.”

“No. Thanks. I’m okay.”

“This ghost, what’s he saying to you?”

Joe gave a humorless laugh. “He says his wife killed him over some golf clubs.”

“Well, there you go.”

“What?”

“He needs Joe Cavelli, Super Sleuth, to solve his murder.”

***

Excerpt from Into the Light by Darcia Helle. Copyright © 2019 by Darcia Helle. Reproduced with permission from Darcia Helle. All rights reserved.

 

Darcia Helle

Author Bio:

Darcia Helle is a Massachusetts native, who escaped the New England winters to write in the Florida sunshine. She lives with her husband in a home full of spoiled rescue animals and an occasional stray lizard. She writes because the characters trespassing through her mind leave her no alternative.

Catch Up With Darcia Helle On:
darciahelle.com, Goodreads, Twitter, & Facebook!

 

Tour Participants:

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

02/01 Showcase @ Waterside Kennels Mysteries
02/02 Showcase @ tfaulcbookreviews
02/03 Review @ Book Reviews From an Avid Reader
02/04 Review @ Nesies Place
02/05 Showcase @ Eclectic Moods
02/06 Interview/showcase @ CMash Reads
02/07 Review @ Wall-to-wall books
02/07 Showcase @ Im All About Books
02/08 Review @ Archaeolibrarian – I Dig Good Books!
02/08 Showcase @ The Bookworm Lodge
02/09 Showcase @ Just Books
02/10 Guest post @ Mythical Books
02/11 Showcase @ Celticladys Reviews
02/12 Interview @ Cozy Up WIth Kathy
02/13 Review @ Archaeolibrarian – I Dig Good Books!
02/14 Guest post @ Loris Reading Corner
02/15 Interview @ BooksChatter
02/16 Review @ Life at 17
02/18 Showcase @ Lisa-Queen of Random
02/19 Review @ Stacking My Book Shelves!
02/21 Review @ JBronder Book Reviews
02/22 Interview @ Crack A Book Cafe
02/26 Review @ Instagram – Love My Dane Sailor
02/27 Review @ A Room Without Books is Empty

ENTER TO WIN:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Darcia Helle. There will be 1 winner of one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card. The giveaway begins on February 1, 2019 and runs through March 1, 2019. Void where prohibited.

Enter to win: Rafflecopter Giveaway

Get More Great Reads at Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours

Kids, Dogs, and Mysteries!

Long-time readers of this site know I like to support and promote other writers. Today’s post introduces Deborah Taylor-French and the first in her Dog Leader mystery series.  Deborah is an active arts educator, writer, and blogger.  Read on to learn more about this author and her mystery series.

What do you and your sleuth have in common?

Although I am not the protagonist of my book, there are a few similarities. Born and raised in Northern California I lived in a few small towns. My heroine, Nevada, lives in a small fictional town in that geographic area. The best part of my young life happened while living along the Avenue of the Giants. In my early teens, my Uncle Scott gave me a horse. Due to a need to exercise my mare, Mischief, I gained enormous freedom. We left our small town to explore trails beyond the Eel River. In comparison, Nevada’s grandmother gives her a rescued keeshond dog to raise. Due to the need to train and exercise her dog, Nevada also begins to revel in her able to roam farther and farther afield.

In contrast to Nevada, I had trouble keeping friendships in junior high. I needed strength to withstand the loneliness, and the social rejection of those years. Nevada fights for her friendships. So, I admire her loyalty and determination.

 

Tell us about Red Sky At Night.

This novel entertains, excites, and shows readers, realistic young teens. Nevada and friends, Lee and Amy, run their own investigation. Each one must find ways to gain freedom and take chances to be more independent. On the way, they find adults who can be trusted with secrets, plus adults who behave badly. Like children everywhere these friends try to keep his or her parent from freaking out as their take bigger risks.

On their way tracking a criminal, each fifth-grade student must hide their deeper resolve to stop the wildfires. The three friends also struggle to trust each other. Naturally, parents, school work, and other pressures add to their individual and group trials. Close calls plague all three kids as they dive deeper into the mystery of the fires.

What do reviewers say?

“Dogs, horses and a 12-year-old animal lover with justice in heart is the core of this engaging mystery.”

“Nevada…is independent, smart, and compassionate.”

“Fell in love with Nevada. She’s a smart cookie!”

“Fantastic book to give to middle schoolers and enjoy yourself!”

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To purchase a copy, click here.

 

Holiday Giveaway! Simply sign up for Deborah’s email list for the drawing held on December 31st. Win one of three paperback copies of her book.

***

About the author:

Deborah Taylor-French, Photo by Cindy Pavlinac

Deborah Taylor-French is the author of Red Sky at Night: Dog Leader Mysteries. She blogs at Dog Leader Mysteries. Her stories brim with action, dogs, positive dog leadership, and animal rescue.  The true story of Sydney’s adoption, “Punk Rocker with A Poodle Brain” was published in “Vintage Voices Four Part Harmony.” Her fiction and memoir has been published in over a dozen volumes of the  Redwood Writers Anthology, Changing Hurt to Hope, and in the North Bay Business Journal.

As an arts educator, Deborah has led over a hundred residences and teacher workshops. An active member of Redwood Writers, Deborah continues to serve as Author Support Facilitator. Redwood Writers is the largest branch of the California Writers Club.

Read an excerpt:

I stood between Lee and Amy as we peered down the long driveway we believed led to Morton’s house. Enormous cypress trees lined the drive, the twisted trunks forming an opening to another world. Dead branches jutted over the dirt driveway, which seemed to go on forever. Thick dust cloaked everything as if no one had been here in ages. Dust slept on tangled tree roots and low branches. Dust clustered on top of the split-rail fence. The wood fencing stopped after four sections, giving way to rusted barbed wire strung between the trees, hammered into the aged trunks. The place had an eerie look. Broken branches like broken bones seemed to warn, Stay back—or you’ll be sorry.

“You’re wrong,” Lee grumbled. “Nobody lives here. We ran here for nothing.”

I muttered, “Um, we followed the map. Right?” I twisted the loop on Henry’s leash.

Hands on hips, Amy said, “It’s got to be the place.”

“Yep,” I said. “Lee, this matches the number on Morton’s envelope.” The numbers on the mailbox at 1505 Cider Springs had faded, and each missing numeral had left outlines in rust. That was not our problem.

On the way here, Amy had set a brisk pace. Complaining he didn’t like feeling sweaty, Lee had lagged behind the whole way. Now the three of us stood facing a sign: Private Property, No Trespassing. The freshly painted, all-caps letters had been underlined in red marker. A smaller Keep Out sign was tacked below, the letters sloppy and dripping.

In the dark cypress shade, I felt lost. Was there a house somewhere at the end of the drive? The driveway bent, leading out of sight. Then I spied tire tracks in the dirt, and my gut spun like a hamster on a wheel.

Lee ended our silence. “Too desolate. I say we go back.” He squinted at me from behind his rectangular glasses, which perched askew on his nose. “Race to the park gate?”

I snorted. “You think you might beat Amy? Or me?” I choked back a laugh because I needed his help. “Lee, aren’t you a tiny bit interested to see if Morton lives here?” I bent and gave Henry a splash of water from my bottle. “You said you wanted to have him arrested for animal abuse.”

Once I’d straightened, I smiled. “Don’t you think a no-trespassing sign is an invitation to adventure? Grand has ignored no-trespassing signs dozens of times to save abandoned pets.” Listening for any sign of interest, I noticed Amy standing motionless, squarely facing the gate. At least she was game.

Lee slouched on a gatepost. “Aw, you just made that up. No grown-up thinks that.”

I said with forced confidence, “Come on. Have a look.”

“Let’s not,” he said, flattening his stand-up hair.

Amy hissed, “Sure, stay here.” Then she ducked under the bar of the gate. “Nevada, let’s go.”

“No way am I going to stay behind,” he said hotly. “Here’s a plan: we keep to the trees and dodge out of sight if … if needed.”

“Okay, Professor. Let’s be invisible,” I said, sliding sideways under the bar of the locked gate. On leash, Henry followed under the bottom rail. Then Lee ducked low. All of us walked by the no-trespassing sign and into the trees.

I shivered in the chilly shadows as pinpricks of blue-green light dappled our faces. We wove our way around trees, over roots and dead branches. Then Amy said, “It’s odd that whoever lived or lives here didn’t take care of these …” I nodded, helping Henry around fallen tree trunks and low, sharp branches. A thicket of deadwood under old trees was a huge fire hazard. Even the fields to our left had not been mown as a fire-prevention precaution. The summer-dried grasses were as tall as Amy.

At last, the long drive ended the way I had hoped. “Hey, this is the place I told you about. Remember, I saw it from the cliff? A box-shaped house, a shed, and busted trucks. But where are the horses?” I didn’t see the starving dog or the blue van either.

Lee froze. “Did you hear that?”

“Sure,” Amy said, angling her chin toward a trickle of water that was slowly filling an old bathtub. The trickle built into a small stream and cut a gully through the pasture. As I listened to the spring, a short blowing noise made me jump.

“Ouch!” Lee yelped as I landed on his foot.

“Since when, Nevada, are you scared of horses?”

“Oh.” I turned and saw a skinny white horse. Ears pointed, riveted in our direction, the colt stood alert among the trees as if he were keeping out of sight too. After a minute, his ears flicked, and he relaxed, chewing a mouthful of grass. I gave a long exhale, relaxing too. Then I turned to my friends. They were studying the rundown house. A dense vine hung dangerously low over the front steps. I could only see the bottom of the doorway. Walls of cracked brown stucco and peeling trim boards made me think no one had been here for half a year.

Someone must have been here, though, because someone had slapped turquoise paint on a section of house trim and then left the paintbrush to stiffen. The bright color stuck out on the dead grass.

Fresh-cut firewood was stacked between the house and the shed. The shed’s door jutted open. Inside, a jumble of gas cans, stacks of junk, rags, and piles of newspaper made me gasp. “Those things—there—fire setters use them.” I pointed. “See? Right there.”

I brought Henry as I walked toward the shed to investigate.

When a dog snarled, Henry and I whipped around. Morton’s starving dog slunk out of the trees not far from the skinny white colt. The dog!

“We found the dog!” I cried.

The dog dashed toward the open front door. He made a pitiful spectacle, snarling and cringing. After circling Henry and me, he cowered. Too afraid.

Henry’s ears pricked. His nose pointed behind us.

A man charged out of the house. “What the hell?”

Morton.

For a long moment, we froze in place.

Morton yelled, “Hell and damnation!” Hobbling toward the dog, he unleashed a string of swear words.

Henry burst into intense barking. The starving dog ran from Morton, cowering behind the woodpile. As the poor dog stood frozen in fear, Henry and I sprinted toward him. As we charged, I reminded myself that running at a scared dog was a stupidly dangerous thing to do. The hair on the dog’s back rose as he bared his fangs. Three feet from the woodpile we stopped. My heart banged a crazed rhythm.

Instead of biting, the starving dog flipped on his back. Whimpering, belly up, he seemed to say, Don’t hurt me.

“You can’t starve him anymore!” I yelled at Morton. “I’m rescuing him.”

Instead of answering, Morton hurried stiff-legged into the shed. When he strutted back out, he was carrying a shotgun. Red and purple lines spread over his shrunken apple of a face.

“Now I’ve got you, you little witch.” Pointing the shotgun at me, he laughed.

A part of me left my body, flying into the blue sky. This was crazy. Would Morton kill me? Over a dog? I wanted to run, but my legs wouldn’t budge.

“Get back,” he snapped, swinging his weapon toward Lee and Amy. Jerking the gun muzzle back at me, he said, “Get over there with them.”

“Okay.” Amy’s voice rang high-pitched. “We’ll leave now.”

“Too late. Can’t any of you morons read? This is private property.” Morton walked toward me. “Dammit. Move back, back with them.”

As he advanced, I walked backward, matching each of his steps with one of my own. Never taking my eyes from his weapon, I steadily pulled Henry’s leash. Henry was straining against the leash so much that he was suspended from his harness, his front paws hanging in the air, his muzzle fixed on Morton. My face flushed, and I stopped. Henry had the right idea.

I started walking toward Morton. “You won’t shoot.”

“Nevada,” Amy warned, “d-d-don’t be reckless.”

Morton grunted. I grunted back. Risking a sideways glance, I stumbled. Lee’s eyes stayed fixed on the shotgun. Before I knew what to do, Morton fired. The pellets hit the woodpile, sending pieces flying.

Morton chuckled as I raced to Amy and Lee. I urged, “Quick, into the woods.”

My ankle twisted, and I fell headlong into Amy and Lee. We all hit the ground together. My head landed on Lee’s arm, and my knee hit the hard pasture between Amy’s sprawled legs. The leash, looped over my wrist, dragged Henry on top of us.

Lee moaned, “Oh no, you broke my arm.” His face contorted in pain.

Again, a blast hit something. Not such a long way off.

Don’t shoot!” I yelled. “Don’t shoot anymore.”

Amy untangled her leg from mine. Henry kept pulling tighter, struggling to get free. My ankles buckled. At last, I broke free, the leash stretched tight around my knees. Two seconds later, Morton walked out of the house, holding his weapon low in one arm. With the other hand, he pressed a phone to his ear. “Yes, I’ll wait for the officer,” he said with a crooked smirk.

***

Excerpt from Red Sky At Night by Deborah Taylor-French. Copyright © 2018 by Deborah Taylor- with permission of author. All rights reserved.